‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.': Clark Gregg on Season 3 and Coulson’s Reaction to Hive

     March 16, 2016

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With everything the team has to deal with now, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is forcing the agents to decide what’s most important to them. No longer able to keep powered people out of the public eye, Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Mack (Henry Simmons) are working to track down Inhumans for a team of Secret Warriors whose mission it is to train and protect powered people, all while the existence of Inhumans is polarizing public opinion. At the same time, Hive (Brett Dalton) is pushing forward with his plan, the motivations and goals of which are still unclear.

Collider (along with a handful of other outlets) was recently invited to the top secret set to try to pry details out of the cast and executive producers about where things are headed. Even though that’s a difficult and risky proposition, we got a few tidbits from actor Clark Gregg, aka Director Phil Coulson, who talked about how Coulson might react when he learns about Hive, why Hive is the perfect villain, whether Coulson would be Team Cap or Team Iron Man, the conflict with Daisy, the hunt for Lash, a potential vaccine, and Coulson’s new hand. Be aware that there are some spoilers.


Question: How do you think Coulson will react, especially emotionally, when he discovers that Hive has the face of Ward?

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Image via ABC

CLARK GREGG: If it was not someone who looked like me, but someone who looked a little bit more like my 14-year-old daughter, there would be some, “WTF,” and underneath would be a GIF. On the one hand, it’s pretty startling. On the other hand, the brain gymnastics of that moment, when he decided to take him out, there was a feeling that he could have left him there and felt pretty safe about it. But, how safe could he really feel about it because other people have already come back from this place. I don’t think he would have been considered permanently neutralized, if he had just left him there. That said, I think he’s gotta be shocked to see him. The other way I would think about it is that so much of his life, this guy has had pragmatic objectives of how to protect people within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And one moment, when he still could arguably have been doing that, some personal anger, rage and revenge crept into that. And I think, on some level, he sensed that line was a line that he can’t cross. And then, eventually at some point, I’m sure he’ll figure out what Ward is, and that he’s the birthplace of the Hydra logo. On some level, he has to be, “Of course!” One piece of candy, and that’s the one that had the poison in it.

That was a dark moment for Coulson, and it’s a line that he felt he shouldn’t have crossed. We haven’t really seen any emotional fallout from that yet, but is that something you will explore?

GREGG: He’s never been a super emotional person on the outside. That said, I think he’s a very emotional person, in a repressed way, on the inside. It comes out in certain moments. The Coulson that I feel like I’m seeing in these episodes seems different to me. The way he was willing to put the vegetative Von Strucker kid in there, there’s just a darkness going on. And I think that’s partly also driven by the fact that the person who okayed the sniper bullet that killed Rosalind Price is Malick, and he’s still out there.

Do you think there are more dimensions to Hive, or is what we see, what we get?

GREGG: I see a lot of dimensions there. He’s the perfect villain for this show because he carries with him the memories, desire, hatreds and agendas of Will and of Grant Ward. At the same time, he’s got a much deeper, bigger agenda that’s thousands of years old, and gave birth to Hydra. The whole runner about what it was on this planet and what it has meant in this multi-generational story of Hydra, I think is insanely cool. I never had any idea – maybe no one did – that the Hydra logo might represent Hive.

Hive seems pretty irredeemable. Is there any chance of redeeming Hive?

GREGG: He does, doesn’t he? We’re pretty early on. My understanding is that these Inhumans were seated here as a potential warrior race being built by the Kree to defend themselves. Again, this is just me the nerd talking, but that’s what I remember. At the same time, when you listen to Jiaying and some of the Inhumans talking, they feel that they are complimentary, no two of them are the same, and they are meant to create a balance, and I don’t know if that means to take over this world. It’s almost like in Prometheus where the engineers created this species, and now this species of potential warrior mutants, if I’m allowed to use the M-word, have a different agenda of their own and are becoming something else, altogether. Hive is one of those. They’re about fulfilling their own destiny, and if humans get in the way of that, I suspect, like so many alien races, they’ll consider us dispensable.


Civil War is going to divide everyone between Team Cap versus Team Iron Man. A couple of years ago, Coulson would have been Team Cap. Is he still Team Cap, or has this Coulson evolved beyond that?

