Warning: This story contains spoilers from both Captain America: Civil War and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!
In the immortal words of the powers that be at Marvel: #ItsAllConnected.
Birthed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe — specifically Marvel’s The Avengers — Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has subsequently tied into most of the Marvel films in both big ways (Read: the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and small (See: cleaning up Thor’s mess after The Dark World).
For those who haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet (Stop reading! Go watch it! Seriously, spoilers ahead!), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) find themselves at odds over the introduction of the Sokovia Accords, which requires those with superhuman abilities to register.
With Inhumans on the rise over in the TV universe, connections to Civil War came quite easily. In short, after terrigen-tainted fish oil pills spread throughout the world, more and more Inhumans have been cropping up, helping to build a new team of Secret Warriors. But not all Inhumans have fallen on the side of good, raising the question of what to do with them, hence the Sokovia Accords coming to the small screen.
“The Sokovia Accords have their own specific purpose within Civil War having to do with the powered people that we’ve met in The Avengers,” Clark Gregg tells EW. “It’s representative of how our show functions within the Marvel Universe, in some ways, in that it’s all connected.” (Side note: Everybody drink!) “That ripples through our show because suddenly all these people who are Inhumans in our corner of the universe, they’re all subjected to the Sokovia Accords. That dilemma rises up in our show about the people who feel Inhumans should be registered and those who feel that’s a first step to them being sequestered, imprisoned, exterminated.”
Unlike the last tie-in — which saw Coulson (Gregg) provide a helicarrier to the unknowing but desperate Avengers as they faced off with the titular nemesis in Avengers: Age of Ultron — the ties to Civil War run a little more philosophical, touching upon a theme Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been toying with all season after the arrival of the Inhumans. “I feel like we’ve been dealing with the bigger issues of Civil War on a smaller, more personal scale for a while now,” Chloe Bennet says. “It’s been building. We’ve been having our own mini version of Civil War.”
And as in Civil War, Team S.H.I.E.L.D. is divided over the Sokovia Accords and what they mean for the future of powered people. “Marvel is so good at taking really huge political and philosophical issues and putting them through a prism and making them something that you can have an opinion on, but there’s distance and you can argue both sides,” says Elizabeth Henstridge. “The characters fall on different sides. It’s not so black and white. There’s no one character in the show that’s full-force for one side or the other. It’s a really cool link philosophically that we’re both questioning the same morals or politics. Can two different beings, in a way, that share so much but then are so different, can you live side-by-side together peacefully?”
The answer: It won’t be easy. “Marvel always works best when it’s commenting on the real world,” executive producer Jeph Loeb says. “It’s safe to say it wouldn’t be hard to find a recent time where man’s tolerance toward man or woman is being stretched pretty thin, whether it’s because of race, gender, or religion. We can’t quite figure out how to get along. The Civil War is happening around us. In our world, that translates as whether or not you have powers. For a lot of people, that’s very scary when someone is different.”
That being said, you may be surprised where certain S.H.I.E.L.D. team members land when it comes to the Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man argument, particularly with Simmons (Henstridge). “She started off being scared of people with powers, and almost had a snobbish attitude toward them, and an arrogance of her superiority in terms of intelligence and how maybe people with powers were shortcutting to a solution when she felt she’d earned the right to be able to solve a problem,” Henstridge says. “But she has definitely warmed to the idea. But I do still think she’s on the side of Iron Man and relying on scientific qualities, which include documenting, writing everything down, and making sure everything is nice and neat in its little box.”
Simmons is not alone in feeling that way. “May is very torn, because on the one hand, she understands the need to have them as allies as opposed to having them as the enemy, especially with Hive [Brett Dalton] in the mix right now and him being able to control the Inhumans,” Ming-Na Wen says. “But there lies the dilemma, because as much as we want to believe and trust the Inhumans, they are the unstable, unknown element. For her, she wishes things were back to the old ways, where it was very clear cut that S.H.I.E.L.D. was there to help and to protect the citizens.”
This isn’t the first time S.H.I.E.L.D. has faced a situation like this. During the first season, there was an argument to be made over The Index, a list of super-powered people and objects kept by S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to track potential threats. “We’ve been to that place where we have documented, and it didn’t work,” Henstridge says. “It’s strange that we’re having the argument again, but that’s what humans do: You don’t notice that history is repeating itself.”
The team might not have much of a choice but to follow orders in this case considering S.H.I.E.L.D.’s current status. “We’re dipping our toe into the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. being a legitimate organization again,” executive producer Jed Whedon says. “But with that would come any rules and regulations that come with government oversight. It’s not a coincidence that while we’re starting to approach that as an idea on the show, it’s becoming more complicated for that to be a reality that we would live in.”
With that in mind, Coulson is still very reticent to register his powered assets, especially when one of those assets, Daisy (Bennet), is like a daughter to him. “He does end up being Team Cap,” Gregg says. “In some ways, I think Coulson would’ve imagined he would be enforcing whatever the latest iteration of the World Council would want in terms of this stuff, but his relationship with Daisy and other Inhumans pulls him very much against that particular side of it. He’s very much Team Cap.”
Much like last time, though, no one from the Avengers even knows how the effects of their actions ripple out. “The connection is there, but it’s also very tenuous at this point, because S.H.I.E.L.D. has become so isolated with what’s going on with the Avengers and them not knowing still that Coulson is alive,” Wen says.
Of course, the Sokovia Accords aren’t the only connection the show has to the film. Another spoiler warning here. Coulson will also learn about Peggy Carter’s (Hayley Atwell) death during Tuesday’s episode, which is a tough pill to swallow considering their connection. “S.H.I.E.L.D. was birthed out of Peggy Carter and Howard Stark,” Bell says. “Any time we can make a connection to her, whether in a flashback or dealing with what’s happening now, it makes the universe smaller.”
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.