Big changes are ahead for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
With S.H.I.E.L.D. stepping back into the public eye in the wake of the Sokovia Accords, government oversight has taken the organization in a new direction. There’s a new director (Jason O’Mara), who introduces a new set of rules and plenty of other new faces. In short, S.H.I.E.L.D. is very different, and that doesn’t necessarily sit well with the characters we’ve come to know and love — especially because chief among the new protocols includes hunting down enhanced individuals like Daisy (Chloe Bennet).
When the ABC super series returns, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-Robin Hood rogue is haunting her old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, where she’ll come across the Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) incarnation of flame-licked spirit of vengeance Ghost Rider. It’s all part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe moving toward the unexplained, providing the show an opportunity to do the same. The show’s move to a later timeslot also ushers in a grittier and sexier S.H.I.E.L.D. Below, executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen tease what’s in store:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where does the new season pick up?
JED WHEDON: We pick up basically right after the six-month jump that we saw at the end of the last season, so we’re right on the heels of it.
Why is there a new director?
WHEDON: When we come back in the season premiere, there have been a lot of changes. Coulson reaching out to the president last year and putting them back on the road to legitimacy, because of that and because of the cascading events after the end of last year, things have changed. Why he’s not director and who the new director is, we will have to discover along the way. It has to do with S.H.I.E.L.D. being more legitimate.
Is there anything you can say about the new director?
WHEDON: He’s definitely got a different managing style. How he came to become director and what makes him qualified will be one of the mysteries we unspool.
How might the team feel about this new director?
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: That will be made really clear in the first few episodes. With a new person in charge, there’s going to be policy changes, there’s going to be a shift in the dynamics between all of our characters, and we’re definitely exploring how each one of our team members reacts to the sudden shift in everything.
WHEDON: And Coulson may not be the only one who has a job title change.
How does Coulson feel about being an agent again?
TANCHAROEN: It will be something that the audience will discover whether or not Coulson stepping down was by choice. It may seem that he’s very comfortable in this place, whether or not it’s genuinely comfort or complacency is the question.
WHEDON: When we first met Agent Coulson back in the day, he was the everyman — he represented the everyman. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. He didn’t necessarily like the weight of that crown last year. He made some decisions he regretted, so he may feel a little more comfortable back in that old role and with some of that weight lifted off of his shoulders.
Are the motivations of S.H.I.E.L.D. different now with the rise of inhumans?
WHEDON: We used to keep this internal, but now there is global awareness of enhanced individuals. The Sokovia Accords have changed the public perception of our people. While our mission statement is the same that it always has been — which is to protect people from things that they don’t understand and to protect those people that we don’t understand from people — we still have that mission, but now there’s a whole political aspect that’s tied to the UN, the Sokovia Accords, and the public awareness that these people exist and what will their role be in our world?
What new challenge does that pose for Daisy?
TANCHAROEN: It’s definitely on their radar. She’s on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar and she’s on the run, so all of these new rules in place and the awareness of Inhumans, it does not bode well for her, especially her being an Inhuman.
Can you talk about her mindset when the show returns?
WHEDON: Lincoln said in his last moments that he believed that she was meant for more than this. They think that she is trying to prove to herself that that’s true and trying to do something that is worthy of his sacrifice. At the same time, she now has a fear that everybody she gets close to something bad happens to them. Her self-imposed exile is based both on a need to not have those rules that the Sokovia Accords are hanging over her head, so she can honor Lincoln’s belief in her, but also a desire to distance herself from people that she’s afraid will get hurt or she will hurt.
TANCHAROEN: She doesn’t have any attachments and she may believe that she has nothing to lose.
WHEDON: In terms of the strength of her power, we know from the past that your power comes with a price. It damaged her when she first used it and you have to learn to control it. No one is Superman, so part of her nothing-to-lose attitude has allowed her to unleash her power on a level that’s much more aggressive, but also maybe much more dangerous.
TANCHAROEN: Yeah, she’s in a place where she’s pushing herself beyond her limitations and whether or not that’s being self-destructive or just trying to be her own version of her best self, we’ll explore that question.
What does the Daisy and Coulson dynamic look like this year?
TANCHAROEN: Well, it will definitely be Coulson’s priority to try and find her. Where we go from there, we will see, because she may not want to have a relationship with anyone anymore, even him.
But she will have some interaction with Robbie Reyes?
WHEDON: They do interact. There are now pictures on the internet that prove that they interact. [Laughs] We can say that there is a similarity between them. They both operate alone, they both live outside of the law, and so one can imagine that, in some way, their paths would cross because of that.
What brings Ghost Rider into this world?
WHEDON: As always, we are going to put our own spin on the character — some of it with long-term goals and some of it with production concerns in mind. We are staying true to the comics in the places where we feel like it’s really important. We love the character’s family dynamic and the east L.A. kid in him; that’s something that is dear to us. But in terms of plot, we want that to be different, so reading the comic will not be a road map for what we have coming out. In terms of fitting him into our world, the MCU has branched out over the years. It started out with a guy building a suit using science and then we met aliens that are the origin of the myths behind some of our gods, and this year Doctor Strange comes out. We’re opening it up even further to the world of things we don’t totally understand, or as Thor says, “Magic is science that we don’t understand.” Well, we’re getting into some very, very fancy science.