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GREGG: It’s a good question. I don’t know yet. I haven’t seen the film. I think the Coulson from some of the earlier films, especially, would have just been, “Wherever Steve Rogers goes, I’m gonna be there with my cards, and at some point, I’m gonna get them signed.” But I think what’s amazing about doing this character for 70 episodes of television, and putting him at the lead of a no-longer-existing S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s hunted around the world, is that you get a very different perspective. And what I love about what the writers have done is that, rather than waiting for something to cross-over from one of the movies, they just exploded Terri-genesis around the world and set up Secret Warriors and set up an Inhuman outbreak that’s different, frankly, from what’s in the comics that I read. And so, now he’s having to deal with something that feels very topical to me, in that there are people that are suddenly evolving very differently from the rest of us. And there are forces in the world who want to exploit those people, and there are forces in the world who want to exterminate those people, and here’s Coulson with the person who may be the closest thing he has to family, and she’s one of them. And he’s getting closer to more people like that.

At the same time, some of the most terrifying threats to this person that he cares most about are other Inhumans. That feels kind of topical, at the moment. There are a lot of people saying very simple solutions to problems right now, that seem to get people very fired up, and it’s usually about identifying one group and then making everyone else the “other,” and that other is a threat. And everyone I know, that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, who worked in the military or in police work, they don’t see it that way. The people you admire who do those jobs, when you get into the actual, practical logistics of that stuff, see themselves in everyone. There are no easy answers. So, I think it’s really going to depend, at such time as Coulson actually has to deal with what’s going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, on what has happened here, between now and then, because here is where his focus is right now.

Daisy is really taking a lot of initiative now, and she’s made the call to digitize the Secret Warriors, without necessarily getting Coulson’s permission for everything. Will the conflict that we’ve seen between them, at times in the past, resurface again?

GREGG: Yes! In a lot of Season 1 and part of Season 2, there was the discovery. They were two people who had been lonely and looking for something their whole lives. She really knew it more than he did. I don’t think he ever expected it, or thought that he needed anything like this. He was quite surprised by how much he came to care about this person, and to feel like she was a daughter. To me, it always seems surreal that she’s his daughter and he sends her out on the most terrifying missions. I won’t let my daughter drive with anyone who I don’t know very well. And yet, it’s definitely moved into a different phase. One of the things I like about the way Coulson has been written on this show is that he tries to give people more and more and more responsibility, as soon as they’re ready, whether it’s Fitz or Mack. The person who was the most wary about Coulson and the most suspicious about him is who he made Director, when he knew he was going off to do something that was at least as much driven by Coulson, the man, as it was Coulson, the agent. And I think the same is true for Daisy. She’s not a teenager, even if she acts like one sometimes. He’s trying to give her responsibility and he has to welcome, when she takes the initiative, and hear her objections, and at times push back against them. If he’s just watching over her shoulder, what kind of leader is she gonna become?


How might Coulson react to learning that Daisy and Lincoln are now officially an item?

GREGG: That’s come up a couple of times, in this show. It certainly came up when he found out that Agent May was sleeping with Ward. Like so many fraternization policies, it seems a little nebulous. It seems to go back and forth, at times. It gets to the heart of what the show is about. These are people who have dedicated their lives to this cause and to this belief, and everything they seem to learn on these missions is, “Oh, yeah, it’s good that we’re here because there’s some really twisted stuff with alien and trans-dimensional cultures here that’s really dangerous to our future.” As a result, they forfeit a lot of what you would call normal life. And so, I feel like he tries to have respect for the fact that people have needs. And I don’t just mean that in terms of sex, but in terms of intimacy and romance. There’s a certain amount of comportment involved. Everybody was pretty sure that Coulson had lost his mind over Rosalind, and meanwhile, he was inviting her to the secret base. I thought Mack’s jaw was gonna hit the floor, but of course, Coulson was using it to completely vet her organization. He found out it was rotten, and just that she didn’t know about it. That’s what he needed to feel okay about going on a date with her. “I just attacked your base. Okay, now we’re good!”

Can you talk about the hunt for Lash and when everyone will turn their attention back to where he is, since he’s an ever-present threat?

GREGG: I will say that the days are coming where we will need to know exactly where everyone who is Inhuman who has crossed our path are, while we sort out if they’re going to be friend or foe. That’s our version of Civil War, I think. I’m just guessing, as someone who’s watching what’s going on here. And Lash is one of those people we’re going to have to find that out about. Again, just as a fan of the comics, I feel like anyone who thinks they’re really positive about exactly what Lash is – and this is not a spoiler ‘cause I’m just guessing – there’s more dimensions to Lash coming than we’re aware of yet.

In Episode 312, FitzSimmons make the discover about a potential vaccine for Inhumans. How will Coulson feel about that?

