The publicity machine for tonight’s fourth season premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is cranked up into high gear. Collider is currently featuring an exclusive, extended conversation with the wife and husband team of showrunners for the show, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon. The Q&A offers a lot of great details about the season to come, as well as the relationship between themselves and Marvel.
One of the elements for the upcoming season which excites the producers is the return of Agent Coulson to his roots. When Coulson first hit the screen in Iron Man he was a lowly agent. After a couple of seasons on S.H.I.E.L.D. as the man in charge, fans are getting to see him back on the streets.
WHEDON: It’s sort of where he started. When we first met Agent Coulson, he was a company man. He was the man in a suit who came and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m from Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.” It’s a little bit of a return to his roots. He used to be the everyman. I think he struggled with making those top dog decisions. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but light is the head that just took the crown off.
The shift in Coulson is just one of the ways that the show as a whole is moving in a new direction with its new season. Through the years the show has suffered some major shake-ups, including the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. as everyone knew it in the first season. But as producers, these changes never really scared them.
WHEDON: We have a very smart audience, or at least our audience seems to watch with pretty rapt attention and pays attention to the details. Obviously, sometimes you have to restate things in an episode, so that people can follow along, but they’re pretty keen on picking up all the little nuances and details. This kind of storytelling, we’re allowed to do it because they’re on top of it. We don’t have to spend a lot of time saying, “Here are our people. Here is the role they all play. You remember Daisy from this.” We just throw them into the middle of a story and we know they’re all with us. That method of storytelling is allowed because of our clever viewers.
Given the dwindling ratings over the years, it is interesting to see Whedon admit that they write the show with the more observant and devoted viewers in mind. While those who have a commitment to the show appreciate not returning to mundane details, one can only wonder how that approach plays out to fans trying to watch for the first time. The more heavily serialized a show is, the harder it is for new fans to get involved. Balancing out the needs of loyal viewers and average viewers is a massive challenge for a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Throughout the journey of the show, Marvel has always been responsive to the producers as they go about their craft. While many articles and blogs have talked about the tensions at Marvel (particularly between TV and film), the relationship is pretty positive for Tancharoen.
TANCHAROEN: One could argue that they’re just too busy to care about us anymore, but no, we’ve always been very fortunate with the kind of relationship we have with Marvel. I do think because we are in our fourth season, there’s a level of trust that has been established. But of course, with that said, Marvel is very protective over their properties and the stories they tell, so they are still very much involved. Thankfully, their involvement has always been a pleasant thing.
The protective nature of Marvel means that the TV shows have to clear any characters they want to use in their storylines. So how easy or hard was it to get a character of the caliber of Ghost Rider onto S.H.I.E.L.D.?
WHEDON: It’s an IP they care about and that we were eager to explore, but it also coincides with the release of Doctor Strange and stepping into that part of the MCU. For us, it worked out. We’re obviously not going to say no to Ghost Rider. It would have happened, wherever it could have, but it coincides nicely with that film and it launches us into other stories in different parts of the Marvel universe that we’re eager to explore.
Looking at the bigger context around that quote, it seems that Marvel was the real driver on adding Ghost Rider, as much as it was the show’s writers. They wanted to introduce the character somewhere into the MCU, and this was a perfect time and place. While many have hypothesized that there is an obvious connection between adding this kind of a character to the TV side close to the addition of Doctor Strange to the film side, Whedon makes the connection explicit here. Marvel is making a push into the mystical and spiritual side of their universe a coordinated plan, not unlike the push of Kree elements close to the release of Guardians of the Galaxy.
The choice of Robbie Reyes instead of Johnny Blaze or another more known rider was also something done carefully. The blank slate of the character and his familial backstory was something that appealed to the producers. It certainly fits well with the larger theme of family on the show.
WHEDON: You’ll learn about him as you watch, but the thing that appealed to us, at first blush, was that it wouldn’t remind you of the films. It feels like something new and different, and it’s our own.
TANCHAROEN: We had the opportunity to expand his story on the show.
WHEDON: It gave us a little more freedom. His background and his family dynamic was something that appealed to us.
Fans will obviously be interested in how far down the Ghost Rider road the show will go. In the interview, a couple of possibilities came up which the producers deftly avoided responding to.
Have you thought about or had any discussions about having any other Ghost Riders show up, or do you want to just stay focused on one? WHEDON: We don’t know what you’re talking about.
A colleague who knows much more about the comics than I do wanted me to ask if there’s any chance you might explore the Midnights Sons, either this season or at some point in the future?
WHEDON: You never can tell.
TANCHAROEN: Tell him or her that’s a very cool idea.
These teases are obviously noncommittal, but the ideas don’t sound like they are hitting the producers for the first time. Robbie Reyes may just be the tip of the iceberg for the upcoming season. The show has a tendency to up the ante at the midseason break (think the Inhumans twist in the season two fall finale), so Ghost Rider might be a set up for a fuller supernatural storyline in the spring.
For more on the show, including some new characters and a look back on the show at 75 episodes, go check out the full interview on Collider.
Are you excited about tonight’s episode? Do you want to see the Midnight Sons are some other mystical characters on the show? Share your thoughts below!