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The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showrunners reveal their final plan

Clark Gregg and Henry Simmons in Agents Of SHIELD

Clark Gregg and Henry Simmons in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Screenshot: Youtube

Note: The following interview contains spoilers for the last two episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. You can read our review on them Here.

It has been a long and strange journey for Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Going from being the biggest and most publicized new series on ABC in 2013, to a scrappy little loser struggling to stay on the air, to get two more unexpected seasons (with the seventh season having the green light before the sixth even aired), the show went through more ups and downs than most shows that run that long . And with the two-part series finale on Wednesday night, SHIELD. went all-out, staging massive explosions in space, superpowered count trials, and enough time travel complications to make Avengers: Endgame it looks pretty simple. The A.V. Club spoke to showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, along with executive producer Jeffrey Bell, about how they put together that complicated revelation of time travel, wishing audiences would feel the same feelings they had about saying goodbye to these characters after seven years. , and never again, never wanting to do a scene set in an anonymous gray corridor.

The A.V. Club: I wanted to talk about something I really admired about the finale, which is how blatantly nerdy it is.

Jed Whedon: I do not know what you mean. [Laughs.]

AVC: There is so little hand grip. If anyone doesn’t remember what happened at the end of season six, too bad, because you’re not explaining it. Jump in time like a Christopher Nolan movie. They are all pieces of a puzzle sliding in place, science fiction jokes: Did you already plan this big and elaborate revelation while you were shooting the end of the sixth season?

JW: We knew what this season was going to be like at that point. We knew we were going to jump in time. And so we planted little things that would have been easily avoidable if we didn’t end up tying up those loose ends. You know, people in faceless fireproof suits are as easy to excuse as anything else. But we kind of had an idea of ​​what we were going to do, with no real sense of how we could tie it all together. But you know, confident we could probably figure it out. So we somehow threw some balls into the air and hoped we could juggle them later. We knew we had to explain the Fitzsimmons and that part was its little bubble. But yes, we entered, I would say, with some distant hopes on the horizon. But it eventually became a sleight of hand.

Maurissa Tancharoen: Eventually, everyone’s brains were melted across the board. Our writers, cast, crew.

JW: It was the first time that my first A.D. he would come up to me and say, “I love you, I love your episodes. I hate it.” [All laugh.]

AVC: Considering how spectacular these last two episodes are, what was the strategy behind the scenes? Did you have to go back and forth with ABC in terms of budget?

MT: We really appreciate you saying this, because as the season progresses, the budget always starts to …

JW: Part of the game is how to measure it. We had the amount of chips we could use and had to save some for the end.

MT: We are glad you didn’t notice the return to the dark corridors [in previous episodes].

JW: Oh, he noticed. [Laughs.]

Jeffrey Bell: He noticed. The way it works is, you know, there is a set budget, we get the same amount for each episode. And so one of the things we went to ABC at – and they were good at – is that we say, this week we want to have tuna sandwiches for lunch, so that next week we can have, like, a five-course meal. And the problem is, we started in the 1930s and we spent all our money. We just received the period costumes, which energized everyone and thrilled everyone. But we have the same amount for each episode. So it’s up to us and our wonderful line producer, Garry Brown, to really be able to do that. You know, we are an online show with little money. And so we’re sad when the hallways are more than we want – you know, we’re as aware of it as you have been from time to time. [All laugh.] And that’s not what we want, it’s just all we can afford to do. We try to save, so that we can go out with a certain purpose and style.

JW: This is one of the things that led to space. Space is a good way to look, for example, Battlestar [[[[Galactica]. You know, it looked great. And they’re on that same ship, so that piece became our model once we went into space, because we knew we had the sets we had and how to handle them. So the time-leaping Zephyr seemed to make financial sense … until everyone needs a hat.

JB: We shoot in Los Angeles, which we’re excited to do, but to go off the lot, it’s just a lot. It is cheaper to go to another planet than to go to Van Nuys.

AVC: When it ended, did you say to yourself: “Okay, I haven’t been writing another scene set in a corridor for at least a year”?

JW: We are actually working on a new show called The corridors. [All laugh.] I think Mack comments on it in the final –

AVC: I was wondering if it was the writers who expressed some personal euphoria.

MT: Absolutely.

JB: Otherwise, the corridors we have in the last two are beautiful, rather sexy corridors.

JW: Yes, we have nice corridors.

JB: Glossy black corridors. We were very excited about these.

MT: As tired as we were of the corridors, we were very sad when they were torn down. Because we had spent so much time in them.

AVC: They were corridors, but they were your corridors.

MT: Exactly. They were ours.

