The Marvel Cinematic Universe's TV series just finished its most shocking episode ever. SPOILERS AHEAD!
After weeks of wondering just who the Clairvoyant was and how he or she was manipulating the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. heroes, we finally got our answer Tuesday night in an episode that also tied into the S.H.I.E.L.D.-centric chaos of the just-released Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent versus S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, and it all came down to none other than Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton) being revealed as the Clairvoyant mastermind all along, not Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), as last week's episode heavily suggested. All this was revealed after a massive battle and an infiltration of the chaotic S.H.I.E.L.D. Hub, but it wasn't the only surprise the episode had in store. Garrett wasn't just an evil mastermind. He was also an associate of HYDRA, the organization revealed to be at the heart of a S.H.I.E.L.D. conspiracy in Winter Soldier, and in one final twist, as the episode ended, it was revealed that Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) was working with Garrett, as he murdered Agent Hand.
It's a lot to take in, to say the least, but showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen were at the ready with post-mortem interviews about the episode. For starters, they revealed to CBR that the HYDRA infiltration was part of the show's plan all along. They just couldn't make that clear until after the Captain America sequel hit theaters.
"Joss said, 'Oh, any by the way, towards the end of your season, this happens. So let's try and build a season around that,'" Tancharoen said of the HYDRA reveal. "That's what we've done. So we've known about it from the outset. It puts us in a bit of a pickle, but it's something we found both challenging, and also looked at as a very unique opportunity. It's been thrilling for us to roll out the back half, now that 'Captain America' is out."
So, while some fans were frustrated that the show hadn't kicked into its highest gear just yet, it was all part of serving the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. As for the Clairvoyant, it turns out that was just a ruse to lead us eventually to the real menace, a chance to create a threat without revealing the threat's actual source until the time was right.
"Because it's a big part of the film, we couldn't really have anybody bad within the organization, we couldn't paint the organization in a negative light, and we couldn't say the H-word [HYDRA]," Whedon said. "The concept of the Clairvoyant, which I think we mentioned for the first time in episode #5, that whole thing was born out of a desire for us to have our big bad be tied to it, without us being able to talk about it. We came up with the concept of someone who appears to have powers that we can be chasing on our own, and then reveal exactly how they're manipulating things later on."
As for Ward's betrayal, that was always part of the plan too, even if how it would be executed wasn't always certain. Now that it's clear which side Ward has chosen, though, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s showrunners promise us a deeper look at what's motivating him in future episodes.
"When we first conceived of the show, there were options on how to do it. We just knew there was going to have to be a hefty price, and it just logically started to make sense that that would be the path that we would go down," Whedon said. "You'll have to see how it shakes out and what the reasoning is, but we planted it from the get-go."
So the big Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season-one strategy has finally been revealed, and the series is full of intensity as we head into the final episodes of the first season. Everything is tense, friends have become enemies, and the future is perilous. Is this the show you were waiting to see? Has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. won over more skeptics with this twist?