Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: What’s Special About Agent Coulson?

Published 1 year ago by , Updated May 15th, 2014 at 2:33 pm,

Agent Coulson Theories Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Whats Special About Agent Coulson?

This week’s mid-season premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was built around the long-awaited answer to one of the biggest questions in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – how did Agent Coulson survive the events of The Avengers?

While that tricky question was only partly answered, it raised a much more important and interesting question in why he was resurrected. Needless to say, there’s a lot more that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to answer on this front and star Clark Gregg promises that more is coming. Let’s take a look at some updated theories on what’s going on with Coulson.

We’re going to assume you’re caught up with the show and films if you’re reading ahead, so yes, obvious spoilers abound for those who’ve not seen Season 1, Episode 11: The Magical Place or Thor: The Dark World. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s highlight a few things actor Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson himself, has said about the big reveal, why it’ll be worth it for fans, and how it’ll play out in the second half of the season.

“The way our team has kind of turned the back half of this season into a reveal that uses the mystery of Coulson’s death not just as a standalone reveal but as an integral part of the bigger reveal, which is that this organization Centipede, run by this person the Clairvoyant, has been part of almost everything we’ve done and connects on a deep level to everything going forward. [Centipede] is determined to destroy SHIELD and, to Coulson’s chagrin, has some of the same questions about SHIELD that Coulson himself is starting to evolve.”

“The fact that they’ve already managed to kind of make the reveal of what Coulson’s doing alive [be] the one thing that the Clairvoyant wants is just part of the way the back half of this season is going to be — more exciting and more satisfying than the first half of this season, where so much work had to be done to kind of set up this world of these people and this team, and all these separate pieces get kind of woven together.”

This statement came before Episode 11 aired. Now that we’ve seen it, we know that Coulson’s visions of being on a beautiful beach in Tahiti were artificially implanted to help cover up the awful memories of the pain and suffering he endured in his seven days of constant operations to keep him alive – operations that had him pleading for S.H.I.E.L.D. to let him die. Coulson had literally lost the will to live and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s surgeons (and some crazy brain-tampering robot) – at the personal request of Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) – messed with his mind and memories to change that outlook.

agents of shield coulson death operation Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Whats Special About Agent Coulson?

That’s not “the reveal” though. The reveal was only detailing what Tahiti (“The Magical Place”) was really all about. It’s just part of something bigger and more important that we’ll learn more of throughout the next few episodes and, likely, all the way to the end of the season – and it might be tying into some important story elements coming up in future feature films, but more on that later.

Coulson should have died, but SHIELD kept him alive using methods and technology we’re still unclear on. However, there’s more to the story than an epic recovery, because Coulson – for reasons not yet known – is special. As Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows) made it clear to Agent Ward, it doesn’t make sense for SHIELD’s executives to be so concerned for any individual agent. They’re giving Coulson special attention because there’s a very specific reason why he needs to survive. So, let’s look at some reasons, hints and confirmations as to why Coulson is so important to SHIELD, to Nick Fury and Commander Maria Hill, and how the complete reveal ties into the interests of the Clairvoyant and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Page 2: Coulson Bot & Asgardian Magic


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., starring Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge, returns next Tuesday with “Seeds” @8pm on ABC.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 31, 2015, with unannounced films coming May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie news!

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  1. After reading this article I’m thinking the super soldier serum would make the most sense. Seems to be more plausible
    than the Inhuman route despite the tweet by Clark Gregg. The reservation I have with the Inhuman theory
    is that it would change Coulson’s character too drastically (and the show for that matter). The serum just would
    fit this character and the show more seamlessly.

  2. There’s also a possibility that the exposed-brain Coulson we saw on the slab wasn’t the same Coulson we’re seeing now, and that the brain-tampering was indeed supposed to “scan” him in order to port his memories and personality to a new body, possibly a robotic one.

    I’m saying this because Gregg’s tweet could be referencing Inhumans, but could also be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the show “Almost Human”.

