[WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Captain America: The Winter Soldier]
You know how, in standard movie and comic-book hype, the line is always “After this … NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME”? The tail end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier lives up to it, as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) expose and then destroy SHIELD — the nigh-omnipresent government espionage agency tasked with securing America from global and extraglobal threats.
Why? Because it had been infiltrated by Hydra, the same Nazi division that Captain America took down during World War II. But it never went away; instead it infected SHIELD, from the lowest agents to the man at the top of the pyramid, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).
So how will this affect a show that happens to be called Agents of SHIELD? What will happen to Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg)? The Hollywood Reporter turned to the show’s executive producers/showrunners, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who were only too happy to finally be able to talk about “the H word.”
What is, exactly, the H word?
Jed Whedon: Hydra. After months and months of silence.
How far into the planning of Agents of SHIELD did you know what would happen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier?
Maurissa Tancharoen: From the very beginning. We had the order to do a series about SHIELD and, literally, a day or two after that they said, “Oh, by the way, there’s a movie coming up that will affect your show.”
Whedon: “Here, read this script.”
Tancharoen: “Read this script, and you’ll see what we’re talking about.”
Was there ever a discussion of whether or not you guys would have to play by those rules, or was it always a foregone conclusion?
Whedon: The great thing about the Marvel Universe is that it’s one universe. So, that’s the thing that makes it exciting. And that’s the opportunity we were given. And so this was obviously something we would have to incorporate. Right away, we saw both the challenges it posed and the opportunities it would bring.
The disbanding of SHIELD is an event that it would seem there’s no going back from. Is there a way to still do the kind of procedural stories we saw earlier in this first season.
Tancharoen: Now that there’s sort of the overall big bad that’s revealed, there’s differently a procedural approach to taking down those factions that exist within SHIELD.
Whedon: It obviously is a game-changer. But people will have to tune in to see exactly how the game is changed.
Clearly, this will have to change Coulson’s mandate. He’s no longer going to be investigating weird stuff.
Whedon: Coulson’s already had a rough year. The organization that he devoted his life to has lied to him. He’s always known that secrets are a big part of it, but [now] he started to pay a price for that. This is a heavy blow. It’s a huge punch he’ll have to roll with in some way.
Winter Soldier is the first Marvel movie that didn’t have Coulson in it. Do you have a sense of when Coulson will reintroduce himself to the Avengers, or is that just waiting for Avengers: Age of Ultron?
Tancharoen: That’s always a possibility. There’s also the possibility of other characters from our show having a place in a Marvel film. Right now, our show is designed to stand on its own, with Coulson at the center. With everything that happened in Captain America 2 we are dealing with details and the personal and emotional fallout. That’s the great thing about the Marvel Universe: You can always interweave at some point.
Not many, if any shows, have gone through this kind of radical change. Was there anything you were looking at for guidance? Any playbooks you wanted to get a peek at?
Whedon: We were sort of doing something new. Integrating with films is something I don’t know if any TV show has done to the extent we are and plan to. The thing that’s so fun about Marvel is the thing that makes it very challenging and why it’s been successful and they’ve met that challenge with a lot of foresight. They’ve been really creative in the way that they’ve slowly built this thing that’s all tied together. Now, we are a part of that, but we’re also telling stories every week. I don’t know if there was an example to follow. We just try and keep in communication with [the features dept.] and try to tell our own stories that live on their own but also can be reflected and enhanced by the films.
Tancharoen: We’ve always said that the movies are about the big, giant crushing of buildings, and our television show is the opportunity to tell the stories of the people whose buildings are being crushed.
Given the size and sweep of this change, is there anything about the show as we know it that’s sacred? Is there anything immune to the fallout?
Whedon: It’ll still be 43 minutes long.
Tancharoen: On Tuesdays at 8.
Whedon: “Nothing is sacred” is an important thing, so there’s jeopardy at all times.
Tancharoen: It’s safe to say that there will be a shift.
What’s the most exciting part of all this?
Whedon: We’ve been very excited about this part of the season for a very long time, and we’re excited it’s all gonna air back-to-back.
Tancharoen: I think it’s thrilling for us for people to finally be able to see it. I mean, we’ve known about this from the outset. The whole season was built toward this. We started very standalone, planting seeds, and that will pay off in the back half. Everything was sort of shaped and structured for this part of the season, for this link-up with the film, so these last six episodes, we’re really thrilled for people to see.