Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate Gets More Good News

The biotech company Moderna released new data Monday morning that strengthens the case for its COVID-19 vaccine. It concludes the vaccine is 94% effective — and strongly protects against serious illness. Based on these latest findings, the company plans to submit an application for emergency use authorization to the Food and Drug Administration today.

They build on Moderna’s previously reported findings, based on a smaller number of cases detected in its study of about 30,000 volunteers.

Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Shines In Clinical Trial
Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Shines In Clinical Trial
Overall, the study identified 185 cases in the people who received a placebo shot, compared with 11 cases in people who got the active vaccine. These latest findings are similar to results from Pfizer, which has developed a similar vaccine. And, like the Pfizer vaccine, this one seems to prevent severe cases.

“There were 30 cases on placebo and zero cases that were on the vaccine,” says Dr. Stephen Hoge, the president of Moderna. “So, it looks like in the trial we’ve been 100% effective at preventing severe COVID-19, which is really what’s driving the burden of disease in hospitals and ultimately straining our public health systems.”

Based on those findings — and an analysis of the vaccine’s safety and side effects — Moderna has decided it has enough information to submit an application to the FDA. The agency will consider granting emergency use authorization for the product in the coming weeks.

“They will receive a good stack of paper,” Hoge says, “but they’ve been receiving paper almost continuously from when we started.”

What It Was Like To Participate In The Clinical Trial For Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine
What It Was Like To Participate In The Clinical Trial For Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine
Pfizer applied for emergency use authorization on Nov. 9 for its COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA will hold its advisory committee to discuss that application on Dec. 10. That meeting is open to the public.

The FDA’s charge is to assure that drugs are both safe and effective, and the agency says it is not cutting corners when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, which will potentially be given to many millions of healthy people.

“They still have an important and solemn responsibility to review that data and develop an independent perspective on it,” Hoge says, “and that’s not an easy thing to do on a short time horizon.”

Moderna expects that on Dec. 17, the FDA will be ready for a public meeting to discuss this data. A vaccine could get the thumbs-up shortly thereafter. Either or both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may start to become available in mid to late December, though supplies will be limited.

Both use the same novel technology. Instead of injecting a weakened or dead virus, which is a common strategy for vaccines, these products are essentially small pieces of genetic material. When that’s injected into a person’s arm, it’s picked up by cells in the immune system. The cells read the genetic code and use that to produce a protein that is actually a key fragment of the coronavirus. The body then builds antibodies that latch onto that fragment, so if and when someone encounters the actual coronavirus, the body is primed to fight it off with antibodies.

Though the key action is happening at a cellular level, inoculation can trigger noticeable symptoms, ranging from a sore arm to achiness, or even fever and flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, a vaccine scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, was involved in testing the Moderna vaccine. The symptoms he saw were quite similar to symptoms people get when they get the shingles vaccine. For many, the shingles vaccine creates a strong reaction.

“You feel terrible for a day or two but then you’re fine,” del Rio says.

That’s the price of getting a vaccine that protects you, in the case of COVID-19, from a potentially deadly disease. But del Rio says it is a complication in administering the vaccine, because people who get these symptoms after a shot might think the vaccine actually gave them COVID-19.

Americans Could See A Vaccine By Mid-December, Says Operation Warp Speed Adviser
Americans Could See A Vaccine By Mid-December, Says Operation Warp Speed Adviser
“We’re going to have to do very good messaging to explain to people this is not COVID, it’s a side effect of the vaccine and it’s OK to have it,” del Rio says. “It actually means the vaccine is working.”

The vaccine studies have been designed to show whether a shot prevents someone from falling ill. But scientists don’t yet know whether people who are vaccinated can still get infected but remain without symptoms. That’s important because if a vaccine can prevent even silent infections, it can further reduce the spread of the pandemic.

Hoge said the company is collecting data to look for those silent infections among vaccinated volunteers, but that information won’t be in hand until early next year. So, it’s possible that some people who are vaccinated can still spread the virus.

“That’s why I tell people when you get vaccinated, continue wearing your mask,” del Rio says. “We’re going to know later if the vaccine actually prevents infection.”

He says it’s remarkable how quickly all this has come together — less than a year from the time the novel coronavirus was first identified, to now, apparently on the verge of having tens of millions of doses of vaccine ready to go.

“A vaccine that prevents people from getting, sick, especially from getting critically ill? It’s a great vaccine right now,” del Rio says. With nearly 2,000 deaths per day, “My God, we really need this vaccine.”

