The second season of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is now officially underway. With the season premiere airing last night on ABC, the team is still dealing in a big way with the major repercussions brought this past spring by "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and the revelation that Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. at its highest levels.
Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is now director of a radically scaled down S.H.I.E.L.D. -- a position granted to him by none other than Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) -- which naturally brings all sorts of new problems both expected and unexpected, as the group is now seen as vigilantes at best. Skye (Chloe Bennet) is a full-fledged field officer, working closely with May (Ming-Na Wen). Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) has left the organization following Fitz's (Iain De Caestecker) traumatic brain injury, suffered as a result of the devious machinations of undercover Hydra agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) -- who's still around, imprisoned by S.H.I.E.L.D. and used to gain information on the enemy. Antoine "Trip" Triplett (B.J. Britt) is still a part of the team, along with new additions like Mac (Henry Simmons) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood).
Much of the show's main cast -- Gregg, Bennet, Wen, Henstridge, De Caestecker, Dalton, Britt, Simmons and Blood -- plus Head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb, showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon and executive producer Jeffrey Bell answered questions from the press, including CBR News, following a screening of the second season premiere held Tuesday night at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Pertinent highlights from the Q&A follow.
On the impetus behind "reinventing" "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." in its second season with a more "'70s/'80s" undercover feel, rather than the futuristic spy missions of season one:
Jeffrey Bell: Hydra happened. We lost our big Triskelion, we lost all our toys, we lost our authority and the ability to use badges.
For us, it's really hard to cheer for the NSA. "Yay, they can listen to every phone." We feel like the team's much more underdogs this year. "This is what we have -- how can we make it work?" The stakes are much higher because of that. That's part of why we did it. We do like the way it feels texturally, too. It's a way to start fresh.
The scene between Skye and Ward -- was Ward manipulating her, or expressing sincere feelings?
Brett Dalton: That's one of the really wonderful things about this season. There's so much complexity. All of us have gone through so much. There's a lot going on there.
On the structural differences between how season one and two will unfold on ABC's schedule:
Jeph Loeb: One of the things that we found last season that was a consistent cry from our viewers was that there were a lot of repeats. As creators and actors and writers and people who are working 24 hours a day in order to make the best show that we can -- it's not our fault. [Laughs] The reality is that the television season runs from September to May, and in that, if you count the number of weeks, we would have to be in production two years ago for us to be able to put out a show every single week.
So we started taking about "what's the best thing that we could do?" As many of you have fathomed out, there is basically going to be our fall/winter season, and then we're going to take a break and do a little show called "Agent Carter." And then we're going to be back, and we'll run all the way through. The idea is to try to give you as much Marvel as you can.
By the time we get to the "winter break," a lot of the stories that we have picked up, you will see resolved in a wonderful way. But that doesn't mean there won't be new things that are surprising and different -- and God knows what else.
How closely is "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." following its original two-season outline?
Jed Whedon: Pretty close. We had an idea of what season two would be initially, which is what we're doing.
It always changes. We map out as much as we can, we have all these tentpoles. But we have a bunch of very smart people sitting around, trying to think of cooler stuff than that, and a lot of the time they do. It's always shifting. We try to hit those tentpoles, but how we get there is always changing.
Bell: It's a living, breathing thing with these wonderful actors -- you kinda go, "Oh, you can do that really well, we should lean into that," or "She can kick the hell out of everybody, we should do that."
Maurissa Tancharoen: There have been many moments where the actors have influenced how we shape the story.
With Phil Coulson now the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., how different is this season for Clark Gregg?
Clark Gregg: It's funny to have gone from this guy with a briefcase doing a scene or two in "Iron Man" -- more than anything else, I was struck by just the growth of the show. How much it's kind of found itself, how much our great writers have taken what was really working after the crossover with "Winter Soldier" and what's great about these actors and these characters -- how they've turned these characters into these fully realized, really compelling people. It's such a terrific ensemble that I'm really, really proud to be part of, and really proud to see what the show's becoming. That may sound a little mushy, but that's what I was blown away by when I was watching.
Chloe Bennet, on the changes in Skye from season one to two:
Chloe Bennet: It was really weird to see the difference between the pilot and [episode] 201 -- Skye is just completely different. She was this hippie, living in her van, against S.H.I.E.L.D. and everything it stands for, and then she's just a full-blown S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, dropping from the ceiling. But it's been really nice. I feel like I've grown with Skye, because season one really did feel like we were this ragtag group of actors -- we didn't know each other, and we were really spending a lot of time on the plane together, and we really had the ups and downs of being on a season for the first time. Then we kind of grew together and had a little family. I'm really proud of it, too.
Following, last season's end for Leo Fitz, Iain De Caestecker discusses the challenge of playing his character's struggle with brain trauma:
Iain De Caestecker: A lot of the work was really done for me beforehand. The writers had a good chat with me -- they'd done a lot of research on it before me, and I did a little bit as well. With something like that, which has really affected people in real life, there's a bigger deal of responsibility towards it.
Given the connection in the comics between Daniel Whitehall (played on "S.H.I.E.L.D." by Reed Diamond) and Baron von Strucker (played in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" by Thomas Kretschmann), is there a possibility of connection between the show and the May 2015-debuting film?
Whedon: It's all connected. One universe.
On the challenges of starting season one with a larger cast of characters:
Whedon: Initially, it's a lot, because you have to introduce them all. But as we move into the season, it gives us more options as storytellers in terms of where we can go, and how we can divide things up -- and more voices. We're pretty much in love with all the characters at this point, so we always try to find something for each of them.
Tancharoen: It may seem like we're adding a lot of new people, but it's just an example of what S.H.I.E.L.D. is now. We're seeing a guy like Mac (Henry Simmons), who might have been a mechanic at the Triskelion, but we would never have heard from him before. Now he's a part of our team.
Gregg's reaction to Coulson appearing in Marvel's comics:
Gregg: I've been really public about it; I grew up reading comics. I loved this stuff when I was a kid. I loved Marvel. I loved Iron Man. It's beyond a thrill. We've got a really cool "S.H.I.E.L.D." comic coming soon. He's been in some "Deadpools" lately, and that really thrills me. I'm the luckiest guy.
With all the changes, what has remained more or less the same between season one and two?
Whedon: One of the words we've locked into is "momentum." We try to make sure that all our stories have that.
Tancharoen: On a more personal level, the thing that does not change is all of these people -- they're just wonderful, wonderful people to work with, including our writers.
Bell: What's fun about new people is, you can find new dynamics. Last year, Fitz and Simmons were one person -- now they're not. Last year, there was a paternal thing between Coulson and Skye -- that seems to be a little different now. Ward's now Hydra, so what's the relationship there? What's the deal with Simmons? We have all these characters and new relationships. That's really fun for the writers, to come up with new combinations and create new conflicts.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." airs 9 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC.