Major spoilers below for the season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which delivered some surprising and welcomed twists.
Once it became clear that Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be coming to a close after the previously ordered Season 7, filmed relatively soon after the sixth batch of installments, it perhaps became easier to embrace the more questionable Season 6 moments, knowing that the creative team is gearing up for a small screen endgame in the future. That knowledge also definitely helped justify the double-episode finale's twists and time changes going into the Coulson-friendly final year.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Is Going Back In Time
Because explaining everything that went down in the Season 6 finale would take about as long as the dual episodes themselves, let's hone in on the fact that the finale ended with the Zephyr essentially becoming a time machine that transported the team back to 1930s New York, during the Empire State Building's construction process. What can co-showrunners and executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen say about it?
Whedon: I think we can say we’re definitely going back there and that’s where the adventure begins. Right now the Zephyr is a time machine...
Tancharoen: And wouldn’t it be fun to explore different time periods?
The major threat at hand is that those pesky (and kinda terrifying) villains, the Chronicoms, are trying to turn Earth into a third version of their home planet Chronyca, which doesn't exactly work for Team S.H.I.E.L.D. or the rest of civilization for various reasons. The synthetic beings destroyed the Lighthouse base, and viewers gained knowledge of their plans to remove S.H.I.E.L.D. by traveling back in time and targeting the organization and its agents across recent history.
Time travel isn't exactly new for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or other areas in the MCU, seeing as how the characters spent part of Season 5 in 2091 before returning to the present. But that was the semi-distant future, obviously, and this isn't a show that regularly offers audiences chances to relive parts of history. The CW's Legends of Tomorrow is far more accustomed to those kinds of adventures.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Welcomed Back Phil Coulson, Sort Of
Of course, the Legends of Tomorrow crew don't get to boast about having Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson around, but the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gang have now welcomed back the closest representation of Coulson that fans have seen since the Season 5 finale. First, Gregg's Season 6 character Sarge was ceremoniously skinned and lopped in half, which seemingly put an end to the Shrike and zombie threats.
Then, Simmons revealed that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans don't need to worry about making it through the final season of the show without Clark Gregg guiding things in some way. Granted, it's an LMD version of Coulson, and not a fully resurrected iteration, but beggars can't be choosers. In fact, the only choosers here are showrunners Jed Whedon, Jeff Bell and Maurissa Tancharoen, who reiterated to EW the idea that there is "no show without Clark," despite fears of his potential absence.
Don't expect any of them to offer any concrete answers about where things are going with New Coulson in Season 7, the last batch of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes. Here's how Jed Whedon put it:
In introducing Sarge, we felt like we were left with a question: If you end up with Sarge being a good guy, then you end up with a watered-down version of the guy we loved, which we didn’t want. If you end up with him staying a bad guy, we felt like we just played that for a season. So, there was a lot of discussion about what do we want to do with Clark and what do we want to do with Coulson, because we didn’t want to buy back the end of season 5, which we liked. We wanted to honor that. . . . So we thought for the audience and the writers and for him, it would be nice to bring him back — but, again, bringing him back as a 2.0 version. He’ll have new stuff to play and there’s new rules to his existence.
Hmm. Couple the fact that Clark Gregg plays different versions of his central character along with the time travel issues, and it's clear that The Flash is the more comparable comic book show in this case. That show not only uses time travel chicanery, but star Tom Cavanagh also portrays different iterations of the same character in each season. Basically, I guess I'm trying to wish Clark Gregg into the Arrow-verse after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends next year. It won't happen, but it's fun to imagine.
Just like it's fun to ponder the kinds of destruction-defying tactics Simmons & Co. will need to utilize to stop their enemies during a time when Babe Ruth was still a baseball behemoth. At least in that initial time-jump. Stay tuned to future episodes to find out where S.H.I.E.L.D. will show up after that.
Does The Time Travel Offer Up Any MCU Connections Inspired By Avengers: Endgame?
Considering the final films of the MCU's Phase 3 fully opened the doors to multiverses and altered timelines, it shouldn't be ignored just how quickly Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is following up on that game-changer by introducing its own time-traveling storyline. But what does that mean for the ABC action drama? Will we learn of different outcomes of whatever happens in the early '30s, or does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have its own guidelines when it comes to changing time?
To be expected, the answers given by the co-showrunners aren't spoilery, but they don't shoot the notion down, either.
Tancharoen: These all might be things that our characters are debating.
Bell: Marvel’s not going to let us do anything they don’t want us to do.
It's assumed that Jeff Bell's Marvel comment there means that the time jaunts would have been shut down by the studio if S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Season 7 narrative didn't have the ideal plan to maneuver its way through the timeline. Could the series use this opportunity to fully immerse itself in cinematic MCU lore by dropping into key moments from the franchise's history?
How badass would it be to watch the team interacting with a young Steve Rogers and/or Peggy Carter prior to the events seen in Captain America: The First Avenger? Or to get scenes where members of the team show up in the background of familiar big screen moments, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-style? (Please let it leak that Tom Stoppard was on the writing team for Season 7, which already finished shooting.) It does look like Agent Carter characters may appear, so it'll be interesting to see if they'll be the same as they were in the standalone series.
What did you guys think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s doubled-up season finale? We certainly hope it was enough to last the hiatus until Season 7 arrives on ABC at some point in the future. Until then, enjoy the remaining summer TV shows that are debuting before the joyous onslaught of the fall primetime schedule.