Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stars and bosses reflect on the show's standout moments
Seven years ago this September, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. launched with the newly resurrected Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembling a rag-tag team of agents and one hacktivist to investigate mysterious cases in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Such a simple premise gave way to adventures filled with double agents, Inhumans, space missions, magic, time travel, and so much more. Now after seven seasons, the ABC super-series is coming in for a landing with Wednesday’s two-hour finale, which sees Coulson, Daisy (Chloe Bennet), May (Ming-Na Wen), and the rest of the gang fight to save both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Earth as a whole from a Chronicom takeover.
Before S.H.I.E.L.D. ends, though, let’s embrace the spirit of the final season and take a trip down memory lane. Last summer, EW visited the set of the series finale and spoke to the cast and showrunners about some of the show’s most pivotal moments and turning points from the first five seasons.
The big Hydra reveal in season 1
In “Turn Turn Turn” — which tied into Captain America: The Winter Soldier — Coulson and the gang not only learned that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated by Hydra, but that their teammate Ward (Brett Dalton) was one of those double agents, which was a huge betrayal.
Maurissa Tancharoen (showrunner): [Before Winter Soldier opened] we couldn’t talk about anything that interested us [or] insinuate anything about any moles or spies.
Jed Whedon (showrunner): That was when we put the pedal to the metal and cut free from what we felt was a little bit of standalone storytelling and just became fully serialized. That was really, I think, the moment where we found our voice in the series after a rocky start.
Jeffrey Bell (showrunner): Ward being Hydra is still, I think, our biggest and most emotionally difficult story.
Ming-Na Wen (Agent Melinda May): Definitely the jump from season 1 to season 2 was very big for us. In season 1, we started off at an 8 p.m. time slot, so there were a lot of things we couldn’t do just because of the family hour time slot. Also because we were coinciding with Winter Soldier, there were a lot of limitations of what our writers could do. It was almost like every episode was like a standalone episode, so we were kind of still finding our identity. What was great was once we were able to break free of that and we moved to a 9 p.m. time slot, it gave us a chance to be more serious with certain topics, a little bit more intense with the fight scenes. That’s why the night-night gun was created — so we didn’t kill anyone, really.
Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) transformation into Daisy “Quake” Johnson in season 2
Bell: We had no characters with powers and discovering that she's Inhuman and that journey and what that meant for really changed the kind of stories we could tell by introducing powered people. Marvel was very protective and very adamant when we started [because] Thor's an alien, Hulk is an accident of science, Captain America is an accident of science, and Tony Stark has a cool suit — that's it. There were no powered people, and so the Inhumans was our way into that.
Jemma Simmons' journey to an alien planet in "4,722 Hours"
After falling through the Monolith in the season 2 finale, Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) found herself stranded on an alien planet. Written by Craig Titley, season 3's "4,7222" revealed what happened to her and was the first time the show broke away from the action to spotlight one character.
Whedon: Craig Titley broke that episode. That might be one of the fastest breaks we've ever done. Early on [in the season] we decided, “You know what? Let's not see her. Let's just not even deal with what's happened there and then do an episode about it.” We decided that early. And we had the idea of that she fell in love there. One of the things that we feel about FitzSimmons for us, we call it a forever love FitzSimmons. FitzSimmons is something that's perfectly pure that we love and we want them to be together, so you always have to put obstacles in their way because it's an easy way [and] a great way to feel something because you're like, “Get them together.” What a great obstacle. She had no choice.
Maurissa Tancharoen (showrunner): [We kept] calling her Furiosa Simmons just to show that aspect of her — that she could full on survive.
Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons): It was awesome. You're always grateful for the challenge and it's so wonderful to be put in a new situation. I did miss everybody cause we get so used to being together. It was definitely different to kind of be a focus of the episode and not supporting. That was one of our first [of] multiple episodes where it's just kind of on its own. I was really nervous about it. I was more nervous about FitzSimmons fans [reacting to] me getting off with an astronaut. That was my main thing.
The introduction of speedy Inhuman Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez in season 3
Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodgriuez): I auditioned for a “tough girl from the streets of Colombia called Adriana Molina.” And 12 hours before starting to shoot I was told it was Yo-Yo Rodriguez, a superhero. So, I had 12 hours, which meant from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., to do my research. When I found out I was going to portray a Latino superhero I got diarrhea of everything – of the heart, of emotions. I just couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true. She’s just such a superb human being. That girl, Yo-Yo, she’s taught me so much. The way they’ve written her has been wonderful to portray.
