In the “Agents of SHIELD” midseason premiere, we saw Skye (Chloe Bennet) locked in quarantine for most of the hour as the team broke down around her, each member reacting to the devastating aftermath of the temple in markedly different ways. Thanks to a lie from Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), their allies remain unaware of Skye’s transformation (for now), although the team does know that Raina (Ruth Negga) was profoundly changed by her encounter with the Diviner.
Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) had the most extreme reaction in “Aftershocks,” but the cast and producers promised that the gang’s reactions and opinions will continue to evolve as the season goes on.
“We can see that Simmons had an emotional reaction to the loss of Trip. The realities of the world they’re living in now are starting to become much more complicated,” executive producer Jed Whedon pointed out. “We saw at the beginning of the season that Coulson [Clark Gregg] was already dealing with greys he hadn’t had to deal with before. He was always a ‘don’t leave a man behind’ kind of guy. He’s already having to deal with something else, and now we’re opening up another aspect to that, a whole other set of greys. ‘What is this power? What is too much power? What is it like for your friend to have it? Have we opened Pandora’s Box by pursuing all of this?’ Truthfully, there wouldn’t be aliens to invade in ‘Avengers’ if they hadn’t been experimenting with the cube. There’s a lot of questions of ‘what’s the cause and what’s the effect?'”
“You wouldn’t need Captain America if there weren’t bad people doing other things. Chicken or egg,” exec producer Jeffrey Bell agreed. “It’s a really good argument for our characters to have, and to see who falls on which side of that without escalating into some sort of civil war… We now have a power person on our team… And we have Raina who wanted this her whole life and got something, and Skye who didn’t want it and got something, and so how does each character react to that?”
As Skye is struggling with the repercussions of her new abilities, so is Raina, according to Bell: “Raina’s a character who seems to have gotten everything she ever wanted through the first season-and-a-half. She successfully manipulated or moved everyone quietly, efficiently to get what she wanted. When she finally got what she wanted, it turned out to be that, which wasn’t what she wanted. So we thought it was interesting to take a character who had always succeeded and give them an apparent setback and see how the character reacts in those situations.”
“And also she’s clearly someone who feels that she always has control over any situation, partially because of her ability to charm — and that’s maybe taken a hit,” Whedon noted wryly. “It’s harder to charm when someone’s like, ‘Ow, you’re poking me.'”
During Variety‘s visit to the set, Henstridge admitted that “in the mindset she’s in right now,” Simmons would consider putting Skye down if she learned the truth about her abilities, especially after seeing how easily Raina tore through her fellow lab assistants in the temple. “Everybody is compartmentalizing their own strategies. Instead of us being a team, where we’d all work together and we understood there was a leader and we all had our roles to play, Simmons at least is shutting down and she’s taking orders from Coulson and just doing it. There isn’t that same conversation between her and Fitz, because as she sees it, the stakes are enormous and she can’t let this happen again. She can’t go through this again. She’s taking a very scientific route, which she’s always kind of had in her, but she’s always had Fitz to level her out. That’s not happening now — she’s not listening to Fitz. It’s hard. It’s her way of grieving; she’s traumatized, she’s adamant that this cannot happen again. She’s turning to science to try and get some absolutes.”
Still, Henstridge admitted that Simmons’ reaction was “irrational,” and might change over time. “I don’t think she understands the hugeness of it right now, the fact that [Skye] is evolving at a very rapid rate. Right now, she’s thinking this is a virus and we need to contain it. It’s a huge thing for anyone to take in,” she pointed out. “We’re going to see a spectrum of how people approach it. This is a new thing that no one on our team has ever heard of, so there’s going to be a lot of scrambling for a bit. No one knows what to do. Because of that, Agent Coulson does have to take everybody’s opinions and every option into account. There’s going to be some interesting discussions.”
Bennet compared the team dynamic to that of a family, and noted that Skye’s “coming out” as an Inhuman will challenge everyone around her. “When anything happens, when families go through adversity, everyone is at a heightened level of stress and people’s true feelings come out and it’s kind of a mess. It will definitely be a lot of seeing people handling things in different ways. And on top of that, Hydra is still out there; Ward [Brett Dalton] still exists.”
“I think we all really care about Skye,” Adrianne Palicki (Bobbi Morse) said. “Those relationships will be challenged. It’s definitely going to put a little bit of a crack in the team, people having different ideas, fears about her powers coming out… I think the biggest impact all of this is going to have is on Skye because she has to deal with coming to terms with the fact that she’s different and the guilt of Trip’s death and feeling like an outsider from the team.”
