Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. boss talks early character exit, teases 'Marvel's Most Wanted'
Warning: This story contains spoilers from “Parting Shot,” Tuesday’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. said farewell to two of their own much sooner than most probably expected.
During Tuesday’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) were disavowed from S.H.I.E.L.D. after three highly decorated members of the Russian government ended up dead at their hands.
No, they haven’t turned to the dark side. After stowing away on Malick’s (Powers Boothe) plane, they ended up in Siberia, where the Russians brought Malick in to negotiate with an Inhuman. Unfortunately, the head of Hydra came along to stage a coup by freeing the Russian Minister of Defense, who happens to be an Inhuman, in order to kill the Russian Prime Minister.
To save the Prime Minister, Bobbi and Hunter both had to knock off a few people and ended up getting arrested in the process. To protect S.H.I.E.L.D., Hunter and Bobbi denied any involvement with the organization, or that it even still exists — if the world thought a terrorist organization was training Inhuman soldiers on U.S. soil, it would be perceived as an act of war. They’re able to walk free, but they can no longer be agents, leading to a tearful farewell as the team, from a distance, send the departing duo shots at a bar; a spy’s goodbye.
But Bobbi and Hunter aren’t gone for good, since they are the centerpiece of Marvel’s Most Wanted, the S.H.I.E.L.D. spin-off in contention for the next TV season on ABC. For those unaware, Most Wanted follows the ex-spies, on the run with a long list of enemies looking to claim a bounty on their heads, as they form an uneasy alliance with rogue adventurer Dominic Fortune (Delroy Lindo), who agrees to protect them so long as they help with his agenda. EW tracked down Jeff Bell, an executive producer on both projects, to get the scoop on how this all came together. (Read our full postmortem with Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood here, and scroll down to watch that emotional final scene again.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you first introduced Bobbi and Hunter, did you even have an inkling in your mind that they could someday be spun off?
JEFF BELL: I suspect Jeph Loeb would say yes. Bobbi is a better known character in the comics than Lance is, so I think there was an eye toward her potentially from the get-go. What we hadn’t anticipated was what great chemistry she and Nick would have, and how much we would love Nick Blood. He had sent in an audition tape; he self-taped in England as he was on some other show. He literally finished that show, got on a plane, went straight from the airport to here and we had him walk onto set and lay down in an upside-down car that had been crashed. He just walked right into our lives, right into an episode. We had no idea how delightful he would be and how wonderful he would be with everyone, in particular with Adrianne.
Did you know they would have this past when you first introduced them?
Yes. We knew that he was her ex, because we knew that we were going to bring her in five episodes later, and they were going to see each other and they would go, “What?” We were looking for that tension. We knew that was going to happen, we just didn’t know they would work so well together.
At its core, what did you want to accomplish with these characters upon bringing them into S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Well, they achieved a lot for us. We had set up the show with almost a family metaphor. You had Coulson [Clark Gregg] and May [Ming-Na Wen] as the older, experienced agents, then you had fairly young agents with Skye [Chloe Bennet], Fitz [Iain de Caestecker] and Simmons [Elizabeth Henstridge], even Agent Ward [Brett Dalton] was a younger person in that respect. What we didn’t have was a different, more adult dynamic. Bringing in a divorced couple fit right in the pocket there of some of the stories we weren’t able to tell. Bringing them into the larger family dynamic seemed to really round it out in a nice way.
When the project was initially announced, there was worry initially about removing Bobbi and Hunter from the equation and how that would affect S.H.I.E.L.D. How do you feel about that a year later?
I feel like S.H.I.E.L.D. is a functioning entity. The sum is larger than its parts. Those parts are always changing, as we’ve brought in other characters both as protagonists and antagonists. They were a wonderful flavor to come in and play that out on the show. Beyond that, I think the show continues to function and is entertaining as we bring different characters in. We brought in Inhumans this season, we brought in Luke [Mitchell] to play Lincoln. Henry [Simmons] has really stepped up in the role of Mack. There are other dynamics that continue to grow and evolve.
One of the things I love about this show is the characters all go through seasonal arcs. Who any of them are from the beginning of season 1 to the end of 2, there’s always growth and change. Those entrances and exits tend to be a natural part of that growth. We continue to bring in other interesting actors and create new dynamics. Every now and then you go, “Oh my God, this is the first time those two characters have had a scene together this year,” or, “We haven’t had that situation before.” Pairing Mack and Daisy up as partners this year is fun. Even though we’re pairing Daisy and Lincoln romantically, on a job partnership, it’s been fun to have it different. We’re always looking for that. Early in the season, we sent Hunter and May out together, that was fun to see them together.
