This article contains spoilers for The Avengers (2012) and Agents Of SHIELD seasons 5 and 6.
Clark Gregg has been playing Phil Coulson for a lot longer than we ever thought possible. Like, about seven years longer to date, since he originally bought the farm back in Joss Whedon’s 2012 MCU gamechanger, The Avengers. But being run through by Loki at his maximum badness aboard a SHIELD helicarrier back then didn’t keep the character down for long, as he soon turned up to lead the cast of ABC’s Agents Of SHIELD on the small screen in a revived state.
The first few seasons of the series had some thematic and narrative problems behind the scenes. While the writers tried to connect the events of the feature films to the story ‘on the ground’, Agents Of SHIELD occasionally found itself being Admin Of SHIELD, a situation that Gregg has reflected on in a brand new interview with io9:
“I think in the early days it was very much an experiment and honestly, Marvel was really one big company, and now it’s really not. I think it’s really two separate divisions and there was a real desire to thread very carefully what we were doing with the movies. You know, at the end of season one with the Hydra reveal in Captain America: Winter Soldier, it turned our show upside down.
“But I think when the show started to really find its best stride was when our writers decided ‘Eh, screw it. We’re going to take what we can get and there’s a lot of stuff [Marvel Studios] doesn’t seem to be using. They don’t seem to be using L.M.D.s, they don’t seem to be using Ghostrider or the Framework.’ At first we didn’t believe that we were doing Secret Warriors, but then it became clear—‘Oh, that’s Quake.’ They’ve ingeniously taken the parts of the Marvel universe—which is broad—that no one seemed to be interested in, and we’ve squeezed every drop out of them and really let our train go on its own track.”
Now that Coulson is dead again (or is he?) Gregg is still coming back for the sixth season, which is set to start airing in May. But how has he made it back this time, and is he really him? Could taking him out, or whoever seems like him, be the ultimate answer for the series? Again, the actor was faced with the knowledge that he was probably done playing the beloved character, only to be thrust back into the sunlight as Agents Of SHIELD got a surprise renewal for season 7, too.
“Coulson goes off to Tahiti with Agent May at the end of season five without much time left and it was a very moving, sad thing the show did. We thought we were maybe done. Then they picked us up for two seasons, and at a certain point they asked me to direct an episode, and sat me down to explain some of this season. One of the things we’re exploring is an idea that while half the team’s out in space trying to find the other timeline cryogenically frozen Leo Fitz, the other half of the team is here grieving and trying to put SHIELD back together with Agent MacKenzie running it, which is exciting to me because Henry Simmons is so amazing.
“There’s some strange anomaly happening that feels like a very threatening rupture every time it occurs and there are these people, these humanoid people who show up in the footage and one of them looks a lot like Coulson. He’s bad, he’s dangerous, and terrifying. He’s a different person and it’s difficult for everyone to cope with, but especially Agent May and Daisy.”
Season 6 looks like it’s going to be essential viewing.