[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the series finale of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “What We’re Fighting For.”]
After seven seasons, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally come to a close, with this team’s bonds stronger than ever, even if they must remain countless miles apart. Outsmarting and outlasting the Chronicoms took everything they had, but time and space couldn’t keep them from succeeding.
During a series of roundtable interviews with a small handful of other outlets, the cast and creative team talked about setting the show apart from the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, getting to see where the characters are, one year later, shooting that final group scene, the moments they were most grateful for, how the Daisy-Sousa relationship evolved, why it was important to give FitzSimmons their happy ending, what a Deke spin-off could look like, whether there’s anything they wish they could have done differently, how the view the show’s legacy, and the importance diversity played in its success.
Question: How did you feel about the show as it moved away from the movies of the MCU? Was there a moment where you felt that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had really become its own thing?
CLARK GREGG: There was a lot of treading water and circling the airport in Season 1, waiting to be able to reveal what we were doing and how it was crossing over. I did think that the way it crossed over with Winter Soldier and the use of the amazing Bill Paxton really paid off, in the end of Season 1. That was pretty spectacular, and holds up really well. But that said, I don’t always feel, with other seasons, that it was as easy to try to find a way to interact with the features. That serves to publicize the features and certainly helps publicize the show, but I liked when the focus really was just about the best way to tell stories with these characters, using whatever pieces of the Marvel universe that weren’t already spoken for. I felt like that really freed up our writers to take chances, and take chances they did, every season. They started dividing up into shorter pods, before that was even a thing. Who knew that they would invent pods, and then we would all be in one.
NATALIA CORDOVA-BUCKLEY: I came in much later, so I was never aware of those situations. I think those conversations were had more in the pilot and the first season. All of us would have loved for the movies and our world to connect.
MING-NA WEN: Oh, no. I was there for that season, and no, it really completely tied the writers’ hands, where they had to write and try to coordinate with the release of the film and the timing of it. It just hampered us. It hampered the writers, and it hampered everyone to have the freedom to be our own entity. So, I think it was a glorious idea to have us all be connected, but in the end it was so great because it allowed our writers to just take off and use their imagination and create things where they were allowed to have different characters and different storylines. That first season was a bit bumpy, definitely. It definitely had its issues… It was nice that we found our own identity.
IAIN DE CAESTECKER: I remember this specific moment, in Season 1, Episode 6, when Elizabeth was getting ready to sacrifice herself, in order to save everybody else. She did this scene where she says goodbye to everyone and breaks down, and it was this big turning point because no one had ever done anything like that, on the show. Elizabeth has got this amazing ability to tap into that emotional side.
ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE: For FitzSimmons, we suddenly had dramatic things to do that, and didn’t just pop in, say something funny, and pop out. I agree, that was a big turning point, where we started to care about the characters, rather than all of the stuff around them.
JEFF WARD: Because I came in so late, it felt like the fans had already been like, “Okay, the movies . . . but this show.” It really did spin off of this global thing, the likes of which has never been seen. It’s like the most expensive television series, of all time, the MCU. It feels like when the show started to create its own identity, long before I was there, the fans were hooked into it for what it was, and not just because it’s another piece of Marvel fodder that’s in the canon.
DE CAESTECKER: The show is in the sci-fi/superhero world, which is fantasy, so sometimes you lose a sense of reality. So, adding that element of reality to it was a big part of what the show was about. Within that world of superheroes and fantasy elements, they were real people.
At the end of the finale, we get to see where all your characters are, a year later. After the journey you guys took, as actors, how did you feel about where your characters ended up? Could you have pictured them any other place than where they are now?
WEN: I was happy, and I think the fans are going to be happy. May has always been someone’s SO, whether it was Ward or Yo-Yo or Daisy. And so, for her to end up running the Academy and being there to uphold the standards, and passing on her knowledge and experience to the new recruits of S.H.I.E.L.D., I felt that was very apropos for May. And to be single.
CORDOVA-BUCKLEY: For me, I thought it was appropriate for Yo-Yo to become a leader of her own squad. She’s been building up to that position and she’s finally there, she’s happy with who she’s with and more settled within the institution of S.H.I.E.L.D. They’re like the President and First Lady.
