Exclusive: Jed Whedon talks the 'What if' world on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Feb 22, 2017

The LMD story ended with a literal bang in the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and we caught up with producer Jed Whedon to talk about the fallout.

Whedon wrote and directed the latest episode, "Self Control," and opened up about everything from telling a big, crazy android story to setting up their own version of a live-action "What if" comic with the upcoming Framework storyline. Oh, not to mention the surprise return of dearly departed Hydra sleeper agent Grant Ward within the virtual world.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on hiatus until April 4, so until then, here's everything Whedon told us about the show's reality-bending return.

Looking back on "Self Control," what kind of pressure is there in wrapping up a big story like this when serving as both writer and director?

Jed Whedon: We've told a lot of robot stories, a lot of android stories, and the question was what haven't we done yet? Then, let's throw it all in here. We hadn't done someone staring at themselves, we hadn't done an LMD gaslighting a human, so we sort of threw it all in the mix and saw what would happen. And, you know, things got messy. But, in terms of pressure, that's the fun stuff. You get to put all your characters in a box and rattle them up, and that's when the good stuff shakes out. It was fun.

LMDs are such an iconic part of Marvel canon. Can you talk about what you hope you've accomplished by tackling that story arc?

With any of these things, a lot of stories have been told that have androids, and a lot of shows on TV, so all we can do is try to tackle them in a way true to our show and find something new and something human to wrench out of it. Hopefully with the LMD stuff, we've been able to make you feel for them and the characters dealing with them. LMDs are great for plot twists, but they're also fun for exploring the nature of humanity. So hopefully we've been able to dig some of that good stuff out of there and make it work on an emotional level.

You've set the stage for the next arc with Daisy and Simmons going into the Framework to rescue the team, who are all living their 'dream' lives in the system. From a storytelling perspective, what do you hope to explore with that set-up?

Well, first of all it's sort of a "What if" world, obviously, and the rules have been tossed out the window. That's always good for stories, especially when you're 81 stories deep. Really, what we've been exploring this year and sort of our overarching theme for the year is these questions of identity and how our characters define themselves. Are they defined by their regrets, their experiences they've had? We came into the season with Daisy clearly rattled by a big regret for her, with the loss of Lincoln, and feeling she has to try to serve a sort of penance for that.

Through the season we've been dealing with LMDs and questions of what makes you you. Are you a true you, or just a collection of your experiences and regrets? Going into the Framework, we're going to explore those questions with our characters. Is there an inherent person there, or are they made up of their experiences, and how does that work when those experiences have been completely changed?

'something is going to go bad, or at least go sideways' -Whedon

Thanks to the Framework, you've found a clever way to get Brett Dalton's Grant Ward back in the cast. What can you tell us about how he'll fit into things in the Framework?

He's been a great cause of drama through three seasons, and I can't imagine he'll come in and just fit right in and things will sail smoothly. Grant Ward is, as [producer] Jeph Loeb refers to him, he's our greatest "act-out." The greatest end of an episode. Every time he comes into the mix, you know something is going to go bad, or at least go sideways. I think we can expect with him in the Framework, he's going to change the game a little bit.

Can you talk a little bit about the decision to have it be Daisy and Simmons as the only two left standing to try to solve this crisis? What was the reasoning behind that character pairing?

Mostly it was about who we wanted to be in the Framework and who we wanted to put through those experiences. We knew we wanted either Fitz or Simmons to be in there so they'd be trying to get the other out. In Daisy, you can see in Episode 15, with Simmons she's stopped questioning herself. In that moment with Simmons, she steps up and says "I can do this," and is really believing in herself and putting those regrets behind her. She felt like an obvious fit for someone to be her against the world. All those things combined sort of led us to this.

From Hydra to Simmons' grave, the Framework looks to be a substantially different world. What can you tell us about what Daisy and Simmons will find in there?

You know, because Marvel has a sniper watching me though the window, I can't say much [laughs]. But one thing I can say is with a world like that, we've been living and breathing this show for four years now. And some of our fans have as well. We have a very clever, very devoted fan base that I think will be rewarded by this story pod in fun ways. We can throw different things in the mix and I think it'll be satisfying for all viewers, but for our longtime viewers it will be especially rewarding.

Can you talk about the big bads this season and how things are shaking out with the Russian and Aida?

The Russian has been behind a lot of things, and we've seen he and Aida are now in some sort of strange détente and now he's been changed by her. So, how that escalates we'll have to wait and see. But he's still a big baddie who's in the mix.”