When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. left us in 2013, Centipede had (maybe) killed Mike Peterson just before they took Coulson captive in order to find out what happened to him the day after he died. So what’s next for the Coulson? And what will his absence do to his team? We caught up with Clark Gregg to talk all about the show’s return, Coulson’s dark secrets, Victoria Hand’s intentions, and whether we should hold out hope for Mike:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Are we finally getting some answers after the day after Coulson died?
CLARK GREGG: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. People have been really patient. Phil Coulson’s been really patient. I might add Clark Gregg’s been damn patient. [Laughs] I had a lot of mysterious stuff spelled out for me when I was told about this job. I loved the basic premise that played out in the pilot that he has a comparatively innocuous story that he believes about this near-miss that he experienced, dead-for-eight-seconds version. And there’s a darker secret as to how he was brought back to life, but to be in the middle of it and just be a tiny bit further ahead than the actual audience, I’ve been really really getting anxious to get more information, to really find out what’s driving him, why the people who’ve known him longest say that he’s different, how is he different? [It's] something that’s not just some secret medical practice but something that’s mysterious, big enough, dark enough, and integral enough to the plans of the nefarious Centipede organization that they pulled a swap and let Mike Peterson go in order to kidnap Agent Coulson to find out what really happened in “Tahiti.” It seems like standalone episodes are all being fused together and it’s all becoming part of this broader fabric that’s really all connected, and it’s also exciting to me because I just think episode 111 puts him in the hands of people with all kinds of technology and terrifying powers who are ironically bent on the same thing that he has wanted, which is to find out what really happened, so to kind of get in the place where he has a chance to get that information and yet, by actually submitting to their methods, might put himself in a position where he could reveal more than he wants to to them is a tremendous dilemma for an actor to deal with.
Are these the kind of answers that will give me, as a viewer, some piece of mind or open up a million more questions?
That’s a really good question. Peace of mind would not be the phrase that came to mind. If you love these stories, if you love comics, if you love sci-fi, if you like this kind of stuff, to me, it’s perfect. It’s just perfect. It’s all the things I kind of hoped. It’s just out there and dark enough that to me it’s very satisfying. It just feels worth waiting for. And at the same time I wouldn’t want it to have a finality that made me go, “What’s the point of continuing?” I think people are going to be, “I knew it! Oh my God!” or “I never saw that coming!” But at the same time, it opens up such an array of questions about who you can trust, and also about how much of what we’ve seen is deeply part of, it’s all connected, it’s all part of this vast conspiracy being run by Centipede that connects to S.H.I.E.L.D. and it probably ties us into the cinematic universe in some very groundbreaking ways.
Has it changed the way you play the character?
Yes, but in a very difficult way because I knew something was different, and I knew I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel the same and Coulson didn’t feel the same and yet, as far as Coulson’s concerned, it doesn’t make sense because he feels that he knows everything. So, to me, it’s one of the more exciting parts of this. He’s somebody who puts his life on the line for the safety and security of people who can’t fight for themselves and in doing so he’s terribly injured, and the version that he explains in the pilot doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, and in reality what he has gone through is life-changing, and mind-altering and soul-altering, and he’s just now going to confront how much about who he is is up in the air.
Are we getting these answers in flashbacks?
All I can say is this very mysterious and compelling villain who seems to be driving the Centipede organization, this person they only call the Clairvoyant, knows more about how Coulson was brought back to life than Coulson has been able to get from S.H.I.E.L.D. And yet this is the one thing apparently in the world that the Clairvoyant can’t see with enough clarity to be satisfied, so all the high tech resources that Centipede has, which are quite formidable, nearly as formidable as S.H.I.E.L.D. as I can tell, are brought to bear, stripping these memories out of Coulson’s brain. And from there, that’s the modus through which we get to explore this from Coulson’s point of view.
While Coulson’s away, Victoria Hand steps in. Last time we saw her, she was ready to leave some of our people to die, so what does her presence mean for Coulson’s team while he’s out?
You put your finger on it, Victoria Hand is a very high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. officer, and certainly the thing we’ve noticed about S.H.I.E.L.D., there is I guess I would call it a pragmatism that really puts the mission first, which makes the lengths [that] were gone to to bring Coulson back to life kind of surprising, but it also means that once again, Victoria Hand is in a position where she can make decisions that influence the health and safety of Coulson’s own team, and there’s no reason to believe that she cares about them or is protective of them on any level that’s similar to Coulson.
And finally, what can you tell me about holding out hope that Mike isn’t really dead?
I can only tell you my opinion. I love that character, and I know Joss [Whedon] loves that character. I’ll be really sad if we’ve seen the last of him after episode 110.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC.