Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bosses break down the 'bittersweet' series finale
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the series finale of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.LD.
After seven seasons spent flying around the world (and the galaxy, and time itself), Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally come in for a landing.
In Wednesday's two-hour series finale, Coulson (Clark Gregg), Daisy (Chloe Bennet), and the rest of the team launched a last-ditch effort to defeat the Chronicoms. Thankfully, the team was made whole by the return of Fitz (Iain de Caestecker), who traveled via quantum bridge from the show's original timeline (last seen in the season 6 finale) to the new one created this season (hello, Avengers: Endgame time-travel rules!). As Fitz told the gang, this entire season has been about saving Daisy's sister Kora (Dianne Doan) because they needed her powers to defeat the Chronicoms in the original timeline.
With all that explained, Fitz led the team and the invading Chronicoms back to the original timeline. Once there, the agents infiltrated and commandeered Sybil's ship. Then May (Ming-Na Wen) plugged herself into the Chronicom's system and, with Kora's powers boosting the signal, used her newfound empathetic abilities to give the Chronicoms empathy. And it turns out that's all it took for the semirobotic aliens to call off their invasion. Meanwhile, Daisy had a quake-off with Nathaniel Malick (Thomas E. Sullivan) and won.
With the day saved, the action jumped one year in the future and revealed that the team actually did split up, which meaning Enoch (Joel Stoffer) was right. In this future, Mack is still the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) leads her own field team, Daisy and Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) are touring the cosmos for S.H.I.E.L.D., May trains new agency recruits, and Coulson is trying to figure out what's next for him. Fitz and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), though, have retired and have their hands full raising their daughter. In other words: Everyone got their happy ending. (Read our postmortem with the cast here.)
Earlier this week, EW spoke to showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, and Jeffrey Bell about the exciting and emotional finale. Here's what they had to say.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This finale ties right back into the season 6 finale. How much of the series finale did you have mapped out when you wrote last year's ending?
JED WHEDON: We didn't have a lot mapped out. We knew what the season was going to be, so we knew there was a possibility of tying up those loose ends.
JEFFREY BELL: It had more to do with changing the end of 6 so that wasn't the series finale, because that's what we originally thought. It was like, "Oh, adjust that to set up yet another season" as opposed to how it would've been the final one.
WHEDON: As we always do, we had some ideas going in, but we basically threw some balls in the air and hoped we could catch them later.
What was the first idea you had coming into the series finale that you knew you wanted to do?
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: One solid idea was that we wanted to give FitzSimmons a happy ending, finally. We had tortured them enough that we wanted to show they had the promise of their life together.
WHEDON: We felt the same way about them [as] the audience does.
TANCHAROEN: Yes, we felt it was time and [wanted] to leave the audience with the idea that they're living their lives as a family, as a happy couple, as parents.
WHEDON: The other real focus was how to create a different finale, because we feel like we'd done one at the end of season 5. It had its own feeling and its own flavor, and we felt like we had done a pretty good job with that. This had to feel different and be a different sort of goodbye. So I think that was sort of the crux of the very end: How do we make this feel satisfying for the fans that have been with us for so long and reward them for being here with us? There was that [bittersweet] feeling we wanted to capture of saying goodbye to the team, which was something we were all feeling in doing our last season.
TANCHAROEN: I think much of our personal emotional experience — us [and] Bell, the actors, the entire crew that's been with us for all these years — is definitely infused into that last season where they're all sitting in the speakeasy. I do think because we thought season 5 was our last and we kind of tied up everything nicely with a bow — everybody's arcs, the relationships — having the extra time of the two seasons gave us more time to reflect just the feeling of saying goodbye over and over again to enhance the nostalgia we were already feeling.
Was the decision to break the team up a result of trying to do something different from the season 5 finale?
BELL: I would say to a certain extent. As much as we were playing the sadness of "Coulson and May are going off to Tahiti" [in the season 5 finale], it was also a fulfillment of a promise of their relationship that we'd always had, and if the show ended then, you don't know how long they might've had together, but that was nice. Then the rest of the crew was together continuing their legacy. Flying off at the end really launched them into new adventures. Having done that, this one felt more like how we were feeling in the writers' room: We all knew we were going to different places, we would still be friends, still be doing a similar work, but we wouldn't be spending time with each other. I don't remember if you, Jed or Maurissa, had the idea of the virtual ending.