Why did you guys decide to write them off so soon?
They had to go off and shoot a pilot. That takes a long period of time. We wanted to manufacture a meaningful exit. They had to leave physically to go do a pilot — for them to be on the show, then be absent for a few episodes and then come back to leave felt disingenuous. It just happened naturally based on the schedule for shooting the pilot. We shot it earlier this year, and that really forced us to get them in and get them out at a certain time so they could turn around and do it.
Why did you so definitively make it so they could never rejoin the team?
Part of what we’re hoping to do with Bobbi and Hunter in the new show is to stake out some new territory and not make it a S.H.I.E.L.D. show. It is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. show. It is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. spin-off. It’s a show about these two characters living their life and the adventures that they have together. If the door was too wide open, I think it begs too many questions of, “Well, why don’t they call Coulson every week for this?” “Why didn’t these people come in?” Not that we can’t hopefully find ways to tie things together, but you didn’t want to leave it with such a wide open door that it was a separate branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. doing other S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff, that would ask you why these other characters weren’t involved in the day-to-day episodes.
Do you see them ever popping back up on S.H.I.E.L.D. again sometime in the future, maybe for a crossover between the shows? Or the S.H.I.E.L.D. team visiting them?
Let’s get the pilot picked up. I would be really happy if we can do that. Whether characters can crossover, fans always love it when you can do that kind of thing. Flash and Supergirl are doing it not only across shows, but across networks. That’s fun when that can happen, but let’s get the show picked up first.
How different is Marvel’s Most Wanted tonally?
We’re trying to find our little corner of the sky. The Netflix shows have a certain feel and tone, Agent Carter had a certain feel and tone, and S.H.I.E.L.D. does, too. This is a show, at its heart, about a relationship. It’s about a man and a woman who love each other, who fight, who’ve been married, who got divorced, who are still together, and they also happen to be ex-spies who can kick ass. We’re looking to find a separate world for them in this larger universe, if that makes sense. Hopefully, tonally, you’ll look at it and it will have its own vibe.
Most Wanted has been compared to Mr. and Mrs. Smith. How do you think it compares to other spy films or TV shows we’ve seen before?
It’s a fair assessment. I’ve heard it described as Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the Marvel Universe. Though our characters aren’t assassins, there is an adult relationship that’s complicated by a larger world. They can argue, banter, and bicker, but they’re going to back each other against the larger problems. There’s a fun dynamic between them. These two banter really well together; I think we saw that on S.H.I.E.L.D. They’re good with the action, they’re good with the fun, so we’re going to try to take advantage of all those things. Paul Zbyszewski, who wrote this with me, Billy Gierhart, who directed it, Nick and Adrianne, and everyone involved have really contributed to and are hoping to make this a unique and singular show in the Marvel Universe, because that’s more interesting than cloning something and trying to make Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Dubuque. But if you take that idea, I will come after you. [Laughs]
The logline for Marvel’s Most Wanted reveals they have a bounty on their heads, so how different are the missions and challenges they’re facing than what we saw on S.H.I.E.L.D.?
On S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s a militaristic, governmental, global scale, and the Netflix shows are very much stories set in a neighborhood, and then Carter‘s first season took place in New York, then the second season in L.A. What we’re trying to do is Bobbi and Hunter, because they are ex-spies, globe-trot. We’ll go around the world and we’ll go to cool places, but not so much on a giant militaristic scale. They’re going into different worlds. It’s in the press that Delroy Lindo was hired to play Dominic Fortune. He is a master of shades of gray. It’s a world of ex-spies, mercenaries, soldiers of future and corporate espionage. He’s a guy who is always looking to make a deal. He’s the guy you go to when you’re a senator who’s in trouble or something fell off the back of your truck. The fact that he’s a player in this takes us into a different corner of the universe than S.H.I.E.L.D. did.
Even in the logline, it says that Bobbi and Hunter can only trust themselves, and now they’re working with Dominic Fortune. Can they even trust him?
