“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” just concluded their first season with more twists, turns and epic payoffs than you can shake a Koenig lanyard at!
While you’re still reeling from the season finale, we had the chance to chat with two of the show’s Executive Producers, Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Loeb, about how the season ended, how it began, and even a little bit of what’s next!
So ***SPOILER WARNING*** for anyone who hasn’t seen the season finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” yet—but for those of you who have, read on while you continue to process the full impact of this season’s conclusion!
Jeffrey Bell: We knew where we wanted to end the show from early in the season. And we knew that we had to play a lot of our story cards down until “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” We’re grateful that people liked the way that the show is resolving. Some things we couldn’t have predicted, like the character of Raina. Ruth Negga showed up and we just fell in love with her and found ways to use her beyond our initial conception, and that was terrific. Bill Paxton’s portrayal of the Clairvoyant was more awesome than we could have ever imagined, and so we leaned into him whenever possible. We had no sense really of how people would react or how Brett would do when we revealed [Ward’s] true nature, and the way people have reacted to his character and the performance that Brett Dalton has done for that has been beyond our imagination.
What we did expect, and what we were grateful for, was our other actors just being fantastic. Clark [Gregg] leading the way [with] Ming-Na [Wen, with] their relationship and the complexity that was there. Taking Coulson from a company man to a man without a company to a man without anything, and yet him having hope, the whole thing was pretty terrific. Watching Skye and Fitz and Simmons--not just as new actors, but as characters that didn’t have a lot of field experience--grow and develop and mature and become S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that we believe you understand and accept as worthy of being S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. I think all those have been gratifying, and the things I talked about earlier were bonus.
Jeph Loeb: And then on the other side, on the Marvel side, it was an incredibly exciting year. This was our first live action television series ever. We had a huge hand up with Joss Whedon coming onboard at the beginning, a spectacular cast led by Clark Gregg, who brought a humanity and a power to his role that was delightful and everything that we could want and more. We were a big giant show that went up against the two biggest shows on network television, “NCIS” and “The Voice,” and held our own. And in the current climate of television, that is an extraordinary achievement. I think everybody, but in particular the cast, the producers--Jeff, Jed [Whedon], Maurissa [Tancharoen], Garry Brown--and an extraordinary writing staff...just cheers, and if I was Oprah I’d buy them all a new car. But I’m not Oprah.
Marvel.com: You guys said that you knew where you were going to end, which I assume means you knew that by the end of the season Coulson would be building a new S.H.I.E.L.D. Where did that idea originate, and why did you feel like that was the natural next step for Coulson’s character?
Jeffrey Bell: Well, on one hand it was very practical. We are called “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Two, we exist in the Marvel movie universe, and we were talking with Kevin Feige and the people over there through the course of the season because when we began they were letting us play in their universe, which we were very grateful for. And we also knew that their movie Captain America happened in the middle [of the season], where S.H.I.E.L.D. was falling apart.
Marvel.com: Looking at the season finale, you gave us a lot of really great resolutions to some of the bigger mysteries and subplots, such as the Clairvoyant and Mike Peterson’s arc. But you also set up some great teases for Skye and Coulson. Moving into Season 2, will those storylines continue to take the space they did in the first season, as subplots, or will they drive the larger story?
Jeffrey Bell: That’s a really great question, [laughs] in the Marvel parlance. I don’t want to talk too much about next season right now. I don’t want to get too specific, but I would say that the things you mentioned will definitely be considered.
Jeph Loeb: We’re telling a serialized story about a group of agents who are at an organization which is corrupt, broken and labeled by the world as a terrorist organization. Where they go, what they do, who’s going to stay, who lives, who dies, all those things are what make the possibility of another season incredibly exciting.
Marvel.com: I felt like the Ward plotline could’ve gone one of two ways in the finale, in either giving him a moment of redemption or not, but I think it was the more daring creative choice you guys made to not give that to him here. When you were first imagining him even back when creating the pilot, did you always know that at his core he would be this--I don’t want to say bad guy, but a guy who was very vulnerable and led astray by Garrett? And where did the decision to not give him that redemptive moment here come from?
