Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Executive Producer Jeff Bell on What to Expect In Season Three and Beyond

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If buzz surrounding Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was huge for Seasons One and Two, consider it already off the charts for this fall’s third season premiere. With character developments aplenty, an entire new race of super-powered beings set to pop up all over the world, another twist in the Fitz-Simmons romance, and a new haircut for Skye… errr, Daisy that might just break the ‘net for good, we are desperate for any information that we can get about the upcoming season. Luckily, Executive Producer Jeff Bell was kind enough to duck out of the writer’s room and chat with Paste about what we should (and shouldn’t) expect as we get ready for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s biggest year yet.

Paste: Looking back at the early days of the show, the scope of Season One was obviously smaller. The team was smaller—you had that core group that gave off the feeling of camaraderie and family. Things have since gotten bigger, and the characters have developed different agendas. Are those quieter moments where everyone’s hanging out going to be harder to come by as characters grow and evolve in Season Three?
Jeff Bell: I hope they’re not fewer and farther between, but sort of new variations of that. One of the things we try and do on this show is to keep re-inventing it. One of the challenges when we began was that we were doing a Marvel show with one Marvel character that people knew about, which was Agent Coulson, and I think some die-hard fans reacted negatively to that. “Who are these people? They’re not who we wanted. Boo, you guys. We don’t like you.” I think over time, audiences have really grown to love these characters, and care about them, and a lot of that was getting them to spend time with those characters—with Coulson and also in different pairings. Coulson and May in the beginning, and Fitz and Simmons really seemed to be the same person at the beginning, and Ward was one guy, then after the Hydra reveal, became a different guy.

By the end of Season One, I think people were much more deeply invested in these characters, which then allowed us to start adjusting them based on what happened at the end of the first season. And so last season was really the birth of Skye into Daisy Johnson and Fitz and Simmons became two individual people. All those relationships changed, and we brought some new people in. As we go into Season Three, we’re looking to do more of that. So we do have a whole lot of people. But, we’re also looking to find ways to pair them up in different ways, and for them to grow as characters.

When Mack was brought on at the beginning of Season Two, he was the mechanic who really didn’t want to fight, and at the end of Season Two, he still didn’t really want to fight, but stepped up and saved Coulson’s arm, and grew into that new role. All of our characters, hopefully, are continuing to do that. But at the core of it, is the emotional relationships between them. We hope that, whether it’s a quiet moment or in action, we can deepen the audience’s love and concern, and hopes for these characters. That’s a long answer to what wasn’t a very long question (laughs).

Paste: That’s okay! We have an idea of what the “Secret Warriors” initiative, so to speak, is going to be. It’s going to be a group looking for, or making a connection with super-powered individuals. At this point, is the primary focus for that going to be on inhumans, or is this the kind of thing that could lead to connecting with some of the super-powered individuals we’ve seen in past seasons—maybe characters that we haven’t seen since Season One?
Bell: The first thing I would say is we teased Secret Warriors at Comic-con, and we do have a character now named Daisy Johnson, but that really is just one aspect of what we’re hoping the season to be. We left the season with the Terrigan Mist in the ecosystem. What does that mean? The idea that the inhumans could be anywhere at any time is a great story engine for us, and if you remember at the end of Season Two, when we talked about putting a group together, the idea was, “Well, we have to be careful.” So right now, Daisy is the only member of that.

The process of building that team will be something that I think will happen over the course of a longer time. That way, the audience gets to participate in putting that together, rather than starting Season Three with, “Oh, look! Here’s Yo-Yo Rodriguez. We have a team up and running” (laughs). That happens between seasons, so I think the process of doing that will be one story thread of Season Three, but at the end of the season we also had Simmons sucked into the portal, and May was leaving with her ex-husband, Andrew. Bobbi was saying to Hunter, “I can’t do this anymore,” and Coulson had his arm cut off, and Lincoln—is he going to be with the team, or not? We feel like there’s a lot of really good threads that we left to pick up on, which will allow for a lot of different stories, and Secret Warriors is just sort of part of that.

Paste: Let’s touch on a couple of the storylines you mentioned. When we return for Season Three, how aware is Fitz of what may have happened to Simmons? Is there a guilt factor associated with things, from his perspective?
Bell: I don’t know that there’s so much guilt. I think there’s an unfortunate off-screen sound effect that might have given the idea that, “Oh, he clumsily did something,” rather than the fact that it happened. I don’t know that he knows or feels responsible, but he absolutely knows she’s gone. They would have had surveillance footage of the room, and, knowing Fitz, I would expect he’s doing nothing less than putting all of his resources into trying to get her —whatever that means. I think the big questions are, “Where is she? What happened?” Knowing Fitz and what he was about to say and feel, I would be surprised if he wasn’t doing everything he could to try and find her.

