As part of the TCA Press Tour, we were invited out to the super-secret filming location for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., to discuss new characters, exciting upcoming storylines, and possibilities for the remainder of the season, which returns to ABC with new episodes on February 4th. While there, we got to preview the already announced Stan Lee cameo and get glimpses of Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) battling Asgard villain Lorelei (played by Elena Satine), Mike Peterson’s (J. August Richards) transformation to Deathlok, and the introduction of Agent John Garret (Bill Paxton). If those clips were any indication, things are about to get bigger, more explosive and even more connected to the Marvel universe.
While onboard the CXD 23 Airborne Mobile Command Station, executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen talked about the biggest struggle in making this show, why they wanted to delay the full integration of characters from the Marvel universe, what viewers can expect from Bill Paxton’s character, how long they’ve been planning the Mike Peterson’s transformation to Deathlok, how Lady Sif will cross paths with this S.H.I.E.L.D. team, that the reveal of what happened to Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) was meant to raise more questions about what may have also happened to him, where things are at with Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) and Agent May (Ming-Na Wen), the process they have to go through before they can integrate any character from the Marvel universe, and the likelihood that they’ll end the season on a cliffhanger. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Every freshman year show has to find its footing, find its voice and find its pace. What were the challenges of the early part of the season, what have you figured out, and what are you trying to push forward on, for the remainder of the season?
JED WHEDON: The struggle, early, now and for all time, will be making the episodes. We design them huge. We exist in the Marvel universe, which everything up until this TV show that has been live-action has had hundreds of millions of dollars behind it. We write it huge and then say, “How can we pull this off, in eight days?” We’ve learned some things to help that, but it’s a constant struggle and it’s always different. It’s like, “Okay, we can’t do this, so how can we figure out how to tell that story in a different way?” That will be the ongoing struggle, to fit these giant ideas into the little TV box.
Did you intentionally want to delay the gratification of bringing in more Marvel elements, beyond little cameos, like Nick Fury and Maria Hill? Did you want to wait until later in the season to fully integrate characters?
WHEDON: Yes. When our show started, the cinematic universe really only had two human beings, in the history of the planet, who have powers, and that’s Captain America and The Hulk. And there was a guy who built a suit that used tech, and there were aliens. So, early on, we wanted to be very respectful of that.
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: Especially being a show with a tagline, “Not all heroes are super,” we didn’t want to have a ton of characters with abilities.
WHEDON: We didn’t want to undercut the films by saying, “Oh, no, this is going on everywhere.” We were trying, very early on, to be respectful of that and introduce people organically and slowly, and ramp it up, so that it didn’t feel disrespectful to the huge universe they’ve spent tons of time and money creating, and that we’re playing in. We’ve been planting the seeds, and now you’re starting to see that all these things that seemed like these little one-off things, we’re starting to bring back and it’s all starting to pay off, which was our intent.
What is the division of responsibility between you guys?
TANCHAROEN: I tend to be on set more, and making sure everything is running smoothly there. [Jed] runs the room, and I pop in and out of the room. Our writing process has been the same, forever. We dive in together.
WHEDON: We’ll divvy up, or I’ll do a puke-it-out pass, and [Maurissa will] go in there and make it pretty.
TANCHAROEN: It’s a very male/female writing relationship that we have.
WHEDON: We live together and we work together, but we see very little of each other.
TANCHAROEN: We were interested in the character of Agent John Garret for awhile. He’s a smaller character in the Marvel universe, but we knew we could bring him into the fold. He’s a big character in S.H.I.E.L.D., and we wanted to show an old cohort of Coulson’s. It’s someone he’s been in the field with, but they have different perspectives on how they approach things. Garret is a little bit more rough and tumble, and he has swagger.
WHEDON: He’s less of a company man. He’s all S.H.I.E.L.D., but when he got his high-level clearance, he was like, “Okay, but I’m not wearing a tie.” He’s that kind of guy. And he’ll be around for a lot of episodes. Just working with him is such a pleasure.
TANCHAROEN: I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun it is to work with that guy. On set the other day, he said, “I’ve been killed by an Alien, a Predator and a Terminator. Who else can say that?!” I was like, “Nobody! No one else can say that.
What can you say about the evolution of Mike Peterson? How long have you been planning his transformation to Deathlok, and when did you let J. August Richards know?
WHEDON: He wasn’t as clued in, as long as we’ve been planning it. We set out with goals and we have tentpoles, but everything changes, especially in TV. Someone will book a series. Now, everyone has a series because there are so many. It’s always shifting, so we’re very careful about when we tell actors what our plans are.
TANCHAROEN: In case they change, you don’t want anybody to get locked into a promise that maybe won’t happen.
WHEDON: So, we were happy to have that plan, and happy to give him that script where it happened.
TANCHAROEN: He was thrilled to know what happens to his character. But from the beginning, we had our sights set on Deathlok. He was at the top of our list of certain characters that we wanted to roll out. And the evolution of Mike Peterson into Deathlok was something that we had toyed with, from the beginning.
WHEDON: It happened organically, in talking about story and talking about the character of Mike Peterson and how we could bring him back.
Do you see Deathlok as a recurring part of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ensemble, or would you like to spin him off and have him do his own thing?
TANCHAROEN: You will have to wait and see!
WHEDON: She comes down with a very specific mission, and she’s following orders. Whose orders those are, we’re not sure.
Is the apparatus that repaired Agent Coulson’s brain Chitauri technology?
WHEDON: That’s a Level 7 question.
TANCHAROEN: You’re not meant to know that yet. We know much more.
WHEDON: What Coulson knows is as much as what anybody is supposed to know.
TANCHAROEN: The reveal of what happened to him was meant to raise more questions about what may have also happened to him.
Where are things at with Agent Ward and Agent May?
WHEDON: Those two people have a shared experience, in being these quiet warriors, that brings them together. But where it goes, you’ll have to wait and see. This is a drama on TV, so I don’t think everything is going to be hunky dory. It doesn’t go straight to picket fences, I’ll say that.
Is there a reverse integration planned? Are we going to see elements of the TV show, showing up in some of the next movies?
TANCHAROEN: There’s always that possibility. Synergy is part of the universe that we’re operating in. If the opportunity arises, we’ll do it.
As you get further into the show, how much more difficult is the integration getting, with more and more movies?
WHEDON: It’s getting more fun. We’re just plugging ahead.
TANCHAROEN: I really do feel that, from this point forward, for the rest of the season, it’s full throttle, from here on out.
Is it difficult to get clearance to use certain characters, and are there restrictions on what you can do with those characters?
TANCHAROEN: There’s been a process, from the beginning, that we follow, as far as clearances and the characters we can use and what we can do with them. We know the rules, going in.
WHEDON: We don’t get too far ahead of ourselves, in terms of committing to a story before we know we can do it. There are a lot of parties involved. There are a lot of divisions of Marvel. There are movies and comics. So, we want to make sure that we’re living in between them and not stepping on anybody’s toes, but that we’re also pulling the coolest stuff that we can use. It is a process. It’s not like we put it up and say, “Yes? No?” We have to run them through a clearance process.
Do you think you’ll end this season on a cliffhanger?
WHEDON: I don’t know. I’ll say that we might.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Tuesday nights on ABC.