California Hospitalizations From COVID-19 Surging; ICUs May Be Overwhelmed In Weeks

California hospitals are in a new surge of COVID-19 cases, and if trends continue, state intensive care units could be overwhelmed by Christmas Eve.

The state saw a new daily high for coronavirus cases, reaching 14,034 and an overall total of 1,212,968. An additional 20 deaths were reported for a total of 19,141.

As of Monday, 8,578 people are in California hospitals with COVID-19. Overall, 75% of ICU beds are occupied — and without intervention could reach 112% by Dec. 24, according to projections shared by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

The state will consider further restrictions over the next two days similar to the shutdown order implemented earlier this year with “modifications,” Newsom said.

Black and Latino residents are being disproportionately affected by the virus and are more likely to die from it, according to the Los Angeles Times. Latinos are almost three times more likely than whites to test positive after adjusting for population.

Current case numbers are likely delayed because some health offices were closed on Thanksgiving. The number of reported cases could rise in the next few days, and the impact of holiday gatherings on infections may not be seen for weeks.

Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents, went into another lockdown Monday. Residents are prohibited from gathering with people outside their household for public or private occasions except for political protests and religious services.

“We were prepared for an increase,” said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director, on Saturday, according to the Los Angeles Times. “None of us really thought the increase would be so big across such a short period of time.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti estimated that more than 4,000 residents could die in the next five weeks if the virus’s spread isn’t slowed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

California has classified 51 of the state’s 58 counties as purple, or “widespread,” the state’s highest risk-level assessment. This largely restricts indoor activities, and it closes bars, limits restaurants to outdoor or takeout service and reduces occupancy in retail businesses. Purple counties are also under a curfew.

“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said this month. “The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”

Reese Oxner is an intern with NPR’s News Desk.

Why Our Brains Struggle To Make Sense Of COVID-19 Risks

Millions of Americans traveled for Thanksgiving despite pleas not to do so from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force says if you’re one of them, assume you’re infected, get tested and do not go near your friends or family members without a mask on.

Because COVID-19 is a largely invisible threat, our brains struggle to comprehend it as dangerous. Dr. Gaurav Suri, a neuroscientist at San Francisco State University, explains how habits can help make the risks of the virus less abstract.

Emergency room doctor Leane Wen discusses why it’s tempting to make unsafe tradeoffs in day-to-day activities and how to better “budget” our risks.

In participating regions, you’ll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what’s going on in your community.

Email us at

This episode was produced by Brianna Scott, Art Silverman and Lee Hale. It was edited by Connor Donevan with help from Christopher Intagliata and Wynne Davis. Our executive producer is Cara Tallo.

Dr. Scott Atlas, Special Coronavirus Adviser To Trump Resigns

A controversial coronavirus adviser to the president, Dr. Scott Atlas, resigned Monday, a White House official told NPR.

Atlas, who is not an infectious disease expert and whose brief stint was marred by blunders and controversy, was tapped by the Trump administration to serve as special adviser to the president of the United States, in August. Since then, “the MRI guy” has repeatedly been at odds with the nation’s leading health officials regarding his views on how to combat the spread of the virus, including members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

But throughout his tenure, he has insisted all of the guidance he’s offered was based on scientific research.

“I worked hard with a singular focus—to save lives and help Americans through this pandemic,” Atlas wrote in a resignation letter posted to Twitter.

He added that he “always relied on the latest science and evidence, without any political consideration or influence.”

“As time went on, like all scientists and health policy scholars, I learned new information and synthesized the latest data from around the world, all in an effort to provide you with the best information to serve the greater public good,” Atlas wrote.

Fox News reported that Atlas’ role was set to expire at the end of the week.

Stanford University Appears To Distance Itself From Scott Atlas After ‘Rise Up’ Tweet
Stanford University Appears To Distance Itself From Scott Atlas After ‘Rise Up’ Tweet
Trump was attracted to Atlas’ views, which put the economy first, but public health experts were appalled by his lack of scientific rigor.

Among the theories that most worried experts is Atlas’ belief that allowing the coronavirus to spread would eventually result in “herd immunity,” describing it as a “basic principle” of biology and immunology.

As NPR reported:

“In April on the conservative Steve Deace Show, Atlas spoke in favor of allowing the virus to pass through the younger segments of the population, while trying to protect older Americans.

