I’m going to try to avoid as many spoilers as I possibly can, but when it comes to a show this extensive and interconnected with the MCU, that will be difficult. If you are truly worried about spoilers, avoid this post until you’ve completed the series. Or at least watched enough of it that you won’t mind spoilers. You’ve been warned!
I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this show before, but I’m rewatching it right now, so it’s as good a time as any. I’m an easy sell when it comes to superhero shows, but I definitely feel like this is one of the better ones. Maybe that’s just because Joss Whedon had such a heavy hand in the show and I love most things Whedon. Frankly, this may be the most Whedonesque show that ever existed. But it’s not just Whedon; the cast is phenomenal, the writing is solid and both their choreography and set design are great. Before I gush too much, let me tell you about the show.
I’m going to try to be concise, but, in the world of Marvel Comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around for a long time. Not to mention how the television show ties into the MCU in general, this may be a long post. S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, and was formed to address superpowered threats without having to rely on superheroes all the time. The organization itself first appeared in Strange Tales #135 in 1965, a creation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, but we’re talking about the television show here. When the series starts, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Agent Phil Coulson (played by Gregg Clark of The West Wing and basically so many MCU movies that I’m not going to list them all here). Agent Coulson makes his first appearance in the movie Iron Man and then is seen in a few of the other MCU movies, until he dies in The Avengers, killed by Loki. Yep, you heard me right; he dies. So him actually being the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is kind of weird, which they play into quite a bit early in the series. He makes cryptic references to “Tahiti” being a “magical place” and we don’t find out until later what he means by Tahiti. Then, there are his agents.
The team initially consists of consummate bad ass, Agent Melinda Mae (played by Ming-Na Wen of ER and The Mandelorian), James Bond-like Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton of , well, not much, really. He’s been a voice actor for Milo Murphy’s Law and then a number of bit parts), the Nerd Herd duo of Leo Fitz (played by Iain De Caestecker of Coronation Street and Overlord) and Jemma Simmons (played by Elizabeth Henstridge of Wolves at the Door and Suspicion), mercenary Lance Hunter (played by Nick Blood of Trollied and Babylon), his ex-wife Bobbi Morse (played by Adrianne Palicki of John Wick and The Orville) and, last but not least, muscley-but-complex guy Alphonso “Mac” Mackenzie (played by Henry Simmons of NYPD Blue and Shark).
Another agent, that is not an agent at the beginning, is Skye (played by Chloe Bennet of Valley Girl and Nashville). The characters of the cast are strong enough that’s it’s hard to call anyone a star, but, if I were pressed to pick one, Skye and Mae would be a tie behind Coulson. Mainly because she is so integral to so many plots of so many seasons. When the series starts, she’s an anarchist hacker, out to fight the system. Then, under Coulson’s tutelage, she becomes a dedicated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Spoiler Alert! She ultimately is found to be an Inhuman and develops powers. Her superhero name becomes Quake, but she switches names more than a pro golfer switches clubs. It’s unfortunate that her character is tied to so many plot lines, because she is, in my opinion, one of the weakest of the bunch.
I’m not going to write an exhaustive list of cast members; they were surprisingly numerous for a seven season run. But I do want to spend some time on the part-time, side actors that show up from time to time. I don’t know what their budget was, but they must have been spending Marvel dollars, cause, damn, did they have some star power. Kyle MacLachlan (of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks) is in 2 seasons of the series, and, in my mind, you don’t get much bigger than that. Ruth Negga (of Misfits and Preacher) has a sizable role early in the show. Samuel L. Jackson (of Pulp Fiction and just about every movie in the MCU) shows up once or twice as Nick Fury, just to cement the show’s connection to the movies. Patton Oswald was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in a number of episodes. Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, Stan Lee (because, of course), even George Stephanopoulos appears as himself in an episode. And this is with leaving a few names out, because I don’t know how long this would be if I included anyone with name recognition.
There were some big names behind the camera as well. Roxan Dawson (who played B’Ellana Torres on Star Trek: Voyager) directed a few episodes, as did Jonathan Frakes, for the full Star Trek treatment. Lou Diamond Phillips directed an episode. Even cast members Clark Gregg and Elizabeth Henstridge got their turn at directing. While the Whedons, along with Maurissa Tancharoen (of Whedon vehicles Doll House and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), did most of the heavy lifting writing wise, they definitely had help. Drew Z. Greenberg wrote a number of episodes for the show, but he’s also written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13, Arrow and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Jeffery Bell has written episodes for The X Files, Angel and Alias. Comic book legend Jeph Loeb is listed as an executive producer, as is Joe Quesada. The people who put this show together have comics and sci-fi in their blood.
If one thing disappointed me about Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was that only one spin-off came out of it, and that was a short-run internet series based on Yo-Yo, called Slingshot. What makes it tragic is that there were so many great characters that could have carried a series. The first one to come to mind was Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider is not an easy character to get right and I thought that both the writers and Gabriel Luna did a great job. And, that there was so much more that could have been done with him. Another is the duo of Bobbie Morse and Lance Hunter. From what I understand, there was a spin-off (Marvel’s Most Wanted) in the works, I think a pilot was actually filmed, but the network (ABC) decided to pass on it. I haven’t actually seen this pilot and, believe me, I’ve looked. Even beyond these obvious ones, there were so many possibilities. A show following Coulson and Agent Mae, or Fitz and Simmons, even Quake probably could have carried a show. I think someone had figured that Inhumans would be the show to take over the Marvel banner, but no one could have guessed quite how bad it would be.
While I will always miss the show, I feel it had a good run. Seven seasons wasn’t bad and they left on a good note. Always leave them wanting more, right? What I find odd more than anything is how completely Marvel content seems to have left the small screen. There’s nothing outside of Disney+ and even some of those shows are one offs (I certainly don’t see a season 2 for WandaVision). And while I have enjoyed the Disney content, and am looking forward to more, I feel like they’re only focusing on Avengers-level characters and ignoring a wealth of other stories. I think that Agent Carter ended too soon, I was enjoying The Gifted before that was canceled and I LOVED the beautiful mess that was Legion. On the other hand, I am excited for the upcoming Ms. Marvel. I guess I shouldn’t complain. The state of comic book based television shows even just 10 years ago was pretty dismal. Now I’ve got my choice of more shows than I could have imagined. I still contend that out of all those shows, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the crown jewels of the MCU.