In the last two episodes of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." before the midseason break, Director Phil Coulson has had a rough go of things: teammate-turned-traitor Grant Ward killed Coulson's paramour Rosalind Price during their first real date, he traveled across the universe to a barren planet with a dangerous monster and then he killed Ward in cold blood while Fitz looked on. Though some time will have passed between the midseason finale and tonight's premiere, star Clark Gregg promises Coulson will continue to carry that darkness when he returns in "Bouncing Back."
The "Avengers" alum spoke with CBR News about Coulson's vendetta against Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), the Hydra leader who ordered the hit on Rosalind, and how Coulson's decision to murder Ward will impact his relationship with Fitz. The actor also weighed in on whether or not the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will face their own "Civil War," his hopes for "Iron Fist" and more.
CBR News: The midseason finale left Coulson in a pretty dark place. What kind of state is he in when the show comes back?
Clark Gregg: He's carrying a big fat secret and it's a secret only he and Fitz really know -- which is that he made a decision on some level, no matter how much impulsivity was involved, he made a decision to not leave a living Grant Ward on that planet, even though the odds are pretty strong he wouldn't have made it back (although we have seen a number of people make it back from that planet).
It's a dark move, and it's a move that the writers wrote pretty spectacularly, from the moment of Ward firing a sniper rifle into the throat of Rosalind Price to Coulson jumping out of the plane to squashing [Ward's] chest on that planet. It's very complex, like I can really defend the action as the responsible action of a leader who put someone on a team who ended up killing a lot of people. I can also attach it as the point where somebody who's dedicated their life to protecting people from evil becomes evil. It's very complex. We've got the bigger secret that's out there, that Fitz knows, is that whatever that creature was that may or may not be the source of the Hydra logo is already back on Earth in Ward's body.
Like you said, Fitz was present when Coulson struck the killing blow. Does this change their relationship dynamic at all?
Yes! I think the nature of these things is that, by witnessing it, Fitz is involved. When you work for an organization that is ostensibly about fighting for justice, everyone involved has the obligation to hold each other to account, the same way that there's a lot of amazing, heroic people who work in law enforcement, and I think it works best when they hold each other to the laws they're trying to enforce. I think that's what starting to happen a little bit more, hopefully, and I think Fitz involved. Fitz has seen it, and I think Coulson projects a lot of his own mixed feelings about it and guilt onto Fitz. He doesn't really know what Fitz thinks about it or knows. Fitz has a lot of reasons why he would want Ward dead. I think it's a complexity to their dynamic, which makes me happy when I read it, because I think Iain De Caestecker is brilliant, and to have the two of them linked up in this rather complex dynamic just gives me fun stuff to do.
Now that Coulson has killed Ward, just how far is Coulson willing to go in order to get to Gideon Malick?
At the end of the day, Gideon Malick is the guy who ordered the hit on Rosalind. Once he had been with her in a way that felt appropriate to him, even if it was a little sketchy, I think you can't underestimate how much he cared about her and how hungry he was for a connection like that, with an equal, with a partner, with a woman who is as formidable at what they do as she is in his view. So, he's heartbroken, and I think also feels responsible for her death. He's coming after Gideon Malick with everything he has, and Gideon Malick has more resources and a better cover as a world leader than anybody I've seen at Hydra since Robert Redford's character [Alexander Pierce] in "The Winter Soldier."
In several photos from the midseason premiere, it looks like Coulson meets up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe's president. Are things starting to turn around for S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organization?
Yes and no. That's a good question. Sokovia set them back in a big way. There's a lot of suspicion about S.H.I.E.L.D. and its connection with superheroes coming out of "Age of Ultron." In a week or so, we start working on the script that will air during "Civil War" and I'm almost scared to read it to see what happens to poor S.H.I.E.L.D. in that. There are those who realize that the world needs S.H.I.E.L.D. President Ellis may be one of them, but it's still very much an underground organization that is illegal and hunted through most of the globe.
Daisy and Coulson have been at odds several times this season. Are the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. heading toward their own "Civil War?"
That certainly seems to be this season, that there has always been an "us and them" feeling about Inhumans from some people on the team. Some of them have been hurt and had their lives threatened by Inhumans. At the same time, some of the people they care most about in the world are Inhumans, especially in Coulson's case. It's very complex, and that confusion... that dynamic has been set up all season long. The formation of Secret Warriors is complex, because it's hard to know which of these Inhumans are willing to be part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and to carry out some of the things that S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing, which is about containing and neutralizing other Inhumans. There are things coming in the back half of the season that may amplify those decisions. Whaaat?!
Word on the street is that you're something of an Iron Fist fan. Now that there's been some development on the Netflix series, what do you hope to see on the show?
You know, if it just keeps any of the spirit of the Iron Fist in the comics and nails that costume and finds a way to bring that kind of ultra chi-based kung fu power from the '70s screaming back. And if there's any reason -- and normally I'm very comfortable letting the Netflix shows and everybody exist in the universe of their own shows -- but if there was any reason even just to have Coulson walk by on the streets, the inner 11-year-old in me would probably just faint on the spot.
Starring Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." returns to ABC Tuesday, March 8 at 9 pm EST.