” ‘We can allow a lot of people to get infected,’ he said. ‘Those who are not at risk to die or have a serious hospital-requiring illness, we should be fine with letting them get infected, generating immunity on their own, and the more immunity in the community, the better we can eradicate the threat of the virus.’ ”

President Trump’s New COVID-19 Adviser Is Making Public Health Experts Nervous
President Trump’s New COVID-19 Adviser Is Making Public Health Experts Nervous
Atlas’ field of expertise is in magnetic resonance imaging. He wrote a book on the subject and co-authored numerous scientific studies on the economics of medical imaging technology. He was also a professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center from 1998 to 2012, according to a university biography.

“He’s an MRI guy … He has no expertise in any of this stuff,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health told NPR, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed nearly 267,000 people in the U.S.

“He’s been bringing out arguments that have been refuted week after week, month after month, since the beginning of this outbreak,” Jha added.

Stanford University Appears To Distance Itself From Scott Atlas After ‘Rise Up’ Tweet
Stanford University Appears To Distance Itself From Scott Atlas After ‘Rise Up’ Tweet
Atlas also made numerous political blunders during his brief stint, including a lengthy interview with Russian state media that ran just days before the U.S. presidential election.

He later apologized for the misstep saying he “was unaware they are a registered foreign agent.”

“I regret doing the interview and apologize for allowing myself to be taken advantage of,” Atlas said in a tweet. “I especially apologize to the national security community who is working hard to defend us.”

And earlier this month, Stanford University appeared to distance itself from Atlas following his remarks that residents of Michigan should “rise up” against the state’s new coronavirus restrictions.

Atlas took a leave of absence from his position as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative-leaning think tank based at the university, to serve as an adviser to the president.

As recently as late October, Atlas was believed to be among Trump and the Vice President Mike Pence’s closest advisers on the pandemic, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told NPR.

Atlas has been highly critical of the lockdowns enforced by various state and municipal leaders — a strategy he continued to oppose in his farewell letter.

Since Atlas began his job in August, nearly one hundred thousand people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Atlas did have encouraging words for the incoming Biden Administration.

“I sincerely wish the new team all the best as they guide the nation through these trying, polarized times,” Atlas wrote. “With the emerging treatments and vaccines, I remain highly optimistic that America will thrive once again and overcome the adversity of the pandemic and all that it has entailed.”

NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel contributed to this report.

Some Health Care Workers Are Wary Of Getting COVID-19 Vaccines

Health care workers are expected to be first in line to be offered a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available.

It makes sense: Getting a safe, effective vaccine would help keep them and their patients healthy. Seeing doctors, nurses and medical aides getting COVID-19 vaccines would also set an example for the community.

But the speed of COVID-19 vaccine development, along with concerns about political interference with the process, has left some health care workers on the fence about COVID-19 vaccines.

So many health care workers are expressing concerns and anxiety about getting COVID-19 vaccines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says addressing hesitancy in this group is a top priority. A CDC survey, shared at a public meeting of its vaccine advisory committee on Nov. 23, found that 63% of health care workers polled in recent months said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m really hesitant about it,” says Kida Thompson, a family physician in El Paso, Texas. Her city is in the middle of a huge COVID-19 surge, and she believes that the broad adoption of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine will be key to ending the pandemic. But she’s not 100% ready to get one herself. “For the ones of us who are asking questions, there’s just a lot of questions,” she says.

Thompson is a big fan of vaccines in general. “The flu vaccine has been around for a while, its efficacy has been proven, the side effects have been proven, and they are usually minimal,” she says.

But the COVID-19 vaccine is entirely new. Previous vaccines have taken years to develop; this one came together in months.

And the government’s messaging around the vaccine — that it’s the instant solution to the plague of 2020, and that it will be free for everyone — just sounds a little too good to be true, Thompson says. “Fast and free just doesn’t equate,” she says. “This whole thing has been politicized from Day 1, and there’s a salesmanship going into it” that makes her skeptical.

It’s not a population that public health experts initially thought would need much convincing, says Anuj Mehta, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver and chair of Colorado’s COVID-19 vaccine allocation committee.

But reports of the Trump administration exerting political pressure on science agencies, along with claims that a COVID-19 vaccine could be available before the Nov. 3 election (it didn’t happen), contributed to concerns that harmful shortcuts might have been taken with COVID-19 vaccines.

Mehta says the fast vaccine development timeline is not, on its own, cause for concern. “The speed is not because people were cutting corners, but because of the urgency and the number of people working together on it,” he says.

Vaccine development processes such as running clinical trials, evaluating data and building manufacturing plants, which typically happen one after another, were instead overlapped. And now that the election has passed, concerns over political interference in the vaccine will likely subside, Mehta says.

