"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." was groundbreaking in its inception. It resurrected a dead S.H.I.E.L.D. agent -- the unforgettable Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg -- gave him a team and built episodes around the unexplained, "X-Files-esque" world of Marvel's unexplainable phenomena. In their first season, they had episodes that connected with "Thor: The Dark World" and "Captain America: Winter Soldier" and even actors from Marvel films, like Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Jaimie Alexander (Sif) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).
While the Marvel Studios connections have never stopped on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," it has felt like the show is getting further away from the stories in the larger Marvel Universe, especially the Marvel Netflix shows, which so far have never overly connected back to "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." When catching up with the cast and crew of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," at WonderCon in Anaheim earlier this month, executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen shared a few thoughts on the issue.
"We’ve always tried to be our own story," Whedon said. "Everything is connected and that’s fun to play with, but the point of our show is to be our show."
Currently, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." truly is its own show, and has gone in a direction that gives them the freedom to tell their own Marvel story within the Framework, but that doesn't mean there aren't Easter eggs and connective tissue that always leads back to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"We want our fans to be rewarded for watching without having to watch everything else, but we want there to be a bigger reward for people who watch all of it," Whedon said. For instance, the audience may have enjoyed the pyrotechnic interdimensional door that A.I.D.A. opened to rescue Ghost Rider and Coulson, but anyone who also saw "Doctor Strange" just prior would have been rewarded by recognizing the same shapes that Doctor Strange himself opened up to travel between realms.
"They’ll start to see those lines connecting -- it’s more fun for people who are playing the home game but if you don’t, you’ll still have a great rollercoaster ride."
When asked if "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." will connect to Marvel and ABC's next television series "Inhumans," Whedon said, "Without being able to say anything about that show, it will have it’s own world just as we tried to start our own world. Whether or not there’s a cross we’ll see."
"Inhumans" will launch first in IMAX and then on ABC, this September and will focus exclusively around the Inhumans' royal family. It would make sense for the shows to crossover at some point, because Daisy is an Inhuman and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has spent the last three years developing and filling out the mythos of the Inhumans rather intensely. Tancharoen added that the two shows may crossover or connect, "perhaps down the road."
While the executive producers are used to navigating the red tape of crossing over with the films and the television shows, Henry Simmons, who plays Mack on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," would like to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe exist with less red tape.
"Honestly, I know there’s a lot of red tape, but my feeling is that I would love to see that, because everyone benefits," Simmons said. "Jeph Loeb always says, 'it all connects together,' and they do. I think if you see them all together somehow intertwined, it would just make each story deeper, and more dimensional."
Simmons' character Mack is currently stuck inside the Framework, where Hydra has won and S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone. That outcome is a scary, alternate take on the events of "Captain America: Winter Soldier," a film that so far, has been the strongest connective tissue in the MCU.
"It just makes there a little more urgency and the stakes are just a little more higher when something’s happening over here and you involve that person in Harlem or New York somewhere, you understand that the threat is that much bigger," Simmons said. "You can only benefit from doing that, the crossover." Harlem is a clear reference to Netflix and Marvel's show "Luke Cage," which has not yet been mentioned on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
Natalia Cordova-Buckley, who plays the lighting-fast Inhuman named Yo-Yo, also thinks that the more connected each show and film are, the more the entire MCU benefits. "'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' is the mother of Marvel TV shows. People can say whatever they want, but without 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' you don’t have the other shows. I just think it would be great to find a way to walk that path and get them some way connected."
Cordova-Buckley also brought up the issue of red tape and pointed out that the Marvel has an opportunity to model a united MCU when they do come together and connect. "It’s also a great reflection of our world when we stop the red tape or divisions and just try to bring everyone together, because it does help all of us."
Airing Tuesdays at 10 pm ET/PT on ABC, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” stars Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Chloe Bennet as Daisy “Quake” Johnson, Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, Henry Simmons as Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie and more.