Nick Blood (Lance Hunter) agreed, “You’re definitely going to see more of a fractured group and everyone trying to work out where they stand and how they feel about it and conflict coming up from it. Particularly for Hunter, it’s something he’s not accustomed to. It is a big question for him. He doesn’t know Skye as well as everyone else.”
Simmons’ negative reaction certainly unnerved Skye in “Aftershocks,” but Bennet admitted, “Coulson is really who she’s worried about. She really doesn’t want these powers. [Or] she says she doesn’t, but deep down it’s kind of awesome.”
Gregg — a self-professed comic book geek — was enthusiastic about the introduction of the Inhumans to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and teased that Skye’s evolution would have a major impact on her relationship with Coulson. “I think the idea that there are people who contain within them the potential to blossom into something else is such a fantastic idea. And it’s very different from the other super heroes. The Inhumans in the comics are a whole separate, isolated, alien race where they nurture people when this change happens, and it’s a ritual. That’s the comic book world. But even in our world, it’s hard to imagine that Skye is having that same experience, as you’ve already seen in 211, she’s on her own. And so she and Coulson are there to figure out what this means, and the exciting and very scary part of it is, it seems destined to really challenge how real their connection is.”
As Gregg noted on set, we’ll have to wait a while to see the full ramifications of the Inhumans’ introduction into the world of the show. “The Inhumans are something that Clark knows about because I like comics. It’s certainly not something that Coulson knows about. And they aren’t giving out infomercials about who they are or what Skye’s connection to them is,” he laughed. “Coulson desperately went to this alien city, underground, that his writings had led him to. And it certainly seemed like [Skye] was a partner in getting them there. And something happened that has put her in quarantine which [puts] her in jeopardy, which is the most terrifying thing that can happen because of the emotional bond [between Skye and Coulson]. And also potentially a threat and connected to something bigger than we understand yet… I’ve always loved the Inhuman part of the Marvel universe because they’re as close to what I would call ‘mutants,’ the idea that there is evolutionary potential within us that makes some people suddenly evolve differently and represent something either very special, very exciting, and a saving element for humanity or a potential weapon or a threat. And the topicality of the way that people evolve differently seems very important in this moment.”
An upcoming episode will introduce Luke Mitchell as Lincoln, a charismatic Inhuman who has an important role in helping Skye understand the true extent of her transformation. While Bennet and Mitchell remained coy about the details of Lincoln’s involvement and his potential abilities, Bennet did tease, “He helps Skye adjust to her new powers in a way that makes her more comfortable with them. And they might kind of like each other, maybe, at some point… He’s going to be like a breath of fresh air to the show and change things up. He brings on a whole other part of the show that people are going to be excited about. His powers are dope.”
“He’s reasonably confident in his own abilities,” Mitchell added. “He’s quite knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about the whole Inhuman thing. I’d like to say more, but I just can’t.”
Bennet and Mitchell had no idea whether they would be included in Marvel’s “Inhumans” movie, planned for summer 2019, but Bell noted that the introduction of the Inhumans “will become something that people understand and that resonates” just by including them in the fabric of the show — and thus, the wider Marvel universe.
The duo aren’t the only ones keeping secrets; “SHIELD” has always been a show with its share of mysteries, but launching into the back half of the season, secrets abound inside the team, beginning with Fitz’s decision to tamper with Skye’s test results to keep her abilities hidden.
Fitz’s secret will undoubtedly have an impact — chiefly on his relationship with Simmons. De Caestecker told reporters that Fitz was shocked by his colleague’s extreme reaction in the midseason return, and now, “people are starting to question things. With the way that he keeps the secret with Skye, I think that’s more based on what happened to him and how people treated him. He’s like, ‘let’s just take a second.’ At that point I think he feels like he’s the only one that really understands what she must be going through, that change.”
And although FitzSimmons “still care and need each other a lot, and they also work better together when they are together… there’s a lot of things that have still been unsaid and will hopefully come out, certain confrontations that are still bubbling under,” he noted.