AVC: Fitz’s absence has driven the storyline this season. When did you first find out about Iain’s absence? When you first started shaping the season, did you know you would get it back at some point or did you intentionally decide to keep it out until the end as a safety precaution?

JW: I think we were confident of getting it back, because if we didn’t, we would be so angry with him. But we built it with that in mind, and also with the concept that when we got him back, no time would pass for the character, who was … over the years, that we’ve always talked about, in the writers’ room, as I am. a love for ever”. We feel about them as the public does. And we knew we were going to keep them together. So the only thing you can do is put obstacles in their way. And we had already done a lot. So this was another time we felt the same problem. And so we tried to build it in a different way, and keep it alive in a different way and make absence more of a plot point than a simple barrier in their relationship. As you see in the end, the upside is that they’ve already had their happy ending. And so, to quote the president, it is what it is.

MT: We tortured them for the entire duration of the series. So it made sense to us that when we see them, in the end, they have the happy ending everyone hoped they would have.

JB: To be clear, we shot every moment of Iain that was given to us.

MT: [Laughs.] Yup.

AVC: Considering how playful this season has been, it has often been like a victory lap and an opportunity for you guys to break free and have fun with these characters that we’ve spent so much time with.

MT: A victory lap jumped to the shark, right? Is that what you said? [Laughs.]

JB: We talked about it: that it’s okay to jump the shark .. But as you pass it, give the shark high five.

MT: And it’s not just a shark. We just lined up a group of sharks and gave them high five.

AVC: What was the particular mission statement you went with in the season, or what guiding theme did you have when you were starting to put it together?

JW: We knew we were going to relive some S.H.I.E.L.D. story, which we thought was funny. And it was a way to reward our mythology and the people who have followed it all these years. But yes, the spirit was: “Let’s just have fun”. We talked a little bit about how we thought Season 5 was our finale. And we thought you finished the game and then downloaded a couple of bonus levels, you know? So we felt some freedom. We risked something, some big changes.

MT: Risks, I would say. Yes, we took risks, but in the end I feel like we’ve done everything that needed to be done.

JW: There was a lot more to the presentation writers room than, in previous seasons, you would have said, “It’s fun. So what do we do? really do? “Instead, we replied” Okay. “

JB: There was a lot of joy in the launch. There was a lot of joy in the storytelling. And we wanted a certain nostalgia and joy. It was like, “Let’s look back, turn and turn.” But we have had seasons that have had a little more anguish about them, and although the stakes were high here, the overall tenor was more joyful than it had been in past seasons.

MT: And even with time travel, it was a way for us to tap into the nostalgia we were feeling in making this last season together. It’s the nostalgia that was inherent in everything we did during the process of our final season. At each meeting, we would say, “This is the ultimate prop meeting. This is the last time we have to do this production meeting. This is the last time we will go on stage. “And then as we were wrapping up our stages like that, it wasn’t even a metaphor. The stages were actually being torn down around us to make room for something else.

AVC: What was a weird story idea that you had in the back of your head that you wanted to try but never got to, whether it was because of circumstances or because you thought “This will never happen”?

JW: There was talk of Sousa having to make an undercover detour as a cop to fight in the streets Avengers why Enver[[[[Gjokaj, who plays Daniel Sousa-Ed.]he was in that movie [as a police officer], but there were enough timeline problems. [Laughs.]

JB: We had a lot of ideas about where we were – and I’ll say it, I don’t care – we were initially given the green light to use certain Marvel characters, and we started breaking the story based on those characters -[Coughs.] MODOK, and then they pulled it back. So there were a lot of things that would drive some shit crazy that were above our pay grade, in terms of the toys we were allowed to play with.

JW: And some of our most beautiful characters, I’ll say, have been adapted from those ideas.

MT: I think some of our best storylines and character development have sprung from our duty to spin and climb. And that’s the fun of our job, and the nature of working with an entity like Marvel, where there are a slew of characters to draw from and there are a lot of moving parts established. And then when you put your hopes and dreams in something and then it’s not possible …

JW: We tried never to wear all of our eggs in a basket.

MT: Right. And you climb. But that’s how our mythology was formed in the first place.

JW: Bell has always described making TV as building a plane as it falls from the sky.

MT: Or you’re plugging holes in a sinking ship.

JB: Yes, or are you laying tracks on a train that …

JW: All terrible situations.

AVC: leading to inevitable death.

JW: Yes, none of them are funny. [Laughs.]

AVC: One of the things that really changed right around the time of seasons three and four was how the show eliminated the burden of being so tied to the MCU in really straightforward ways. With hindsight, what were the biggest creative frustrations in those early years, and what were the most liberating aspects of the latter?

