As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nears Its End, Series Vets Agree: Breaking Away From MCU Continuity Was Marvelous

Agents of SHIELD MCU Connections

To quote Kora: “You must realize it by now,” Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers. Given all of the time travel (and the making of “waves” vs. “ripples”) during this final season, the timeline in which Coulson & Co. shared even the slightest continuity with the big-screen MCU “is long gone.” But that split, says at least two OG cast members, is a good thing.

At a press event in support of the two-hour series finale airing this Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 9/8c on ABC, Natalia Cordova-Buckley — who joined the cast midway through Season 3, as Agent Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez — was saying how she “would have loved for the movies and our world to connect” more than they did, when original cast member Ming-Na Wen jumped in with a counterpoint.

“Oh, no, I was there for that [first] season and no, uh-uh, no. Because It really, completely tied the writers’ hands,” Agent Melinda May’s portrayer recalled. “They had to write and try and coordinate with the release of the film [Captain America: The Winter Soldier]… and it just hampered us. It hampered the writers, it hampered everyone to have the freedom to be our own entity.”

Released to theaters on April 4, 2014, Winter Soldier revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been overrun with HYDRA sleeper agents, leading to the organization being compromised. Four days later, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode “Turn, Turn, Turn” directly picked up that storyline — marking one of the ABC series’ first major tie-ins with the MCU, not long after Jaimie Alexander reprised her role as the Thor films’ Lady Sif.

That film-to-TV crossover is commonly hailed as the moment that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. truly kicked into high gear, after 16 episodes of “treading water,” as Clark Gregg put it.

Agent Coulson Iron Man

Agent Coulson’s MCU debut, in 2008’s ‘Iron Man’

“There was a lot of treading water in Season 1, waiting to reveal what we were doing and how it was crossing over,” Gregg observed at the Aug. 6 press event. “I do think the way it crossed over with Winter Soldier, and the use of the amazing Bill Paxton [as HYDRA mole John Garrett], really paid off, and the end of Season 1 holds up really well.”

An “It’s All Connected” hand-off such as Winter Soldier/”Turn, Turn, Turn” “serves to publicize the features and certainly help to publicize the show,” Gregg acknowledges, “but I liked when the focus [became], ‘What’s the best way to tell stories with these characters, using whatever pieces of the Marvel Universe aren’t already spoken for?’ That really freed up our writers to take chances — and take chances they did, every season.”

Wen shared a similar POV, that as fun as it may have been when the TV series tied into the blockbuster Marvel movies — which, all told, wasn’t very often at all, and most notably saw the TV series wholly ignore the Thanos “snap” that drove the narrative of the final two Avengers movies — Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was best when doing its own thing.

“I think it was a glorious idea to have this all be ‘connected,’ but in the end it was so great because it allowed our writers to just take off and use their imagination and create things that they were allowed to have with different characters and different storylines,” said Melinda May’s portrayer. “But that first season was a bit bumpy, definitely. It definitely had its issues…. There were all kinds of weird things we couldn’t do or say.” But once the notion of movie-to-TV continuity was prudently back-pocketed, “We found our own identity.”

WATCH THE S.H.I.E.L.D. CAST’S FIRST COMIC-CON Q&A