Jan 8, 2019, 11:00 AM EST (Updated)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns from its winter break tonight kicking off a new story arc with the episode "Broken Promises." Shifting focus toward the Life Model Decoys (LMD) storyline, the team is going to have Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) back in the fold to take their attention away from AIDA the android (Mallory Jansen), who is using her Darkhold knowledge to create an artificial brain on the down-low. And the pesky fact that she's replaced Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) with an LMD. Not exactly the nicest thing to do to Coulson (Clark Gregg), who seems to finally be acting on a long-simmering rapport with May.
In an exclusive interview with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producers Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Loeb, the duo talk about the marathon of charting a 22-episode season, finding the right balance for new characters like Ghost Rider and the expansion of surprising storylines like a possible Coulson/May romance.
As writers always looking for inspiring story angles to pursue, what characters inspired some excitement this season?
Jeph Loeb: I think the thing that is so exciting about the show it that our characters do change. There are the obvious ones like Ward (Brett Dalton) from Boy Scout to ew! But then there are subtle ones, like watching Clark Gregg's performance go from happy-go-lucky guy to someone who is a paternal figure for all of these characters, and who is pained by that, and we get to see that each week which is incredibly awesome.
Jeffrey Bell: To your point, we always look at the season as what are the cookies we can give to each actor and who is going to get something interesting and fun. We feel like the Coulson/May thing has been lying dormant so it feels like it's time to activate those parts and let them play different kinds of scenes with each other, which has been really satisfying. I think the Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah)/Fitz (Iain De Castecker) story has been really fun for us. And Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) and Mack (Henry Simmons) are two horrible-looking people, so finding that [romance]. (Laughs) And then bringing Gabe (Luna) in [as Ghost Rider] surprised us all with the soulfulness he brought to it.
JL: He landed, to pick a word, and a lot of that speaks to Gabe's performance. He can do the funny, he can do the handsome and he can do the brood. Would we like to do more? It always comes down to story ...
JB: And money. One of the things that was complicated about bringing him into the show to be part of it was that he wasn't the antagonist. He presents as that, but he's not going to be your Big Bad because we know he's a good guy, so you can't build that story. We had to show you in his world first and set that up before he came into our world. We love him, so seasons are long ... characters return.
With the character shifting to LMDs, does he even have a place in the storytelling?
JB: He definitely has a role to play in our storytelling but the problem with telling just Ghost Rider stories is that he's a neighborhood on a global show. The Darkhold allowed us to go bigger, the LMDs allowed us to go bigger because S.H.I.E.L.D. is an international organization, which are practical things. But as an energizer of the show, Gabe was awesome.
The Inhumans storyline is a very contemporary storyline, regardless of the superpowers. The concept of the 'Other,' and exclusion, is very present in real life, so will you lean more into that storytelling this season?
JL: The best Marvel shows are the ones where we're able to take what's going on in the real world and put it through the Marvel prism. The differences between us has never been a hotter topic. In the 24-hour news cycle, there's a story about it every five seconds. For us to be able to comment on man's inhumanity to man, or a woman, or a thing, is a really good jumping-off point.
JB: It's also interesting when two characters are finally moving towards one another, when suddenly one of them is no longer that person, what the hell can happen?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns January 10 at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.