"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" Season 3 closed on a rather dire note. Almost immediately following the deaths of Lincoln and Hive, the show jumped forward six months, only to reveal that Daisy is on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson -- who is no longer the agency's Director -- is on the hunt for her. That left fans with a lot of questions about Season 4, and -- while the cast and crew haven't provided any outright answers -- they had plenty of teases at Comic-Con International in San Diego about what's to come.
Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson), Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May), Chloe Bennet (Daisy Johnson), Iain De Caestecker (Leo Fitz), Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons) and Henry Simmons (Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie) joined Head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb and executive producers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jeff Bell at SDCC to discuss Season 4 and all its mysteries. Together, they tackled topics like Ghost Rider to Life Model Decoys (LMDs), the new Director to the new 10PM time slot, and much, much more.
10 Ghost Rider Roars Onto Season 4
During the show's panel at San Diego Comic-Con, Loeb officially confirmed earlier rumors that Ghost Rider would appear on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Season 4. Loeb, Whedon and Tancharoen went on to reveal a few more details about this Spirit of Vengeance, including his identity, why they chose the Robbie Reyes version of the character and more.
"In its inception, 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' has always been about finding the new, the weird, the unexplainable, and having gone through the last couple seasons and finding out about the Inhumans," Loeb shared. "The Marvel catalogue is filled with all kinds of really interesting, new and often weird things. And so we hit on Ghost Rider and... and in particular with the character of Robbie Reyes, because our show really at the end of the day hinges on the idea of family and how that works in the world. Robbie and his relationship with Gabe and his relationship with the Ghost Rider are all really interesting things for our S.H.I.E.L.D. folks to encounter, possibly even in negative ways."
"We're doing the Robbie Reyes version of the character, who is a young Latino man from East LA. We were attracted to that because of that fact, just to see what he would be like in the dynamic of the show," Tancharoen revealed. "Also, it's Ghost Rider with the flaming car! It's kind of awesome."
"'Doctor Strange' is coming out and, if you're familiar with the comic, it's sort of a different side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that's going to be opened up, and we felt like it was the time to do this, because it plays in that world," Whedon added. "It's not exactly the spy world we live in. We feel like, with that entering the MCU, this is us sort of dipping our toe into that world as we open things up. And also it's Ghost Rider, so it's like there's no real decision. They said, 'Ghost Rider?' 'Yes, we will take it. Thank you.'"
"It might be safe to say that Daisy and possibly Ghost Rider's paths... you know," Tancharoen teased.
Henstridge, who plays Jemma Simmons, fielded a question about how her science-minded character will cope with the idea of a mystical being. "I'm curious to see what she will do, because she has struggled with people with powers before, and we've been on a whole journey with Skye going onto Daisy and how she feels about Inhumans," she said. "You know, Ghost Rider definitely poses a huge threat and could be very dangerous, and so I think that she'll be very cautious and kind of want to get that contained."
"It's gonna probably blow [her mind]," Bennet pitched in. "I want to see, because all of the kind of crazy powers, it's all kind of been rooted in science, in something that Fitz and Simmons can always explain why it's happening. I'm curious to see how the writers are going to write it for [Henstridge's] character to explain how he could possibly have his skull be lit on fire and be fine. So I'm curious to see where they go with that."
9 Blending Science and Magic
As excited as fans are for Ghost Rider's arrival, it seems like a complete change of direction for the series, which introduced Life Model Decoys (LMDs) at the end of Season 3. Whedon and Tancharoen discussed their approach to these two disparate topics, explaining how they planned to merge science and magic.
"You'll see this in the movies that are coming," Whedon shared. "In 'Thor,' they famously said, 'Magic is just science we don't understand.' The MCU started with 'Iron Man,' who is a guy who built a suit -- a smart guy built a suit. And then when you put Thor into that world, it started to be like, 'How are these things going to work?' And they worked! So they started to open up into the world of the fantastic, and we will be doing that this year in terms of sort of trying to blend the two and trying to see if there are things we don't understand, why, and then meanwhile we're building things that we do understand, that maybe we start to lose our understanding of them."
"[How to blend these subjects] is exactly what our team may be asking as they encounter something like Ghost Rider. We'll basically be trying to science why," Tancharoen added.