HENRY SIMMONS: I’ll be honest, I was a little bit surprised because I thought that we would see everyone in their private lives, quite honestly, moving on from S.H.I.E.L.D., no longer fighting and seeing a settled life. But I like the way they did it, as well. I like the fact that we still continue to fight for justice. It’s just weird because we’re all in separate places and separated, but that’s a nod to life itself. It’s very rare that individuals working collectively towards something stay together, forever. Life goes on.
What was it like to shoot that final group scene?
CHLOE BENNET: It was rough. It was rough to shoot. It mirrored exactly what we were all going through, as a cast. So much of the show has mirrored that. We didn’t know each other, at all. We were this ragtag group of people, shooting this version of the Marvel world that’s never really been touched before, with limited resources. We’ve just grown together, on screen and off. To end in that way, where everyone moved forward, what was dramatic about all of it was that it wasn’t. It was so real. Sometimes that happens in life, where people go in their own directions, and you stay in touch and maybe become a little bit more polite with people you once used to see, every morning at five in the morning, every single day for seven years. Things just change. The gravity of how real that felt for us, as actors, or at least for me, it wasn’t hard. I don’t feel like many of us were acting. It felt like that was the cast saying goodbye to each other. It was really special, to get that opportunity on a show, and for the writers to even know and have the opportunity to write that, where we were sitting there. And who knew we would have predicted Zoom. That was basically just S.H.I.E.L.D. full-body Zoom. That was cool.
When it came to deciding where we would see each of the characters, a year later, did that all fall into place pretty easily, as to where each of them would be, or did any of them prove to be more challenging?
JED WHEDON: I don’t remember struggling with that too much. It was fun. One of the things that’s fun about that, and it was the same feeling that we would have at the beginning of seasons, is that especially coming off of time travel, where there’s so many moving parts that your brain is gonna explode, this was just blue sky. What could it be? It was just fun to think about? There were tons of great options, and we tried to put everybody in a different feeling thing and in a different place, and separate them as much as possible, but I don’t remember struggling with that. I think that was more just the fun of the ending.
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: It made perfect sense to us that May would be a teacher at Coulson Academy. All of that sums up her relationship with Coulson and being the reluctant teacher, but she has always been the wise teacher amongst the group and the mother figure. Also, just putting her with Coy [Stewart], at the end there, just knowing that she is helping to foster the lives of all these potential agents just made beautiful sense to us.
WHEDON: For a long time, we had a sense that Fitz and Simmons would be out of S.H.I.E.L.D. and living the simpler life, while secretly working with Daisy on the side. Then, in terms of space, what we love when we went to space, especially as our budget constraints became a real concern, it made [the show] feel vast, at a time when that was hard to do. So we wanted someone to be out exploring that, and it felt right to put Daisy in there, having the Zephyr in her command.
TANCHAROEN: And then, it’s clear that Mack and Yo-Yo are still together in a relationship and working with one another and proud of one another. It all made sense.
JEFFREY BELL: It did. One thing that we talked about was leaving Deke behind. Having him make what was truly a big sacrifice made sense.
TANCHAROEN: Plus, he’s a rock god.
WHEDON: Let’s have that comic of ’80s S.H.I.E.L.D. run by Deke, who’s also a rock star. If we were ever to come back, it would be that show.
BELL: Daisy in space would also be another great comic.
The theme of family on this show runs deep. Because of that, how important was the goodbye? It’s painful, but is it necessary?
BENNET: For Daisy, I think she was the driving that narrative the most, of not just saying goodbye. I don’t know how much we got there, on screen. I think the goodbye was in very typical S.H.I.E.L.D. of, it’s goodbye, but we’re all going to still talk. I don’t know. I think I have mixed emotions about how much we captured that. I can’t really look at it without being a little biased, in that I wanted a little bit more of a goodbye with each character on screen. We had a lot of time loop stuff to figure out… Certain things got on camera and certain things didn’t, but here we are on Zoom, doing exactly what we did, at the end of the finale. So, it’s goodbye, but it isn’t.
Is there a moment in the show that you’re most grateful for, when it comes to your character?
