***WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS for both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Don’t let me be the one to ruin it for you, go see the movie, it’s good.***
***SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING***
Now then, with that out of the way, onward we go.
So it’s a week later and Ultron has come and gone, at least in terms of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Last week I discussed the unique interconnectedness between the various entities of the MCU and the possible links between the AoS tv show and the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, which opened this weekend (in case you happen to reside under a metaphorical rock). While I was right about some of the smaller connections (Maria Hill and Baron Von Strucker both bridged the gap), my prediction for last night’s biggest reveal, the answer to the question “What is Theta Protocol?”, was pretty far off. It was a popular question this week and while it was answered concretely last night I don’t think I’m alone in finding the answer a bit unsatisfying. But we’ll come back to that in a moment.
In many ways, despite the global scale of the potential threat, the Ultron incident was largely self-contained. It didn’t change the AoS or MCU world in the same fundamental way as Winter Soldier, instead telling a story more about the Avengers team and their internal obstacles. Nonetheless they are closely connected as the movie picks up exactly where the show left off last week, with the assault on Strucker’s base. Coulson had finally located Loki’s staff in Strucker’s European stronghold and gave the word to “Bring in the Avengers”. It was a seamless tie-in that deprived the non-AoS fan of nothing in his movie viewing and assured the full-dose fan that the story never stops. It also led to a shocking development in the world of AoS, namely…
Baron Von Strucker is Dead! (Right?)
The movie brings a rather unceremonious ending for the show’s Big Bad, with nothing but a photo of his dead body and the word “PEACE” written in his blood on the wall. The only remaining head of HYDRA, Strucker was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s overarching target for much of the season. Why was his death so innocuous and does it mean that he might not actually be dead in AoS? I can’t actually imagine a course to this happening nor can I reason why Ultron would execute such a ruse but it still sits oddly with me.
Along with that…
Though we as viewers were hip to the fact that the former head of S.H.I.E.L.D. had gone underground at the end of Winter Soldier and headed to Europe for some unknown mission (we finally know what that was!), those inside the MCU world believed him to be dead, with the exception of Coulson and Maria Hill. With more than one mention in last night’s episode, it’s clear that Fury’s re-emergence during the Ultron fight is public knowledge and helps to vindicate Coulson in the eyes of the members of “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” This represents one of the biggest shifts of the show’s plot, with Coulson now back to full strength as Director to take on the challenge that awaits in the season’s finale.
Since we’re mentioning Fury, let’s talk about…
This was the biggest mystery from last week’s episode as Hill and Coulson mentioned it before sending the Avengers into Sokovia. My theory was that it would be revealed to be either A) Coulson moving resources all around the globe to set up the Avengers Academy (or whatever the new training facility would be called) or B) simply a name for the mission to locate Loki’s Staff, finally complete and ready for action from the Avengers. Both seemed adequate theories even after seeing Age of Ultron, though option B seemed weak and option A seemed awesome given the film’s closing. It turned out neither was correct and the secret that Coulson, Hill and the Keonigs were keeping is something much smaller, or larger depending on how you look at it. It’s…
Yes boys and girls, that’s it, the Helicarrier. After months of moving resources all around the globe including hundreds of bunks, it turns out the work Coulson has been doing is to repair a giant piece of hardware from Winter Soldier; rather unexciting, no? There was no way of knowing its value as an evacuation pod during the Ultron battle so why the great importance? Furthermore, even if Fury did want Coulson to restore the ship for general S.H.I.E.L.D. purposes, why was its completion a necessary step before sending the Avengers into Sokovia?
In an interview with SlashFilm this week, Kevin Feige mentioned that AoS would fill in a plot hole from AoU:
Slash: Now, when Nick Fury goes away and comes back with a Helicarrier, that seems like a big chunk of off screen story. Is that something we might see referenced on SHIELD?
Feige: I think it’s fair to say you could fill in some of those blanks in the coming weeks on Tuesday at 9.
I suppose it does, in fact, fill in this plot hole, making it the most integral connection between the movie and show but Fury’s explanation in AoU about calling in favors from old friends to get the hellicarrier operational provided just about the same level of satisfaction.
I honestly thought Theta Protocol was Coulson preparing the Avengers Academy, a Plan C (hence “theta”) in case the Plan B that is the Avengers were ever to self-destruct. It would make sense for Coulson as a character, caring about Powered People and wanting to protect them, training them to deal with global threats rather than become them and it would align him with the efforts to Index the Enhanced, a seed towards the upcoming Civil War. It’s an especially exciting idea when the movie concludes at the New Avengers Facility in upstate New York (a New Facility for the Avengers or a Facility for the New Avengers? You choose). How awesome would it have been for Coulson, the last real vestige of what Old S.H.I.E.L.D. was intended to be, to be working behind the scenes of the superheroes’ adventures to create a new space and assemble new recruits?
There’s still a chance we could see something similar as Hunter and Morse are set to begin the spinoff and the idea of them having some involvement with the New Avengers (West Coast…?) isn’t tough to fathom, especially given Morse’s canon status as Mockingbird the Avenger.
Just as the Avengers themselves morph into a new form (Cap, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision now the Avengers of the future), S.H.I.E.L.D., too, takes a new form with Coulson as Director and an advisory Council now comprised of the members of “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Melinda May. Tensions still exist within this new structure regarding how best to deal with Enhanced people and while it doesn’t threaten to tear them apart the way HYDRA’s infiltration did, it will certainly lead to conflict about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s future direction.
While AoU didn’t redefine the MCU world in the way that Winter Soldier or the first Avengers did, the connections to the larger created universe certainly exist and Edward James Olmos’ Gonzales made a few references to the Avengers and to Ultron:
“The Avengers, they let one man [Tony Stark] do whatever he wanted and the world was almost destroyed for it. We’re S.H.I.E.L.D. We’re better than that.”
It’s these themes of corruption, of how to deal with power (in various forms) and how much power is too much that continue to define S.H.I.E.L.D. and AoS. It’s what connects the show most strongly to Age of Ultron despite that catastrophe being largely self-contained and concluded. So what can we expect from next week’s two-hour season finale?
The war with the Inhumans will begin, with Raina’s vision of Afterlife in flames proving to be truthful rather than manipulation. It’s a battle that will carry through to Season 3, forcing Skye, always a protagonist but now central to the plot, to make some tough choices. Will she be more Agent or Inhuman when the season concludes?
Personally I’m eager to see where Mac ends up. It’s fairly clear they’re not writing him out and they’ve gone far enough to make him (like Morse and Hunter) actual canon agents so I suspect they have something planned for him, perhaps in conjunction with the spinoff. I also think there’s still something they’re not telling us about residual effects from his alien encounter but we’ll see…
The secret cargo in the hull of Gonzales’ ship was revealed to be a large Kree stone, which poses a threat to the Inhumans and which changes into a splashing liquid form and then back into a solid for reasons yet unknown. My suspicion is that the answer to this mystery will come in the finale final moments or we will get a partial reveal and it will be the cliffhanger to Season 3.
I thought Age of Ultron was great, an exciting sequel that focused on character, relationship development, and action to set up a near-final act in next year’s Captain America: Civil War. For both film and television there’s a lot to look forward to in the MCU pipeline including next week’s AoS season finale, details about the spin-off to be announced by the end of May, a possible Agent Carter Season 2, AKA Jessica Jones currently in production, and Ant-Man in the Fall. But for us in Nerd Nation that’s all too much of a wait. I think perhaps it’s time to start catching up on Daredevil.
Godspeed, True Believers. #ItsAllConnected