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Image via ABC

GREGG: If the things that society considers anomalous, in this moment, could take a shot and be like everybody else, would you take it? That’s a fantastic question. There are those who think, “Oh, yes, this is great! We can stop people from turning into something different.” And Daisy and a lot of people who are already different and are suffering the consequences of it, but who also have new powers, feel like, “That already implies that you think something is wrong with us.” I don’t know, that feels topical to me. What I love about Marvel and sci-fi is that we get to look at things that are going on through a prism that makes it something we can suddenly all look at differently.


If there are no easy yes or no answers about the vaccine, where do you see that going?

GREGG: That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Sometimes I think, “I’m glad I’m not writing on this show. I would not know how to get us out of this.” It feels, to me, that there won’t just be some easy answer. I think very soon we’ll get a script that will be the episode that airs pretty close to when [Captain America: Civil War] is coming out, and I’ll probably get some hints about what’s going on when I see that. But I suspect this world, where there are Inhumans, is here to stay. That’s a development that’s happening here, in our part of this world, and it seems like it’s turning over a shovel and finding a lot of stuff to play with. I suspect that that will be the world we live in, and I’m also afraid that the way that’s going to tear us apart has probably only begun to be seen.

Do you think Coulson would take the vaccine?

GREGG: I think the moment at the end of last season, when I/he slid across the floor and grabbed the Terrigen crystal, what was going his/my mind was, “Well, I had the stuff. Who knows? Maybe this will work out okay.” And then, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to work out so well, which also makes sense because, if he was Inhuman, some of the Kree stuff that was used to bring him back to life wouldn’t have been so agonizing. So, like it or don’t, I think he’s pretty clear that he’s not. And I would have to say that it would be too easy for Coulson/Clark to answer that question without being confronted with the reality of it. It’s the people who really have to deal with it. I love that Hunter said, “Oh, come on, tell me you didn’t take some to see if you got powers.” Although there is this fable aspect to it where people take it, without knowing or knowing, and they don’t always get the power they imagined. We’re definitely coming up on an episode where we meet somebody who has been granted a gift that has been at least as much a curse as it is a gift.

Coulson has his hand back again. How did that come about?

GREGG: Even though there were about six iterations of it, I always felt like that was Hand 1.0, and I suspected, knowing the brilliance of Fitz and when he got Simmons back, that it might get a little more bio-realistic. One of the fun things about having a hand that’s being generated is that I suspect it’s not the last hand we’ll see. We don’t even know what that one does yet. On a logistical, practical level, it’s really nice. The neoprene hand was turning my arm into a raisin. It was ready for a break.

What powers does the new hand have?

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Image via ABC

GREGG: We’ve already seen that it lights up like Simon. There are a lot of cool games that it can play on a long flight. It can do Snake, it has Tetris, it has Galaga, and it can change TV channels. I really wish there were a few more practical jokes that he was doing with his hand, but that remains to be seen. I don’t know yet, all the things that it can do, but I know that there are more things that it can do than you do, if you’ve only seen up to Episode 312.


Might we see the return of any of Coulson’s issues with the Kree blood that was used to revive him?

GREGG: The Kree are responsible for a lot of this. I certainly loved Guardians, and I love that that’s a part of this world. I hope so. I feel like some of the Kree overlords have got some ‘splaining that they should probably do.

With all of this new conflict emerging, is Coulson confident that his house is in order?

GREGG: No, but again, that’s just my read. There might have been some part of Coulson that dreamed of being the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it wasn’t his driving goal in life. I always felt that he really loved being a field agent, and he was flabbergasted and honored when suddenly Nick Fury was standing there on his base, dressed like a homeless guy and handing him his cool weapon from The Avengers and being told he was the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. that no longer exists. That was an honor, but it was like, “Here, I’m going to give you this car and it’s going to blow up in nine minutes, if you slow down.” This is the hand he’s been dealt. I feel like, on any given day, there are so many double-binds that he’s thrown into where either choice is going to hurt somebody. That takes a toll.

From Coulson’s point of view, to have this thrust on you would make anybody traumatized. I can certainly understand how someone would go dark when you wake up one morning, surrounding by this stone cocoon you just broke out of and you are something else, and usually something painful. What’s made this guy different is a bizarre combination of being really compassionate, pragmatic and snarky, which has been really fun to play. He’s got a certain comfort level, and there are people he feels he can count on. He puts them in incredible situations and they rise to that challenge constantly, but there are also a lot of unknown quantities out there. I think he’s just trying to do the best that he can, and a part of him is really watching the doorway, all the time, hoping Nick Fury is going to show back up and take the job back. That’s just my opinion, though.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Tuesday nights on ABC.

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