GREGG: That’s really tough because they are countless. There are ones that were so fun to do, or that were hard to act. For me, it’s a more holistic thing, to go from being a character who had a very specific purpose in the films to a character who got to be the a lead of a show with an ensemble and maybe 130 episodes, and to go that deep into a character and learn so much more about them, and to be a person who had a protege who far exceeded his abilities and expectations in Daisy, and to get the friendships and relationships out of it that he did, and to be able to see her end up happily with such a classy stud muffin like [Sousa], I’m so happy.
ENVER GJOKAJ: As an actor, a lot of the most beautiful moments are behind the scenes. They’re not really scenes from the show… I’ll never forget how hard we were laughing, in between takes. You guys will unfortunately never get to see how funny it was. Honestly, I walk away with so many moments like that. It’s the behind-the-scenes moments that I take with me, forever.
BENNET: It’s a rare opportunity to experience such a spectrum of emotions with people who ultimately aren’t your family. That’s why we call ourselves family now. We’ve all, personally and professionally, and on-screen and off-screen, lived so much life. The wide range of conversations that Clark and I have had, as friends for the past seven years, and him being a mentor to me, you can’t really put that into words.
GREGG: That’s been a two-way street, and you know it.
BENNET: You don’t get that without time spent together, and there aren’t shows that are doing 22 episodes a season. We won’t get that again. We have our families, and then we have this S.H.I.E.L.D. family. I don’t think I’ve ever been more stressed and exhausted, to the point where I can’t even cry or function or breathe, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more filled with joy and creatively filled up and laughing my ass off, the way that I have on this show. You get all the spectrum of emotions. Right now, in this time during quarantine, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the wide range of those things that I would kill for, right now.
WEN: For me, it’s just always been the challenges and the fun that we had. Getting to work with [this cast] was always such a joy, and I love the crew. We definitely had an incredible, fun time, and that really helped get through the long hours and the painful stunts — everything about this show. It’s a very challenging show to do.
SIMMONS: Here’s the thing, when all is said and done, we’re not gonna remember storylines. What we will remember are the relationships, with [the cast] and the crew. Those are the things that are gonna be in our hearts and that we’re gonna carry forward.
CORDOVA-BUCKLEY: For me, it’s one of the first times that I really lived the Maya Angelou saying that “what we’ll remember at the end is how we made others feel, and how they made us feel.” We won’t remember fights. We won’t remember storylines. We might not even remember our character’s last name, at some point in our lives. But I will always remember what it felt like to drive onto that set, and see everyone coming in and out, and just knowing that you’re about to do what you love with people you respect and admire and learn from, who are friends and teachers and mentors, and then leaving set when you’re bruised and beaten up, after doing a fight scene with Ming… All of those feelings will forever be a part of my heart and the woman that I am. For me, it’s those memories, for sure.
What went into the decision to bring Sousa onto the show, keep him on the show, and involve him in a relationship with Daisy?
WHEDON: Over the years, we’d talked about trying to find a way–
TANCHAROEN: We were like, “How do we get to work with Enver again?”
WHEDON: [Daisy] has had some trouble with her relationships. We instantly fell in love with the concept, during the season, of bringing him in and letting him play with us for a little bit. One of the good things about TV is that you can make decisions as you move. We were hopeful that they would have chemistry, and we felt like we could write Sousa and Daisy to a place that we felt like would be organic to them. Seeing them on screen and seeing that play, we were pretty confident that it would work. And Enver is great and can do anything. So, it was one of those things that we had hopes for, but only when he came on, did we cement that idea and run with it.
BELL: Our plan was always for him to come on for more than one, but to make it feel like one, so that we could surprise people with that. But the chemistry was even more than we had hoped.
WHEDON: They don’t, on paper, seem compatible. She’s always calling him a dork and laughing at him, but he’s so solid and so confident in liking strong women, so it just felt great. We were happy with that.
TANCHAROEN: They’re a very unlikely match, but we knew that it would work. And also, in the time travel of the season, it made sense to us to have Sousa, who is a man out of time, coming along for the ride. We knew we’d get a lot of fish-out-of-water funny and a lot of generational funny. Not only was there chemistry between Daisy and Sousa, but with Sousa and Mack. Those were some of my favorite scenes.
