The Good: Good acting, Moments of character, Engaging plot progression
The Bad: Suspension of disbelief issues, Light on thematic statements, Blase revelation of Deke's lineage.
The Basics: "The Real Deal" delivers episode one hundred of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. with generally positive results!
Every now and then in a long-running television show, there comes a loose end that - when it is addressed - is so unmemorable that the viewer is more surprised by the resolution than anticipating it. On Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the fact that Agent Coulson made a deal with Ghost Rider at the climax of the fourth season is one such loose end. That deal is addressed in "The Real Deal" and when it comes up to explain Coulson's ticking clock for him impending death, it is something of an "oh yeah . . . I vaguely remember that" type moment.
"The Real Deal" picks up right after "All The Comforts Of Home" (reviewed here!) and it is virtually impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to that one. After all, "All The Comforts Of Home" saw the introduction of the powerful new villain, Ruby, who was working for General Hale. Ruby mutilated Yo-Yo Rodriguez and given that the special effects budget for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. could not accommodate Coulson missing a hand, one has to figure that Rodriguez is about to get a set of bionic arms or time will be reset to a point before the attack in the season's resolution. And Deke ended up in the past with the Agents as well.
A drone explores the area in which the Kree beacon exploded and finds a dimensional rip there. Fitz theorizes that the end of the world may have already begun in the basement of the Lighthouse. In the medical bay, Simmons treats Rodriguez - who is experiencing phantom pain in her severed limbs - when Mack visits. Rodriguez encourages Mack to stay and fight with her. Daisy Johnson and Deke explore the stockpile in the basement of the Lighthouse, when a Kree warrior attacks them. When Johnson shoots the Kree, he disappears. Fitz theorizes that the destruction of the three monoliths (by the beacon exploding) has created an opening to a fear dimension and that everyone's fears are manifesting in the basement of the Lighthouse.
Fitz believes that the tear can be fixed with gravitonium from Deke's belt buckle, but he believes that the person who carries the device into the basement might get lost within another dimension. Amid protestations, Coulson volunteers, but then collapses. Coulson's collapse provides an opportunity for Simmons to scan him and she finds that his injuries from being killed by Loki are now entirely necrotic and the dead tissue is spreading. After making peace with Johnson, May and Fitz, Coulson takes the device Fitz created and heads toward the rift to attempt to seal it. On the way down, Coulson encounters his nagging fear of his own existence.
"The Real Deal" sets up an interesting potential future for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The series was easily-accepted by fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because of the leadership of Agent Phil Coulson, resurrected for the show with surprisingly little initial fanfare. Phil Colson has been the character who has spent the most time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea that Phil Coulson might actually die in a permanent way and have to turn leadership of his fledgling S.H.I.E.L.D. cell over to someone else is an intriguing possibility. "The Real Deal" sets the S.H.I.E.L.D. cell up to follow Johnson, instead of May, which is an odd choice given how erratic Johnson's tenure with S.H.I.E.L.D. has been and how May has been more consistently loyal to Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Coulson has had a number of heroic moments in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and "The Real Deal" is set up to make viewers believe that this is Coulson's blaze of glory. As Coulson descends toward the rift and encounters his fears - manifested in the form of Mike Peterson - he has to confront his own mortality. The Fear Peterson makes an argument about the lack of reality of Coulson's life is impossible to even consider given the sheer number of scenes in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that run entirely independently of Coulson. Moreover, for viewers to accept even for a second that Fear Peterson's argument is real, they have to deny entirely that the S.H.I.E.L.D. team participated in events tangential to the blockbusters that a dying Coulson could never have known.
That said, Clark Gregg gives a good performance in "The Real Deal." As Coulson accepts various aspects of his life and considers the fears he has, Gregg gives a wonderful performance with great facial expressions for some of the more subtle moments of the episode.
J. August Richards returns for a delightful pair of sequences as both the Fear-embodiment of Mike Peterson for Coulson and as Deathlok for that character's timely return. Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge have their usual wonderful on-screen chemistry for the episode's climactic scene.
Technical issues aside - seriously, suspension of disbelief for the Fear Peterson's dialog is stretched far too thin given the volume of pieces of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that have nothing to do with Coulson - "The Real Deal" does a decent job of creating a compelling problem, tying up a loose end and making for a smart resolution to that problem. In the process, though, the episode dumbs down explaining exactly who Deke is. Deke makes a comment that subtly tells viewers exactly who he is, but then, like Mystique's eyes flashing in the Senator's eyes at the climax of X-Men, "The Real Deal" makes the insinuation stupidly literal with a scene featuring Hale and one of her staff.
That said, the one hundredth episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a solid series of cameos from the disparate eras of the show and climaxes with an event that could have come about a hundred episodes sooner and still thrilled fans!
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© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.