Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6 Episode 1 “Missing Pieces”
Director: Clark Gregg
Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley
Runtime: 42 minutes
Every new season premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has effectively reinvented the show. But the first episode of Season 6, appropriately titled “Missing Pieces”, features both our beloved main agents and the show itself, adjusting to by far the biggest status quo shift so far: Phil Coulson’s dead (again). Yes, the fifth season finale ended with the longtime S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and director, who Clark Gregg played so wonderfully since the very beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, finally retiring to enjoy his last days before old injuries ended his second life. The show’s renewal for a sixth season came only a few days before the tear-jerking episode aired, and after it did many wondered how the show could possibly continue without both the character and the actor.
While S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been an ensemble show full of dynamic and interesting characters and performers Gregg’s performance was something special, crafting a unique protagonist who was an everyman, a fanboy, and an effortlessly cool, experienced hero simultaneously, and fears that the absence of Coulson would prevent the show from reaching the creative heights it consistently achieved were understandable. It’s a great relief that the first episode of the sixth season makes it clear that the rest of the cast and the continuing storylines are more than compelling enough without him. That said, Gregg himself is by no means done with the show, with the latest sci-fi plot twist allowing him to play an entirely new character. While this does raise some concern for the show’s ability to move on, the episode itself is so self-assured and exciting that one can’t help but feel the minds behind S.H.I.E.L.D. know exactly what they’re doing.
“Missing Pieces” begins a year after the end of Season 5, with the core family of leading S.H.I.E.L.D. agents split in two. Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie (Henry Simmons), has succeeded Coulson as the organization’s director, with Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) serving as his leading lieutenants. Daisy Johnson/Quake (Chloe Bennet) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are searching deep-space for the cryogenically frozen Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), aided by fan-favorite supporting agents Piper (Briana Venskus) and Davis (Maximilian Osinski). While the space team faces attacks from alien factions and deals with a setback in their search, the Earth-bound agency is focusing much of its attention on a series of strange “reality warps”. A team of mysterious mercenaries is using these tears in spacetime to enter our world. The leader of the group is a man referred to as Sarge, who looks exactly like Phil Coulson.
The Sarge reveal is the big takeaway, of course, but there’s plenty of stuff going on it prior to it as well. A lot of viewers might have assumed that without Coulson Daisy would emerge as the new singular lead and that can still happen eventually, but her’s is a smaller role in this premiere, though she still gets a fun action moment showing increased control of her vibrational powers. But emotionally, “Missing Pieces” belongs to Mack, May, and Jemma. While he may still watch holographic advice recordings left by Coulson every morning (it’s amusing just how much Clark Gregg is in this episode that he also directed despite it being the first “without” Coulson) Mack is handling his new role well and the scene in which he inspires Doctor Marcus Benson (Barry Shebaka Henley) to join S.H.I.E.L.D. is a good depiction of his idealism, even if Yo-Yo and May are concerned he’s cutting himself off from his personal life. May is also surprisingly well-adjusted and her acceptance of her role as the elder stateswoman allows Wen to give off more light-hearted energy than usual. The Sarge thing will certainly throw her for a loop going forward though. Jemma is really the only one having a rough go of it emotionally and the ever-reliable Henstridge nails the desperation and determination driving the character. It’s good that Jemma has been built into such an engaging and likable character over the last five years, as it seems her desire to find Fitz is overriding her concern and respect for her teammates at the moment. The show doesn’t need to return to the fundamentally broken team dynamics of latter Season 5 but it’s good to see it’s still willing to root internal drama in well-argued debates when the situation calls for it.
“Missing Pieces” is essentially S.H.I.E.L.D. at its energetic best, full of action (now including some stunning space-battles), heart, and humor. There are a lot of balls in the air, especially when one realizes everything the premiere holds back. We only get the briefest of glimpses at what Fitz is up to, and Jeff Ward’s Deke Shaw doesn’t appear at all yet. Some story threads will surely land better than others, but after a premiere this exciting, I can’t wait to see where this season is going.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6 Episode 1
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s electrifying Season 6 premiere proves the show can work well without Phil Coulson, even if it's not quite done with Clark Gregg.