Giving COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers is intended to keep them healthy. “We want to be sure our health care workers are safe so they can protect their patients from disease, and that they can be protected and do their work,” says Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatrician at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and a vaccine hesitancy researcher.

However, policies pushed earlier in the pandemic seeded doubts among health care workers about whether their health and safety were consistently prioritized. “This is the same population that was told earlier this year that they should just go battle COVID-19 wearing a bandanna or a scarf,” says Michelle Mahon, a registered nurse who represents National Nurses United, a union with more than 150,000 members across the country.

Some health care workers have voiced concerns about safety and potential side effects from COVID-19 vaccines. They want to see clear data on safety and efficacy before they sign on to get a new vaccine, Mahon says.

“It’s a minority of people that are saying absolutely no way [to getting a COVID-19 vaccine],” says Dr. Marci Drees, hospital epidemiologist for ChristianaCare and a liaison to the CDC’s federal vaccine advisory committee. “I think the majority of people really just want to know more.”

Thompson reads medical journals and follows vaccine news closely, and she says a lot of facts just aren’t available yet. “I would legitimately still need convincing,” she says.

But she says she can be swayed. There have been calls by health care experts for the drug companies to release vaccine trial data publicly, and if they do, Thompson says then she’ll be able to judge for herself whether a vaccine is safe. If her friends who are doctors choose to get the vaccine, that could convince her, too.

And, even though Thompson has grown wary of government officials, she does believe in the integrity of at least one top infectious disease expert: Dr. Anthony Fauci, a career scientist who has become known for resisting President Trump’s rosy takes on the pandemic response.

“I trust what [Fauci] says,” she says. “He’s shown that he’s able to actually stand on his own 2 feet during this whole thing without being swayed.”

That’s what Thompson is trying to do, too. She’s going to look at the facts and make up her own mind. Once she’s convinced, she’ll be able to make the case to her patients. She’s already been telling them to wear masks nonstop.

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

“Here’s to us. Who’s like us? Damn few.”

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Those words aren’t uttered in the series finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. They were spoken by Phil Coulson in the last episode of season five, a toast that the creators of the show had originally thought would close the curtain on their plucky little series, which had survived generally shoddy treatment at the hands of Marvel and ABC and managed to craft a moving, memorable finale. Then, they got two additional seasons.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

The final final season of S.H.I.E.L.D. has jumped through time, altered the course of history, and now, in its two-part conclusion, managed to deliver a spectacle truly worthy of its outsized ambitions. Then, it ended on a surprisingly quiet, bittersweet note, an ending sequence that—much like the heroes who gather together one year after their team called it quits—is a little sad, a little funny, and feels over before it’s really begun. No one we care for dies (permanently, anyway), but in some ways, there’s something almost more downbeat about an ending acknowledging the fact that even after world-altering events that forge permanent bonds, life just…goes on, in all its prosaic reality, the day-to-day intimacy that once existed an ever-more-distant memory. It may be an intentionally crafted sense of disappointment at the end of something meaningful—a solid approximation of the way most of us feel saying goodbye to a part of our life that meant something—but it still feels like disappointment. These two episodes tell a single story, but they are very deliberately crafted to be stand-alone installments (future binge watchers won’t necessarily see them one right after the other), so let’s look at each in turn.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Episode 12: “The End Is At Hand”

All of that skimping on budget when it came to the back half of this season might have been worth it, because “The End Is At Hand” is the best-looking, most visually sumptuous episode of the season. Giant space battles, massive alien ships, Lighthouse-shaking explosions—it’s all here, and all enormous fun. (Sure, there’s still a few too many hallways, but at least they’re brightly lit and loudly colored for a change.) This doesn’t feel like a build-up to the actual finale; it feels like the conclusion is already here, and everything has been kick-started into high gear from the second the Zephyr gets tractor-beamed onto the Chronicom ship. (Speaking of great-looking images, the CGI interior of the hangar is the rare establishing shot that feels equally epic in scale and scope to the story being told.)

It’s still not entirely clear why Malick’s trip inside Jemma’s head last week caused her to forget who Fitz was, but at least there’s a much better justification created for her memory issues here: Sibyl injects Simmons with a serum that dissolves the implant hiding her memories, and the ensuing confusion sends the poor S.H.I.E.L.D. agent into a mental tailspin. Her entire memory is coming and going in fits and starts (Fitz and starts?), and it’s causing difficulties, given that the team could really use her help right about now—or at least not actively resist their help. (Daisy and Deke don’t miss a beat when Jemma asks if she can have a costume like Daisy’s.) But by the time they’ve escaped the Chronicoms and reunited with the team in the old New York S.H.I.E.L.D. hideout, it all comes together. The artifacts brought there by the surviving members of S.H.I.E.L.D. were left by Enoch through the decades, all so that Simmons could assemble them and summon her husband, the long-lost Leo Fitz. Even if she doesn’t remember him.

