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The 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' are 'true underdogs' in season 2

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Agents Of SHIELD Shadows
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Being an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. these days is no easy feat. The organization has been driven underground in the wake of Hydra’s total infiltration, and the man in charge of rebuilding was brought back to life via a serum from a mysterious blue alien.

When Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for its second season, newly installed Director Coulson will have an uphill battle to prove that his agents are actually the good guys—which is made all the more difficult with most of S.H.I.E.L.D. scattered to the wind, selling them out, or in their custody for being members of Hydra, like the double-crossing Ward.

Can Coulson return S.H.I.E.L.D. to its glory days? Who may stand in their way? And how will the team feel about Coulson being in charge? EW turned to executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen to get the scoop on season 2:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you say about the state of S.H.I.E.L.D. when the show returns?

Maurissa Tancharoen: We’re living in a new paradigm. S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra are viewed as one and the same and basically seen as a terrorist organization by the world. So Coulson and his team have been essentially driven underground, forced to truly operate in the shadows.

Jed Whedon: We get to see them as true underdogs for the first time. You got a little taste of it at the end of last season, but most of the season we had all the support and all the billions of dollars we could ever want behind us and now we get to see them as a true underdog. We also get to see Coulson stepping into a new role and not only have to wrestle with how do you rebuild something from the ground up, but what does it mean to be the boss of it?

Will S.H.I.E.L.D. have to be on the run all season or will they be able to prove they’re the good guys?

Whedon: Coulson will have to figure out how to deal with that because they’re not being hunted for the wrong reasons. They’re being hunted by people who are trying to stop evil and that’s their goal, too. Coulson’s goal would be to try to figure something out with Talbot, but we think that Talbot is a great foil for Coulson.

Tancharoen: We’re thrilled that Adrian [Pasdar] is back for a run with us. He’s perfect in that role. With the military pursuing us and Brigadier General Talbot at the head of it, Adrian Pasdar is the perfect face for the person who’s hunting us down.

How does Coulson being the director change the dynamic of the team?

Tancharoen: It absolutely changes the dynamic. He may be just a bit more isolated because he has to make these decisions that he knows the team won’t necessarily agree with.

Whedon: One of the things he has to be very careful of in rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. is making sure that it doesn’t get poisoned at the roots as it did the last time. One of his approaches will be to make sure everything’s compartmentalized so that he can remove an aspect at any point.

Tancharoen: And compartmentalization is something he was a victim of last season, so it’ll be interesting to see him grapple with the idea that in order to keep his team safe–

Whedon: He needs to keep secrets.

Will people start to notice there’s something not quite right with him?

Tancharoen: Yes, that’s another thing that we’ll be exploring: What does it mean for the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be essentially a wild card?

Will we get more information about eh blue alien serum and how it’s actually affecting Coulson?

Tancharoen: I think that would be really cool if we did.

There was a very similar looking blue alien in Guardians of the Galaxy…

Whedon: There were blue aliens in it.

Tancharoen: There are blue aliens in the Marvel world. We are a part of it. [Laughs]

Will the team be facing some villains-of the-week or will you have a bigger overarching villain this season?

Whedon: Well, one thing that helps us this year is last year we had to do so much set up of characters and we couldn’t talk about who our big bad was.

Tancharoen: Yeah, we were hiding the Hydra reveal the whole time.

Whedon: So, we’re really happy to have Hydra.

Tancharoen: We do have smaller villains throughout the season. It’s under this one umbrella of Hydra but, of course, it isn’t just Hydra that’s out there.

Whedon: But we’re excited to have a big baddie right off the bat. It helps us.

Talk about some of these new characters that are going to be coming in because obviously you can’t just repopulate S.H.I.E.L.D. with the team that we already know.

Tancharoen: Because we have limited resources and basically all of S.H.I.E.L.D. is scattered to the four corners of the earth, Coulson has to be resourceful and try to reach people who he may not necessarily get along with, but he has to try and work with.

