Last season, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” saw its titular organization decimated by the events of “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” when Hydra pulled off a spectacular coup and left many agents dead or in hiding, Jedi purge style. This Friday, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” hits theaters, so it’s no surprise that we got another crossover between the ABC series and its big screen cousin in the form of Cobie Smulders’ Agent Maria Hill, who popped up in this week’s episode to discuss the mysterious Theta Protocol with Director Coulson (Clark Gregg). Coulson then ended the episode with a verbal mic drop by namedropping the Avengers themselves.
While we’re not holding our breath for Robert Downey Jr. to swing by in next week’s episode, the April 28 episode of “SHIELD,” titled “The Dirty Half Dozen,” contained plenty of Easter eggs for Marvel fans, and including references to major “Avengers” players like Baron Strucker and “the twins.” The hour also crammed in some pivotal character moments for our original gang of SHIELD agents, with Skye (Chloe Bennet) finally returning from her Inhuman hideaway to reunite with her teammates — and, grudgingly, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) — in an attempt to rescue Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) and Mike “Deathlok” Peterson (J. August Richards) from Hydra.
To get to the bottom of those “Avengers” teases and what’s ahead for the show after “Ultron” unspools this weekend, Variety attempted to pick the impenetrable brains of “SHIELD” showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen via email. Naturally, the duo were cagey when it came to spoilers, but there are a few insights to be gleaned from our exchange below. Read on for more on that Maria Hill cameo, Gonzales’ agenda and whether there’s any hope for Ward to rejoin the team permanently.
Last year, you had to wait until after “The Winter Soldier” debuted before you could reveal your hand in terms of the big Hydra coup — this year, episode 219 seemingly sets the stage for “Age of Ultron.” Did you construct the season with this episode and the inevitable fallout in episode 220 in mind, knowing what was coming in “Ultron,” or did the specific plot for these episodes evolve as the season progressed?
Whedon: In “Winter Soldier,” the storyline was a direct parallel to our season-long arc, revealing Hydra at the center of SHIELD as the common antagonist in both tales. So the tie-in was significant and, truthfully, will be the most interwoven event between our series and the films probably ever.
Tancharoen: This year, our narrative is completely separate from the events of the “Avengers” film, so we tried to interlace our Inhumans storyline with “Age of Ultron” in a way that enriched both viewing experiences but didn’t derail our narrative train. Fortunately, those pesky Hydra folks are always popping up and in this case serve as the bridge between the two. That and Theta Protocol, of course.
What are the main pros and cons of tying into such a huge movie event, from your perspective?
Whedon: Besides the 3D-chess-game-made-up-of-Rubik’s-Cubes that it is building plot into and out of the films… Pro: we are a part of one of the biggest films ever made on the planet. Con: we have 1/100 the time and money Literally. So when people watch our show, knowing we are supposed to exist in the same universe, they wonder why our slice of the universe has so many less flying robots. So we can only try to make our characters compelling and the stories rewarding to help us measure up.
How well will episode 220 stand on its own, if fans don’t manage to see “Ultron” before the next episode airs?
Tancharoen: Just fine.
At what point did you decide to utilize Maria Hill for the episode? Was there ever any plan for the cameo to be Nick Fury instead?
Tancharoen: The plan was always Cobie. She’s close to Coulson, they have history, and tie-in-plot-wise it made the most sense.
Whedon: She’s also a warm, hilarious, genuine pleasure to work with, whereas Sam Jackson is also ha ha fooled you there for a second.
We finally saw the whole team back together in “The Dirty Half Dozen,” but it was an awkward reunion for Ward. Where does he go from here, after making the chivalrous decision to bring Kara back to SHIELD? Do you see any potential for reconciliation with the rest of the team, or have the bridges been thoroughly burned?
Whedon: There is always potential, but some seriously charred bridges. Our goal at this point is to show that Ward really does care for Kara and is sincerely trying to do the right thing. Whether that will lead to eventual reconciliation, you’ll have to wait and see.
We’re seeing a much darker side of Simmons this season — including a failed attempt to kill Ward this week. (RIP, Bakshi.) Has she passed the point of no return now, given everything she’s been through, or could that cynicism be reversed, once the team gets back on solid ground?
Tancharoen: The whole team has been through a lot at this point, and they each react and grow in different directions. The death of Trip was particularly hard on her. So now she’s doing what she believes will protect herself from further pain, but down at the root, she’s still the same old Simmons.
Where do things stand between Gonzales and Coulson following this week’s episode, now that Coulson has opened Fury’s toolbox? Is there actually a chance for the two SHIELD factions to coexist?
Whedon: There is.
It seems like Skye and Lincoln got out of the Hydra frying pan and into the “Real SHIELD” fire, judging by Gonzales’ enthusiasm about now having them contained. How will that conflict impact the team in the run up to the finale?
Tancharoen: Conflict? There’s no conflict! Gonzales is great everything is fine what are you talking about nothing to see here. The last eps are just the gang sitting around the fire, singing songs, eating marshmallows. And…… question answered.
Cal had a spectacular meltdown in front of the inhabitants of Afterlife following Skye’s attempt to ditch him, during which he spilled the truth about Skye’s parentage — what kind of repercussions might we see for Jiaying as a result?
Whedon: Jiaying is in a tough spot. She was trying to balance her devotion to family with her devotion to her people. And now with Raina in the mix, having proven herself to be a real Clairvoyant by predicting the events that occur in Age of Ultron… Well, Jiaying’s in a tough spot. Someone may try to make a power play…
Anything else you’re willing to tease about next week’s episode?
Whedon: Mack lifts weights.
Tancharoen: And looks really good while doing that.
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
What did you think of “The Dirty Half Dozen”? Would you like to see Ward reunited with the team for good? Can Coulson and Gonzales coexist? Share your theories in the comments.