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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Agents of SHIELD's midseason premiere, "Bouncing Back.]
One agent might not make it out of this season alive on Agents of SHIELD.
The midseason premiere kicked off with a mysterious flash-forward to three months in the future, showing an unidentified SHIELD agent seemingly dead in space. But the present day story didn't offer any clues as to who will find his or herself in that precarious position in the future. The episode instead focused on Coulson's (Clark Gregg) relentless search for Hydra baddie Gideon Malick (Powers Booth), who had his hands full with trying to figure out what the Inhuman Hive wants after it took over Ward's (Brett Dalton) body.
Meanwhile, love is blossoming on the SHIELD base, as Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), as well as Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), took their relationships to the next level while the Secret Warriors continued to flesh out the new team of Inhumans working for SHIELD.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Agents of SHIELD showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen about what that mysterious flash-forward means for the team going forward, as well as what Hive wants now that its on Earth and more.
Where did the idea come from to open the back half of this season with that flash forward?
Jed Whedon: The idea was to kick off with a mystery.
Maurissa Tancharoen: It's the promise of something fairly ominous to come.
When will we start to get answers about which SHIELD agent was the one in that flash-forward and why they're in such an ominous situation?
Tancharoen: We will be uncovering things from the midseason opener all the way to the finale. We will slowly be discovering what that image is.
Whedon: The question will remain: What is happening there? You will find out slowly.
Will answers come in more flash-forwards or will clues start showing up in present day?
Tancharoen: These are very specific questions. (Laughs.)
Whedon: I apologize for our vague answers. (Laughs.) We will see how it unfolds and what it really means and if that flash-forward has meaning or if it's just an ominous prediction for the future.
Tancharoen: They will be playing out in scenes in the present day.
Whedon: These are good questions. (Laughs.) You're asking the right questions but we just physically cannot answer them.
Then let's move on to a subject you can talk more about. Now that Ward is officially dead and Hive has taken over his body, what kind of havoc is he going to cause with Hydra?
Whedon: Malick is actually going to be asking those same questions. We got a sense in this episode that he really doesn't know anything.
Tancharoen: We now know that Hydra has dedicated their entire history and life to bringing this being back. Now, that being is finally here. Malick is someone who has basically grown up in the Hydra organization with that belief system, and that being is now here on Earth with him in his compound. But you can tell that now that it's here, it's a little bit of careful what you wish for.
Whedon: He doesn't even know what to think yet.
Tancharoen: He has no idea what to expect at all.
Whedon: We don't, either. We'll slowly start unpacking Hive's agenda, and whether or not Malick is excited or afraid of that is yet to be seen.
We only got a small taste of Hive's powers in this episode. What kind of threat does it pose as it slowly starts to gain its strength?
Whedon: You get the sense that he's dangerous and definitely something new. In the coming episodes, you'll get a bit more of a sense of the logistics of him taking over a body and how that works. But he's a powerful baddie and he's lived for thousands of years on a planet with hardly anything there. He'll prove hard to best.
Tancharoen: Even in his weakened state, he is fairly frightening.
Whedon: You could see from all the screens he was watching that he's trying to absorb as much as he's missed from the history of this planet that he's now returned to. But we don't yet know why.
When will SHIELD become aware that Ward's body is still up and walking around? How will the team members react to seeing this Inhuman wearing Ward's face?
Whedon: I don't think they're going to be stoked about it. (Laughs.) They know enough, if and when they encounter him, to piece it together pretty quickly of what exactly happened so I think that they will not be pleased.
Tancharoen: Given the information that they know about Will, I think they'll be able to put it together how exactly Ward, or at least the shape of Ward, is still standing. You'll just have to wait and see for when that will happen.
Whedon: One of the things that is great for our world is that Hydra is such a clean and clear bad guy. But now they have something in their midst that might muck up their works. But we're always going to be going at them as you saw in this episode. Coulson is still very focused on getting Malick and thwarting whatever his plans are. So it feels like SHIELD is definitely going to be going after their side of things pretty actively. So when they cross paths and where and how, we can't say, but it's safe to say that it will happen.
Speaking of the team, there's some romance brewing for two different couples: Daisy and Lincoln, and Fitz and Simmons. How will their relationships affect the team dynamic?
Tancharoen: It's always fairly complicated when you're working with someone that you're in a relationship with.
Whedon: She's not speaking from experience.
Tancharoen: I'm not at all speaking from experience. (Laughs.) Daisy is now in a leadership position. She's trying to assemble her team. And in asserting herself as a leader, it can only complicate things when one of your team members is someone that you have romantic feelings for. We'll start to get to know Lincoln a little bit more through that relationship and as well as him now being at hour home base, seeing him through our other characters' eyes. He's more exposed now. We'll start to peel away the layers of his personality. And as far as Fitz and Simmons go, they've had such a loaded history, and now they're coming off of the whole thing with Will. That even further complicates things. We'll see if they can try to pick up where they left off or perhaps start anew.
Whedon: Their goal is to just be the 'FitzSimmons' of old and enjoy working together and enjoy science and not worry about all these possible futures or regrettable past. They want to get back to where they used to be. Whether or not they will succeed, we'll see.
Looking ahead to next season, if Agent Carter doesn’t return for a third season, is there room for Agent Carter in the SHIELD universe, or would the time period discrepancy prove to be too much of an obstacle to make it work?
Tancharoen: There's always that possibility.
Whedon: We are in an old SSR base, and Agent Carter founded SHIELD. There's definitely a direct line between the two. We're still very hopeful that it will return because we love it. We are linked to them through history so whether or not we'll tell their stories remains to be seen.
Given the fact that SHIELD has already been renewed for season four, how do you feel about the show’s extended future given Netflix’s Marvel fare and Channing Dungey’s promotion at the network?
Whedon: We feel good. Our job is just to tell stories that we would want to watch, so we could only hope that we're given a chance to let audiences do that. We're thrilled to know going into the end of this year with certainty that we will be returning, because we can build our story accordingly. Knowing that we're going to come back gives us the freedom to tell more interesting stories.
Tancharoen: And it also gives us the chance to just logistically book directors ahead of time which is a very nice privilege to have this time around with this early pickup. That's a luxury.
Did the early season four renewal have any affect on how you structured the season three finale, or how you're planning season four?
Whedon: We decided not to kill everybody.
Tancharoen: Right. (Laughs.)
Whedon: But other than that, not really.
Tancharoen: When we near the end of the season, we've already started brainstorming what the next season could possibly be. Now it's nice to be able to forge ahead without having to worry.
How are you planning to end this season? Are you going to blow everything up with major cliffhangers or will it be more close-ended?
Tancharoen: Are you getting bored with how we always do it? (Laughs.) Because we can stop leaving everything on cliffhangers.
Whedon: The answer to that question is, unfortunately, wait and see.
Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.