Whedon: Right. He doesn’t know if he can trust some of these people. He just knows he can trust them with the tasks he’s assigned them. We’ve got a bunch of good new faces coming in and we’ll see how they change the dynamic of the team and/or become part of the team.

Tancharoen: It’s fun to work with Lucy Lawless, whom we’ve worked with before on Spartacus.

What kind of relationship does Isabelle Hartley have with Coulson?

Whedon: They have a history.

Tancharoen: They have a mutual respect for one another for sure.

Whedon: But there’s always the trust issue. When we meet her, she might not necessarily be on the right side of things.

Is there anything you can tell us about Skye’s father?

Whedon: We’re not really going into detail on that one yet. The only detail we really know is just Kyle’s playing Skye’s father. We can say that having him is exciting for us. We’re obviously fans and we think the various things we are going to ask of him, he will be able to execute.

Tancharoen: We’re just thrilled that he was actually able to come and play the part. Kyle, as a person, is a very lovely, warm, nice man. And what we know about Skye’s father from season 1 is he’s rumored to be some sort of monster. So, if Kyle MacLachlan is the face of that monster, maybe there’s a different quality that he’ll bring to that character that the audience may not anticipate.

Why did you guys decide to lead with the fact that he’s her father instead of surprising the audience?

Tancharoen: That mystery was something that we carried through season 1, and in the very final episode, we see a man’s silhouette with a bloody hand. It was very clear that that’s something that we would be diving in to.

Whedon: And the story’s not structured in a way so that you’ll meet the character and then discover he’s Skye’s father. You will know the moment you see him. So it wasn’t something where we had to hide the ball on it, and truthfully some things you just can’t keep quiet, and this seems like one of them.

Coulson has been a surrogate father to Skye, so how will he feel about her actual father being out in the world possibly posing a threat?

Tancharoen: Exactly.

Whedon: That is something to be explored.

Will Skye continue to dig into her past or might it catch up to her?

Tancharoen: It was very clear at the end of season 1 that she had found her new family but that unanswered question is something that will always burn for her.

Whedon: But they all have a lot on their plate when we come into the season.

Tancharoen: Yeah, the pace and momentum that we had as we came to a close last season, it was very much starting off with that here in season 2.

Whedon: They’ve got a lot of different problems and this might be on the back burner for her.

What role will Ward play this season now being locked up by S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Whedon: He obviously is the possible source of information because he has some inside knowledge. But the thing that’s really exciting is just taking his character somewhere new. He lost everything and now we get to see him find his purpose.

Tancharoen: It was clear that he was a follower for his entire life. And now, we’re seeing what he’s like without Garrett, without Hydra, without any of it.

How do you think Melinda has changed in the wake of the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also being duped by Ward?

Whedon: We’ve explained that May has had an experience in her life that changed her. She’s already gone through something crazy in Bahrain that we’ve hinted at and we will explore in this season. So, for her, I don’t think it was as much of a game changer as for everybody else because she’s so good with rolling with punches and throwing a few herself.

Tancharoen: But if she sees Ward, there will be a grudge and it’s fun when Melinda May has a grudge.

Whedon: But she has a lot to deal with now with the fact that the person who she’s in charge of watching is back because Coulson is now the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s going to have some new duties and we’ll get into that.

Can you talk about the ramifications of Fitz and Simmons’ trip to the bottom of the ocean and how their relationship changes now that he admitted his true feelings for her?

Tancharoen: I’m not sure we can talk about it, but those are the same questions that we had when we proposed those story points at the end of the season. If anything, the Fitz/Simmons story will be packed with emotion.

Whedon: Obviously things are going to change between them and we’ll see just how.

Tancharoen: The dynamics across the board between the members of our team will absolutely experience a shift this season.

Is Triplett going to be a more permanent fixture on the team this year?

Tancharoen: Yes. He’s a member of the team. He’s there to help out like the rest of them.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. on ABC.