"It's the question we were asking in the room of writers on day one," Whedon agreed.
"I think that we're going to slowly start to develop some very advanced technology this season, and maybe -- as that becomes more advanced and we have strange people... possessed people -- those things somehow merge down the line," he continued.
"We've dealt with normal people who want to... be more than just a man, like Mike Peterson. With Coulson, he has a robot hand," Tancharoen explained. "Then we meet [Holden] Radcliffe, who's definitely into body modifications. This is just sort of a progression and extension of that."
8 Daisy Isn't Doing Too Hot
In the Season 3 finale, the show jumped forward six months and revealed a dramatically altered status quo. Perhaps most memorably, Daisy Johnson was revealed to be on the run from her former team and has added a new ability to her arsenal of superpowers.
"I'm not being monitored by S.H.I.E.L.D., and every step of the way through my transformation as an Inhuman... has been monitored by FitzSimmons and kind of containing and helping me grow my powers," Bennet shared. "And so, I think you'll see the repercussions of her kind of using these powers and abusing them in a way, abusing her body, and so physically she's in not great shape when we first see her in the first episode. She's not going to be doing well."
"She's in a darker place. She's mourning," she continued. "She cares about the team so much that she feels like she is protecting them by kind of pushing them away, because I think she feel like everything bad happens around her and she can't help but cause problems. Her way of taking care of the people she cares about is kind of pushing them away, which... is not the best thing. I don't think it's going to last long term, but... she's really sad."
Whedon expanded on that idea, saying, "We put a lot of things down at the end of last year. We closed off some storylines, and obviously some people died, tragically or heroically, so we need new stuff. We've seen that Daisy has moved into sort of a vigilante mode of operation, and so I think she's going to stumble upon new things in her adventures."
Gregg also weighed in on Coulson's mission to catch Daisy, saying, "What we see in that epilogue in that episode is that she's got her Quake powers so down now she can fly almost! She just Hulk leaps! She's proving to be really difficult for Mack and Coulson to track down.
As to whether or not Coulson has given up on her, he added, "That's not the Phil Coulson I know. If he has a superpower, it is his loyalty to those he cares about."
"I think everybody's main concern is finding Daisy," De Caestecker shared. "I think everyone's kind of on that, but also -- for whatever reason -- it looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. has changed, so who knows?"
"I mean, it's quite obvious she doesn't want to be found. That's going to be another obstacle," Wen pitched in.
7 There's a New Director in Town
In the Season 3 finale, fans learned a shocking truth: Phil Coulson is no longer the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, little else was revealed about Coulson's new position, and the episode never revealed the true identity of the next Director. The cast was also mum on the subject, but they did offer a few teases about this major shakeup.
"What I can say is that, with the Sokovia Accords and the end of 'Captain America: Civil War,' it's clear that the world is very much aware that there are Enhanced people around, and so they're going to need an organization to deal with that that's under some government control. Whatever that government control is, they clearly didn't feel that Phil Coulson should be the director," Gregg explained.
But Gregg isn't crying about the fact Coulson has lost his position. "The thing about S.H.I.E.L.D. was it was never a government organization. It's never been a United States government organization. They answer to the World Council. It's global. It was never that clear who was overseeing except the World Council. Nick Fury seemed to be running it, and yet Phil Coulson felt like a part of the bureaucracy of that [as] Nick Fury's right hand guy," he went on. "Then he was given a team after his close call during 'The Avengers,' and he was working for Nick Fury. S.H.I.E.L.D. was destroyed in 'The Winter Soldier' and tasked with putting it back together, so now S.H.I.E.L.D. is putting it back together, but I still think he's just an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. He's always been a covert op for an agency tasked with protecting the world from things it didn't know about or that we hadn't yet discovered, both from our planet and others."
"With the six-month jump that we've showed you, it's very clear that many things have changed. Just Coulson stepping down as the director, from being the director, is just an indication that within S.H.I.E.L.D. things are very different," Tancharoen said. "Whether or not S.H.I.E.L.D. will help to carry out some of the Accords, that's something we've yet to see."
