‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Showrunners Explain the Toughest (and Easiest) Choices Made for the Series Finale

     August 12, 2020

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[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.”]

Seven seasons is a long run for any TV series, but during the age of Peak TV, it’s something to be truly proud of. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started out as a seemingly straightforward show about human S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in a world where superheroes exist, until it threw in space, time travel, Chronicoms, Life Model Decoys and any number of other unexplainable things, and forced the team to step up and save each other and the world, multiple times over.

After watching the two-hour series finale, Collider got the opportunity to chat with executive producers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell about their main goal with the ending of the series, the feeling they wanted to leave viewers with, whether they think this team is still connecting with each other, once a year, how much more they could evolve in the future, how much material they deleted from the finale, why the show’s diversity was so important, why 13 episodes was plenty, and the fun of the time travel they got to explore.

Collider: What went into calibrating the amount of happiness that you wanted to put into the ending? Did you consider any darker paths, or did you know that you always wanted to leave fans on a more hopeful note?

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Image via ABC

JED WHEDON: The main goal was to have it be different than what we had already done, in the end of Season 5, which had both of those things that you just mentioned. We were trying, a little bit, to capture the feeling that we were all having, in production and in the writers’ room, about the last season. It was that sense of, “We’ve spent all of this time together, and then we’re just going to, one day, say bye. And everything that we built will be torn down, within the span of 12 hours.”

MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: The people that we’ve been spending 12-to-14 hours a day with, for seven years — that will now be different and we will have to move on. And so, I do think a lot of the emotional context of this entire season, the nostalgia that’s inherent with time travel, and that very last scene, where they’re sitting in a room, but it’s virtual and they can’t touch one another, is just all very much built out of where we are, in our lives, as people who were saying goodbye to the show.

JEFFREY BELL: A lot of the joy and gratitude came out of how we were all feeling. There was a lot of joy and gratitude for what we’d experienced, but we could all feel the clock ticking down to the fact that it was ending, so that has its own gravitas. We didn’t need to lean into it and kill characters to make that even worse. Just the fact that people are going their own direction and splitting up seemed to have enough of that for us.

In the future, do you think that this group is really still, once a year, connecting with each other? Do you think they hold to that?

TANCHAROEN: That’s their hope and that’s their intention, but that is part of life and moving on to other things. Of course, you want to and you intend to, but then life and it’s new everything gets in the way. You have a kid.

BELL: Says the people who had a kid.

WHEDON: I think it’s safe to say that everyone in that room intends to keep that promise.

If we could see these characters, even further into the future, more than just one year later, who do you think would be the most different from where we see them at the end of the finale? And who do you think would be exactly the same?

WHEDON: I think [FitzSimmons’ daughter] would probably be the most different ‘cause she’s going to grow up.

BELL: That’s actually a great question.

TANCHAROEN: Yeah, I love that question.

WHEDON: I think that May is definitely in a new place. I don’t think she’ll ever change that much, but she’s definitely doing something she never would have done.

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Image via ABC

TANCHAROEN: I would love to see her years later, well into her professor life, and seeing how that changes her. We also thought that was the perfect end, for her to go on and be the teacher that she basically has always been.

BELL: My thought is Daisy. If you look, just over the seven years, her name was Skye, she had really pretty hair, and she lived in a van. Just in the seven years, she’s gone from that outsider to someone who’s part of a team to a leader of a team, and now she’s out in space. She’s still a very young person, and I could see her growing and developing into even more of a leader, and changing and really finding herself. So, that’s my thought. And also, she’s got a guy that she didn’t have before and a sister that she didn’t have before, so I think those will be huge influences, as well.

Are there any deleted scenes from the finale that you hope will see the light of day?

WHEDON: There’s 20 minutes that no one will ever see. Most of those were just unforgettable, humorous lines. No. There’s some stuff, but it won’t see the light of day.

BELL: Did we lose any whole scenes?

WHEDON: We lost some scenes. There was a lot of fight stuff that we lost. We really tried to preserve the end, and that end had to breathe, and have time to sit and be quiet and awkward. Everything leading up to that goes [very quickly]. There were some details, in the tying up of the time loose ends.

BELL: There were more connective pieces, at one time, that had to go for the amount of space that we had.

WHEDON: There was the origin, in Episode 712, of the whole putting together of the machine. But we think what you will remember, hopefully, is the feeling you’re left with in that last scene. That was the thing that we tried most to preserve, and that’s intact.

TANCHAROEN: That’s why 20 minutes went away.

It’s nice that we get to see these glimpses into FitzSimmons, and Daisy and Sousa, and Mack and Yo-Yo. Because it’s bittersweet that the team can’t be together, was it important to you to show that these couples stayed intact?