JW: When we started, there were a million eyes on it, a million cooks in the kitchen and we had a secret we couldn’t reveal to Hydra.[[[[Season one ultimately saw S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrated and taken over by Hydra, as shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier -Ed.]And I feel like once the revelation happened, we started living in our mythology. And from that point on, the show took on a different feel for us. I think it became something we were building instead of something we were trying to fit in.

And I remember Bell drew the Venn diagram of where we should hit, like, ABC expectations and Marvel expectations. And we got this little wedge was what we had to do. But I feel like once we get into season two and everything is built from there –

MT: You’re forgetting the expectations of the general public, all Marvel fans.

JB: One of our challenges was that we were a Marvel TV show and we weren’t allowed to have any of the Marvel characters.

MT: The only established MCU character was Coulson, who had been in a few films.

JB: We were starting a Marvel series with five new characters that didn’t exist in the comics. So people were like, “Boo, we don’t like these people.” And what Marvel would give us is, “You can’t even have Loki’s staff. You can have, like, this left-handed thing.” You know? So there was an expectation from the audience that we would see a superhero show with many Marvel brands. And we weren’t allowed to do that. IS we had the big secret, which is that we can’t say the “H” word. We couldn’t say “Hydra”. We can’t ruin it Winter Soldier or it would ruin it for everyone.

MT: Or even allude to the notion of spies or mole or something like that.

JB: So we were a tech series the first season. We were like, here’s this cool technology, here’s this cool thing. But if you go back and look at what – Deathlok was coming, and all these characters and all these villains at the end, all related to Hydra, we just couldn’t say Hydra’s name.

MT: Yes. And although it was more the case of the week when we first presented all of these …

JW: We were hiding them.

MT: Yes, we were hiding that ball. But we were also planting all the pieces, so once it opened we were able to dive into the Hydra thing.

JW: But I think the real difference was the time spent with the characters and people started to feel like they had a connection with them. Kind of being able to tell those stories and lean on them and be confident in that. And this happened at the end of the first season, in the second.

But as you are saying, in Season 4, we felt like we were down to earth. And we definitely have – four was the one where we tried the things we thought were the hardest to accomplish and, in a way, the most rewarding. But it actually comes from the fact that after the first season, when it was like, “Who are these people?” Now they say, “How could you do this to him ?!”

JB: Once the Comic-Con folks showed up saying, “I’ll be your Fitz if you’re my Simmons”, and seeing so many young Asian American women go to Chloe and Ming at these things and talk about what it meant. .. Once those characters came to life, it really changed the show for us in a truly wonderful way ..

AVC: How did you determine what kind of ending you had in mind for each character? Did you know long before time that you wanted that bittersweet scene of all of them talking in the room like holograms, after going out to live their own lives?

JW: I think the main focus was on feeling. The first thing we were looking to land in [writers] room was, what is the feeling we want to leave? We had already finished the fifth season. So what we were trying to capture was, once again, the feeling we they were having in production, which is that part of life where it’s a different goodbye. This is not about loss. It’s about moving forward and growing and that thing that happens when you are really close to people and then you leave, or your job ends after seven years and you go your own way. And trying to capture that feeling, that was the goal. And then everything else fell based on this, he was trying to serve that idea. “What’s the end of their arc? What’s bittersweet to know about May? Who’s really teaching now and they’re not together?”

MT: And I think the jump of a year serves to amplify that bittersweet quality, because we, as an audience, are aware that they have been in their new lives, separated from each other, for a year. They are consolidated, they are starting to establish themselves. But seeing them in that room, and then learning that it’s a virtual room where they really can’t reach out and touch each other, or hug each other … I think about that feeling of longing for each other. other and that feeling of losing what it once was – it really sets the bond they will have forever, even if they won’t be in each other’s lives.

JB: I think the fact that Enoch said, “This will be your last mission together”, giving the characters that knowledge, gave their the sense that the cast, crew and writers had.

JW: And the public.

JB: And the audience, which is: “What do you mean, this is the last mission? Why and what does it mean to move forward? “And then you see them at the end, first you think,“ No, they came together! ”But when it becomes the hologram, you see that“ Oh, they’re not actually together. ”So there was an atmosphere we were definitely looking for.

AVC: Presumably, the only other big question you had was, “How can we have more Enoch in there?”

JB: Yes, that was Joel’s[[[[Joel Stoffer, who plays Enoch —Ed.]doing. He showed up and continued to surprise us with wonderful things. So we kept writing for him.

MT: I mean, it was one of our most pleasant surprises ever.

JW: He was picked at the end of a season because he sounded good [Adopts stentorian voice] “Phillip J. Coulson …”

MT: Yes, as a voice, basically just a silhouette. He is very talented.

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