This Agents of SHIELD interview is spoiler-free for season 6.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD season 6 premieres tonight, and everyone is anxious to find out what the aftermath is for the team that lost two of its finest members, one permanently. We mentioned in our spoiler-free review that the action and suspense start straight out of the gate, but we wanted to see what the executive producers could tell us about the story to come. Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, and Jeff Bell joined us to talk to us about what to expect.
DEN OF GEEK: We hear that Agents of SHIELD season 6 is separate from the events of Avengers: Endgame. Do you find that this late in the game it’s more difficult or unnecessary to connect to the MCU?
JED WHEDON: I’m sorry, we don’t know what movie you’re referring to. Endgame? Never heard of that. We went into these seasons knowing that there would be some groundbreaking or earth-shattering storytelling going on in the films, and so our approach was always to avoid it, for multiple reasons. We decided to be “pre-snap,” as we say, mostly because of scheduling concerns or fluid scheduling ideas. We didn’t want in any way to step on anything they were doing, so the safest bet for us was to avoid it completely. It’s a big machine with lots of moving parts, and we didn’t want to clog up the works in any way.
JEFF BELL: Yeah, we were told we were going to be out in the summer, but then sometimes things get moved up, and if we had tried to tie into the time issues that come up with Endgame and then we suddenly got moved up, it would be a huge spoiler — couldn’t do that. It just complicated everything, so as Jed said, it just made more sense for us to take our story before all that happened.
Without Phil Coulson’s trademark sarcasm and matter-of-fact brand of humor, there will be a void to fill for the more lighthearted moments that are part of Agents of SHIELD. Will other characters step up their comedy game in season 6?
WHEDON: For sure! He’s taught them well. We definitely have plenty of characters who can carry the humor. That being said, I think you’ll see Clark Gregg bringing a different side of his humor to this character. [We’re] very proud of our actors and their ability to carry the humor and carry the emotion as well, so I think everybody’s up to that task.
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: Yeah, I think even with the absence of Coulson, we were fairly confident that the distribution of wit and sarcasm could be evenly placed. There’s no shortage of it.
Another signature aspect of Agents of SHIELD is the tightness and controlled nature of its fight scenes, including some great single-take sequences from Chloe Bennet’s Quake. Will we see more of that?
BELL: A lot of it goes — and this is true of our actors in general — they can do the fighting… When you can put the actor really doing it, really throwing the punches, doing the kicks, doing the falls, when you can put them in the middle of the action, it just seems so much more intense, so much more real, so much more exciting. Ming and Chloe in particular are amazing at that, and so that allows us to think about it in the room in a very different way and then for our stunt team to put the story together that way and for the director to shoot it. So it’s a testament to our actors that we’re able to do that. We don’t have to hide them with somebody else.
WHEDON: Or with cuts.
TANCHAROEN: Yeah, we’ve been very fortunate to work with an exceptionally talented stunt team and department since the beginning. But yes, it’s been incredible to see our cast members just grow over the years and basically become masters in their own right of fighting, of choreography, of skill — all of it! And so of course we wanted to take that opportunity and highlight it with our fancy one-shots. But it takes a lot of time and preparation and often we don’t have that much time to prepare, so that’s also a testament to how great everybody is.
What can you tell us about the evolution of Mack in Agents of SHIELD season 6, both as the director of SHIELD and in his relationship with Yoyo and his other colleagues?
WHEDON: Well, we saw with Coulson in earlier seasons that being made director changes things. It changes your relationships… heavy is the head that wears that crown. And so I think that Mack will be dealing with some of those same issues. They’re compounded by the fact that he’s following in the footsteps of the man he truly admired and truly loved, and I think he at some level will be afraid he cannot live up to the legacy of Philip Coulson. So he’s going to struggle with some of those leadership conflicts, both internally with himself wondering if he is making the right decisions and with his relationships. It’s hard to be close to the agents you’re giving orders to, so I think he’ll have to work through some of that this year.
As SHIELD rebuilds as an organization, there will be some new agents coming to the forefront. Who are some of the characters you think will resonate with viewers in season 6?
TANCHAROEN: Well, they’ve already been established, but I think we dive a little deeper — or just highlight them a little bit more — with the dynamic between Agent Piper and Agent Davis.
WHEDON: Yeah, we definitely spend some more time and unpack them a little bit more, and we’ve fallen in love with those characters. The fun thing about TV is you bring people onto the show, and because there’s time and you spend more time with them, you start to unpack more about them as actors and them as characters. And so we’ll do some of that this year.
But there are some new agents as well on Mack’s team, correct?
WHEDON: Sure, a couple new faces. We don’t want to spoil anything, but we’ll definitely get to know them over the course of the season. Hopefully, they’ll bring some new flavors to the show.
How much does fan reaction to minor characters like Piper and Davis play into how long they stay around?
BELL: I would just say usually fans react the way we do. What we see in somebody is usually reinforced once the character gets on screen.
TANCHAROEN: Yeah, exactly! As soon as we say to each other, “Oh we’d like to see more of that character,” we start to see that also on the Internet. It always makes sense to us.
BELL: I think what was surprising and nice for us was we liked the two actors individually, but they really have a nice, sharp chemistry with each other. And I think that was an extra bonus that took who they were to a new depth for us.
TANCHAROEN: I believe there are many fanfic spinoffs: the adventures of Piper and Davis.
There’s also a storyline in space in Agents of SHIELD season 6. Was it important that you create your own kind of culture for the Confederacy that felt separate from the MCU?
WHEDON: Yeah, the fun thing for us is every time a new movie comes out or a franchise is launched, we get a new sandbox to play in, and no one doesn’t want to play around in space! So yes, with the Confederacy and with the stuff we were doing in season 5, we were trying to nod to the tone that was established in those films but also find our own ground. And we do a lot more of that this year. I think that fans are going to be excited to see the nooks and crannies of space that we explore.
With only 13 episodes in Agents of SHIELD season 6, did it help keep the writing tight, or did you treat seasons 6 and 7 sort of like two “pods” in a 26-episode season?
BELL: Well, when we had twenty-two, we always thought that was too much story information for people to remember at one time, so we’ve always broken that down into smaller pods. And so coming with thirteen allowed us to sort of create that way, and this thirteen can be its own piece. Of course there’s always a connection to the next season, but we didn’t have to do a lot of subsets within this because of its convenient pocket size.
Fortunately, the long wait for the return of Agents of SHIELD season 6 as a summer run ends today, and the search for Fitz and the rebuilding of SHIELD can begin. Tonight’s premiere is appropriately entitled, “Missing Pieces,” and it airs at 8/7c on ABC. The full audio of this interview with the Agents of SHIELD executive producers will be shared on a future episode of our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast.
Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and voices much of our video content.