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The Season 3 finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a game-changer in a lot of ways. Lincoln's sacrifice was enough to upset the dynamic of the entire team. The flash forward tag at the end of the episode proved just how much changed for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in the months after the death of Lincoln and the end of Hive. None of the characters were in the same positions that they'd been in during the Season 3 premiere, and Phil Coulson apparently took one of the largest falls when he was demoted from S.H.I.E.L.D. director to field agent. As it turns out, actor Clark Gregg is actually pretty cool with Coulson's demotion.
I wasn't pissed about it at all. They had an episode very early on after he was made director that said heavy is the head that wears the crown. I think that's true. It was a job he was given. Maybe in the back of his mind he dreamed of being the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. someday, but it wasn't his lifelong dream. I think Phil Coulson's happiest as a field agent. I feel proud of a lot of the choices that he's made, even some of the choices that he's made to deal with some of his own mistakes.
Clark Gregg's explanation to EW about why he's not bothered by Coulson's big demotion actually makes a lot of sense considering Coulson's character arc over three seasons of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a handful of Marvel movies so far. Coulson was originally introduced in Iron Man as one cog in the massive S.H.I.E.L.D. machine, and even the jump to television to act as the lead of an ensemble didn't turn him into the big boss of the agency. It was only after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier blew up the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premise by revealing that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated with Hydra operatives that Coulson was elevated into the role of director. He mostly got the top job because he was one of the few high-ranking agents who didn't either die or become a traitor. The job of director was thrust upon him when Nick Fury jumped ship, and Phil Coulson is no Nick Fury.
Coulson has definitely always seemed more comfortable in the field than behind a desk as director. He developed the tendency of running off into the action when the top dog of the secret agency should have kept himself safe, and it was really a matter of time before he ended up getting demoted in some way or other. He just wasn't ready to become director. Hopefully, if he is promoted again in a future season, Coulson will be better prepared for what the job will entail.
Luckily, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been renewed for a fourth season, so fans don't have to spend the summer wondering if they'd ever get to see Coulson back in action as a field agent. Check out our schedule of summer TV premiere dates to see what will be on the airwaves to pass the time until S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to show what's next for Coulson and Co. in the Marvel universe.