The penultimate season of Marvel Television’s flagship series concluded this week, with no direct reference to the universal consequences of the past two Avengers film. It’s nearly a tradition that the Agents of SHIELD season finale references whatever’s happening on the film side around the same time. In their fifth season finale, the characters made oblique references to “something going on in New York,” but only to dismiss it. They were dealing with their own, literal, world-shattering crisis. Yet, at the end of season six, the series clearly thought it would end with the rest of the Infinity Saga. Born from the first Avengers movie, the tenuous connection this show has to the larger MCU grew increasingly distant. This most recent season finale seems like a message from Agents of SHIELD to the cinematic MCU that their stories are just as important as the movies.
Though the timeline is wonky, an Agents of SHIELD character figured out time-travel years before Tony Stark. Of course, Iain De Caestecker’s Fitz had a magically ancient space-monolith to help him do the job. What’s interesting is the result of the fifth season was an argument that time can be changed in the MCU. So, through a creative recontextualization of a common show gimmick, this crew of misfit heroes on network TV has access to a power equal to at least three infinity stones. And they used it to turn their mobile airbase Zephyr-One into a time-machine! So, for at least a little while, Agents of SHIELD will have its turn at affecting the timeline of the MCU.
Beware! Spoilers below.
The First MCU Heroes to Time-Travel
At the end of the fourth season, Agents of SHIELD sent much of their main cast to space. In a post-credits tag, we see Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson awake in what appears to be a space station. In a way it was, because it was the remains of an underground structure that somehow survived the planet exploding some decades before. (Don’t worry, sci-fi gravity science was heavily involved in the solution for all you skeptics about how such a thing is laughably impossible.) Of course, that season also featured time-travel, via a magic rock that turns to liquid when it hears the right sound. While it might sound silly summarized that way, the magic of this show is that they make it work just as impressively as the MCU turned Ant-Man into the hero who saves the universe.
So, it makes sense they would return to that concept, especially because it will allow them to replay all their greatest hits. They can bring back cast members from earlier seasons who eventually left the show. For example, Bobbi Morse played Mockingbird but now serves on The Orville. A show, which by the way, was not filming at the same time as the final season of Agents of SHIELD. We might even get see Haley Atwell as Agent Carter one more time. In fact, this series which never got any acknowledgement from the movie side of the house, might just settle the biggest debate about Endgame. But what’s most important to this series is its own story. One that’s definitely worth revisiting if you stopped watching the show.
Agent Phil Coulson, Life Model Decoy
This season saw Clark Gregg playing a different character named Sarge. We knew had some connection to the Phil Coulson character, dead for good after an encounter with Ghost Rider. That character is gone now, too. Yet, the producers said that without Clark Gregg there is no show. So, they are bringing him back with a comic-book concept played with in earlier seasons of the show: Life Model Decoys. In the books, these LMDs are androids indistinguishable from humans until you try to destroy them. The storytellers knew this would be the way they’d get Coulson back, with new “rules” about his character to play with. Yet, they felt to do so immediately would be a cheat that robbed Coulson’s passing of its meaning.
With Sarge, a villain who looks like their hero, it added an extra layer of pathos to that grief. In a way, it’s almost a shame we only get a single season with LMD Coulson. A main source of the tension with this character is how he differs from the real one. Also, thanks to Sarge’s ultimate betrayal, it’s likely most of the main cast will not want to trust another thing wearing Coulson’s face. The writers knew they were renewed while writing this season, so they set-up the “chronicom” threat while telling the story of how Fitz and Simmons would find each other across space. This next season, it appears they will have to find each other across space and time. One last human-race-saving crisis for the road.
What Agents of SHIELD Built for Marvel
When it first premiered, no one knew what to make of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. There was rumored directive from Joss Whedon, whose brother runs the show and is himself credited as an executive producer, to never allow the revived Coulson back into the movies. (Captain Marvel got around this.) Yet, in the seven years since his “death” on-screen, the reanimated Phil Coulson saved the world more times than the Avengers. Yet, the show does a lot for the larger MCU. The first season’s reviews weren’t great, but they shocked everyone in how they reacted to the Russo Brothers and Stephen Markus and Christopher McFeely destroying SHIELD. The show’s character not only survived this, but still did the job (after an appearance from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury) as a rogue agency.
Before there were 22 movies, Agents of SHIELD helped sell the idea of the connected MCU. Along with Fury, Jamie Alexander’s Lady Sif made an appearance on the show, and they even created their own rogue Asgardian. As the movie themes drifted towards malevolent AI or magic or space, the show followed. For Clark Gregg especially, they’ve earned the right to chart their own course for their final season. The larger MCU be damned, this last story is just for them and their fans. But that doesn’t mean that the show is no longer “canon.” Producers told Entertainment Weekly that Marvel Studios still has final say over what they can and can’t do. So, that makes the time-travel element very interesting.
Answering the Biggest Avengers: Endgame Mystery
Since the penultimate movie in the Infinity Saga, everyone debates whether Captain America’s happy ending with Peggy Carter happened in an alternate or the main timeline. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo believe that Cap lived his life in an alternate, branch reality. Then he made his way back to our timeline. This is because of their assertion that time-travel cannot change the past. Markus and McFeely, who’ve written every Captain America solo film and half of his Avengers films, say that he was always Peggy’s husband. In The Winter Soldier they go out of their way not to show her husband in photos. The television series also never revealed her husband, but they strongly implied he would be one of her fellow agents. It’s possible that Agents of SHIELD can help settle this idea with a visit to that time period.
What’s nice about the directors and writers disagreeing about the ending is that it means there is no definitive answer. It’s one of those great movie mysteries people can debate for decades after the movie first hit theaters. So, it depends on what Marvel wants the answer to be. If they want to address this question, a time-traveling Agents of SHIELD would be the way to do it. Of course, they could just retcon the series finale of Agent Carter, simply by showing that she and Enver Gjokaj’s Daniel Sousa did not end up together. This would leave the question even more open-ended than before. Yet, given that Agents of SHIELD has a legacy of its own (almost as long as the Avengers’ themselves), I’d not be surprised if they never reference Endgame at all.
When Will Agents of SHIELD Season Seven Premiere?
The seventh and final season of Agents of SHIELD will air sometime in the summer of 2020, probably on or around the same dates it aired this year. Season six’s main plot featuring Izel, Sarge, and the Shrike Zombies might not be its most memorable, but it continued the theme that SHIELD is mostly an extraterrestrial agency now. Their threats are no longer Hydra or Inhumans. Instead, they’ve been cosmic and at a level equal to the films. Fitz solved time-travel before Tony Stark. In the MCU, only Captain Marvel and Zephyr-One can travel faster than light. Chloe Benett’s Quake has the power to crumble mountains. So, whatever lies in wait for the final season will be suitably epic.
The seventh season wrapped filming this week, as confirmed by Ming-Na Wen’s Instagram stories. The cast emptied out their trailers, the crew broke down the studio. This team of Marvel heroes ended their last adventure, too. Unlike the first six Avengers (three of whom are confirmed to be coming back already), their time in the MCU is likely over. It’s the final chapter in a franchise that helped bring Marvel to where it is today. (Unless Disney+ comes calling for specials or miniseries.) Often disregarded as just one extension of Marvel’s attempt at pop culture dominance. And maybe it was, at first. But Agents of SHIELD improved every season, and there is every reason to believe the final installment will be spectacular.
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.