TANCHAROEN: Our team will definitely be trying to science this guy with the flaming skull.
WHEDON: Right, we think with the MCU moving in that direction, it opens up our show to something that presents as very strange and very different. Also, tonally we’re moving to 10 o’clock. We think that there’s a grittier aspect to our show. There’s obviously been plenty of heartbreak and plenty of emotion, but we think that there’s a grittier, and at times, a sexier vibe to our show this year. The last reason he fits onto our show is that Marvel said, “Do you guys want Ghost Rider?” And we said, “Yeah.”
With that in mind, are you guys going to tie-in to either Doctor Strange or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?
WHEDON: Our ties are at times very direct and at times are more thematic. The tie this year will feel more of a reflection of the movie, less an interweaving plot. As that movie hits the world, it comes at the right time in our show, and you will see some of those same ideas being explored.
TANCHAROEN: The same questions that our team is exploring leading up to the premiere of Doctor Strange, perhaps some of those concepts will be reflected in the movie and then carried through.
WHEDON: Hopefully some of the questions that we’re asking will be answered by it and then pose some new themes and ideas for us to explore.
What does Simmons’ promotion mean for her role on the team?
WHEDON: As we know, Fitz and Simmons are in a relationship now, so we’re going to play with that dynamic and what it’s like to work with the person that you’re in love with, something that we’re only roughly familiar with. [Laughs]
TANCHAROEN: We said that this new director may come with new policy changes, new rules. Simmons being someone who works closely with the new director and is good at following the rules, that may cause some tension with the rest of our team. Because she is trying to abide by these rules, whether or not she’s trying to be a goodie two shoes or if she’s doing it for some other reason [remains to be seen].
What can we expect to see for Fitz?
WHEDON: John Hannah is returning as Dr. Radcliffe and we like the dynamic of the two of them playing together. While Fitz’s girlfriend/lab partner has her plate full, he has found a new friend in Dr. Radcliffe. We like the mentor/mentee vibe between the two of them. They’re both very funny. He’s diving head first into his work in response to the fact that his lab partner is off doing the same, but as you can imagine, things will get complicated.
What can you tease about the introduction of Life Model Decoys this year?
WHEDON: We’re slowly rolling out that concept. As we said, Doctor Strange will introduce some new ideas, but we’re starting to lay the first brick in the yellow brick road to that and we want to slowly play with the morality of building these things, whether or not we even should and the scientific questions that come along with it. [That’s] the first step that we explore before we inevitably get into other things.
TANCHAROEN: It’s made very clear in Age of Ultron when diving into the world of A.I. that things may not go as planned, so whether or not we continue that theme you will see.
What role is AIDA playing this season?
WHEDON: The idea initially is the temptation of science. [Viewers] will come to learn that everybody is pretty focused — regardless of what they’re doing — on making sure what happened at the end of last year doesn’t happen again. They don’t want to have people that they love have to sacrifice themselves for the good of mankind, so there’s a temptation that science can solve all those problems. That’s one of the themes that we will explore with Fitz, Radcliffe, and Simmons.
TANCHAROEN: With Radcliffe specifically, all of his intentions are essentially altruistic. In the world that we met him in, with body modifications and things like that, it’s all to improve humanity and to extend the life of humanity. With the introduction of AIDA, that shifts the progression of his story.
WHEDON: He’s eager to prove that he was in a bad circumstance and that he’s not a bad guy. Fitz and Simmons recognize that sooner than some, but that’s what we’ll be playing AIDA, his desire to prove that he can make something that is truly only going to serve the good. Whether or not it ends up that way, we’ll see.
So we’ll see a more serious side to LMDs before we see two Coulsons in same room, then?
WHEDON: Sure, you can put it that way.
What’s in store for Mack this season?
WHEDON: With Mack and Coulson, we love that dynamic between the two of them, and him being put in more of a leadership position or equal footing with Coulson. He doesn’t love that. We’ve met Mack’s brother and we know a little bit about his history, but we’ll learn a lot more about him this year.
May is training new S.H.I.E.L.D. strike teams. How does she feel about that?
WHEDON: Awesome. She, like everybody else, is focused on making sure that the problems that they ran into at the end of last year don’t happen again, so this is her way of doing it. “If I can prepare everyone to be as prepared as I am, then we are in a better situation.”
TANCHAROEN: The one thing that you’ll really see across the board with all of our characters is that they’re just in let’s move mode — let’s just move on from what went down. Whether or not that’s just a coping mechanism or denial of all of the trauma that they’ve experienced, I think them being so functional will start to unravel.
What can you tease about the new villain in season 4?
WHEDON: At the end of the last year, we introduced the Watchdogs. With the Sokovia Accords and shifting perception of power in the public’s view, there’s a real threat there with people who don’t believe that these people should be treated fairly or believe that they are freaks or believe that they don’t belong here, which resonates with some of our present day dynamic in the world. But they will present and grow into a more formidable threat. At the same time, with the introduction of Ghost Rider, he exists and has the world that he rolls in, and some of that will be dragged into our world.
Like the serial killer spirit of vengeance inside him from the comics?
WHEDON: Well, he has a host of problems and maybe some of those problems will become our problems.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.