'Agents of SHIELD' postmortem: Jeff Bell and Jeph Loeb on what [spoiler's] new role means for the series

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Image Credit: Kelsey McNeal/ABC

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen Tuesday’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and for that matter, if you’re even halfway interested in the Marvel-verse and haven’t yet seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier), do not read beyond this opening paragraph. This post contains massive spoilers concerning the plot twists and character developments in “Turn, Turn, Turn,” as well as speculation on future storylines. You’ve been warned…

Okay, admit it — who saw that coming? Because I sure didn’t.

Tuesday’s game-changing episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dropped some big surprises, answered some big questions, and set the stage for the final act of the season, putting us on a path about as bumpy as Agent Garrett’s plane ride. Simply put, if you were still on the fence about whether the drama had found its footing, “Turn, Turn, Turn” was a payoff and a gut punch all at once — and in true Marvel fashion, that’s just what the show wanted.

To get all the scoop on that twist (Ward!) those shocking reveals (Garrett!), and what’s ahead for the remainder of season 1, EW turned to the men behind the curtain: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producer Jeff Bell, and executive producer Jeph Loeb, Head of Marvel Television. Read on for more — access to Level Seven awaits.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Ward! First of all, tell me how long the events in this episode were planned.
JEFF BELL: We’ve known what Captain America: The Winter Solider was all about since we came together a year ago. And so we knew that we were doing a show called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that in the movie, S.H.I.E.L.D. gets blown up. And it’s full of the “H word” [Hydra.] And so we’ve been working with the studio from the get-go towards this moment. Our challenge was that we couldn’t say the “H word” until after Captain America 2…so we had to have an ongoing threat that we’ve called Centipede, that we’ve called The Clairvoyant, that we’ve called other things, because we could not say the word Hydra. What wasn’t a challenge was coming up with twists and turns, and making you think it was this person, because we work very hard to hopefully hide the ball with who it is.

JEPH LOEB: And the fun of the show was taking our time in order to let you get to know our characters and hopefully fall in love with them. One of the things that makes our job both challenging and very exciting is the movies — these gigantic tentpoles — that have the widescreen adventure that we obviously can’t do every week on a television budget and television schedule. But what we can do is create an intimacy with the audience and create characters that our audience is invested in, so when you find out that someone on the team is not who you think they are — at least now, not to say there aren’t more twists to come — that’s the fun of it. We’re hoping that the reason you’ve had this visceral reaction to the reveal is because you are invested in those people. We have told 16 stories to get you to a place where the 17th story turns 17 all on its head. And then what happens? Because that’s not the end. This isn’t the season finale. We have a long way to go, six big more episodes.

Going into the series, how much did the actors know about their specific character journeys?
BELL: Different people knew different amounts. We didn’t tell Brett [Dalton] at the very beginning because it didn’t seem fair to have him carry that burden all season, but we made sure to always write him a way that when you look back, we can say, “this is why you did this, this is why you did that from the get-go.” He understood all the dots, he understood what we were planning, and we understood what we were writing. And one of the things that’s fun for us is that now that the gloves are off, he can be this other guy. And having seen where it goes, watching this Grant Ward is a lot of fun.

LOEB: But we want to caution everybody that just in the same way that our team is going to be divided, we expect that there are people out there — particularly if you’ve seen Winter Soldier, and you know the story of the Winter Soldier and you know the story of what Hydra is capable of doing to your mind — who will ask, what is the reality of who you can trust? And whether or not a person is all bad, made bad, might not be bad…it’s all good stuff.

So what does this mean for the team going forward? Trust issues aside, everyone seems like they’re going to be on edge.
BELL: That’s our hope. I believe the team will be split on what does this mean for Ward? Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? Is he being controlled? Does he have a reason for doing this? And then we also have divisions within the team, so for us, it’s a chance to tell really compelling stories that focuses on our characters. So with the emotional stuff that Jeph was talking about, the movies blow S.H.I.E.L.D. up and then we get to spend several episodes exploring the consequences of that. And who can you trust,what does it mean to be loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D., what does it mean to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? What does it mean when everyone you believed in has been a lie? Has it been a lie? Those are the things that are really fun for me to work with.

LOEB: Because we don’t want to start calling the show “Agents of Nothing.”

Poor Coulson. First he dies, then he finds out his entire resurrection was a lie, now he’s betrayed…is he ever going to be able to trust anyone ever again?
LOEB: Well, let’s start with this question: we know that he was in a secret lab, having something secret done to him in his secret head. How do we know that what’s in his secret head is a good thing? They put in Tahiti…but who’s they?

Now you’re just being evil!
BELL: But those are the questions that are fun for us to explore.

LOEB: And what’s really wonderful is our cast, who is remarkable, has really taken the challenge of who everybody is and who they can trust. Just put it down on the level of Fitz and Simmons looking at each other and wondering if they can trust each other, when they have as good a bond as Coulson and May do.

