'Agents of SHIELD': Clark Gregg Breaks Down "Emotional" Episode, Coulson's "Darker" Path

"The director of SHIELD should not be going on a quest for vengeance like that," Gregg tells THR of the action-packed episode. "Coulson is not the director right now, he's just a man."
Greg Gayne/ABC

[Warning: This post contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of Agents of SHIELD, "Closure."]

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a changed man on Agents of SHIELD.

Tuesday's shocking episode saw Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) shoot and kill Coulson's new girlfriend Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) to prevent the world from finding out the ATCU is actually working for Hydra. As a result, Coulson handed the title of SHIELD Director over to Mack (Henry Simmons) so he could seek out his own personal revenge on Ward. His quest for vengeance led him to follow Ward through a new portal Hydra opened to the alien planet containing a dangerous Inhuman. But the hour ended with Coulson hitting his head on a rock, knocking himself out, while Hydra searches for the Inhuman.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Gregg about Coulson's "emotional" reaction to Rosalind's death, what it was like to return to Agent Phil Coulson and what to expect from the "shocking" midseason finale.

This episode felt very much like a season finale rather than a midseason episode. Did it feel any different to you when you were shooting it?

Episodes nine and ten are really kind of a two-part season finale. They are both pretty shocking. When I got [episode] nine I thought, "Wow, it's incredible given that it's not a season finale." It's so big and intense and emotional with the loss that happened and the build in the sense that, it's as big as it is and it only leads to the midseason finale next week which is even bigger.

Coulson was so much more emotional than we've ever seen him before. Were you surprised that Rosalind's death affected him so much?

It felt very emotional to me for exactly that reason. I always believed that he was an emotional guy and it takes a lot and it's part of the job description to channel that into pragmatic and effective leadership and action. But it comes at a price. There are passionate, lonely parts of himself that really get put on ice for long stretches of time. It makes sense if you watch the way he's built this team, and the feelings he has for the people on the team. I always felt that the theme of the show is really about family and people who put the safety of others as their number one priority to the point where it excludes the possibility of a normal family. So they become family to each other.

We've seen agents die and lose loved ones before, so what was it about Rosalind's death that made things different for Coulson?

I think it caught him by surprise, given the trust issues between them, how much he came to care about her. There's this joke, how do you know if super spies know when they love each other? They don't. (Laughs.) Coulson and Rosalind were both professionals and lonely and really dedicated to their jobs. They keep trying to have this simple meal of their favorite burgers and every time they got close to having it, some giant Inhuman or Hydra issue happened. So finally, they sit down to have this meal together and it feels like they've earned each other's trust and this is the beginning of something, and then Ward intervenes.

Coulson was dead set on getting revenge against Ward for killing Rosalind, because this time it was personal for him. Do you think Mack was right to question sending the more rash and emotional Coulson after Ward or do you think Coulson was right to seek out his own personal vengeance despite the consequences?

Mack was 100 percent correct in questioning that. The director of SHIELD should not be going on a quest for vengeance like that. Coulson is not the director right now, he's just a man. That said, Coulson really holds himself responsible for the people that Ward has maimed and killed since they partnered up with him last season. He chose to be pragmatic in that moment and it has led to terrible consequences for a lot of people and he blames himself. As Romanoff [Scarlett Johansson] says in Avengers, he's got red on his ledger.

Are we going to see this rash, emotional side of Coulson stick around for a while, or will he eventually calm down and go back to the calm and restrained Coulson we know?

It's going to get worse before it gets better. It will get darker. What has been unleashed by the events of tonight's episode is not something that is going to be resolved quickly or easily. This determined, enraged Agent Coulson is going to be around for a while.

Things are looking really dire for Coulson by the end of this episode. What went through your mind when you read the script of this episode?

Coulson has these huge, powerful feelings that he keeps bottled up a lot and to get to really do an incredibly emotional and action-packed comic book movie over the course of these two episodes felt like a thrill and a challenge.

Even though he was making questionable choices, it did feel good to see Agent Phil Coulson again.

Right? I know. Look, he loves the job that Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] handed him. He loves being the director. But there's a big part of him that is most comfortable as a field agent.

Where is the action going to pick up in the next episode with Coulson on the alien planet with Ward and Hydra?

The next episode, "Maveth," the planet is going to host a lot of what goes on in the hour. This terrifying creature called "it" is on this planet who has now been joined by Ward. It's safe to say that we'll find out a lot more about both of them and it will be more than Coulson and Fitz ever imagined.

What are you most excited for fans to see in the midseason finale next week?

This new vein of Coulson unleashed, the return of a guy named Agent who is out for revenge and doesn't care too much about anything that doesn't help him achieve the settling of that score.

Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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