I would say what’s fun about telling stories about spies is trust is at the heart of everything. Everybody has secrets, everybody has a past. Even Bobbi and Hunter are going to find out things about one another where it’s like, “You didn’t mention that before!” “Yeah, that happened.” As anyone in a relationship will know, there are things your partner has experienced you know about, and in other times, it’s like, “You didn’t mention her,” “You didn’t mention him,” “You didn’t mention that happened,” “Well, it didn’t seem relevant at the time.” On a relationship level, it’s fun, but you can also take that into, “Yeah, I worked for that guy, he had a thing, we had to say that to do that,” and Dominic Fortune is a perfect guy for that. Can you trust him? Hell no. Will he tell you that you can? Absolutely. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Every time you get something, you have to go, “Is this the truth or not?” which makes for fun storytelling.
Bobbi and Hunter have always seemed to work on the side of good, and now they’re working for a private contractor of sorts. Does that test their morals?
Bobbi is an altruistic, loyal-to-S.H.I.E.L.D., big-picture kind of gal. She’s always believed in S.H.I.E.L.D. and done the right thing for the greater good. Hunter is much more loyal to the guy in the trenches next to him. He’s expressed as much with May. “I don’t really care about that thing — the guy next to me is who I’m worried about, because we’re in this together.” There’s good conflict there. Look, Dominic could have plenty of assignments or opportunities for them, it doesn’t mean they’re bad. It could be somebody needs to be extracted from somewhere because they’re in trouble, or somebody has stolen something that doesn’t belong to them and it is very dangerous. There are lots of situations where they’re not just doing mercenary bad things. They’re not assassins going around whacking people. There’s a lot of gray that you can get into. The question is: Is what we’re told the assignment is really what the assignment is? That’s more on Dominic Fortune than anything.
Bobbi and Hunter don’t always agree on things. How much are you utilizing their bickering and different personalities in the spin-off?
Paul and I like to think of them as bantering more than bickering, because we hope you’re entertained and charmed by what they’re saying rather than, “God, will these two please shut up?” They see a lot of things differently. It’s one of the things that’s fun about watching Nick and Adrianne; they really are charmed by one another, they enjoy spending time together and make each other laugh. When you can bring that affection to the characters, if you can banter with your partner the way you banter with your best friend, then that person becomes both, and that’s fun to watch. Paul and I are hoping to do that.
Let’s get into that heartbreaking final scene at the bar.
Paul Zbyszewski wrote that episode. I think it’s a great episode and the ending is just really beautiful, and really moving in a way that you don’t get very often. It killed me. I’ve seen it 10 times, and I’m not going to say that I wept openly, but I’m saying that I felt a little — okay, I cried. Big deal. So what? When Paul first pitched it, you could see he was fighting emotion. The writers in the room were fighting emotion just in the pitch. When you cut back to Mack and he hasn’t been able to drink the shot and you’re close on that glass, from the very first time he pitched it, that image of Mack there unwilling to say goodbye [was there]. Any time you can take a really stoic person and have them really fight to hold on, to me that’s so much more emotional than weepy. That was in the first pitch. We’re all in the room going, “That’s beautiful.” Then he wrote it and it was beautiful, the actors did it and it was beautiful, and then Bear McCreary did the score behind it. To me, it’s one of the most wonderful things he’s done for this show.
How will the team deal with losing Hunter and Bobbi? Particularly Mack, who was close with both.
I would say you’ll find it particularly hard for him. We will address the fallout in the story fairly soon.
That’s good timing then since Mack’s brother (Gaius Charles) is appearing in the next episode.
Oh, huh? That’s funny. Weird. Hmmm. Mack-centric. Interesting. We’ll have to see what happens!
Will we see any new additions to fill the void left by them? Might they call up some of the Secret Warriors?
Stranger things have happened.
The Russian Prime Minister said there’s basically a new arms race to amass Inhumans. How will that play into the final episodes of the season?
That just goes to the larger issue: As there are more powered people, it really is a thing to come to terms with. It’s something that S.H.I.E.L.D. has to come to terms with. It’s a great generator of story moving forward, but I don’t want to say that there’s a movie called Captain America: Civil War or anything, but there’s a movie called Captain America: Civil War, and part of it is there are people with powers and not everybody is happy about that. For us, we’re always looking for what generates good story. That seems to help us.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. In the meantime, read our full postmortem with Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood, who discuss their emotional exit and tease Marvel’s Most Wanted.
Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.