The final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. is gearing up for a time loop this week, and longtime star Elizabeth Henstridge stepped behind the camera to make it happen. Turns out it’s actually pretty hard to keep about 100 time loops straight.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Henstridge to talk about her long-awaited directorial debut in the Wednesday, July 22 episode “As I Have Always Been,” which finds the team trapped on the Zephyr in a time loop that keeps ending with team members dying. Henstridge opened up about putting her own spin on the tried and true time loop trope, and what fans can expect from the final batch of episodes. As for stepping behind the camera for the first time, Henstridge said she “loved every second of it” — though she had to get creative when it came to keeping all those various loops straight.
“It was a mind-bender for sure. I made a grid, color-coordinated, of just kind of every loop and what had happened for each character and each scene. It was so useful to have something I could just go to and pinpoint exactly where we were,” she explained. “We did ‘block shooting’ on this episode, so every scene in a particular set we would shoot one angle for all the scenes then shoot the other angle. We’re used to shooting out of order, but this was shooting out of order to the extreme [laughs]. It was just a lot of grids and highlighting to keep our brains from turning to mush.”
Henstridge said she enjoyed getting to work with the cast and crew from a new perspective behind the camera, and thankfully she was familiar enough with her own role she was able to successfully split her focus. She also got a chance to, ahem, kill most of her friends — a whole bunch of times — thanks to all those ill-fated time loops. Though in the midst of all that carnage, there were also plenty of laughs.
“It was traumatic a little bit. We see some deaths in this episode, and I think it kind of strains on the actors. But it’s about keeping the energy up so it can be significant and we can earn them,” she explained. “Without spoiling too much, there are some really funny group scenes that I was just dying laughing behind the camera. I always knew that we had such a talented cast, but when you see people do comedy you just realize how brilliant these actors are. The tiniest facial expression will just put you on your knees.”
Though the final season has added Agent Carter alum Enver Gjokaj as Agent Sousa, it’s been missing long-time co-star Iain De Caestecker’s Fitz for the entirety of the season — as his character has been on a mysterious off-screen mission. Henstridge promised we’ll get some fresh Fitz intel in tonight’s episode, and teased we’ll actually get to see him in person pretty soon. So worry not: Fitz will be back. She promises.
“I’ve missed Fitz greatly this season. We find out more in this episode, a bit more about what’s happening with him through Simmons,” she said. “But we do hear from Fitz, directly from Fitz, what’s been going on and what the danger is — and if there’s any way out of it. But Fitz fans will have good news coming and we will get to see him.”
Looking ahead to the show’s final five episodes, Henstridge couldn’t give away any details, but said she found the ending to be extremely “satisfying,” though that doesn’t mean everyone gets a happy ending.
“It’s been such an emotional journey and from now on in Season 7 it just doesn’t stop. The pace gets faster, stakes get higher. Not everyone is going to make it. It’s a big finale, it’s our final mission,” she said. “There is a lot of responsibility in how we end the whole show and I think the writers have done an incredible job of kind of satisfying all the storylines, and being somewhat realistic about where these characters might end. It makes for some wonderfully joyful moments, and some really sad moments.”
Getting a two-season renewal ahead of the show’s sixth season proved to be a godsend, Henstridge said, allowing the creative team a chance to map out the story from the jump to get the characters exactly where they wanted them for the final mission and final moments.
“I think it was a gift for the writers to know this was going to be the last season and really do the characters justice and the storylines justice,” she explained. “I just hope people feel happy with it and satisfied with it. I absolutely loved the ending and I hope people do, too. Because the fans have been everything for this show. They’re the reason it exists.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Wednesday nights on ABC.