‘Agents of SHIELD’ Cast Previews Skye’s Transformation, A Team Divided

The last time we saw “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” the mysterious object known as the Diviner had transformed Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Raina (Ruth Negga) into something altogether Inhuman through the process of Terrigenesis, killing Agent Trip (B.J. Britt) in the process.

When the show returns from its midseason break on March 3 with an episode aptly titled “Aftershocks,” the team will be reeling from that major loss, while Skye attempts to come to terms with her newfound abilities — which seem to cause devastating earthquakes that she’s unable to control.

Variety was among a number of outlets invited to visit the “Agents of SHIELD” set and gather intel from the secretive stars of the ABC drama, which returns for a 12-week run of uninterrupted episodes from 9 p.m. tonight. Read on to find out what we learned from the stars and executive producers, and check out our spoiler-filled postmortem with the cast and EPs here.

We Need to Talk About Skye
As Clark Gregg (Coulson) pointed out on set, while the audience knows that something huge happened to Skye in the midseason finale, the rest of the team is still in the dark: “She’s in quarantine, alien biotech is in play, and we don’t quite know what happened. And yet something clearly happened, and that’s really the tension of the first couple episodes back — what happened to Skye?”

The show’s executive producers compared Skye’s journey in the back half to a superhero’s origin story. “We are coming in with the very beginning of her realizing what really is going on and, unlike a film, we have many, many hours to play that out and to explore the different emotional aspects of grappling with that huge change for someone who, [as] we’ve already seen, is on a journey trying to find herself and trying to find a place in the world,” Jed Whedon explained.

“Instead of montaging Spider-Man on the subway having fun for about three minutes learning his powers, we can actually explore what it means to go through that,” exec producer Jeffrey Bell agreed. “At the beginning of the season, we tried to take Skye, who wasn’t a SHIELD agent at beginning of last year and, coming in this season, really grow her up as a character and as an agent… Now there’s a whole new start and entering us into whole new world of Inhumans and what that means for her and how it affects other characters. Those are all really fun stories for us to explore.”

Bennet — who admitted that, after growing up with six brothers, she always aspired to be a superhero more than a Disney princess — is relishing the opportunity to explore a new side of Skye. “It’s a lot of her figuring out, ‘Oh, when I got upset down there, an earthquake happened, and I keep getting upset and that may be happening again.’ It’s her exploring whether or not it is her that is creating these things, and then dealing with what she has to tell the team, because people who have powers, from SHIELD’s perspective, are put on the Index,” she noted. “That’s not really a place she wants to be.”

RIP Trip
In addition to worrying about Skye’s potential exposure to alien tech, the team is still mourning the loss of Trip, which will haunt Skye going forward. “I think she feels extremely guilty over that, considering he went down there to save her and then he died,” Bennet said.

Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons) emphasized the impact Trip’s death will have on the team, teasing that it serves as a catalyst for many story arcs moving forward: “It’s huge. It’s a traumatic event — he’s one of our own. Also, just as a cast we’re feeling it. That comes through a crazy amount. You should’ve seen the table read when he died… It was huge and I think the writers take that into consideration. Had it not been B.J. Britt, maybe it wouldn’t have been written in so much, but he was such a light in our cast that the ramifications are enormous. It’s a testament to him. This is like the Coulson dying in ‘The Avengers’ … this is the thing that’s going to spur and fuel the second half of the season. It’s big for every character.”

Iain De Caestecker (Fitz) agreed, “The big thing from the midseason finale is the death of Agent Triplett, and that’s the first time someone who’s been really integrated in the team has [died]. And then with what happens to Skye, someone on our team that’s been affected like that, it just brings [the danger] home a lot more, I think.”

“The ramifications of having cost the team a member in that way are deep and really throw everybody,” Gregg added. “There’s a grieving process, and people have serious questions about what we were doing there. [Coulson] wouldn’t make any of those choices any differently, but it’s hard not to think about, retroactively, the logic that he and Skye have the same material inside of them… Coulson doesn’t know if he was following some internal dictate to take her there — and he certainly kind of managed to affect her transformation, whether he knew it or not.”

A House Divided
Between the uncertainty over Skye and the emotional toll of losing Trip, fractures will soon start to appear within the team. One SHIELD agent who will find the new status quo particularly challenging is Mack (Henry Simmons), who was taken over by some kind of alien force in the temple and was compelled to attack his teammates: “I would say the group is probably split because they’re trying to determine ‘why? What are we chasing and why are we chasing certain things?'” Simmons explained coyly.

De Caestecker previewed that the upcoming episodes will challenge all of team members in different ways: “I think the cool thing about season two is that a lot of the risks and dangers that were involved for a group of humans that are coming up amongst superhero elements, a lot of those risks have started to become very real and we’re dealing with the aftermath of that… the group’s a bit more split. Everyone’s going through different turmoils. Obviously we saw what happened to Mack, which affects someone like Fitz because they’ve got a close relationship.”

And, after Agent Ward’s (Brett Dalton) betrayal last season, there will always be lingering doubts about who to trust, according to Gregg. “I think [Coulson’s] determined to keep a team together that will not replicate the rotten version of SHIELD that we saw in ‘Winter Soldier’ and the Garrett plot of our back half of last season. So there’s an ongoing attempt to broaden the team that he will need to protect the world from what’s going on within Hydra. And at the same time, there’s a lot of people there he doesn’t know that well. Agent Hunter [Nick Blood], Agent Morse [Adrianne Palicki], he has some history with, but not even to know where everyone stands… you don’t know who’s lying to you at any given moment. People have been keeping the secret [of Hydra] for years and years. And after a betrayal like that, you have to kind of constantly evaluate everyone and their motives. And I feel like that’s another thing you see play out in a deep way this season.”

Daddy Issues
Now that Skye has discovered her birthright as Daisy Johnson and met her father, Cal (Kyle MacLachlan), will she be tempted to turn to the scientist for advice? Bennet was tight-lipped, but offered this hint: “Let’s just say that he was definitely right about how once you change, things aren’t going to be the same and people aren’t going to treat you the same way. There’s definitely a level of discrimination against Inhumans. I wouldn’t say that she turns to him, but I would definitely say that their relationship changes a little bit.”

As far as Gregg’s concerned, Skye is “the closest thing to a daughter” he has, which complicates matters now that he’s SHIELD’s director and as a result, “he doesn’t get to be quite as touchy-feely as he was season one. He has to make choices that are simply for the greater good that SHIELD provides, which is protecting the world from the strange, the weird, the line that Joss [Whedon] wrote in the pilot. And it means putting her in dangerous situations. And I think it makes him feel very responsible for whatever’s going on with her.”

It also puts him on a collision course with Cal, who wants revenge after Coulson killed Hydra boss Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) and robbed him of the opportunity in the midseason finale. “It’s tricky with Cal. His love for Skye is deep enough that it’s hard to wrap [his head] around killing her father,” Gregg admitted. “And at the same time, he’s not so happy with how the last fight went. And there’s a score he wants to settle, and he wants to protect her from whatever stuff he’s got going on.”

“Agents of SHIELD” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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