Jeffrey Bell: We knew from the beginning that he was a spy. We say in the pilot, “we haven’t seen scores like this since Romanoff.” We didn’t think of him as evil or bad, but he was a spy with an agenda. As it went along and as we liked what was happening with Skye and Ward, we loved that there was a vulnerability and an emotional attachment that he couldn’t control or couldn’t have predicted. And the thing that we also love, that we frankly couldn’t have predicted, was the bromance between Fitz and Ward that also exists off camera between Brett and Iain [De Caestecker]. They hang out, they really like each other. Building those relationships on camera for those characters, which we believe were genuine, made Ward a much more complicated, much more interesting character, so that when he did have to make some hard calls at the end you felt that his personal pain. You felt him torn in many ways between his father figure of Garrett and these people he had built a family with. Whether he’s redeemable or not, I don’t think we’ve answered.
Marvel.com: Another character I wanted to touch on, which Jeff, you talked about earlier, was Raina--or Flowers, as Garrett affectionately calls her. That final tease gives us the idea that she has a much larger connection to some of the characters on the series. As you were developing her character, what was it about her that struck you guys as a character you wanted to keep around?
Jeffrey Bell: It was interesting, even breaking the story [of the episode in which she debuted], it was going to be called “Scorch.” It was about this poor guy who was sort of caught in the machinations of the Centipede program. By the time we had shot it, we changed its name to “The Girl in the Flower Dress.” Ruth brought a unique curiosity and fascination to the character. What we loved about Raina is [she’s] is fascinated with special people. She didn’t judge them as good or bad in the way that most people did, she was just interested in what made each person unique. Whether she was torturing Coulson in episode 11, or trying to pull Ward away from Garrett or getting Quinn to come to her side, she’s looking for what’s special, because her secret, which we’re now learning, is she also believes she’s special. And there’s something about her that connects with Skye and with some of these other special people.nWe haven’t articulated what that meant, but as a character who had an empathy and an ability to talk people into doing things, it’s a pretty unique character.
I don’t remember exactly whose idea it was, but giving her all those different flowered dresses felt very much like she belonged in the Marvel comics universe. She was a character that we created, but can’t you see her in a comic? You have a panel and you see a piece of fabric with a flower pattern on it, and you widen and reveal it’s Raina? We started introducing her character that way. We’d tell our directors, you don’t have to have her walk in, you can catch part of her flowered pattern in the mirror, in a reflection, walking past, because we thought there was something beautifully iconic about that. I don’t know, she just felt like this very rich comic book character who had those beautiful eyes and was such a terrific performer who always made a surprising choice in how she played scenes.
I loved in episode, 21, where she’s having a scene with Deathlok and here’s this big, very strong, “I can crush your head like a grape” going up and saying, “do they have control of you? Are they doing this to you?” She just turned around and she didn’t say defensively “no,” she just pushes back with “no.” She has this [inner] strength. It was such a surprising choice to me. She’s done that all season. We love her as a character and hope to continue finding stories for her in the future.
Jeph Loeb: For me, it really is the beginnings and the endings. The first time the cast was together on the pilot, we were all there--Jeff, Jed, Maurissa, Garry, Joss. It was just, “Ok, we’re alive! We have a pulse!” The flipside of it was on the last night--and the coincidence, because it’s not often this way, [that] the last shot of the season was the last shot of the season. Being able to be there with the cast and the crew, and again it was one of those things where a lot of the cast members had what’s called “shot out,” they had finished what they had done for the episode and could’ve gone to the four corners of the galaxy. Instead they were there, and we’ve become a very closeknit family. Much like any Marvel project, there’s something that happens when you start playing with these characters, and that, for me personally, has been the most rewarding thing of the entire experience.
Jeffrey Bell: Now anything I say will sound superficial, because that was a perfect answer. [laughs] It is true, we’re fortunate we have a cast and crew and writing staff and post-production team around us where everyone likes each other, is good at what they do and are passionate about it. That makes going to work a joy. Personal highlights were the first time I saw the plane fly. You have to understand, we do things and our actors pretend. Then when visual effects get done, sometimes even to us as the magicians, seeing the trick pulled off is delightful. The first time I saw the Bus flying through these beautiful clouds and the sunset, we all looked at each other and started laughing, because we thought, “Ok, this is going to work.”