Enver, what was it like for you to step into Sousa’s shoes again coming off of Agent Carter, and what did you learn about this cast, joining their final season?
GJOKAJ: It was a tremendous privilege. The crew had been working together for so long. The cast had been working together for so long. I just had the privilege of walking onto such a well-run ship. Also, being in the position where they wanted to let me explore a part of this character that never got to be really explored in Agent Carter, and really play that out, I’m just forever going to be tremendously grateful. It was an interesting perspective to be the outsider and watching because I haven’t spent these seven seasons with them. But through watching and witnessing, it felt like being at some other family’s Christmas dinner or Thanksgiving dinner, or at a wedding, where I got to witness this thing that was tremendously deep for everybody involved and tremendously bittersweet. It felt like it was a privilege to get to hang out and see all of that. I got to have it too, in a weird way, but I didn’t have to do all seven seasons for it.
BENNET: He truly was the Sousa to my Daisy, in terms of how calm he was on set. Emotions were running real fucking high. We were working crazy hours to fit it all in while trying to process all of our emotions. We ran fast and hard, until the very end. We were shooting fights until the wee hours of the night, finishing the last fight on the last day. I was very thankful for how calm he was ‘cause it’s hard to focus. Also, the last day of the last shoot was the Quake on Quake fight. There was a wrap party that started at 7pm on set, and I was still shooting until 10. I was in the middle of trying to finish the Quake fight and every person who’s ever been on our show was at video village, like, “Hey!” Every guest star and every recurring role was all there and I was like, “Oh, my god, I have to get through this fight, and then have 18 drinks.” It was pretty overwhelming. Thank god, Enver was there.
GJOKAJ: It was also very symbolic. They were tearing down the stages, as we’re working. We were on the lot and you could hear the construction getting closer and closer, over the course of the season. It really felt like, on any day, they were going to start tearing down our sets.
BENNET: Yeah, we had to be out at a specific time. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. We had to get it done because the stage was getting torn down [the next day]. Everyone from every episode that’s ever been on was there, drinking on the stage next door. It was crazy. I still have not processed that night of wrapping yet. I think I got there at 5 am that morning, and left at 4:25 in the morning, the next day.
After seven seasons of FitzSimmons torture, you finally get a happily ever after — without Deke, but reunited with your child. How did that feel?
DE CAESTECKER: It’s a pretty fitting end for those characters. There’s a connection with two of our showrunners and co-creators, Mo and Jed. They have a young daughter, and she, in herself, was a miracle, which is a similar thing within the show. And so, it’s a very fitting thing. Also, for the evolution of those characters, that’s the next thing. It’s a fitting end, but also the beginning of another life.
HENSTRIDGE: It was a lovely ending for them, and it helped to explain why Fitz was away. It had to be something bigger than them, and for them, that would be their daughter. It was just so lovely to get to play characters that, at the start, were doing everything they could not to think of each other romantically, to ending at Season 7, with them having this daughter that they’ve both laid their lives on the line for. As an actor, that’s just amazing.
How do you view the FitzSimmons journey, from being the comic relief scientists to becoming the key to everything?
HENSTRIDGE: It was crazy. As an actor, I was just so happy to have Iain back. I was just hoping that he would show up at some point. But it’s been such a joy to play these characters, and to be in a double act. We were the comic relief, at the start. There was so much pressure on the show, when we first started filming, so to be able to be in a duo and go through that experience with somebody else was so wonderful, on so many levels. As we got to know each other, FitzSimmons started to see each other in a different light. It’s such a wonderful journey to have been on with someone, and I don’t know that either of us will be in this position again, where we get to experience that, being so brand new to TV in America and then to end it with being married and having a little baby.
DE CAESTECKER: Yeah, I agree. I couldn’t imagine that experience without Elizabeth.
Thank you so much for finally giving FitzSimmons a happy ending, but why did you make the decision to keep Fitz away the whole season?
WHEDON: Some choices are made by us, and some are made by other people. [De Caestecker had scheduling conflicts which kept him from appearing in most of the season.] We did what we could and we tried to make it rewarding. Sometimes it’s 3D chess. One of the things that we thought worked is that it brought Simmons and Deke closer together. The only way we could think to make the reward of him missing so long pay off was a super happy ending. Also, for him, it was [no time at all]. He actually hadn’t missed anything for him. That’s how we answered that in our minds, and on the show.