WHEDON: Yeah, we knew we wanted them in a room together, but the rule is they can't be. I actually think it might've been one of the Zuckerman sisters [Nora and Lila] who said, "There's always holograms!"
BELL: But the idea that by setting that up that early — "This would be your last mission together" — the cast and the characters got to feel what we were feeling. We're moving toward something that's sad even though we would all survive and go on.
WHEDON: One thing I'd just add to that: It's not lost on us that we are basically a year later from when we ended and we only talk to each other virtually. [Laughs]
TANCHAROEN: We predicted the future, basically. [Laughs]
You ended up following Avengers: Endgame time-travel rules, which basically say that changing the past creates a new timeline but it's possible to travel between those timelines. Did you find those rules relatively freeing because they meant you didn't have to worry about continuity and could do whatever you wanted while time-traveling since you would just return to the original timeline via a quantum bridge?
BELL: Lord no. [Laughs]
WHEDON: The time stuff made us crazy. We knew going in that we were going to have a difficult writers' room. At some point when we realized the game we were playing in the season was, the characters say, "We're agents of status quo. We're supposed to have nothing happen," when we kind of looked at it, we realized, "Oh, we've just got to break it all apart." That's the only way for the story to stay interesting, but it's also the only way to get back and have it be meaningful. It was freeing in that moment.
BELL: But then we still had to figure out how to put all the pieces together to make it work there at the end. The writers' room, over the years, we had diagrams on the board. We would go into production meetings and hand out diagrams saying, "This is the story we're telling," trying to explain the time loop because people were like, "I don't understand this."
Deke (Jeff Ward) volunteered to stay in the alternate timeline and help the team generate enough power to return to their original timeline. Why did it feel right to leave Deke there?
WHEDON: There was a lot of discussion about that because we want to give everyone their moment, and you certainly don't want to leave somebody early in the finale. But because he had found himself so much there and we kind of became obsessed with this concept of '80s S.H.I.E.L.D. run by a rock star named Deke Shaw, it seemed like he still gets a win and a sacrifice.
TANCHAOREN: It's so in line with his character. He's declaring he's the one to make this sacrifice for the team, the one that's going to be left behind. At the same time, it's a pretty cushy situation. He's in an era where he's a rock god, and he's going to be the CEO of S.H.I.E.L.D. It's sort of the drive of his character: self-serving yet very loving.
WHEDON: It also avoids him having to be an uncle to his own self.
When I spoke to Jeff, he said there was some discussion of a post-credit scene in which Deke is wearing an eye patch. How serious was that idea?
BELL: That was a "Oh, wouldn't that be funny," but that was really it.
TANCHAROEN: We have a lot of ideas for spin-off comics, that's for sure.
WHEDON: Yes, the Deke timeline, we can all agree, should live on in some way.
What made Daisy and Sousa such a good pairing in your minds?
TANCHAROEN: They are such an unlikely pairing, and I think that's essentially what's so charming about it: She's taken by surprise by how taken she is with him. I think the moment she realizes it is in the time-loop episode, when he's not realizing it at all. He's just a great, solid guy.
WHEDON: Truthfully, we didn't know going in. We knew we loved him as an actor and we loved what we could do with the character as a fish out of water on our team. But until you get them on screen and see if there's chemistry [you don't know]… We had hopes, and fortunately those were met.
Were there any familiar faces you hoped to bring back but couldn't?
TANCHAROEN: Iain de Caestecker. [Laughs]
WHEDON: Yeah, I mean sure, we had all sorts of hopes and dreams, but we did what we set out to do. So I would say this season there weren't many heartbreaks in that way.
Finally, how did you approach LMD Coulson and figuring out his ending? It seems like it may have been hard to balance not treating him like the real Coulson but also acknowledging that it's sort of him.
BELL: Clark was a big part of that as well. Clark wasn't interested in just going back to being Coulson after having been Sarge. One of the things I love about Clark is he really becomes involved in his character. As we were talking about it, he really had a lot of those Blade Runner existential questions about Coulson, like "Do I have a soul? Am I breathing?" All those questions he asks over the course of the season, I think, brought a freshness to that character and how everybody reacted to him. Plus, there's the challenge he's no longer director and Mac is, so it was a way for him to be very much Coulson and how he responds, but emotionally he was a completely different guy, as was May.