Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has thrown viewers some pretty big head-spinning twists and turns lately — and while team bonds have fallen apart and traitors have come forward, we’ve seen it all reflected in the glue that holds everyone together: Agent Phil Coulson. It’s been an emotional few weeks watching Coulson come to terms with the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as his trust, has been compromised. But last week’s episode seemed to indicate a turning point…so are we finally going to get to see Coulson fight back for an organization that he still believes in?
“Yes,” promised Clark Gregg when he stopped by our office to chat earlier today. “In as much as there is one.”
With the first season of S.H.I.E.L.D. coming to an end next week and two very intensive episodes on the horizon, Gregg opened up about what we can expect from our beloved team. He also shared some thoughts about the experience of being able to bring Coulson to life on a weekly basis — something that he calls “the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: By the end of last week’s episode, it seems Coulson (with the help of May and Hill) has finally accepted the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen for good. So what can you tease about where that puts him tonight?
CLARK GREGG: The last couple of episodes have been the destruction of everything Phil Coulson dedicated his life to: S.H.I.E.L.D., even the team that he put together after his near death, or actual death during The Avengers, has turned out to be sullied by a traitor in the midst. And now S.H.I.E.L.D., it turns out, has been filled with Hydra for nigh on 50 years. Everything the guy believes in has been destroyed. There is no S.H.I.E.L.D. at this moment, and yet he is aware of what John Garrett — The Clairvoyant — is up to with the help of the agent formally known as Grant Ward. And for a minute, it’s caused so much tension within his own team, that it seemed like Agent May and Agent Coulson were going to go their separate ways, and that there was no S.H.I.E.L.D. to turn around and retaliate with. But I think for the last two episodes, it becomes clear that this team is not going to let these people get away with what they’ve done, whether they’re operating on behalf of S.H.I.E.L.D. or not.
What has your experience been bringing this character to life over 22 episodes? Before, people knew your character from just a few scenes or a short film, but now you’ve had an entire season to show everyone who Phil Coulson really is.
You put it very well — the Agent Coulson that people got to know during the movies was an emotionally reserved, very capable, and very effective S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, kind of a right hand to Director Fury. And in the process of the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., everything he’s believed in has come undone, and he’s kind of had all his armor pulled away. Everything he knew even about his own survival, about the Battle of New York, it wasn’t true. And so it’s really been challenging and kind of a dream job for an actor. And the people who started out thinking he was kind of an automaton have turned around and said, “I can’t take it anymore…this poor guy…I can’t watch him go through anymore.” And so I like that there’s a possibility that at least to a certain extent, he’s going to be able to adopt the position that he’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
As both a fan and a viewer, I personally love that we get to see that from him. Because I think the fact that we’ve gotten to know this character as an audience has made people love him even more.
The fan reaction, as you said, to going into the journey of a character who doesn’t usually take center stage in Marvel…he has no super powers, he’s a middle aged guy in a suit who’s incredibly dedicated to his job. And the whole journey of S.H.I.E.L.D. was, what is it like to be that guy? Especially in a world after The Avengers where everything’s changed, and there’s so many threats, and there’s not enough superheroes to cover them all. It’s been my great good fortune to get to play that guy pushed to his very limits.
Sum up next week’s finale in one word.
I’m going to use three words and a contraction: “payback’s a bitch.”
The penultimate episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Ragtag,” airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.