My biggest fear going into the third season finale of Agents of SHIELD was that it would constantly be passing YoYo's cross between characters in order to keep us on our toes about who is going to die. Character death can make for excellent television when done well (hell, just see the latest episode of Game of Thrones for proof of that), but by having the advertising for the finale lean heavily on the fact that someone would die, I began to worry that Agents of SHIELD had nothing else to offer beyond that. It felt cheap, an easy way to raise the stakes without doing any of the legwork required to make it actually matter.
Thankfully, Agents of SHIELD has proven me wrong. Although there is an element of "Who's it going to be?!?" here, I'm glad to see that it isn't even close to being to focus of the episode. Instead, "Absolution" is content to simply let the SHIELD vs Hive story that the show has been building to since the mid-season finale play out, and in that respect it doesn't disappoint.
Ignoring a cold open dream sequence that has nothing to do with the story and is never referenced again (I'd assume that it only exists to be used in marketing materials), "Absolution" is as exciting as you could ask the first-half of a season finale to be. An Ocean's 11 style heist gets us into the action straight away, and it doesn't really let up from that point on - before long we're watching SHIELD assault the base where Hive intends to launch his weapon from, and not long after that we see SHIELD itself come under attack in response. There is a lot going on, and parts of "Absolution" do end up feeling just a little rushed because of that - but the action is good and the story interesting, so it's not difficult to forgive the episode for some minor pacing issues when they end up being wholly worth it.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how good some of the performances are in "Absolution", particularly those of Chloe Bennet and Brett Dalton. Skye is the most vulnerable we've ever seen her here thanks to the way that Hive's "sway" has affected her and Bennet really sells that vulnerability to us, helping explain some of the actions she takes throughout the episode. On the other end of the spectrum, Dalton seems to have great fun hamming it up in a scene where Hive temporarily loses control of himself, becoming overwhelmed by the personalities and memories of the people he has absorbed in the past.
Ultimately, the way we remember "Absolution" will hinge upon if next week's "Ascension" can deliver a satisfying finale (such is the nature of two-parters), but based on what we have here I feel more than confident in saying that it will. "Absolution" is a fun, fast and just solidly entertaining 45 minutes of television, and as long as "Ascension" can continue that then I can't help but think that we might be looking at the best season finale the show has delivered so far.