As Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD launches its fifth season on December 1st, the flagship TV series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is boldly going into a new, but not final, frontier: space.
And during a recent press visit to the top-secret set, two of the series’ on-screen and behind-the-scenes captains – star Clark Gregg, who plays the team’s leader Phil Coulson, and executive producer Jeph Loeb – joined together to offer a glimpse into the fresh, uncharted territory the series is about to explore.
On the season’s dramatic shift in setting, and how a story arc in space changes the paradigm for Agents of SHIELD:
Clark Gregg: I just stand in awe of the way our writers and our producers – even after our most successful season, by most accounts, in Season Four – just tear the whole thing apart and just take us to an entirely new universe.
It reminds me of comics – you know, when one [story arc] rolls over it's a whole new ballgame? And it's really thrilling, because I think if we were still basically doing the same thing as we were doing in our first ten episodes, we'd probably be a little bored by now. But it's kind of a reboot every year, and it's exciting for the characters. We get some new blood, we got some incredible new blood - [Jeff Ward], some other great people, Pruitt Taylor-Prince, I don't know who's been revealed yet.
Jeph Loeb: From a general sense, what makes us so proud of the show as we're here celebrating our 100th episode is that Jeff Bell and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen lead a group of writers that really understand that what makes the show exciting is that at its core, it's always about a group of individuals who are trying to find the weird, the unusual, the dangerous, the sometimes humorous things that are out there. And we just went a little more out there this particular time.
It takes us into different environments, it enables us to change up the dynamics between the characters. You would think we've done every pattern: we'll put this person with this person and see what happens along the way, and yet they always seem to find a, "Oh, that's interesting – let's pair these two up and see what happens." But it all starts, begins, and ends with the concept that this is a family that is trying to figure out how to survive doing their job and still get home safely so they can be together.
On what the new season’s setting reveals about Coulson:
Gregg: What I would say is the deal he made with Ghost Rider at the end of Season Four, that debt will come due at some point, and I think it just raises the stakes on everything going forward.
They're suddenly thrown into this world that they don't know anything about, that seems kind of savage. One of the reasons I love this season is I love sci-fi, and I feel like we get into a world that has elements of everything from Snowpiercer to Delicatessen and Silent Running and a lot of cool sci-fi like that. So they're suddenly in a world that they don't run, and they don't have those kind of powers and have great limitations, and they're separated to a certain extent. So finding a way to reestablish themselves as a team is a big, big part of the beginning.
Loeb: Up until this point, we've told the audience, or the characters know [what they’re doing]. The Framework is a perfect example; they knew what the Framework was, they agreed to go into the Framework, and then they had to deal with the Framework – so they're ahead of you.
So this is the first time where what we did is everyone starts at the same place. Like they don't know where they are; we don't know where they are.
Gregg: Yeah: “What are you talking about? Whom are we afraid of? How do you know who I am? And who was that horrible monster that I'm sorry just ate you?”
On the still-lingering question: will the Avengers ever discover that Coulson is alive?
Gregg: It is an ever-present theme. It's really touching to me how much the fans stay obsessed with the idea of when the Avengers are going to learn Coulson's alive. It's something that ... I don't know, I find that so touching! I think the Avengers have moved on; they're busy.
But also I think it's a great credit to the show and the characters and the actors who brought these characters to life and to our production team, to Mark Kolpack's visual effects and to the great writing of our writers, Jed, Mo and Jeff, because I think there's a growing number of people who kind of feel like this feels like a part of that bigger world, and they want to see the various worlds – whether it's the incredible Netflix world of New York, they just want at some point feel that this is one big story, which I still believe it is.
And you know, when the time is right, who knows?