As Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. kicks off its fourth year, things are very different from seasons past. In the aftermath of Hive’s destruction and as a result of the Sokovia Accords, S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer operating in the shadows, there is a new Director (Jason O’Mara), Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is back to being an agent and Daisy/Quake (Chloe Bennett) is on the run with the organization desperate to bring her in.
While silence is prevalent when it comes to revealing plot twists (especially regarding the arrival of Ghost Rider), cast members and producers nonetheless take on the following six questions about the new season.
1. Will S.H.I.E.L.D. continue to tie in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Clark Gregg (actor, “Agent Phil Coulson”): We tied in to Civil War in a way with the Sokovia Accords. In our universe it’s a little bit different; it has to do with the fact that we’ve had this “pandemic” of Inhumans. For me it was a really topical, interesting storyline that was about these people that are suddenly, without any choice of their own, evolving into something different. Some of them might be considered evil and some of them might be considered very good, and some people want to lock them up or exterminate them, while others go, “Well, this is us now; we have to welcome and understand," and that’s exciting. So the ripple starts in the cinematic universe and it becomes something all its own on our show.
Henry Simmons (actor, Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie): I cannot applaud the writers enough to make that work into our show and then branch out from there into personal stories. It’s very difficult when someone tells you, “Okay, we would like to do this. You have to do this.” Then you figure out how to make that interesting, and then make it pertinent to each character individually. I think they’ve done a fantastic job with that.
Jeffrey Bell (executive producer): The characters and situation on the show have changed because the world around them has changed. After what happened in the last Captain America movie [Civil War], it trickled into our world. With the rise of Inhumans, our characters had to engage with that whole situation, which will continue into the fourth season.
Jeph Loeb (executive producer): It’s hard to remember that for many people the Marvel contact point is through the comic books. In the comic books, there are thousands of characters running around with powers and abilities, but when the show began there were only a handful of them in the movies. The truth of the matter is that Tony Stark was a man who wore a suit. You had Thor, technically an alien. You had the Hulk, who had incredible strength that grew out of science. And Cap. And that was basically kind of it, because characters like Hawkeye and Black Widow were regular people who happened to have incredible skills. The world that S.H.I.E.L.D. lived in, when it encountered something unique and unusual, it could move in the shadows. But as more and more things popped up, not just in the movies but in the television series, it became obvious that this entity had to change. The show is constantly reflecting that change.
Maurissa Tancharoen (co-creator/executive producer): The Marvel Cinematic Universe is sort of being opened up into the world of magic with Doctor Strange, but as we learned in Thor, the Marvel approach is magic is science that we don’t yet understand. We’re going to have both the introduction of magical elements on our show as well as very hardcore science. So maybe down the road those two things will click.
Jed Whedon (co-creator/executive producer): Tying into the movies is a challenge, but it can be fun. Also we can start to pose questions that perhaps the movie will answer for us. Coming out of that, we see how that affects our characters moving forward.
Tancharoen: It’s the way other shows treat a webisode. I don’t really want to explain magic, so Doctor Strange will do it. Our webisode is gigantic!
2. Coulson is no longer S.H.I.E.LD.’s Director: What does that mean?
Bell: We got Coulson on this journey as the Director. It’s harder to be the Director. Suddenly you’re sending people into battles. Lives are being lost. You lose a hand. Suddenly you’re losing some of your own humanity. How far do you go? Coming back out of that, it felt like he had worked that out. Honestly, we love the Coulson from Iron Man. We love the guy who goes out there and can talk his way out of anything. We like him boots on the ground, going into situations. As Director, sometimes there was conflict with doing that. Now things are different. Coulson and Mack are partners. We always try and take our characters and put them in new combinations that are different, which creates new dynamics.
Ming-Na Wen (actress, “Agent May”): Coulson has definitely dropped out of being Director. Whether it’s because now his mission is really to find Daisy and bring her back into the fold, or whether he just felt that there were a lot of choices that he made that maybe he doesn’t want to have to make anymore, it will be interesting to see what’s going on with him.