"We have more powered people on our show. We started with none. I think the dynamic in the world has changed. There was one person with powers, and then by 'The Avengers' there were maybe six total... now they're much more prevalent, so there's reaction from the public based on that," Whedon added.
Wen also expressed her surprise that fans wanted Agent May to be the Director, saying, "I know a lot of people have thought about that or suggested it, which was actually a big surprise for me... until people started Tweeting about her or asking about it. May was so reticent to get back into the field in Season 1, and -- even by Season 3 -- she had thoughts of leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. to be with Andrew. It's just that it's the pull with Coulson and the family and, you know, all her little kittens and cubs that she's pulled back into being part of the team."
"For me, I feel like it's a surprising question, that she would take that path, but maybe -- if she did take that path -- it is to leave the responsibilities of being with this particular family, which can be quite dysfunctional sometimes. And heartbreaking! Because we keep losing members, and she feels very responsible," she continued. "She always feels she should be protecting the family, and she didn't succeed each and every time."
6 New Team Dynamics
Coulson stepping down as Director isn't the only major shakeup headed to Season 4. Thanks to a few deaths and departures, we'll see new pairings of characters when the show returns this fall.
"Every year, we've tried to match people up," Bell explained. "Last year, Hunter and May were running around together and hanging out. We saw at the end of last season Agent Coulson and Mack were together, so we think that's interesting, so look for new combinations always."
"A lot of procedurals, it's the same people doing the same thing for five years and the character don't evolve or change at all," he continued. "And so the fact that we try and keep it interesting for the actors, and we try to keep it interesting for the writers as well as the fans in terms of always finding new combinations and new conflicts."
"The dynamic is interesting," Simmons shared. "It's Coulson and May, and they were kind of like these parental figures to Daisy, and then Mack has been brought into that family as like a big brother to Daisy. Now it's like a family member is gone. A family member has rejected us, and is gone. From that perspective, [Mack] always sees her as a little sister regardless of what she's done. Like Coulson, I think he's loyal to her, because he'll always fight to protect her."
As to Mack's relationship with Coulson, Simmons said, "They have so much respect for each other, and it's carried over to season three... it's at a point where they have common ground, which is Daisy. We have mutual respect."
In response, Gregg added, "And you feel a little bad about --" and made a chopping motion with one hand, referring to the time Mack had to cut off Coulson's hand to save him. "You know, he's like, 'What do you mean? I saved your life!'"
"By the end of that arc and the choppity chop, I think they've kind of ironed out a lot of their differences, so much so that -- when Coulson knew he had to go rogue himself to take out his girlfriend's assassin -- he put Mack in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. And I was watching like, 'Wow. He's a really good director,'" he concluded.
De Caestecker also touched on Fitz's upcoming partnership with Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah), which was teased in the Season 3 finale. Asked if he would continue to work with Radcliffe, he said, "I hope so! It sounds quite plausible we would, because Radcliffe is almost kind of like -- he's Scottish, his brain kind of works the same way as Fitz. He's in the same field... We've got a lot in common... So I would think."
5 FitzSimmons: A Love Story
At San Diego Comic-Con, nearly everyone wanted an update on Fitz and Simmons' budding romantic relationship. Never fear, 'shippers -- FitzSimmons is going strong!
"Yes, they're very much in a relationship, but with that of course comes new challenges, working together, loving each other and living together," Tancharoen revealed.
"It's getting easier to write the scenes because we just write what happened last night. But usually that's like, 'You want to watch something?'" Whedon joked, adding a fake snore for effect.
"Oh, honestly, I'd just like them to be happy and fine for a bit!" Henstridge said. "But we'll see. This is the first time they've been in a relationship romantically, and they've been on holiday together, and with everything that's happened in the finale of the episode where they finally got together and then just everything went down. They lost friends! You know, Hive died, but also but Ward finally died and we lost him for the last time and any chance of redemption is gone. I think that was just so much fun to deal with that now they're just trying to concentrate on being a romantic couple and also trying to navigate those waters, because -- if you've ever been in a relationship -- you know that it's not easy. It's kind of a fun dynamic that we're going to get to see."
De Caestecker had a bit of a different take on the progression of FitzSimmons' relationship: "They were very shy about talking about their feelings, whereas now they've definitely seen each other naked. They've seen each other's genitals."