TANCHAROEN: And to be clear, Iain is an exceptionally talented actor and one of our dearest friends. It was just time for him to go explore new things.
Jeff, if you could create your own spin-off for Deke, what would we see him doing?
WARD: Thank you! I’m glad that you asked. I have a Bible for a pitch for my first season. I’ll give you the elevator pitch. It’s a bit like a combination of Labyrinth, a James Bond movie, and Turner & Hooch.
DE CAESTECKER: I’d pay to see that.
WARD: And Iain plays Hooch. One thing that I’m very grateful for, because I grew quite fond of Deke, was the writers kind of giving him this fun, alternate, infinite timeline, where he gets to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. by himself. I thought it was really cool because having gone through this episode with Mack, where there were a lot of obviously pretty goofy antics, Deke really learned something from Mack about what it meant to actually be a leader. I think he really picked up on that, and that’s indicated by the decision to stay behind. Also, for such a selfish character to have come around to doing that for these people, when the only thing he ever wanted was a family, saying goodbye to that family is the most selfless and good thing he could have done. It was pretty cool, I feel like, to get to leave him with that, and for him to be strong enough to do it by himself. To say goodbye and sacrifice himself for those people, it was really cool.
HENSTRIDGE: Also, [there was that moment] when you said to Daisy, “I just want you to be happy.”
WARD: That was a really cool thing, too, because it feels like there are so many of us that don’t get the girl. You can have this huge journey with a person and really be in love with them, but most of the time, it does not happen that way. So, I thought it was a really cool indication of the heroic moment for the guy who doesn’t get the girl. I thought that was a really cool thing to illustrate.
DE CAESTECKER: It’s emblematic of the bigger intent that character had. In that timeline, he’s the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
WARD: I felt very honored, in that way, because it’s such an incredible show with so much mythology and legacy. I felt very lucky that they gave that to Deke. I liked that the original core got to end it together. I appreciated that very much.
As we celebrate the finale, is there anything that you wish you’d done differently?
WHEDON: I wish we’d had a million more dollars in VFX, every episode.
BELL: I wish we didn’t live in so many corridors because we had no money.
TANCHAROEN: Everyone was like, “Why are they back in these gray halls?”
BELL: The great thing about being in space is that you don’t have to go location because we can’t afford to go on location.
TANCHAROEN: But as far as where we leave the characters, I feel that what we had intended is definitely what we pursued. In the whole experience of the show, seven seasons is a long time to be working on a show, to be invested in these characters, and to be living in this story. In the production aspect of things, our relationships with each other, the writers, the actors, and everybody involved in the show, the emotional context of saying goodbye to this experience is definitely something that’s reflected in where we leave our characters, at the end of the show. It’s very personal to us. There’s a sense of hope for what’s to come, for each of them, especially when we see them with the time jump, a year ahead, and they’re already established in their new lives, but then they’re still longing for what was. I think that will always be there. That bond between them will always be there. So, hopefully, that hits home at the end.
Is there anything that you didn’t get to do on the show that you wanted to?
WEN: I didn’t get to hang out with Thor. I mean, as the character.
CORDOVA-BUCKLEY: None of us did. This would be taking Yo-Yo’s story too far, but I always wanted her father to be mentioned. He’s such a great character in the comic books, and I was always so interested. He’s not just a person with superpowers, he into a monster. He turns into a full gargoyle-looking, flying lion. How weird would that be, to have your father have that. Daisy goes through it with her father. He’s a psychopath, but he doesn’t turn into a monster. May has gone through it with a lover that turns into something. So, I was always really interested with that storyline, how Yo-Yo felt about her father.
WEN: That will be in the Yo-Yo spin-off.
SIMMONS: Initially, when they paired Mack and Yo-Yo together, I thought they were going to make my character Stonewall, who was part of the Secret Avengers. I was like, “Well, that’d be interesting, to have a superpower.” But looking back, I’m glad they didn’t give me a superpower. I like the fact that I’m a normal guy, fighting in unusual situations, where I don’t know if I’m going to win, and there are times when I’m going to lose. I really enjoyed that. So, having said that, there really isn’t anything that I wish was done. I found the character’s experience rewarding, the way it was.