The majority of the episode is broken into three sections: Coulson, May, and Yo-Yo racing to prevent Garrett from blowing up the Lighthouse and escaping to rendezvous with the team; Daisy rescuing Deke and Jemma while being hunted down by her sister, Kora; and Mack and Sousa trying to figure out how the hell they’re going to escape once Daisy gets back to the ship. Each one adeptly balances action, humor, and heart, and allows for some meaningful discussions without feeling too much like it’s hitting pause on all the high-intensity, clock-ticking action unfolding. Daisy’s segment is maybe the most straightforward—she gets her teammates and almost makes it back to the ship without incident, because Sibyl thinks it’s going to uncover Fitz’s location faster if they let Daisy be—but when Kora confronts her, it’s still not a fight. Daisy just calmly refuses to fight her sister, rebuffing each strike not with a counter-attack, but by diffusing her sibling’s power blasts. It’s moments like this when the show’s idealistic heart is most visible on its sleeve—there’s always the chance our enemies could listen to reason, and heroes have to take that shot.

Mack and Sousa’s time together might be the most unexpectedly rewarding. It’s impossible for me to know the degree to which my affection for the character from his time on Agent Carter colors my perspective, but for someone who only appeared for three-fourths of the final season, Daniel Sousa became a dependably enjoyable addition to the roster. Enver Gjokaj and Henry Simmons have an easy chemistry that makes their characters’ interactions feel loose and comfortable, making them a solid pair to task with figuring out how to blast open the Chronicom ship. Plus, tying a bunch of Chronicom bodies to a Gravitonium-enhanced bomb to make their getaway? That’s just fun.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Speaking of Chroni-bombs, May somehow manages to not roll her eyes at Coulson’s use of the term when they see Garrett has teleported down and is planning to rig the place with explosives. It’s a very funny beat when Garrett teleports right into their trap, and equally funny when he’s forced to make a “heyyyy, buddy!” call to Malick, who predictably leaves his new recruit to die. But May and Coulson’s conversation is the closest thing the episode has to a thematically key moment, as they both admit they’re still trying to figure out their new senses of self. “How did I become this me?” Coulson says, and it’s not just rhetorical; none of these characters are the same people they were seven years ago. They’re steadily changing, just like the rest of us, and it means there’s no ongoing sense of chipper adventure. Coulson—and May, it seems—are just about ready for this ride to stop. Like Mack suggested last episode, sometimes you can feel when it’s time for a change. Or rather, you don’t always get to pick a time: Change is coming, whether you like it or not.

No one seemed to be under any illusions that John Garrett was suddenly a good guy, but it’s still a shock when he gets instantly shot in the head when they teleport into the hideout. (Hey look, young version of Agent Victoria Hand! Haven’t seen you since, um, Grant Ward murdered you back in season one.) Still, this final scene made for a nice trip down memory lane, evoking memories of this show’s infancy. (Anyone remember the last time they even used the term “084″? Me neither.) But it’s symbolic of the shift in everyone’s role when May impulsively hugs Daisy; these people have been through too much together to be able to really explain it. But they’ve got impending death looming, and only one person who knows what’s happening. Save us, Agent Fitz, you’re our only hope.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Episode 13: “What We’re Fighting For”

The most entertaining element of the series finale of S.H.I.E.L.D. is also the thing that causes it to be somewhat less impactful in its emotional resonance. Namely, all the time-travel shenanigans. “You guys are messing with time again?!” accuses Piper (Hi, Piper!), and in a lot of ways, it’s fantastic fun. I tip my hat to how all-in this show went making a conclusion so proudly, unabashedly nerdy. There’s no hand-holding to remind viewers how season six ended. It’s just a lot of puzzle pieces sliding into place, from Fitz’s act-long explanation of what really happened during his and Jemma’s disappearance to the choice to have the team defeat the Chronicoms by using what is surely the greatest superpower of all: empathy. (Granted, it’s not the most visually striking power, so thankfully there’s a signal boost from Kora’s abilities to give it a little pop.) That’s a move worthy of Star Trek: TNG—fitting, given this show got its very own Data in the form of Enoch.