Asked if she found FitzSimmons' relationship similar to Whedon and Tancharoen's, Henstridge shared, "I don't know relationship, because Maurissa and Jed have the best relationship ever... you see a lot of their personalities in then for sure, and their little -isms and how they play off each other. I think they definitely put that in the writing for FitzSimmons. They're a lot more solid than FitzSimmons in terms of knowing what they want! But definitely the bond is the same."
4 10 PM: The Darkest Timeslot
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is a globe-trotting show, but it remained relatively static in its 9 pm timeslot on ABC over the course of its first three seasons -- but all that is about to change. This fall, the series will move to a 10 pm timeslot on the same night, which will open up a few new opportunities for the story's direction.
"It absolutely offers opportunities. I don't know that it changes things all that dramatically," Loeb said. "I mean, at the end of the day, Marvel is always going to make shows that run somewhere between PG-13 and PG-16. We're not going to be making 'Deadpool' anytime soon on television. Certainly not on ABC! For us, it's just another place for us to be on a network that's been incredibly supportive."
"We're hoping we can skew a little darker because of it," Whedon added.
3 The Potential for a Little "Squadron Supreme"
Loeb also addressed the "Squadron Supreme" Easter egg in the Season 3 finale, where Holden Radcliffe named his LMD AIDA, after Tom Thumb's AI in the cult classic comic series.
Asked if Season 4 would include any other elements from the 1985 miniseries by Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall and Paul Ryan, Loeb offered an uncharacteristically brief response: "Let's just say nothing is off the table."
While Loeb played coy about the future of "Squadron Supreme" in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", CBR has a few ideas about where the show could take these concepts.
2 A Few Miscellaneous Tidbits
The "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." cast and crew tackled many major topics at San Diego Comic-Con, but some just defy categorization. They also managed to touch on whether or not Simmons will help Radcliffe with his LMDs, Radcliffe's motivations and why they jumped ahead six months in the story.
As to Simmons' involvement with Radcliffe, Henstridge revealed, "In the teaser at the end, we saw Radcliffe potentially talking to a Life Model Decoy, so that's something that she would be very interested in; it's kind of in her and Fitz's realm. That's going to play a part in this season for her."
"John Hannah is [recurring] this year. We love him very, very much. We're big fans of his. We worked with him on 'Spartacus,' and we love his dynamic so we're going to see the side of him that's trying to do better than he did last year. He's a good guy at heart, and he means well so we want to see him brought into the fold and we think he'll bring good humor," Whedon shared.
Asked why the show jumped six months ahead, Bell explained, "We've jumped between every season, but usually it ends and we come in and it's X amount of months later. It was true between 1 and 2, the same between 2 and 3, and we felt like we had done that. Because we knew we would set up some new things, it was a different way for us to do it and to sort of show you a glimpse of where we were going. Radcliffe had an LMD thing... [that] he couldn't have had that right away, so it's a promise for next season. That seemed cool. Where Daisy had been through that transformation, to set that up also. Time jump helps us with that. It was just a different way for us to tell the story to tease out something new for this year."
1 One Big, Happy Family
Even as the cast and crew divulged new details about Season 4, they couldn't help but praise one another. Whedon and Tancharoen were frequently the subject of appreciation, winning accolades from stars and producers alike.
"I think we all get so much inspiration from Maurissa and Jed on a very personal level, and then on a professional level. Just wonderful, and so creative and financially-minded to be able to run a show, but then so personable and care about all of us and they're just the best people to work for," Henstridge shared.
"They really are, and their writing is so easy," Bennet added. "I can always tell when something is written by them in particular, because they just know our dialogue. Their personalities are really in there. You know, we've really grown together as a family on the show. Like at the panel, we saw our audition tapes and so it's crazy to see how far all of our characters have come and how far away my long hair has gone from my head."
"For this incredible cast and for much of the incredible writing room, all those people have been there from the very beginning, and the fact that they still get along is kind of shocking. But I think it speaks to, in many ways, the leadership that Jeff [Bell] and Jed [Whedon] and Maurissa [Tanchanoren] bring to all of it," Loeb said.