Warning: This article contains spoilers from the season 6 premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. encountered a very familiar face in the season 6 premiere.
Picking up a year after the season 5 finale, the ABC drama’s season opener found the agents adjusting to life without the late Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Mack (Henry Simmons) is now the director, but still checks in with a Coulson hologram; May (Ming-Na Wen) seems to have reached the acceptance stage of grieving; and Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) has a new boyfriend. Of course, all this forward motion would be challenged by the premiere’s big reveal.
At the end of the episode, three new non-Earthly characters, who breached in from God knows where, converged on a museum and welcomed their leader, Sarge, who looks exactly like the dearly departed Coulson (and is also played by Gregg). But this isn’t Coulson, as Sarge made clear when he said he has no idea what S.H.I.E.L.D. is and shot one of the agents in order to save a comrade.
Meanwhile, the search for Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) continued in space. Daisy (Chloe Bennet), Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), Piper (Briana Venskus), and Davis (Maximilian Osinski) managed to locate Fitz’s cryo-pod, which was mysteriously empty. A cold and determined Simmons found some deep-space coordinates in his pod and wanted the team to follow them. Three out of the four people, though, voted to return home instead because they’d been gone for so long and deep space is pretty dangerous. But when a Confederacy ship fired on the Zephyr, Daisy ordered Simmons to input the coordinates to Earth, and instead Simmons put in the other ones, sending them further into space to find Fitz — who is currently working on an alien planet and has green alien eyes now.
After watching the premiere, EW hopped on the phone with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showrunners Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, Jeff Bell to talk about the season ahead:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last season we got a reference to the events in Avengers: Infinity War, but there wasn’t an MCU reference in the premiere. Can we expect any references or nods to Infinity War or Endgame in the new season?
JED WHEDON: We are pre-Endgame.
That means the season is taking place during the years with the vanished. Does that have any bearing on the story at all?
JEFF BELL: We’re actually pre-Snap.
WHEDON: For the multiple reasons, we had to do that. One of the main ones being that we were not positive when season 6 would air. We were pretty sure it was going to be in the summer, but if they moved us up to January and we had tied into in any way, it would’ve destroyed everything. So the safest course of action for all parties involved was for us to stay pre-Snap.
The premiere introduces Clark Gregg’s new character, Sarge. Who is Sarge, where do he and his team come from, and what do they want?
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: That’s something we hope to answer! [Laughs]
BELL: That takes us 13 episodes to answer.
TANCHAROEN: We set up the mystery. That will define the season.
Is what Sarge and his team are ultimately after based in Marvel mythology, or was that something you created for the show?
WHEDON: I think that one’s a wait-and-see. [Laughs]
How does Sarge differ from Phil Coulson?
WHEDON: Besides his cool jacket and his cool boots, it is a very different character. When we were tossing around ideas for a potential season 6, it was one of the main things we struck upon that made us feel like we could keep doing this in thrilling fashion. We felt like we needed Clark Gregg still at the center of the show. Everything was founded on him and he’s still at the heart of the thing, so we wanted something for him. When we stumbled upon this idea, we felt like it would be thrilling for the fans and difficult for fans to see him be someone so different, and also would be fun for Clark. He’s been playing the same guy for a decade.
From a writing perspective, has it been difficult writing Clark, at least based on the trailer, as more of an antagonist?
WHEDON: Yeah, with any new character, we had to find the character’s voice. We talked a lot about what that would be and how to let Clark play humor, which he’s so good at, in a new way, in a dark way. We weren’t positive that we got it right until we got the dailies and we went, “Okay, this is going to be great.”
This premiere revealed how everyone has processed Coulson’s passing. How does May react meeting Sarge for the first time and dealing with him?
TANCHAROEN: It’s going to be difficult for all of them. They’re still going through the process of grieving Coulson, and we’ve made it very clear that all of the team’s process is about moving forward and just plugging on. Specifically for May, it was important to not have her be steeped in sadness. She’s in a new place. She’s thankful for the time they had together. So of course, to be confronted with the face of the man you love, that you are —
BELL: — still grieving
TANCHAROEN: — it’s definitely going to stir up emotions for her and the entire team.
Who has the most visceral reaction to this? Is it May or someone else?
BELL: I would say it’s both May and Daisy. One is a partner, and one there was very much a father-daughter relationship between Daisy and Coulson. I think part of the fun will be to see how they each react to it. Is there hope? Is there a connection? Is there not? Is this an affront that we should destroy? I think everyone will be affected, but those two in particular.
Daisy and Simmons are out in space looking for Fitz, and Simmons takes them even deeper into space at the end of the premiere. What dangers await them out there?
WHEDON: We already see someone is after them, and we’ve seen that Quake is sort of known throughout the galaxy on the data streams. They’re a little bit wanted, they’re in unfamiliar territory, and they’re going to go to some new planets. I think that it’s not looking for great for them. Then we get a glimpse at where Fitz is, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s been on his own adventure. We’re excited for the audience to see how that plays out.
This Fitz hasn’t gone through anything that happened last season. How is he different?
BELL: The big headline is that he has no idea he was married. There was a whole adventure with him and Simmons, and they got a beautiful wedding and all of that. Then to also find out that another version of him died. I think those are all pretty big issues for him to have to process once we learns about them.
WHEDON: Right now he believes that his friends have been sent to the future, doing everything he can to get there.
BELL: He has no idea that they succeeded, that they got back, that the Earth has been saved. He’s just trying to get there to reunite with Simmons and save the Earth.
Simmons seemed much colder in the premiere. Can we expect her one-track focus on Fitz be the source of a few more problems?
WHEDON: Yeah, I think she has already pushed them over the edge. Her singular focus is also based on the idea that she’s already lost him once and can’t abide the idea that could happen again. So it’s definitely pushed her personality to the point where her decision making was not based on the same moral code it used to be.
TANCHAROEN: Everyone’s process of grief is different, and it’s very clear that she’s not willing to be grieving two people, so she must find the other Fitz. I think that sort of determination and singular focus is going to lead to some conflict.
What’s in store for Daisy this season?
WHEDON: Well, she’s definitely more confident in her abilities [and] stronger than ever. We saw her at the end of season 5, she didn’t want the role of leader, she wanted the role of soldier, but she’s still one of the team members that everyone looks to. So we’ll see her struggling with that and her own grief. How is she going to process the idea that she’s lost Coulson, especially if she sees his face?
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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