Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve season the “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” season two finale, titled “SOS.”
ABC and Marvel’s “SHIELD” closed out its sophomore season with a tantalizing easter egg, an emotional wallop and a shocking cliffhanger, with plenty of dangling threads left to be tied up when the show returns for its recently announced season three. Skye (Chloe Bennet) was forced to lose her parents for a second time — after Inhuman leader Jiaying’s (Dichen Lachman) fanaticism threatened the lives of every remaining SHIELD agent, including Skye herself — but seemingly found new purpose in a project with Coulson (Clark Gregg) to assemble a group of super-powered individuals; an initiative that may be familiar to Marvel fans, with the codename Caterpillars.
Meanwhile, as Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) questioned her future with the team after her torturous encounter with Ward (Brett Dalton) and her near-death experience while attempting to protect ex-husband Hunter (Nick Blood), her teammate Mack (Henry Simmons) finally embraced his status as a SHIELD agent after helping save Coulson’s life during the battle with the Inhumans (even if saving his life involved cutting his hand off).
Elsewhere, Ward recruited a few remaining Hydra agents to help him find “closure” in his tumultuous relationship with SHIELD, and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) finally decided to go on a date, only for the mysterious Kree Monolith to escape its container and snatch Simmons up in the episode’s closing moments, seemingly consuming her as it shifted from liquid back to solid. And that’s not even mentioning the Terrigen crystals that leaked into the sea, contaminated the fish and subsequently found their way into fish oil supplements being stocked on store shelves…
To find out where our team goes from here, Variety spoke to “SHIELD” executive producer Jeffrey Bell, who dropped a few hints about season three’s trajectory and potential crossovers with Marvel’s other properties.
Let’s begin with the most pressing concern after the finale — the status of Simmons. How did you arrive at the decision to leave the audience with such an evil cliffhanger, especially since Simmons is the character who has been the most mistrustful of alien artifacts this season?
Bell: I don’t know if it’s evil… Who knows, maybe that thing took her to Disneyland and she’s riding on the “Cars” ride, having the time of her life! [Laughs.] When we first started talking about the Monolith, we knew that it needed to present a threat and we needed to demonstrate some of that threat and the promise of more story, because — this is gonna shock you — we want more people to watch next year, because we like when people watch our show. It’s easy to kill a character for shock value or whatever, and we did have a number of deaths this season, but I don’t think they were so much for shock value as the hopefully understandable logic of the characters and the stories. We prefer to leave you with something to talk about, to walk away with. This is something that came up in the room, we talked about what it meant… The idea of getting Fitz and Simmons — who had been one person — to become two whole people, come back together, agree to go on a date, and then have this happen, felt beautifully poetic and promises some really intriguing stories next season, which is really what it’s all about.
Skye’s search for her parents has been part of the show since its inception. This year, she found them, and it’s safe to say they weren’t what she might’ve hoped for. What are the emotional ramifications of Skye gaining her mother only to lose her again, due to Jiaying’s own betrayal?
In many ways, the whole metaphor at the heart of the show is family — you’ve got Coulson and May and then a bunch of younger people, and it allows us to play out different dynamics; literally, this season, we had Skye’s biological parents versus her surrogate parents. And at the same time, we had Skye growing up. We had her going from a slightly sulky hacker season one to training to become an agent to becoming our first full-fledged superhero and so as we grow up, we separate from our parents. It doesn’t always mean killing them, but sometimes those desires are there… [Laughs.] In our minds, her mom wasn’t a villain so much; she was an antagonist, but if you look at why she feels the way she does, Jiaying really earned that position.
We left Skye and Coulson planning to create a team comprised of super-powered individuals. You’ve obviously been seeding the idea of powers into the show for some time, which led to the introduction of the Inhumans this year, so will that be more of a focus in season three, as a way of broadening the scope of the series?
The Marvel universe is broad and deep and we try to tell stories from all over that; we had to begin by just introducing these characters — most of whom had not existed before — and getting invested in them, and slowly expanding. So there have been aliens and there have been powered people, there’s been weird science and tech gadgets, and one thing I love about working on the show is we can tell all kinds of stories with all kinds of tone. People seem to respond to powered people on the show and while it’s not going to take over and become what the show’s about, as a texture and flavor of the stories, we really enjoy that. The fact that Inhumans are now out there is something I think we need to investigate and 22 episodes makes for a long season. If you look back over the course of the season, all the different areas we explored, Hydra or SHIELD 2.0 — which is what we called Gonzales’ team amongst ourselves — and the Kree place in the middle, there’s all kinds of stories. But I do expect for us to investigate this plan that Skye and Coulson have about starting something that could be pretty entertaining.
Does that mean we’ll see more of Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) next season?
Luke was an awesome addition and now’s the time for us — now that we’re officially picked up, as of today — we have to sit down and figure out exactly how to tell those stories. But we loved having Lincoln this past year and think he was a great addition so that’s definitely on the table.
The finale certainly seems to imply that Hydra as we know it is gone, with all of its leaders destroyed, allowing Ward to step into that power vacuum. Have we discarded Hydra as this sprawling, faceless entity to focus on a more grounded, personal antagonist in Ward moving forward?
It sure looked like Ward’s starting his Fight Club version of Hydra, but one of our challenges [is] any time you have an evil, villainous empire, what motivates those people? Whitehall this past year was just an old school Nazi — he was literally from the ’40s, and so for him that was about power, eugenics, control, it all made sense, and for Ward to come to this place honestly… This is a guy who, a couple of episodes earlier, was really happy that he got to spend time with the old team and feel like he was part of that, but then after Agent 33’s death at his hands — god forbid he take any responsibility for that — he did discover that he likes being part of a team. So for us, it’s a natural growth for the character, as twisted as he may be, and the idea of him with a personal vendetta against our group of SHIELD gives him all the motive he needs. No matter what other aspect of Hydra he embraces behind that, I think you’ll understand what’s driving him, which is the important quality in an antagonist.
