After a surprisingly remarkable fourth season, Marvel’s first television project in the MCU, Agents of SHIELD, seemed destined for cancellation. Decisionmakers inside the ABC Network wanted to cancel the series, which occupies a tough space in the larger MCU. However, according to a 2017 report from Variety, Disney took the decision out of their hands and demanded a series renewal. The fifth season of Agents of Shield debuted after the debacle that was Inhumans, moved from Tuesday to a Friday night “death slot.” Fridays are tough TV days, though shows with dedicated fanbases can find success there. Fans will stay home to watch, and the lowered ratings expectation can make a “struggling” show a genuine hit. With a bold new story and the new time slot, the show met all possible expectations. Yet, in a post-Endgame world, what would Agents of SHIELD season 6 even look like?
On May 10, the world got its answer, and in terms of how Agents of SHIELD season 6 connects to the larger MCU, it’s very confusing. Sadly, the break in continuity that’s taking place exists due to real-world problems. With some actors in the film unaware of the full details of Avengers: Endgame, there was no way that the show could. As series co-creator and producer Jed Whedon told Entertainment Weekly, if the show referenced the events of the film but ended up getting released early, it would spoil the movie. So, despite a vague reference to an attack in New York at the end of last season, all of Agents of SHIELD season 6 takes place before the events of Avengers: Endgame. While this does break the cohesion the show usually maintained with the film, it does allow it to finally forge its own path forward.
A Whole New World for Agents of SHIELD in Season 6
Since its inception, Agents of SHIELD chased the events of the MCU films. In some cases, such as when any Asgardian appeared on the show, it was great. In other cases, such as when Captain America broke SHIELD in his second film, it changes the entire premise. Either way, they have always had to react to whatever the films threw into the middle of their world. Yet, after the second Avengers film, the show began to distance itself from the rest of the MCU. There were loose parallels, such as the mystical character Ghost Rider appearing the show while Doctor Strange was in theaters. Yet, for the most part, the Coulson crew got to have their own adventures separate from whatever else happens.
With Agents of SHIELD season 6, that trend continues. It’s safe to assume that we will get no reference to the last two Avengers movies at all. (Though, it’s possible we may get a Captain Marvel shout-out since Clark Gregg reprised his role as Coulson for that movie.) Without the baggage of the films, the SHIELD crew is free to deal with what appears to be a multiverse kind of threat. (So, even when they aren’t trying to, they connect to the MCU.) The actual purpose of all this remains mysterious, but the main point is that it allows Clark Gregg to return to the cast. Coulson died, for real this time, at the end of the last season. So, it’s nice for Gregg and the rest of the cast that they still get to work together with him played a character only identified as “Sarge.”
Agents of SHIELD Season 6 Gets Lost In Space
Before his death, Coulson named Mack, a part of the show since the second season, the new director of SHIELD. While he handles Earth’s problems with Agents May and Yo-Yo, the rest of the core cast is off in space. Agents Piper and Davis, two redshirts who ended up as series regulars, Simmons, and Quake are looking for Fitz. In the last season, he helped rescue his friends after being frozen in stasis for three-quarters of a century. In last year’s finale he died, so Simmons is off chasing him down. Again, even though they don’t reference Endgame directly, this disregard of fictional, temporal causality reflects the “do whatever” version of time-travel in that film. They changed the timeline because that “past” was still their future. When frozen Fitz woke up this time, his friends wouldn’t be there to save because the future would be different.
Thus, it appears that a significant part of these characters’ stories will unfold away from Earth, trying to find Fitz. We see the character in the after-credits scene, injecting himself with something that appears to give him alien-looking eyes. While the two groups will likely eventually get together on the planet Earth, it appears we are going to be seeing two separate narratives unfold for the early part of the season. Quake is finally fully in control of her powers and at full-strength, but it appears that she and her crew are exhausted from their lengthy mission. Simmons, however, seems more ruthless and uncaring in her relentless pursuit of Fitz. The “Fitzsimmons” relationship has gone to very dark places in recent seasons, something that appears to continue in Agents of SHIELD season 6.
Are the Villains In Agents of SHIELD Straight Out of the Multiverse?
The other narrative that will unfold in the show happens on Earth, where Mack’s tenure as Director of SHIELD is under stress. Agents of SHIELD season 6 is the first where he’s the top man in charge. Yet, we see Mack consulting a holographic recording of Coulson like a digital security blanket. There have been vague “disturbances” around the world, and during the last one two men emerged from them. One escaped, and the other was stuck inside a concrete wall. Mack has to find a science whiz to help him with Fitzsimmons in space. So, he turns to a new character, who is grumpy, a bit of a drunk, and curious. He’ll fit right in, at least until he meets his tragic-but-heroic end at some point.
In Agents of SHIELD season 6, the organization is legitimate again. Yet, the problem posed by Sarge and his cohorts from another world is sinister. It appears that they go from world to world in order to “burn it all down.” Whether they are the specific threat or if that is some kind of misdirect, it remains to be seen. Also intriguing will be how Clark Gregg adapts to playing a new character. Sarge had some of Coulson’s swagger, but the character carries himself differently. We know from the trailers that Quake and the gang eventually get back to Earth, and there is still tension with Sarge. Whether or not they are ultimately the villains is the question were supposed to be asking. Because it seems that Agents of SHIELD is playing the long game, perhaps even longer than we think.
The Future of Agents of SHIELD and Marvel Television
While there may have been some tension about renewing the show last year, ABC renewed it before Agents of SHIELD season 6 aired. On one hand, this could signal that the decisionmakers at Disney, Marvel Television, and ABC are confident in the series’ new direction. On the other hand, it could be that a next season was part of the demand that saved it back in 2017. The question fans have about the show’s future is if it has a future beyond its next season. During an appearance on KTLA to promote Captain Marvel in March, he said he just began working on “the seventh and final season” of the show. Yet, just a few weeks later, the producers implied that the show could live on past the currently-filming season. So, it seems like it’s less a question of if the show continues and more one of how it might.
Agents of SHIELD season 6 marks the first time that the show didn’t air during the “normal” television season. With a smaller episode order (meaning a lower budget), the show debuts in the off-season, bringing with it a dedicated fanbase. If, by summer standards, the show is a massive hit, ABC would be foolish to cancel it. Yet, even if they don’t continue with the show, there is always Disney+. The streaming service is leaning heavily into their Marvel properties, with new live-action series and an animated “What If?” show on the horizon. So long as the cast and crew want to continue making the show, they could pick it up for their service. This series could go on for a lot longer than anyone ever thought.
How Long Should Agents of SHIELD Go On For?
Any Marvel fan would tell you that they would take ten more Avengers films with the original six. In order to maintain the level of quality the films are known for, they have to do new things, and they have to end characters’ stories. Agents of SHIELD season 6 doesn’t seem to be an end for the show, but actually a new beginning. There is a new dynamic with the characters, and for the first time since the premiere season the organization is legitimate again. There are a lot of stories that can be told about a clandestine government agency with a gray moral history in a world where superheroes and gods are real. The trick is revamping the cast, crew, and storytellers, as original folks want to move on to new projects.
Whether it stays on ABC or becomes a mainstay on Disney+ or Hulu, Agents of SHIELD could be the MCU’s Doctor Who. By rotating cast, producers, and others every so often, new blood could come in and keep the show fresh. Still, we get at least two more seasons with the original crew. It will be interesting to find out their endgame.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.