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Entertainment Weekly

TV

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 100th episode serves as love letter to the fans

Eric McCandless/ABC

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to hit what has now become a rare milestone, reaching 100 episodes, making it the first Marvel TV property to hit that landmark.

Friday’s show features Coulson (Clark Gregg) finally revealing the mysterious deal he made with Ghost Rider last season, which will have a huge impact on the team. As viewers discovered while the team was still in the future, Coulson is apparently dying, and the only way to save the world from being destroyed is to let him perish, which certainly won’t be easy for the team — or for fans of the ABC super series, leading to some meta moments in the milestone hour.

“In many ways, it’s a love letter to our fans who have stayed with us through five seasons,” says executive producer and head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb, “and gives out a number of secrets that maybe even they haven’t thought were secrets, and moves the story ahead in a way that’s quite remarkable. But more than anything else, it’s really a celebration of the family that is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Part of that love letter means Easter eggs galore for keen-eyed viewers, but also the return of a number of familiar faces, like Hive and Lash, among others. “When we started talking about what a 100th episode should be, we felt it should tip its hand to the past,” executive producer Jeffrey Bell says. “It should have a couple holy sh– shocking moments, and it should point the needle in some new and surprising direction.”

That new direction is the truth about Coulson’s fate being revealed to the team, which leads to a very emotional journey during Friday’s episode — and also while the cast was actually filming it. “One of the things that’s fun about putting all of our characters in a room with an emotional scene is when you’re shooting the 100th episode, there’s a sense all of a sudden of, ‘Oh wow, we’ve known each other for five years, we’ve been on a long journey together,'” executive producer Jed Whedon says. “You don’t really think about that up until there’s a moment like that to reflect, because you’re just constantly churning them out and it’s nonstop. The scenes that were emotional felt more emotional and it was a great week in terms of all of us getting together and feeling like, ‘Oh, this has more meaning than just what we’re putting on film.'”

The news that Coulson is apparently dying brings the show full circle back to its origins. The whole series was predicated on Coulson inexplicably being alive following the events of Marvel’s The Avengers, during which he died after he was brutally stabbed through the heart by Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Suffice it to say, whatever deal Coulson has made with Ghost Rider will have extreme consequences. “Moving forward, nothing in the series will be the same — for both good and bad reasons,” Chloe Bennet says of the 100th. “It’s S.H.I.E.L.D., so we’re going to tug on your heartstrings and make you cry. And then we’ll tug on your heartstrings and we’ll make you cry, and I know that’s going to be hard to put in print, but to clarify for the people reading this online, I said them differently because one of them is a nice cry, and one of them is a mean cry.”

Whedon concurs: “It’s an emotional episode and it was emotional making it. We set out to try to make something that would be game-changing for the season and for the show, but also a reward for the fans who had watched everything, and I think that we struck a nice balance and we’re proud of that aspect of it.”

The news of Coulson’s fate will make a particularly strong impact on Bennet’s Daisy, whom Coulson just iced and brought back from the future, despite the fact that she is rumored to be the cause of the end of the world. “The reason Coulson and Daisy have always had such a strong bond [is] because they’re so similar in the way that they care and love for the people around them,” Bennet says. “Sometimes that means force, and that’s something that them as agents and as pseudo-family members, which is when you care about something or someone, it’s an extreme version of that care. I think they’re both willing to do whatever it takes to protect that person, whether it’s against that person’s will.”

But that may be exactly what causes the end of the world. As a future version of Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) told her past self, Coulson is dying and the key to preventing the destruction of Earth is not saving him — though the team doesn’t know that yet. “Yo-Yo’s in a terrible position,” Whedon says. “She’s the only person with any knowledge of what could change this future, and it’s basically that you have to let Coulson go. That’s going to create some tension within the team.”

Though Yo-Yo’s portrayer Cordova-Buckley cautions that the 100th episode will “melt your hearts” and that fans will “cry your eyes out,” Friday’s hour is not all doom and gloom. Gregg previously told EW that the landmark episode would include a major moment for a fan-favorite couple. Though the actor wouldn’t say which, many fans have theorized that the episode could feature the long-awaited union of Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), who got engaged earlier this season. “I’m a huge FitzSimmons shipper, so I have always been gunning for it,” Henstridge says of a potential wedding in the 100th. “It just depends whether we could persuade Iain to be romantic or not, I don’t know.”

So what does her onscreen fiancé think? “I don’t know if they’ll ever really do that,” de Caestecker says. “Then again, I suppose I said they would never get engaged. I always thought that was something you’d see after.”

Other fans, however, hope the ship is actually Philinda, a.k.a Coulson and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). After all, with Coulson apparently dying, that could push them to finally act on their feelings for one another. “We will have to see,” Wen says coyly. “I’m always grateful for the Philinda fans, and I don’t think the writers ever not listen to them, and I really think they will do something with the Philinda storyline.”

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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