Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went in some exciting new directions in Season 4 when the block of episodes was split off into three distinct arcs, or "pods." The first followed the introduction of Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider, the second featured the development of A.I.D.A. as an epic villain, and the third sent our crew of agents into a digital framework. It was a very different format to the season than fans were used to, and it's one that the show will use again in Season 5 for some pretty big reasons. Marvel TV head honcho Jeph Loeb had this to say about S.H.I.E.L.D.:
It gave an opportunity to the writers to tell a complete chapter so that as the audience... It came out of necessity of the fact that ABC runs the shows and then needs to take breaks to have specials and things like that and you go into the holidays or the Olympics or something like that. So rather than waiting and having the audience have to play catch up because we're not on for three or four or sometimes seven weeks, they said, 'OK let's try to do this in bites.' And so this first bite is the first 10 episodes of this season.
Jeph Loeb explained why breaking seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into multiple arcs is effective while speaking at New York Comic Con (via Screenrant), and his comments indicate that the first arc of Season 5 will run for ten episodes when the show finally hits the airwaves. The Season 4 cliffhanger saw Coulson and Co. whisked away by a mysterious group, and we last saw Coulson in outer space, so we can bet that there's plenty of material to cover in the first "bite" of the season.
Breaking Season 4 up into arcs was probably quite helpful for those of us who have been frustrated by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s hiatuses each year. Each season since the first has been split up by surprisingly long break. In Seasons 2 and 3 in particular, there was a span of around three months between the midseason finale and the midseason premiere, and a lot of momentum and cohesiveness can be lost when there's such a huge break in the action. Season 4 was able to air three complete yet connected arcs within the span of a single season without any frustrating gaps.
Personally, I'm pretty psyched that S.H.I.E.L.D. is going for multiple arcs again in Season 5. The show felt more tightly-plotted with shorter arcs compared to one big story, and there was certainly no filler. Besides, given that ABC reportedly wanted to cancel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than renew for Season 5, I'm all for the show making things convenient for ABC scheduling. The show has just gotten better and better.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was bumped from its usual Tuesday time slot to Fridays when it returns following the end of Inhumans, as ABC has stated that they want to establish Friday on the network as a place for sci-fi and fantasy on the small screen. Ratings probably won't recover to their earlier season averages with a Friday night time slot, but low ratings also might not matter as much on a Friday. We'll have to wait and see.