Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stars on season 6 return: 'It was like a rebirth'
When the cast and crew of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shot the season 5 finale, the show had yet to be renewed for a sixth season, and some of them treated it as the end. The showrunners even wrote the hour as both a season and a series finale.
So when the MCU-adjacent series was ultimately granted a sixth season, it felt like a new lease on life.
“It was like a rebirth,” Ming-Na Wen, who plays Agent Melinda May, tells EW. “It was exciting to come back with a greater appreciation.”
Season 5 ended with S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heading off to die in Tahiti with May, his right-hand-woman-turned-romantic partner, by his side until the end. Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the road for Gregg, who returned to direct the season 6 premiere and will appear on screen this season as well. Having Gregg behind the camera on the season opener made the hour more special given season 5’s emotional yet uncertain conclusion.
“I remember we were all crying and trying not to cry,” Wen says of shooting the season 5 finale. “And then to be able to come back feeling refreshed and having not the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. but truly Clark directing S.H.I.E.L.D. just felt wonderful out of the gate, and like we got a new life.”
Season 6 picks up a year after the season 5 finale. Mack (Henry Simmons) is now the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., May is still kicking ass, and Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are out in deep space looking for Fitz, who’s in cryostasis. Even though Coulson’s death hangs over the proceedings, everyone seems to be in a pretty good place.
“It was a thrill to direct the first one,” says Gregg, who enjoyed seeing the team “getting on with their lives and getting on with the missions after [Coulson’s] death, and seeing Mac in charge magnificently. That was really fun.”
“It’s about all these characters redefining and discovering themselves again,” Wen says. “Coulson was such the glue. And without that element, who are all these S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at this point? How do they adapt? Like for May, I mean, her absolute focus was being his right-hand man. To not have that anymore, what’s her identity? What’s her focus now? What are her goals? And that’s true for every character. It’s just everybody is fragmented.”
One of the things that has also made the season an interesting one for Gregg is that he’s also playing a new character, the mysterious and potentially antagonistic Sarge.
“To me, it’s a real gift after 10 years to go, like, ‘Okay, you get to still look like yourself. We don’t have to do a complete remake of your face, but we’re going to give you an entirely different character to play who’s darker,’” Gregg says. “It’s very nervous-making to be wearing different shoes after the 10 years.”
Apart from Gregg’s role change, the other thing that makes season 6 stand out from the previous ones is that it’s only 13 episodes long as opposed to 22, which has made things slightly easier for the actors.
“Mentally, emotionally, and physically, it is such a taxing show,” says Wen. “Not just the fight scenes, but the sets and complexity of how all the characters have to intermingle and figure things out on the fly. To just have 13 and know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel much sooner, it just feels like, ‘Okay, this doable. I’m going to really put 150, 200 percent into it, even more,’ rather than feeling like, by the 16th episode, we are just trying to swim up river, paddle up river, whatever the saying is.”
The stars also think the reduced order has strengthened the storytelling. “I’m excited to see this season,” Gregg says. “One of the amazing things that I’m most proud of about the show is it’s gotten consistently better every single year, in my opinion. I feel like it could take a big jump this year because of the way we’re able to focus in intensity.”
Season 6 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres Friday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.