  3. Rob, I really love this article… great job! This is exactly the article that I love in ScreenRant :D

    I watched the episode earlier this morning and I thought the same thing, “what’s so special about him?”. And then later I read that Clark Gregg’s tweet, and I immediately exploded with big laugh and applause thinking THAT would definitely be NEAT and a fanpleaser (cause I know I will be) plus it rhymes with the statement that the series is going more ‘Marvel’. It would be great if it turns out the Inhumans has something to do with his revival from death, I mean the technology was ‘highly sophisticated’ right?

    Then again, we were also given a clue in form of Coulson seeing ‘galaxy’ when he was being operated, which might also hinted at Asgard/Kree. The series had used the Asgard theme several times, and I think they are not just fillers. But the Kree… John C Reilly’s character in GotG is an alien (I think) but he looks very human. So it’s a definite possibility!

    And about the Clairvoyant, I’m currently guessing wildly that he might a supervillain with strong use of technology. AIM and MODOK perhaps? or I agree, Vision… or even someone in Dr. Strange’s rogue gallery, considering Coulson himself who always denied the idea of telepathy or telekinetic power in previous episode… said the Clairvoyant IS a TELEPATH.

    Well it’s safe to say, Coulson is definitely not just our mere everyday disposable agent, with all the attention given to him. His hobby of collecting weird antics from years gone by is probably hinting something, and his mysterious ‘cellist’ is part of an intriguing mystery (at least for me). Plus, he even gets the privilege to ‘gather’ The Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Cap), and I’m sure that’s not just a job for any agent on the system. That alone is enough to keep me on this show, even when it’s probably/definitely NOT the best so far.

    • Thanks!! I really appreciate that.

  4. What is it about Coulson that people like… I found him sterile and boring….

    • Compared to his teammates, Coulson is the life of the party.

    • one line in iron man 2
      “If you try to escape, or play any sort of games with me, I will taze you and watch “Supernanny” while you drool into the carpet.”
      that’s why most of us love him.
      the way he said that, in that calm stern voice of his was awsome.

  5. I’m waiting for people to start talking about the “neurosurgeon” who was the 1st to operate on Coulson. The only Neurosurgeon I can think of in the Marvle Universe is… Dr. Strange

    • +1. That makes the most sense out of anything else on this page.

    • I’m pretty sure those two teenagers who performed detailed eye surgery while going squeamish in the process could totally do it.

      After that happened there are no rules in this universe. Anything can happen on a whim so the milkman could drop in and perform brain surgery during his morning tea break. That is how ridiculous Agents Of Shield has taken things.

      Marvel have this great series of movies going then this hack tv show supposed to be feeding context and backstory into the universe. It just doesn’t make sense.

      Somebody dropped the ball on quality control.

    • Yeap, listed Strange in our earlier 10 theories. That however, doesn’t explain the WHY of it all – why is Coulson getting special treatment/why is he so important?

      • That’s part of my confusion over where some of the criticism is pointed. The answer to HOW Coulson is alive has never really been anything even potentially exciting. The exciting answer is WHY, yet every week the show hints at the WHY, but the show is criticized for not explaining the HOW.

        I’m not saying this to dismiss the criticism, but this article is everything that is interesting about the mystery.

  6. I’m more interested in who the Clairvoyant is.

    Just reveal Leader already.

  7. Great article Rob, Marvel could use this article to help them salvage the second half of this season. I do genuinely hope that this show improves, and that the eventual full Coulson reveal is worth-while, but with every passing tuesday its not looking good.

    On a side-note, could you possibly take over weekly reviewing of AoS? I love Anthony but I don’t think he can be objective about this show. Granted there is a lot about the show to hate, focussing on potential like this article, is a better use of web space.

    • Nah Anthony is just telling it like it is. The truth hurts sometimes also he did try and give the show a chance a few episodes back when it looked like they were turning the corner but the writing continued to be awful especially with the weak midseason finale (lowest rated episode) the show is just bad.

      • Anthony has lost all perspective when it comes to AoS.

        He has hated it since the moment he realized that the producers were not going to run it as a massive spy show based out of the Helicarrier (which appears to be what he expected) and has only been mollified (slightly) with the episodes that ran more to an espionage theme.

        It is completely clear that he is incapable of setting aside “his vision” for what he expected the program to be long enough to actually accept the team which has been presented to us for what it is… One of Fury’s contingency plans.

