SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "The Real Deal," the 100th episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just learned the deal Phil Coulson made to become Ghost Rider in last year's Season 4 finale. In "The Real Deal," the show's 100th episode, Coulson revealed that he is dying from his Loki-inflicted wound as a consequence of his deal with Ghost Rider.
The beginning of the episode found Fitz inspecting the damage of the Kree beacon, which General Hale had wired to blow. The subsequent explosion leveled all three Kree monoliths, creating a tear in space-time. This tear in space-time opened a small doorway to what Fitz described as a "fear dimension," which caused the team's worst fears to manifest in the Lighthouse. Even as they spoke, the bleed from the fear dimension grew worse, quickly spreading to the upper levels.
Fortunately, Fitz came up with a fix, but one with a price. Someone would have to go to the tear in space-time in order to insert a gravity device of Fitz's design, which would temporarily close it until he was able to come up with a more permanent solution. However, when activated, the gravity device would pull anything near it into the fear dimension, meaning the mission might result in death -- or worse.
Coulson volunteered immediately. As he fought back amid a flurry of protestations, he found himself unable to breathe and collapsed. Simmons was able to fix him up, but she discovered the true extent of the damage in the process. "It's not good. The MRI shows necrotic tissue branching out from the scarred area surrounding Coulson's life-threatening -- life-ending injury to his heart and left lung," she explained with a waver to her voice. "It isn't caused by infection. It isn't caused by anything I've ever seen. It's tissue that appears to have been dead for several years."
Asked if there was anything they could do to fix it, Simmons added, "The tissue is already dead. There is no cure for that. At least, not anymore. I can only surmise that it is progressing at a rapid rate... At some point, sir, your heart will just stop beating."
"I didn't know how to tell you, and I didn't think I should," Coulson admitted. "Whatever alien voodoo was holding me together, Ghost Rider burned through it. That was the price."
When Daisy brought up the fact that they could have healed him when they were in the future, he said, "I didn't want to go through all that again."
This confirms what we've seen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 so far. After all, Coulson was absent from all of 2022 sequences from "The Last Day." Further, future Yo-Yo told her younger self that they couldn't save him -- and that they shouldn't waste their time trying: "Phil Coulson is dying, and you have to let him. It’s already begun. He’s sick and he knows it. We tried to stop it. Loyalty. It cost us the world.”
If Coulson does die from his deal with Ghost Rider, his demise will bring his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. journey full circle. The first Marvel Television series kicked off with the mystery surrounding his return. In Season 1, it was revealed the had in fact died when Loki stabbed him in 2012's The Avengers. However, thanks to an experimental and very illegal procedure involving Kree biology, Nick Fury arranged to bring him back to life. Now, that very same injury and procedure will be his undoing -- but not before he was able to assemble a team, change lives and save the world a few times.
Airing Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 stars Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Henry Simmons, Ian De Caestecker, Natalia Cordova-Buckley and Elizabeth Henstridge.