Only two weeks after the release of the (at the time of writing this) second biggest movie of all time, Marvel’s sixth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered last Friday, and it’s left many people wondering just where the series stands after the incredible events of Infinity War and Endgame.
For those those who haven’t been regularly tuning in, a little bit of backstory: Last May, just before the fifth season finale, the episode “The One Who Will Save Us All” (Season 5, Episode 20) featured the first mention of Thanos in any of the Marvel television series. Long story short, General Glen Talbot became the super-powered villain known as Graviton and in a discussion with the the alien “Confederacy,” confirmed the Earth was currently under attack by Thanos’ forces. Now, we already know that Adrian Pasdar’s character did not in fact intervene with Thanos’ invasion, and if you kept watching the rest of the season, you found out that Talbot was blasted into space. The point you should all take away from this though, is that it put Agents on the same timeline as the beginning of Infinity War.
Now, behind the scenes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t renewed until November 2018, several months after Infinity War. Not only that, it was renewed for an additional season even before Season 6 premiered. For those watching after Graviton was blasted into space, the show made a serious effort to tie up loose ends. Some characters were missing due to some messy time and space stuff, but it ended with a reassurance that that wouldn’t be much of a problem to solve. The more crucial element was that Phil Coulson was dying, but able to retire and enjoy his final days in Tahiti. Executive producers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeff Bell even wrote the finale as a series finale. For all intents and purposes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did their job and left everything open enough for Endgame to do the heavy lifting so fans could get a somewhat satisfying ending to the show. But that was before finding out there would be a Season 6 (and 7), and that it would be coming out just weeks after one of the biggest film experiences ever.
So where are we now? Well we all know how Infinity War and Endgame transpired. We know that when the Avengers initially fought Thanos they lost. We know that half of all life in the universe was wiped out in the Decimation. And we know that 5 years passed, the Avengers changed the timeline, and then defeated Thanos while bringing everyone back. There has been a lot that has happened since we last saw the agents, and since this is our first taste of any Marvel property post-Endgame, a little bit of explanation would be nice. Did any of the agents get wiped out by the Snap? Did Quake lend her powers to the cause and fight in that final battle? Is this at all taking place within those missing five years? What has happened since the Snap?
Well. Nothing I guess.
There is no mention of Thanos in the Season 6 premiere. The whole gang is still here (minus Clark Gregg who just so happens to be directing the episode). The only real difference is Jemma has bangs I guess? Earth seems fine, kids are outside happily playing basketball, everything is pretty normal. Sure half the agents are out in space fighting nondescript aliens, but seriously, there is no mention of the events of the movies at all. Which only adds to the confusion, because apparently this is taking place a year later after the Season 5 finale, setting this post-Snap and during those missing years of the Decimation.
Now, this non-mention could be for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that the show was written to conclude last season and now they have to try and make their confusing timeline work with Endgame’s now incredibly confusing timeline and they just decided ignoring it was the best course of action. It could be its own separated timeline explained by Professor Hulk and the Ancient One in Endgame, and this is just one of many realities. Or maybe it’s one of 14,000,605 futures Doctor Strange saw? Or again, maybe the Endgame script was kept secret from the show and S.H.I.E.L.D. just had to wing it.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had varying success with MCU crossovers in the past. Obviously Phil Coulson and the Battle of New York from The Avengers is mentioned at the very start of the series, but Season 1 featured the real first connection to the greater Marvel Universe in “The Well” (Season 1, Episode 8) where they had to clean up the mess from Thor: The Dark World. Captain America: The Winter Soldier then mixed up the show’s formula when it was revealed Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. And sometimes they just mention things like the Sokovia Accords just to prove they also know what’s going on. So the lack of conversation or explanation following the Decimation is disappointing, especially given the amount of public discussion about the ending of Endgame and its ramifications.
There may, however, be a saving grace. I may have my reservations about this theory, but “Missing Pieces” (Season 6, Episode 1) does end with a fascinating reveal: Coulson is alive. (Although he is going by the name “Sarge” and has never heard of S.H.I.E.L.D.) We don’t have much of an explanation about Sarge and his Mad Max-esque crew, but the most prevalent theory is they are from an alternate reality. Now, this could again be the multiple timelines created from Endgame, or it could be more interestingly what Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio was talking about in the latest Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer regarding “other Earths.”
Of course, I don’t trust Mysterio. Sure the studio says he is an ally to Peter but … he’s a classic villain so, come on. He’s definitely putting out a The Incredibles Syndrome vibe. Or maybe if the hope is to tie S.H.I.E.L.D. back to movies, the solution could come as shape shifting Skrulls from Captain Marvel. What I’m saying is all we’ve got are theories right now, and as much as we hope they are related to the MCU at large, truth is, they probably are just going to do their own thing. Clark Gregg told Entertainment Weekly that they only know a little bit of what’s to come this season and Ming-Na Wen told TVLine that she believes the show has departed the MCU and is more focused on telling its own stories and situations. So, this is all pre-Snap.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been stuck in the shadow of the intimidating MCU. It never reached the critical acclaim of any of the Netflix series, but still has managed to develop a loyal fan base (myself included). The show is at its best when it is exploring new genres of storytelling such as the horror/mystical elements of Season 4, or the space/sci-fi influenced storyline of last season. S.H.I.E.L.D. represents the best of comic books with ever-changing themes and structure, and maybe the best decision going forward is to ignore the films they tried so hard to keep up with and focus on telling a good story instead of trying to fit it into the puzzle that Endgame created.
Sure, I would love to see Coulson turn into a Skrull in one of these episodes or to find out that this is a new reality created by casual time travel. It would be great if all of this could end alongside the films the way the show started. But with the movies becoming as massive as they have, maybe it’s time for the show to go back to basics. The writers and directors of Endgame haven’t even been able to fully agree on the what exactly happened with time traveling Captain America, so maybe instead of getting lost and stuck within the Quantum Realm, S.H.I.E.L.D. can take some time to really give these characters the ending they deserve.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.