Warning: This story contains MAJOR spoilers from Tuesday’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as MAJOR spoilers from The Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you have not watched either, TURN BACK NOW! You’ve been warned!
Longtime Marvel fans know better than to expect Iron Man or Thor to just drop by ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But that hasn’t stopped the powers that be from uniting their television and film universes through cameos, Easter eggs, and spin-offs (hello, Agent Carter!). In the most recent small-screen-big-screen meet-cute, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s dogged Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) played a surprisingly big role in the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron—even though the supes think he’s dead. Here’s how Coulson (and Marvel) pulled it off. Here’s another spoiler warning, so you really only have yourself to blame if you get spoiled.
Following the events of the April 28 episode of S.H.I.E.L.D.—in which Coulson discovered the location of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) scepter at Baron Strucker’s (Thomas Kretschmann) remaining Hydra outpost—the Avengers tracked down the scepter and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) inadvertently used it to create the maniacal robot Ultron, who planned to raise the small European country Sokovia above the Earth and send it hurtling back as a devastating and mankind-ending meteor. When it seemed that all hope was lost, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) saved the day with a helicarrier that was actually rebuilt by Coulson—oh hey, Theta Protocol!
Though it’s not nearly as game-changing as the Captain America: Winter Soldier tie-in, the S.H.I.E.L.D. producers had been planning for this crossover since the beginning of season 2. EW hit the set of the ABC super series to get the scoop:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about how this tie-in to Age of Ultron compares to the crossover with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Jed Whedon: The other one was not nuanced.
Maurissa Tancharoen: It was in your face.
Jeph Loeb: It landed on us like an atomic bomb.
Jeffrey Bell: “We are making a movie where you stop existing!”
Loeb: “But don’t tell anybody you’re about to become the agents of nothing.”
Whedon: It was like we were invited to the big game and then we realized we were the ball, and then we realized we were the ball sitting on the tee and they hit us.
Loeb: But we did know. We knew from the very beginning, so we built the show to do something that was unprecedented. We used a major motion picture to forever change the mythology of the show we were working on.
Bell: We knew Hydra was coming so we built the season so that Hydra would blow up not just that movie, but our show. This year, it is more nuanced. List was in the tag at the end of Cap 2: Winter Soldier. We’ve had him on the show.
Whedon: It was also different because whereas last year our mythology, our whole season was built around it, so the tie-in blew up our show, but also this year, we have our own mythology. We are our own story and our own show. It has to exist within our story and tie into their story, which is separate. It’s not like our villain is the same villain.
Bell: Last year, our plot was designed to erupt based on the movie. The fallout of the movie is the fallout of the show.
Whedon: Our fallout this year is different. It’s related because it ties into some of our people finding their powers and we’ve done some investigating to tee up some of their stuff, and there’s ripple, but it’s not like we’re discovering Ultron in our show and then going and fighting him in the movie.
Though we do see Raina (Ruth Negga) has a connection to Ultron in that she foresaw his arrival.
Bell: The power helped us. Who Raina had been as a manipulative person, who always got her way, who worked for the Clairvoyant, who then was crushed and didn’t get what she wanted, it’s been fun for us to watch Ruth find Raina through the—
Tacharoen: —new look and how it limits her ability to tweak her face in a way that Raina would do for the situation.
Bell: To be crushed that Skye got all the good stuff, but then to give her the most powerful thing you’d ever want to have, part of it was to make her think she’d been given something ugly, but inside it’s the most amazing and wonderful thing. For that character who had never had a set back, had a loss or finished second to anything, to give her that, it was like “OHHH!”
Whedon: We needed a point where she was proven to be [right]. It was a nice way of teeing up when Jaiying goes into that scene saying, “Is this real?” and by the end of the movie, we come back and everybody knows it’s real.
Bell: It was a nice way for us to say she’s not making things up. There’s a world where she says she has this secret power, but she’s making it up. Our joke was you just didn’t want her to have her say things and the future she saw is a movie trailer.
What came with the decision to include Loki’s scepter?
Whedon: One of the things that’s true in the world we operate in is we are rushing, hammering out scripts and laying track, they had a script for that movie years ago.
Bell: Joss was writing the outline to Avengers: [Age of Ultron] as we were breaking the pilot of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Whedon: That’s how far ahead their story is in terms of ours. We knew about the scepter being in that story and how it related to it, partially because we were talking about season 1 and we said, “What about the scepter?” “Yeah no.”
Tancharoen: “Not so much the scepter please.”
Bell: The other reason the scepter is great for us is because it’s what killed Coulson. For us, there’s an emotional component.
Theta Protocol also resonated after the film as well.
Whedon: The main thing it serves for us is it puts aside the doubts about Coulson for what we call S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0. He’s had this big secret and this big lie. The movie serves to put an end to that and say, ‘This is what I was doing, it wasn’t what you thought I was doing and it was kind of awesome.’ Initially, as we come back, it’s changed the tone of how they work together. It doesn’t mean it’s changed their attitudes. They come in being able to bury the hatchet on some of this stuff, but then it gets a little more complicated almost right away.
Loeb: Clark was talking about how his fanbase has really started to question whether he was stealing money, if he was doing things he should not have been doing. Both he and Adrianne [Palicki] have been going through this brutal [assault having] the fans turning against them because they don’t think that what they’re doing is the right thing. What’s so satisfying is by the time you get to the end of the season, all the fans are right. [Laughs]
At any point, did you lobby for the Avengers to find out that Coulson is alive?
Loeb: There’s a plan. It’s just one of those things that when it pops, folks will see it.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.