After wrapping this long-running series with these beloved characters, how do you view the show’s legacy?
WHEDON: There’s two parts to that. The show’s legacy, or what people will think of it in time, or after it ends on Wednesday, is separate from the personal feeling we have about it, which is this life we lived. We pitched the show eight years ago to ABC. That journey is a different thing. It’s a feeling that we have about all of the people we worked with. It’s hard for us, at this point, to separate those two. I feel like, at some point, the show is its own creation and it creates its own feelings. We can’t really experience those feelings yet because we are still seeing the moving parts and still thinking about all of our relationships. That’s for me, personally.
TANCHAROEN: I do think that why our audience has stuck with us over these seven seasons is that, at the heart of the show, it’s this group of people who became a family. It’s a team that asserts that the idea of the beauty of the human spirit always prevails. The optimism and the hope of the show was something that was nice to latch onto. It’s part of the wish-fulfillment of the Marvel brand. No matter what they were up against — LMDs, Hydra, Chronicoms, the Framework — they prevail and they stand with dignity with one another and they lift each other up. It’s all about the relationships, for me. When we set out to pitch the show, all three of us made it very clear that we wanted it to reflect the world we live in and what the world continually aspires to be, and that’s one that is full of diversity and celebrates diversity, and where men and women are equal partners in the fight. We’ve been very fortunate to find partners, in ABC, Marvel, Jeph Loeb and Joss [Whedon], who feel as strongly about diversity and representation as we do. That’s been evident in the entire show, in front of the camera, behind the camera, in the stories that we tell, and how we deal with issues and metaphor. For me, it’s a combo platter of the heart of the show and the family, as well as how the family was represented.
BELL: I can’t really add that much. The beauty, for us, was that we made 136 episodes and spent all those years together, and I don’t think that’ll happen again. I’ve been on some other really good shows for a few years, but to go this long and spending this much time with people has been fantastic. We set out to make a show about heroes who mess up, who screw up, who fail, but that get up and go to work every day and try to make the world better. In a world where so many shows have anti-heroes and are really dark, even when our show got dark, it was our people trying to bring light to it. I’m proud of that aspect of the show.
How important would you say the show’s diversity has been to its ongoing success?
BELL: We are huge internationally. This show is huge in Asia, it’s huge in Latin America, it’s huge in Europe, and I think a big appeal of that is that we have Asian characters, we have Brown people, we have Black people, we have people from all over the world represented here. It’s a weird pride thing, but we’re the ninth most pirated show in the world. That’s a good news/bad news thing, but the fact that people love it enough to do that tells me that we’re a bigger hit outside the country. We have fans here, but when Chloe goes to China, he’s mobbed. Clark went to Italy and everyone was going, “Captain Phil!,” and following him around. Hearing we have that kind of global appeal really speaks to diversity, not just here in our little bubble, but across the world. That’s very cool.
TANCHAROEN: I know I didn’t have a show, growing up, that looked like this. And I knew that, going into making the show, I was going to try to seize opportunities that weren’t available to me. As a woman of color, who’s been navigating this business since I was a child, I’m very aware of all the challenges and obstacles because I’ve experienced them. And so, I feel very fortunate that I’ve had these partners, in making the show, that feel that it’s so important to have people represented and to have women represented, and not just women of color, but women who are capable and smart and strong and complex, and who support one another. That was defined, the moment we started the show. I feel like it was recognized, as we moved further along in our seasons, but at the time, we were one of the most diverse shows.
WHEDON: A lot of that comes from all of the people writing it. It was about what these characters were going through and just about writing these people as strong people who care about each other.
TANCHAROEN: I might’ve had my not-so-secret Asian agenda. I maybe did. But it was clearly supported, the entire time.
BELL: The other thing that helps us is that our show deals in metaphor, so we can talk about people being different in a way that isn’t literal. Daisy is different, and she had these weird powers and had to come to terms that there are other people like her. One of the reasons I love genre stuff is that you can deal with that kind of stuff in not a preachy or literal way, but just have you absorb it. I’ve always loved our ability to do that.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.