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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bosses open up about that tragic season finale

Contributed by
May 18, 2018

**SPOILER WARNING: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.I.L.D. season finale discussed liberally below!**

How’s everyone doing? We all right??

After that emotional sledgehammer of a season finale of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s understandable if some fans need a hug, counseling, or emotional support of the liquid kind. Because for all that our beloved agents have gone through and had to endure these past five seasons, the one thing the core team has always managed to dodge has been death. But don't say we didn't warn you. We put it right there in the headline of our season finale preview.

This entire season, with its dark vision of Earth's future, has had the team confronting their mortality time and again. Attempting to change the timeline and avoid a future where humanity is all but extinct put immense pressure on them, a theme that built up to Friday’s planet-cracking season finale. As tough as it was on you, the viewer, it weighed just as heavily on the people who work on the show. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a famously close-knit operation, from the actors to the producers, writers, and the entire production crew. They've shared many memorable moments on and off-camera. Which is why shooting the finale made for some intense days on the set.

Agents of Shield cast

Credit: ABC/Marvel TV

“Oh yes, we had a few very hard days on set, very emotional,” said co-creator and executive producer Maurissa Tancharoen.

SYFY WIRE had the chance to talk with the creative trio behind the metaphorical wheel of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Zephyr: Tancharoen, fellow co-creator/executive producer Jed Whedon, and executive producer Jeff Bell. And we had LOTS to discuss, including the shocking death of one main character, which no doubt had fans emotionally wrecked, and the apparent goodbye to another beloved agent.

Keep reading to see their thoughts on the stunning fallout from the team’s battle with an unhinged Talbot, and whether the door has been left open for at least one of our fallen agents to return.

(Note: This conversation took place before the series was renewed for a sixth season.)

Let's start with the death of Fitz. Since the team returned from the future, he and Jemma thought they were untouchable. How did the conversation go with Iain De Caestecker about this turning point?

Maurissa Tancharoen: “Oh ... so sad.”

Jed Whedon: Iain is always down for whatever. He and Elizabeth Henstridge (who plays "Jemma") are always the two who, if you say, "Look, this next one, I'm sorry. It’s your last episode." They would just be like, "Oh, that sounds interesting! How do we play it?" They’re down for whatever we throw at them. We weren’t really nervous at his reaction. We know that he would a) be excited to play it, and b) understand the implications of the loophole.

MT: And we knew he would execute it perfectly.

Jeff Bell: Honestly, reading it, knowing it was coming and how it was going to happen, the choices he made [in that scene] still astounded me.

JW: It was a difficult day on set.

MT: That was a very hard day. We had a few very rough days on set that were very emotional. Also, we went into this finale still unsure if we would get a chance to do more story or not. So there are quite a few scenes that are very loaded emotionally. It definitely affected everyone.

JB: Ian’s last scene was …

MT: His last day filming.

JB: It was his death scene. We were all feeling the weight of that.

JW: You could tell with Ming and Henry, who were in that final scene with Iain, that it wasn’t just the moment they were reacting to. When we called "cut," they knew we were calling a season wrap, and that it might be his last moment on the show.

But you did seem to leave the door open for a possible Fitz return, judging by what Jemma was talking with Coulson about in the aftermath.

JW: Right. Everybody got zapped to the future, and zapped back, plus Fitz. But Fitz traveled to the future the long way. He basically slept in cryo-freeze for 80 years. So there are technically two Fitzes in this timeline, so we just killed one of them.

MT: We killed the blond one.

JW: It’s hard to follow, we know (laughs).

I blame you guys for the confusion because the tears you made us shed!

JB: That scene was written to be that way. That kind of, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there, but when you see him, tell him I say ‘Hi.’” Coulson makes a turn in the middle of it that could make someone miss that bit.

As if that wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, Coulson sacrificed himself to allow Daisy the chance to stop Talbot and save Earth. During his farewell speech at the end of the episode, Clark Gregg looked like he was barely keeping his emotions in check. What was that like, filming that moment, seeing the team’s heart and soul, the captain, saying goodbye?

JW: That was a big day, a tough day. We agree with everything you said. We think of Clark as the foundation that the show is built on. But we also knew that we wanted Coulson’s deal with Ghost Rider to have a price, and we wanted the show to ... he’s approaching a point where’s he is pushing Daisy into a leadership role. His relationship with May has grown into something new. We felt it was a way of honoring the foundation of our show by giving it real stakes and hoping that he can pass the lessons, that he’s so good at teaching, to his teammates, in a more permanent way.

JB: This entire season we’ve been looking back at where we’ve come from. If you think about it, Coulson in the Avengers movie really brought the team together and allowed them to save the world. And then there was Tahiti.

So for us to take him back to Tahiti and for him again to make the sacrifice, in the sense that he didn’t take the injection that could save his life, and instead gave it to Daisy, he again was the character who, in a sense, saved the world. And we thought there was a nice circular return there for Coulson.

Ming Na Clark Gregg Shield

Ming-Na Wen and Clark Gregg share a laugh on the set of "Agents of SHIELD"

​​​​​​Again, one can guess you left yourself just enough room to bring Coulson back, if you wanted to and Clark wanted to return. Because he was still alive in that last scene.

JW: In terms of moving forward, we’ll have to figure out how to address that. In thrilling fashion, of course. But going into this season, not knowing if we would get another year, we felt like it was the right way to wrap up the show and Coulson’s storyline.

Jed, this is the second episode of the series you’ve directed. Did you feel any additional pressure stepping into that chair for maybe the most crucial episode in the history of the show?

JW: I got lucky. Everyone in the writers' room comes up with the stories all year and then it gets all shaved down into the finale, and it gives us a lot of great moments to write.

Also, it’s always fun for us to be in the trenches with the cast and crew. We’ve worked with these people for a long time. We have a great shorthand, and there were some really emotional scenes to dive in on. It was a true group effort. We have such a great crew. So it was really about just being in the right places and not swerving out of your lane, knowing that the actors and the crew would bring their best. And they did.

My job as the director was to, in the words of Steven Bochco, “Not to f*** it up.”

What did you think of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season finale? Hit the comments and let us know what was your favorite moment!


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