But when a show requires a lengthy explanation of events that already took place to give it emotional heft, the overall effect loses some of its power. It’s a bit like someone telling you what happened last night on a TV show you really like, rather than watching the episode yourself; by having Fitz recount his and Jemma’s years of happiness together, up to and including the subsequent revision of those memories in Jemma’s head to include their daughter, Alya, it crosses the “show, don’t tell” line a little too much. Combine that with Fitz’s absence for the entire season, and it’s easier to appreciate on an intellectual level than it is to feel passionately about it. There’s something undeniably moving about the reveal of Alya, to be sure—it would be hard not to get a little emotional, seeing Jemma and Fitz have become parents—but it comes abruptly, and via a retroactive understanding that their happy ending has already happened, in a matter of speaking. (Plus, no mention of those worrying blood tests; guess they were only a temporary problem.)

Still, there’s a lot to absorb. For seven seasons, we’ve watched these people evolve, becoming, if not always better versions of themselves, then wiser ones. That’s one of the best things about this series: It’s never reduced anyone to an increasingly one-dimensional version of themselves as so many shows do, just relying on the same old traits instead of letting them grow. Mack walked away from S.H.I.E.L.D. life quite recently, before accepting his losses and returning to duty. Yo-Yo spent most of this season undergoing a crisis of conscience, doubting herself and her abilities. Fitz confronted the worst version of himself, and had to accept there’s a dark side of him he can never fully erase. May, Coulson, Daisy—all of them literally became different people as time went by. Jemma might have remained the most like herself (and honestly, this season didn’t do much with her), but even she changed in profound ways, as one of the series’ finest moments can attest. So watching as they peel off from their digitally-aided reunion, one by one, to move on from this time in their lives, should inevitably resonate with anyone who’s been there for all of it. They’ve already moved on, the show says, so it’s okay for us to do the same.

Not before kicking some ass, of course. After far too many episodes devoid of it, the finale returns the show to its fundamentals, with some exhilarating fight scenes and super-powered battles. If anything, the episode could’ve leaned into the hand-to-hand choreography a little harder, as it was a reminder that S.H.I.E.L.D., at its best, is an action series, meant to deliver more literal punches than dramatic ones. It was satisfying to finally see May, Daisy, and Coulson deliver some physical beatdowns that felt kinetically intense, thanks to MVP action director Kevin Tancharoen. (May even got a just-enough-over-the-top one-liner when she crashed the Chronicom deck, responding to Sibyl’s “What’s that?” query with a grin-inducing, “The cavalry.”) And Yo-Yo’s slo-mo knockouts of the Hunters was the kind of thing that made you wish the show had the budget to do that sort of excitement every week.

But it was Daisy and Malick’s battle of the Quake powers that served as a centerpiece of what the show can be when it leans into the superhero elements that were its original raison d’être. Again, it’s anyone’s guess what budget considerations did to the series’ ability to film this kind of sequence (they were in vanishingly short supply these last two seasons), but it’s what I—and a lot of other people, I would guess—are hoping for when we sit down to watch a Marvel TV show. The series never really made a case for being anything else, so seeing it get to really unleash Inhuman powers (we don’t say the “M” word, let’s not forget) was cathartic in a way I hadn’t expected.

Less cathartic? Immediately walking back Daisy’s sacrifice to take down Malick by letting Kora resuscitate her back to life. Apparently, a neck snap is permanent, but quaking yourself to death and then having your body go frozen floating in the vacuum of space is only a minor inconvenience for Kora’s raise-the-dead powers. That’s not to say Daisy should’ve died, simply that it cheapens death when you have a character make the ultimate sacrifice and then immediately undo it seconds later. So many films and shows do this now that it’s become part of the furniture, storytelling-wise, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. Death should really mean something, not be a stop-gap for quick emotional button-pushing. On a show that has historically always treated it with the gravity that it deserves, this was a little surprising.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with massive spectacle and a bittersweet goodbye

But ultimately, the theme of why they do all this came through strong, with multiple characters having the “this is why we fight” line uttered in the moment, in case the episode title didn’t make it clear. But the family, it should be clear, was this team. “I already have a sister. Her name is Jemma Simmons,” Daisy said a couple episodes ago, and that sentiment remains far more potent than any last-minute sisters or kids turning up. Family is what you make of it, and these people made this team their family for seven seasons’ worth of adventures. Every member of the team was the reason for the others to keep showing up, day after day. And superpowers or no, they were the reason we showed up, too. So here’s to them. Who’s like them? Damn few.


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 (2020) Free Download