I’m really impressed at how you set everyone up to get to this point, because once you realize what’s happening, you definitely see how it all ties together.
LOEB: And part of what’s so much fun is being able to go back and look at the pilot and see where Coulson says to Ward, “we haven’t scores like yours since Romanov.” Now, at the time, you probably thought “oh, that’s a really good spy.” But then if you think about what Natasha has done with her life and the number of identities she’s had and the number of people that she’s burned along the way, that may have not been the best compliment to give somebody.

BELL: Let me put this on another level: Ward had put Garrett on this plane for a reason, and so he had to come in and be accepted to this team. And so if you’d look at how he related to everyone — Coulson loves projects. Here is a guy who didn’t have people skills. So Garrett says, can you help this guy Ward round off some of the rough edges? So he comes onto the team. Coulson is now vested, because he’s got a project. Who is Ward’s greatest threat? May. What does he do? He seduces her. Who is the one unknown on the team? Skye. He becomes her S.O. How do you get everyone rally around and trust you? You jump out of a plan trying to save someone else. Now, he had a parachute. Let’s say he failed to save Simmons, he would’ve been fine. Everything he’s done has solidified how people feel about him over the course of the season.

LOEB: And what was the next thing he had to do after he saved Simmons? He had someone on the plane who was jealous of him: Fitz. And what did they do? They went on a mission together and they had a really good time together. And a bromance was started. And that took care of that.

BELL: And then even when he was with Lorelei, and she was talking about the darkness inside of him and the other qualities, she saw something that a lot of other people hadn’t seen. So we feel like we laid things out pretty well. Because you don’t want to over tip your hand, but we think people are pretty smart, and you can look back and go, “oh yeah, it was all there the whole time if I had looked.” And what’s fun now that you’ve seen 17, watch it again, or watch 16 again, and every look Ward does seems to have a double meaning.

I love that. Give me an example of something that might be a little less “obvious” than the Romanov line that could be fun for viewers to realize.
LOEB: We’ll give you one that’s a lot of fun, and that’s in “Seeds,” episode 12. Towards the very end, there’s a lovely, heartwarming moment where Skye is standing in front of the fallen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents through the decades. Watch that scene, and keep an eye on Ward.

BELL: And what she’s saying as you’re looking at him.

Everyone brought their A-game in this episode but I have to say, Clark Gregg just floored me. What a great, emotional performance.
LOEB: We’re so thrilled with our cast, and in particular with our captain Clark Gregg who brings a humanity to the role that is unsurpassed. It’s what made him break out of these movies when there were these giant movie stars all around him — Agent Coulson became one of the most beloved character in the Marvel universe, an original reaction, not someone that had the backing of 50 years of Marvel publishing. And that really goes to Clark and his extraordinary gifts not only as an actor, but as a person.

BELL: And one of the things that’s fun for us is that we’re writing a heroic character in a world of antiheroes and serial killer heroes and dirty cop killer heroes. It’s sort of fun to write an honorable man who’s trying to do the right honorable thing in a corrupt and terrible world, watching him struggle with the deceit around him and watching him try to do the right thing. And that’s been one of the joys of the season for us.

LOEB: And it makes it fun. It makes the kind of show you can watch with your entire family or that you can watch as a fanboy or that you can watch as a woman who has a crush on some of our characters.

BELL: Or a dude who has a crush on some of our characters.

Assuming the show is brought back for a second season, will these revelations and Hydra be part of an ongoing mythology?
LOEB: This is absolutely an ongoing story. And this is Marvel. We’re telling the stories of what happens to ordinary people in extraordinary situations. And just as it is in the movies, where all those films led up to The Avengers and there’s been movies that have come after that, the fun of being able to tell a story is that for this season, it’s 22, and let’s hope that we get to tell 100 more.

And that includes answering questions along the way…right?
LOEB: Let’s put it this way. We do believe in rewarding our audience for staying with us, and that a mess of questions will be answered before the end of season. But it would be unfair to our audience to not leave some other questions, so should we have a chance to come back, it’s the longest summer ever.

How many stories do you have planned out?
BELL: We can’t wait for next season. Here’s the thing: Hydra is now loose. A lot of things that we couldn’t talk about in the first 2/3 of the season are now our in our world. S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen apart, we’re trying to figure who we can and cannot trust, and all the bad things that S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever caught have been loosed upon the world. Hydra’s out there, nobody trusts us…we can’t wait to tell those stories.

I feel like that it might’ve taken awhile to build up to the intensity of this episode, but now it’s all paying off in a very real way.
BELL: I’ve said before, when you’re doing a 22 season arc, it moves at a different pace than when you’re telling a 13 episode cable arc. When you’re doing 13 episodes, episode 7, you’re halfway through. We got episode 11, we were getting just halfway. And so it does give us more time to set things up, and our goal is to pay everything off, and I think 17 is a good start of that.

What did you think of “Turn, Turn, Turn?” Sound off below, and stay tuned to EW.com for our weekly react.

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