Coulson’s leadership was truly tested this season — both by other members of the team and by his own conscience — so where does he stand at the end of the season? Has he made peace with his decisions at this point?
By the end of the season, he had reasserted his value as director of SHIELD, but he paid a price — that was important to us. You don’t mess with the forces of nature without getting bitten, and the fact that he literally saved everyone on the ship by that crystal not shattering was a wonderful, heroic thing and showed you that at heart, Coulson is a heroic man whose actions back up his words. He’ll do whatever it takes for the team, but that person occasionally has to pay a price, and Mack instituted that price. [Laughs.]
Speaking of Mack, his evolution has been a joy to watch this season, and Henry Simmons kind of stole the show in the finale; he certainly got the best one-liners. Where does Mack go from here, now that he’s accepted his place on the team?
We realized as we did the edit of the finale, “wow, Henry’s got all the good lines this episode.” There’s a humor to him and his character that we weren’t aware of when he first showed up because he’s this giant, handsome man, and then you realize there’s this great, dry sense of humor and you also realize “wow, he’s good in scenes with anybody.” You can put him with Fitz, you can put him with Bobbi, you can put him with Coulson, you can put him with Hunter and he’s really good with everybody. We also wanted to be true to a character who… not everyone in SHIELD is a fighter or a specialist, and so giving him an arc where he has to pick up an ax and fight for what he believes in seemed like a really honest trajectory for him and we look forward to seeing where that takes him next season.
There were rumors of a potential spinoff centered around Bobbi and Hunter that obviously haven’t come to fruition yet, but the finale left Bobbi in a very vulnerable place. What’s ahead for the two of them given that Bobbi is now questioning her purpose?
Nick and Adrianne were great this season, not just as a couple but as individuals, and Bobbi’s stance at the end, in her defiance to Ward, was amazingly heroic … We also like that just because two people love each other doesn’t necessarily mean that they belong together; but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t die for each other. She took a beating and it’ll be interesting to see how she recovers, how that affects her and how that affects them moving forward, but we look forward to telling stories with the two of them together and their ongoing journey.
If I have one quibble with the show this season, it’s that it’s hard to tell what the scope of SHIELD is following its destruction at the hands of Hydra — we see and hear mention of other factions with certain resources still remaining, but it’s tough to grasp just how much of the organization is left standing. Next season, do you plan to keep things on a more micro level, or — as with the introduction of Gonzales’ group this year — do you want to extend SHIELD’s reach?
It was pretty decimated and went underground after “Cap 2,” and we found we like our team in that position, as underdogs, as opposed to a giant, powerful, NSA organization that can do pretty much anything. So the fact that we’re covert, the fact that we have to operate in the shadows is a good place for us storytelling-wise, and the fact that there might be other pockets of SHIELD out there, as we learned this season, promises continued growth. But I don’t think Coulson is in any hurry to turn it into this giant corporate structure again — he likes it the way it is.
Seeing what you do with visual effects on a television budget is always impressive, but Skye knocking the quinjet off the aircraft carrier in the finale was particularly cinematic.
We have to give a shout-out to Mark Kolpack — who’s our visual effects supervisor — and his team, who have done phenomenal work for us all season. Visual effects are a big part of our show and some of them are invisible and some of them are very dramatic and the fact that there’s no real planes in our [show], and you just accept the fact that “oh, there’s a plane” is pretty cool. Jed [Whedon] and Maurissa [Tancharoen] and I all love that aspect of the show and the fact that they pull off as much as they do on our budget is fantastic and a tribute to their hard work. “Avengers” spent more money in the first ten minutes than I suspect we spent all season. And it’s fantastic but we have to compete on a different level — we try to tell our smaller, emotional stories with little punctuation marks. We could do it because it was our finale, but to their credit, they had very little turnaround time for any of those effects. The very last shot of the show with the Monolith and Simmons got approved Saturday, so it’s a squeaker, but the post-houses, everybody worked very hard.
Last season’s tie-in with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was obviously pivotal for the show, but this year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” crossover was more incidental and allowed the show to stand on its own while still tying into the wider universe. Do you have any upcoming plans for synergy with other Marvel properties?
I think this year worked really well — we got to be our own show and tell our own stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and do a nice hand off or a tie-in, but neither are incumbent upon the other to be a follow, and I think that’s a great model for us. “Ant-Man” comes out this summer and will have come and gone before we air again in September, so whether there’s anything vestigial from that or for “Civil War” next season is to be determined. But we’re in contact with the movie people and them with us, and any time we can put little easter eggs in, it’s a lot of fun for die-hard fans.
The “Agent Carter” tie-ins this season were some of my favorite moments — with that series renewed too, do you hope to do another crossover involving Hayley Atwell next season?
It was really fun to have the Howling Commandos and Agent Carter — Hayley is spectacular and we’re thrilled that that show gets to come back. Yeah, if there’s a chance for us to set something in her path, that would be cool. I know she works very hard doing those episodes; bringing her over to our show was a work of clock-like precision… because she was shooting on the other show at the exact same time, but it’s a lot of fun and we try to do as much as we can.
What did you think of the “Agents of SHIELD” season two finale? What happened to Simmons, and who do you think Skye will recruit for her Caterpillars project? Share your predictions below.