Gregg: As an actor, Coulson’s journey from agent to Director and back to an agent again has been joyful. Some months I’m just, like, “I can’t take this anymore. This is so dark and I feel so much of his pain.” But then I realize that I was showing up bothering Tony Stark and getting some snark here and there, but I never thought I would get to go on this in depth rollercoaster with this ensemble of incredible actors with such amazing twists and turns and ups and down written by these guys. I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. From finally sitting down for a hamburger date with the unbelievable, Emmy-nominated Constance Zimmer, to having her bleed out in my arms on the floor, to, a few minutes later, crushing the life out of Grant Ward — I had a hell of a run there at the end.
3. Based on the season three finale, Skye is very much on the run. What is the impact of that?
Tancharoen: We’ve done a time jump every year, we just decided to do it at the end of season three rather than wait for the new season. There has to be a profound ripple effect after such an emotional ending last year. We wanted to show that right away and show how it affected Daisy. After Trip died, she was just miserable. When she got back from under Hive’s sway, she was miserable. She’s taken a different approach to dealing with her grief. We explore that.
Chloe Bennett (actress, “Daisy/Quake”): She’s really gone back to her old ways of being Skye and being kind of a loner, but it’s much darker now than it used to be. She’s separated herself from the others. She’s in mourning and trying to separate herself from the group because she hears so much and feels that wherever she goes, bad things happen. And they kind of have. She’s trying to protect them by isolating herself. Don’t think it’s gonna last long, but that’s kind of where we start. Skye’s also not someone to find comfort in stability. She’s always changing. She’s a chameleon and she takes comfort in that change. That’s kind of her way of coping with things.
4. There’s a new Director in town — how do the agents feel about him?
Gregg: A little bit hard to tell so far. All I can tell is that S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer seems to be an outlaw organization. It has now fallen under the control of the government in line with the Sokovia Accords, and those powers have chosen somebody else who they’re comfortable with. It remains to be seen if any of us on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team will be as comfortable with this person.
5. Will the relationship between Fitz and Simmons have some happiness?
Elizabeth Henstridge (actress, “Jemma Simmons”): I would just love for them to be happy, but it’s a show so you have to do what’s best for the story and push things forward. I think we’re going to see them face some new challenges, but at the same time I just feel that we’ve seen them go through so much, that it was time for them to get together and that felt right. So I’m campaigning for them to be good, but I also want good TV for everyone to watch.
6. What impact does the ending of season three have on season four?
Wen: I think what was so great storyline-wise was the whole HYDRA-Hive story coming to a close. There was a real solid ending for season three so that we can start off season four with a clean slate. Even with all the residual wounds, shall we say, of the heart and the mind.
Iain De Caestecker (actor, “Leo Fitz”): Things are definitely going to be a lot different. The dynamic of S.H.I.E.L.D. has, I think, changed.
Wen: I feel like we’re rebuilding in a different way and just trying to learn from the mistakes that S.H.I.E.L.D. has made in the past.
7. Will S.H.I.E.L.D. take on any of the grittiness and darkness of the Netflix Marvel shows?
Whedon: I think S.H.I.E.L.D. has gotten darker as you put the characters through their paces. That is a natural thing that happens, really, with any show. We’ve done sixty-six of these now. People have to go through a journey, so you end up putting everybody through pain. Now pretty much everybody’s had some gnarly experiences, so they’re all much more weathered and seasoned. The show has naturally grown grittier as it’s gone on, but it’s not necessarily a reflection of the Netflix shows.
Loeb: The reality is that Marvel’s never going to be more than somewhere between PG-13 and PG-16. With the Netflix shows we certainly push the envelope in a way that it hasn’t been pushed, but at the same time we’re not making a TV version of Deadpool any time soon. At the end of the day what’s important to us is that we tell really good stories with really strong characters that have a lot of conflict, a lot of emotion and a lot of humor. If we can accomplish that, we’ve done our job. But the real world does impact on the world of Marvel. One of the things that’s on our minds, in a way now more than ever, is the differences between us all. How that’s been highlighted and really pushed in our face. The fact that some of us are different from others, whether that’s human or Inhuman, whether that’s human or whatever form of Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes is, those are things that we’re going to need to work with, because we are sharing one planet.
Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on ABC in America and E4 in the UK