Henstridge emphasized the potential damage that Fitz’s secret could wreak on the relationship between their characters: “I think she’s going to be very hurt. I don’t think they fully realize the implication of how far apart they are. There’s so much hurt there. I don’t think they realize what they’re sacrificing by not figuring this out… It’s going to get muddier before it gets clear, but this is potentially the first step at trying to figure their relationship out.”
As Fitz grows further apart from Simmons, he’ll grow closer to Skye as they attempt to figure out what’s happening to her, according to De Caestecker: “There’s something that bonds them because they’ve both changed and Fitz understands that, and I think Skye appreciates that. So their bond has immediately grown stronger [after the midseason premiere]… It’s a big decision, it’s not something that’s taken lightly and it’s a scary decision for both of them.”
In the episode’s final minutes, we also learned that Bobbi and Mack (Henry Simmons) are working behind the team’s back to try and acquire Nick Fury’s Toolbox, for purposes yet to be revealed. Are they Hydra?
“I don’t think you should assume anything, honestly,” Palicki said. “Mack and Bobbi, they do have a secret, but whatever they’re doing, they think is the right thing. So it’s not necessarily malicious, but you have to keep an open mind.”
Whedon played his cards a little closer to the chest, teasing, “It’s not wrong to assume it. We’ve all been burned by Hydra before. We’re a little shell-shocked.”
“And clearly we want you to think, ‘Oh my God, could they be Hydra?'” Bell laughed.
Simmons offered, “I can say that this secret that they have is gonna have quite an impact on the team… That’s all I can say. You start seeing hints of it already in the midseason premiere.”
The premiere also saw Mack face off with Coulson in an explosive confrontation, and Simmons promised that “the catalyst of those explosions that Mack has are going to be explored more. I think Mack questions ‘why are we doing this?’ and at the cost of some of our team members — Trip being dead. There’s a lot of emotion behind that; you lose someone who’s close to you, a brother, and you’re wondering ‘why? Why are we doing this?'”
Lance is already suspicious of what’s going on with Bobbi and Mack, and Palicki teased, “when the secret does finally come out, it’s going to have massive repercussions on the entire team, but especially for their relationship. The trust thing has been an ongoing issue in their relationship so this is definitely not going to help.”
As far as Blood is concerned, Lance didn’t believe Bobbi’s explanation for why she and Mack were sneaking around this week — which turned out to be a wise strategy. “I think he knows her too well to believe anything she says, really. I think he’s always, always on guard, always suspicious. I think with most people, and probably particularly with her, he’s been let down too many times in the past to take it on face value. But I think possibly naively, when you care about someone, you want to believe that they’re telling you the truth. I think that’s the case. I think he wants to believe her.”
“And she wants to tell him because she loves him,” Palicki added.
Eagle-eyed Marvel fans might’ve caught references to Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) in “Aftershocks,” and during our set visit, reporters wanted to know whether that clue hinted at a connection to the upcoming “Age of Ultron,” since Strucker was last seen in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
“It might suggest that,” Whedon teased. “It’d be cool. It’s one Universe, so there is some ripple.”
“#ItsAllConnected,” exec producer (and Marvel TV boss) Jeph Loeb added coyly.
The team also pulled off a major victory by killing several of Hydra’s heads in this week’s episode, but the producers cautioned that the malevolent organization is far from defeated.
“Hydra’s been played as [being split into] cells, so there’s a lot of them, and as they always say, you cut off one head and many more grow, so in our mind, this was an impressive feat Coulson pulled off, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Hydra is done,” Loeb observed.
“Will they ever be done? Their logo’s too cool to ever go away,” Whedon laughed.
Loeb agreed, “It’s true. And then there’s Grant Ward…”
Though Brett Dalton’s traitorous character was absent in the midseason premiere, he won’t be gone for too long. “Last we saw him, he had walked off with another broken person and was riddled with bullets,” Whedon reminded us.
“We’re doing 22 episodes… and so what we’re trying to do is to find different colors and different flavors to play over that time, so you don’t get tired of seeing the same thing,” Bell added. “So we built to this moment and then suddenly we’ve got questions about Bobbi and Hunter and what’s that about? And suddenly Grant goes off with Agent 33 and what’s that about? And so we’re hoping to bring in some new questions. I think we answered a lot of questions at the end of 9 and 10, and so in answering questions, hopefully we ask some new ones and we’ll be playing those forward from here.”
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Why do you think Bobbi and Mack want Nick Fury’s Toolbox? How long do you think Fitz and Skye can keep their secret from the team? Weigh in below!