WHEDON: We didn’t want to break them up.

TANCHAROEN: In the case of Fitz and Simmons, they deserve that happy ending that you finally see because we tortured them long enough.

WHEDON: And that kid will never know. That kid will be like, “Why don’t I have more stuff?” And they’ll be like, “You don’t know what we went through!” The one couple that isn’t really together, at the end, is May and Coulson, and that was another thing to find. We talked about this ending of, at some point and some level, you feel like they’re meant to be together and they’ll always have this special bond.

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Image via ABC

TANCHAROEN: There’s so much depth to the love that they have for each other that it doesn’t necessarily need to carry on in a romantic way. It’s something that they will hold, to themselves and in their hearts, forever. It’s very clear, when Coulson’s speaking in that last scene — the way May looks at him, she’s resolved in what their relationship is now, who he is now. That’s really who she will always love. And then, also, her going on to teach at Coulson Academy, she’s carrying on his legacy.

BELL: One of the things that surprised me a little bit was that the show was this big action, space, emotional thing, but it was never about relationships or, “Oh, I hope I meet a guy and fall in love.” All of our characters were interesting and whole on their own. And yet, in addition to that, they found the people they were supposed to be with. Mack and Yo-Yo found each other. Although they were complete on their own, it was really lovely, the way they were able to come together. And it was the same with Daisy and Sousa. She was really the one who had several relationships, over the years, and people would either die or get arrested, or something terrible would happen. So, we were happy to give her that. We also gave her a sister, which I think was equally important. And then, FitzSimmons are the forever love, so that had to happen.

You guys have talked about how an ‘80s S.H.I.E.L.D. run by a rock star Deke, as well as Daisy in space, would make great comics. Is that something that’s in the works? Are those stories that you hope to see continuing?

WHEDON: We would love it. We are not, ourselves, doing it, but we would love for that to continue in the comics. I think anybody who’s in charge of such things would be foolish not to make those into wonderful comics.

Maurissa, you’ve talked about having a not-so-secret Asian agenda with this show. What was that agenda, for you? What did you want to bring to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and what are you most proud of, with what you were able to do?

TANCHAROEN: I wanted to see strong, powerful Asian women on screen, which is something that I did not experience growing up, and therefore, had a lot of challenges with my identity, well up into my adult life, and even in becoming a mother. I feel like it’s an important thing for people to be represented, and to be able to see yourself in someone else, in these stories that are influencing our lives. For me, it was very important to have Asian women on the show, and Asian people on the show, because I just didn’t have it. Also, diversity and representation is something that has been part of our mission statement, in everything that we do.

With only having 13 episodes this season for the final season, did it ever feel like you couldn’t squeeze in everything you wanted to?

WHEDON: I felt like that was plenty.

BELL: I think what helped us was by telling us how big the container was, we could then fill that container. They said, “It’s 13,” so we figured out stories that would fit that. It’s tricky when they cut orders or they expand orders. But because we knew that [in advance], I felt like it was a proper length for us.

WHEDON: And we had been dividing our 22-episode seasons into smaller bites, for our own brains. In Season 4, we had three pods. In Season 5, we had two. It was like that, and we had already been doing that. We just created a single pod season.

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Image via ABC

What was your favorite aspect of getting to travel through time and getting to see the cast in these different eras — and also catching up with past guest stars and bringing in someone like Bill Paxton’s son? What was the fun of doing all of that in this last season?

WHEDON: It was all very fun. We got the pick-up halfway into shooting Season 6, so we ramped right into writing and then shooting Season 7.

BELL: It was really 26 episodes, back to back. The writers didn’t stop. That’s why 13 was plenty for a season.

WHEDON: And partially that was because we were backing into the fact that they were going to tear down the stages that we were on.

TANCHAROEN: We had a ticking clock.

WHEDON: You could feel it, as soon as we started talking about the backlot and the cars, every department got to do something new and every actor got to wear something new. It just felt like it really refreshed everybody, and that continued through all the different time periods. That gave us a real big boost.

TANCHAROEN: Everyone stepped up to the challenge.

BELL: And then, putting Patton Oswalt in the ’30s was just so much fun. And then, getting to go to the ’70s, and taking stuff that happened later and moving it there, and seeing the General there and having Patrick Warburton walk around our set, was really fun. And then, bringing in Bill Paxton’s son, James, to play him was fun. Honestly, there really wasn’t anything that wasn’t fun. Deke as a rock star was fun. Whether people were working that day or not, they showed up to watch that scene be shot.

TANCHAROEN: That entire episode, I can’t believe we pulled it off.

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.

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