When last we left our group of agents . . . Well, let’s just say a LOT was happening. Agent Ward ran off with Agent May doppelganger 33, it was revealed Bobbi and Mac have a (big) secret, Trip turned to stone and crumbled, half the team was stuck in an underground city in Puerto Rico, and, oh, Skye and Raina had both undergone startling transformations. For the comic book uninitiated, the finale revealed what fans had been suspecting: Skye is really Daisy Johnson (a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and ally of Nick Fury in the comics—as well as the daughter of super-villain Calvin Zabo, aka Mister Hyde). But, in a twist from the comics, Skye/Daisy is an Inhuman—(in over-simplified terms) a breed of humans who were genetically modified by the Kree. The blue alien who saved Coulson and Skye was Kree and Ronan from last summer’s smash hit Guardian’s of the Galaxy is also Kree. So with the introduction of Inhumans—and a whole lot more, including new characters played by Edward James Olmos and Blair Underwood—we sat down with Executive Producer Jeff Bell to get the Level 10 scoop on what fans can expect when Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to ABC March 3.
We had been talking with Marvel about this for a long time . . .
D23: The fall finale really felt like a game changer for the show. How do you see the show evolving over the spring?
A: For us it was a huge game changer—one we’ve been planning since the beginning, the idea of taking one of our characters and crossing her over into becoming a person with powers. Everything is different now, as far as we’re concerned.
D23: What made this the right time to weave in the Inhumans?
A: We had been talking with Marvel about this for a long time. It’s an area the movies had not yet gone into, that they do want to get into [Editor’s note: The film is slated for July 2019]. Because as Inhuman comics fans know, it has a fairly complicated genesis and I think we have the time and real estate to reel it slowly in bite-sized chunks. So when the movie comes out, people will have a fairly good understanding of the rules of that world. For us, there’s a character who’s not an Inhuman in the comic books named Daisy Johnson. And we thought she was a perfect fit for Skye. Her not knowing her own backstory and making that her arc over the first season and a half led nicely into that. When we looked at the mythology of Daisy Johnson, her father was Cal, as we have it. But her mother was this sort of unknown Chinese woman who gave us the opportunity to say, ‘Well, what if she had been Inhuman and Daisy got her powers through that side of the family rather than through dead old dad?’
D23: How are you working with your partners at the film division to incubate the story so when the film comes out we’ll see, as we have heard before, “it’s all connected”?
A: It’s something the Studio and Marvel have been doing for years. So we just became a part of that process, which is a lot of communication and a lot of laying things out. When we were looking ahead for season two, we had a wish list of things we thought would be cool and interesting over the course of the season. Everybody involved gets together and we start talking things out—what we can and can’t do, how we can help, things we can set up, things they need set up, things we can pay off. It’s a very fluid process and one that occasionally forces us to pivot rather quickly.
D23: In the comics, Daisy Johnson can cause earthquakes—something it looked like she could do in the teaser for the return of the show.
A: I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say we’re going to continue with the character as her powers were. Whether it’s earthquakes or being able to control and affect vibrations.
D23: Will Skye still want to be called Skye?
A: I think it’s a process that’s part of her arc. Her dad has called her that. But I think part of the genesis and the birth of a super hero and new identities is something that happens over time. I don’t see anybody calling her by a different name right away, but there may be a time when she takes on another name.
D23: It sounds like the Inhumans will—as other Marvel stories have evolved from page to screen—be a little different than they were in the comics? Will the Kree be involved?
A: We are building on the history. We have had blue people on our show before. We’ve talked about the Kree. And we’ve talked about it as a historical piece of this. I think we will find our own way forward through that, but we aren’t looking to reset anything.
D23: Some of the Inhuman rules—if they apply—such as not being able to be with members of other races, may not go over so well with someone like Skye who is a natural rebel. How will she deal?
A: I think that’s an interesting point. What I can comment about that is that if you look back at Skye’s mother and father, she was part of the group and he was not. There was conflict there. We have hinted a little at that. I think it will be interesting for us to explore. The beauty of something like the Inhumans is the metaphor at the center of it, which is, ‘What do you do with people who are different?’ As we travel into the Inhuman world, should they stay separate? Should they be accepted? Do they want to be accepted? Different people will have different points of view on that. And Skye is certainly not one to sit down and take whatever other people say.
D23: Edward James Olmos is playing Robert Gonzales—how soon will we see him?
A: He’ll be in episode 14 this season and we come back with episode 11, so pretty soon. It’s a nice little run. We’ve had him for a handful of episodes. It’s fun to bring on a character where people immediately go, ‘Oh, he’s a heavy.’ He brings a gravitas, not necessarily a seriousness, but there is a moral authority that comes with him. And bringing that character into our show and using him as a source of conflict and coming together has been exciting for everyone.
D23: And Blair Underwood is joining as Melinda May’s [Ming-Na Wen] ex. Will this help explain her somewhat detached approach to relationships?
A: I think that would be good storytelling if we did that! She’s such an enigma. She says so little, that to get any window into where she has come from, I think is really exciting. We’ve already shot an episode with Blair and watching them together is so much fun. And they went to college together at Carnegie Mellon so they’ve known each other for a very long time. It was a nice reunion for the pair of them.
D23: And we know Bobbi Morse has a secret. How will that unfold and affect the team?
A: Dare I say, in a fairly dramatic manner! The Bobbi/Mac secret is something that will be revealed fairly soon upon coming back. It will affect everyone involved. I’ll be interested to see how people react.
D23: Having Ward be HYDRA/crazy was a twist I don’t think a lot of people saw coming in the first season. Is there a chance he’s redeemable?
A: What I love is that there are people out there in both camps and they are vehement on both sides. Brett [Dalton] had brought such richness to the character. Sometimes we’ve led people down the path with, ‘Oh, it goes back to his brother. Oh, he has closure. Oh, he forgives his brother. That’s fantastic . . . Oh no, he killed his brother and his parents and set the house on fire.’ But maybe they deserved it—I don’t know? We want to continue to explore the twisted psychology of Agent Grant Ward.
D23: Coulson killed Whitehall in the fall finale. But I feel like for a guy who lived for likely over 100 years, he sure died easy.
A: Even if he got shot twice in the heart?
D23: Coulson was shot and—we thought—killed in Avengers!
A: Yes, those things do happen. In the Marvel Universe we say anything can happen. Far stranger things have happened.
D23: And I expect we haven’t seen the last of Raina?
A: No, I don’t think so! The glimpse we got of her in episode 10 was certainly interesting.
D23: Skye pretty much looked the same. And Raina looked a little like a plucked chicken.
A: We wanted you to not quite be able to tell. All will be revealed.
D23: OK, Fitz and Simmons—will they have a chance to explore their relationship?
A: Here’s what’s been fun about Fitz-Simmons. When we started the show, in many ways they were one person. They were two halves of the same person. There was something lovely about that but there wasn’t a lot of conflict. It all existed in a contained world. By putting them through what happened at the end of last season—by breaking them into two individual people—I think they have become much more interesting as they try to find their way back, not to how it was, but back to it in some form or another.