The three-part structure of season 4
Unlike previous scenes, the fourth one was divided up into three pods (or mini-arcs): Ghost Rider, which introduced both Gabriel Luna as the fiery, vengeance-seeking Marvel character; the LMDs, which was centered around sentient robots that started replacing the team; and Agents of Hydra, which saw the team trapped in an alternate reality called the Framework where Hydra won. All of it was tied together by the Darkhold, a book that brought magic onto the show.
Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson): [Doing] 22 episodes felt more like a marathon — kind of a single story marathon that had twists and turns, but you definitely felt like at some the moment you were trying to swim the English Channel and sometimes you would have to stop and tread water for a minute. The three pods felt like three intense sprints where a lot of story got paid off. I think TV changed around us and luckily our show changed along with it, and that's really been something that gave the actors a chance to grow and flex.
The introduction of Ghost Rider and magic
Bell: We exist in the wake of the movie, so it wasn't until after Vision could we do LMDs; we couldn't have sentient robot characters until after that. And it wasn’t until after Doctor Strange that we could find a way [to say] that magic is just science we don't understand.
Whedon: As magic was introduced into the MCU, it allowed us to do Ghost Rider. The season sort of opened up the door in terms of what we were going to do with story. We loosened the rules a bit cause we had magic. We had been toying with the idea of an alt-world [the Framework] and we were starting to toss around those stories when Ghost Rider became available to us. And when Ghost Rider becomes available, you put him in the TV show.
Creating and exploring the Framework
In the Framework’s alternate reality, Coulson was a high school teacher, May was a Hydra agent, Mack’s daughter Hope was alive, and Fitz was evil and helped run Hydra as the Doctor. As the only member who wasn’t forced into the reality, Simmons enters the Framework and teams up with Daisy to free their friends.
Whedon: All the choices in the Framework were a personal “what if?” What if Coulson hadn't joined S.H.I.E.L.D.? What if the Cavalry had gone as a positive for May? What if Hydra had won? What if Fitz had had his dad? That was fun for us. That pod was definitely the fastest we [ever] broke any stories because once we got into the framework he was just playing with our same characters in different situations.
Chloe Bennet (Agent Daisy Johnson): The contrast of us working against all of the same actors who were playing completely different versions of themselves, was a really fun [and] genius way to kind of reinvent the show and give it like an extra kick at the end of that season.
Iain de Caestecker (Leo Fitz): [Playing] the doctor was probably one of the most nervous I’ve ever been on the show. That’d be one of the things I'd really like to go back and do again — not because it's enjoyable, but just because there's so many different ways you can do it, isn't there? And that was a really cool thing to get. Fitz and Simmons have got that very strong moral compass, as does everyone, but to switch that on its head and go the other way definitely took a good minute to really try and figure that out and start to feel a little comfortable in that skin.
Henry Simmons (Director Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie): I remember the Framework when I had to leave Hope, [that] was a hard scene to do. We were there for six hours of just hysterically crying. That was the most emotionally challenging scene that I had done. When I was speaking with Daisy, they [originally] wanted to show that, “Oh, Mack realizes he's in the Framework and he's not real life.” But I wanted to add an extra level of emotion to it because it's not just realizing he's in the framework, it's realizing that his daughter is not real as well. So there was a lot going on there.
Season 5 sent the team to space and the future
In season 5, the S.H.I.E.L.D. traveled to a future where the Earth was split in two and what remains of humanity lives on at the Lighthouse, a S.H.I.E.L.D. base that's now controlled by the Kree. Thus, it fell on Couslon and company to find a way back to the present to stop whatever catastrophe caused this calamity.
Whedon: We wanted a new base [Editor's note: This is when the Lighthouse was introduced]. Some of these ideas, and this is just as us just being frank, some of the ideas come out of a cold pitch, like “What if the [season 4] tag was just he's in space?” And we're like, “Oh my God, that'd be awesome!” And then we start chasing the idea of why? What would that be? Can we even do that? Should we do that? I think it was a combo of many different ideas that led to [it]. Part of the problem was getting to space was such a cool reveal that you didn't have another cool reveal after that. So that was where the idea of, “Well maybe it isn't space. Maybe [it’s Earth in the future].”
Bell: Actually, season 5 broke us until we got a diagram [of the time loop] that made sense to us and we literally took the diagram into every meeting we had to go, “This is what happened.”
Whedon: When we were done with that season we said, “We’ll never do that again.” And then here we are in season seven, which was harder.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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