Paste: I want to talk about Mack again for a second, because one of the things that was said at the very end of the season finale was that he still had strong reservations about dealing with alien matter and supernatural forces, so Coulson basically put him in charge of those materials that they’d collected as a way to sort of deal with that. Will his presence potentially be a stumbling block as the team explores these materials and other aliens or inhumans?
Bell: I think we don’t want Mack to be like, “I’m against it, whatever it is.” It’s much more of the role Scully played to Mulder, as an informed skeptic—“Is this wise, is this prudent, is this what we should be doing?” And there are going to be times I think he would say, “Absolutely! We should look into this!” and “Absolutely, this is worth doing,” rather than just being a naysayer, who’s the party-pooper and doesn’t ever want to do anything cool, or fun.

We liked scenes with Mack and Daisy last year. I felt they were an interesting pair. Actually we like Mack with everyone. He’s just a terrific character. The idea of putting him with her as a partner is that there’s this really big, seemingly strong guy who can walk in with her, and somebody looks at him and says, “So you’re the muscle?” He goes, “No. Actually, she’s the muscle. I’m here to observe,” or whatever—it’s fun. The idea of him being an informed, smart skeptic at times, I think helps our storytelling.

Paste: You mentioned Agent May, and last we saw she was off taking a vacation with her ex. After last season’s dramatic revelation about the experiences in Bahrain that she’d kept bottled up for years, is it possible that we could finally see a kinder, gentler more well-balanced, Melinda?
Bell: I think it’s fair to say that by telling the Bahrain story and revisiting that, we can finally put a lot of it down. I don’t know that she’s going to come back and be all sunshine and rainbows, because it’s Agent May. We like her being a person of few words, but I do think we’re bringing some different colors in, and depending on what happens with her and Andrew on their vacation between seasons, whatever she can come with in this season will be new and fresh, and a little different.

Paste: The last time we saw Grant Ward he was looking to bring some semblance of Hydra back together. The history of Hydra was that of a warped political activist group, but we know that Ward’s never really had a major political agenda. If anything, he just acts on his own need for closure, need for revenge—basically, his own selfish psychological neuroses. Do we expect that his version of Hydra could be more in his vision to serve his needs, or are we potentially going to see a shift in what he is looking to accomplish in life?
Bell: That’s a great question, and very insightful, because the Ward we know talks about this grand mission of closure and helping people on a certain level, but it always feels vindictive and vengeful no matter how many people he brings closure to. It kind of feels like he’s always got to find somebody else to blame for the next set of problems. I think we feel this great tension and great story in the very question you ask because Hydra was one thing, so is he trying to build a section of it in his own vision, and do those things clash, and is he forced to expand that vision into something more? Is he slapped down for what he’s trying to do? Do they merge? Those are all really great opportunities for storytelling with Grant Ward going into this season.

Paste: For those who have been fans of the occasional popping-in of characters from Marvel films on the TV show over the last couple of seasons, is there a chance we can expect more of that this year?
Bell: That’s something we always look to try and do. It’s always complicated because of schedules, and because of stories. All I can say is, we’re always interested in trying to make that happen, and I can’t really promise anything beyond that. We love it as much as fans do, and if we can, and there are opportunities, we will try and make that happen.

Paste: This entire season coming up is leading right up to the big-screen release of Captain America: Civil War the themes of which—government control over super-powered entities—seem poised to be echoed throughout this season of SHIELD. Is it safe to say that the events of the TV show will build towards some of those in the movie?
Bell: I can’t say anything, but what you said makes sense to me. I know that fans always like it when we find new ways to connect, so I think if there was a way for that to happen, that would be cool.

Paste: It feels like, over the course of SHIELD’s first two seasons, there have been a lot of opportunity for the show to carry some of the weight of what’s going on in the overall MCU. Do you take that as a feather in the cap, to be able to have that sort of responsibility, carrying part of larger, movie-related storylines on the TV show?
Bell: Sure. I think we really like doing it in a way so that if people don’t see the movie, they can still follow the show. Rarely will we be able to build an entire episode around something like that, simply because ABC and Marvel both want the series to be able to make sense on its own. If we can do something like, oh, after the Avengers movie, we show Coulson and team were the ones who actually got the Helicarrier ready for Nick Fury in the movie—that’s a piece of our action, but it’s not the whole plot of our story. And I know that the movies like when we can help fill those gaps in as well. The movie has to move big and quickly through a lot of huge pieces, and doesn’t have a lot of opportunity for nuance. But on television, we can spend a lot of time doing things. When we can do it, it’s fun, and I think everybody enjoys that.