        A group of “agents” with relative autonomy and resources which are acting just far enough outside of the system to be able to see the current problems and in-fighting which will be a central theme in Captain America 2.

    • Anthony’s reviews are pretty spot on though. That’s one of the shows we do cover with weekly reviews – it’s not the same as what this is, more of a speculation piece/editorial. Both generate good discussions though.

  8. so basically SHIELD can heal anybody and bring anybody back from dead if given few days. Great to know Avengers are safe no matter what happen in Age of Ultron

    • Spoken like someone who didn’t read the article.

    • If my theories about Coulson are correct then SHIELD might be able to resurrect Captain America in a similar fashion but I doubt that the process would work on anyone else.

      Also, keep in mind that even in Coulson’s case they needed 90%+ of the body to be intact to pull it off so any deaths involving the destruction of large amounts of the corpse (especially the Head) would be impossible to be recovered from.

    • Nah, in my piece, I explain that IF Coulson isn’t human then them bringing him back makes sense. If he was an ordinary human being, his revival does raise storytelling problems.

      • If Coulson were given the Infinity formula back in the 50′s then technically he isn’t an “ordinary” human being.

      • It can also be simple.

        If he was the only guy (Coulson) you could trust within what you suspect is a corrupted system since “Phase 2″, wouldn’t you do the same?

        At this point I’m thinking even the Winter Soldier is a long forgotten protocol (joint Russian project for the sake of the story) to the organization, works for Fury and will help him fake his own death to work better outside of SHIELD, but needing Coulson, his inside man to be his eyes and ears within.

      • @Rob, Bcuz he’s their friend, brah.

        • Totes, dood.

          Don’t call me brah, guy

          • I’m not your guy, buddy.

  9. Whats special about Coulson is, he’s the only character on this awful show that anybody can stand to watch for more than 5 minutes without passing out from boredom.

    Oh and also I’d like to agree with Arun above, Yep, the new Cap America and Avengers Movies, we won’t have to worry about any tension, everythings ok, we all know that our heroes are pretty much safe and can’t die, brilliant.

    • +1

  10. The Leader is the Clairvoyant…tell’em Cap said so.

  11. I tend to go with the super soldier formula idea or something associated with Extremis.
    As for Coulson’s connection to the Clairvoyant and his importance to SHIELD: By definition a clairvoyant can forsee and individual’s future and thus possible future events. If Coulson “died” his future has been written and then becomes a “wild card”, capable of anything and thus an edge to SHIELD. His disillusionment with SHIELD’s motives also plays well into the themes behind Captain America TWS. Just a theory.

  12. He’s important and needs to be alive in order for Fury to have someone to depend on once he’s faked his death and needs to work outside the system, after the Winter Soldier.

    As to how Fury manages to keep him alive, It could be anything really: Super Soldier serum leftovers, Electrically-charged Chitauri blood (as during Avengers, when their command central got destroyed they seemed to “shut down”, or heck bargaining with Mephisto.

    Anything’s possible really.

    Oh and the Clairvoyant is a She, not a He. If you notice the wordplay of the people that have spoken to Her, they never call her by her gender. Misdirection I say!

    • The clairvoyant is male

  13. I like the idea of humans being giving powers through genetic manipulation experiments. It can lead the way to passing these inhuman genes to future generations that would allow marvel to explain powers/abilities of shared characters who are not mutants.

  14. I think the show could be improved by tying it in with other Marvel characters but we’ve seen so far possible appearances for Graviton, HYDRA, AIM, Madame Hydra, Klaw, and with the Magical Place, ULTRON.

  15. I think Coulson is important to Fury and Hill bcuz he’s their friend.

  16. *Ahem* There’s only one Steve Rogers on Screen Rant buddy, this sight ain’t big enough for the both of us.

    • lols.

      Steve, tell me what you’re wearing.

  17. I’ve always liked Coulson:

    “I’ll tase you and watch Supernanny while you drool on the floor.” He tells Tony


    “Thanks for your cooperation.” After he takes all of Jane’s equipment and research in Thor.

    I see him as the Sgt Major to Maj Fury’s CO of S.H.E.I.L.D. Personally I tried watching the show and had high hopes for it, but most of the characters are BORING! and I think it’s on…which night this week?

  18. If the clairvoyant couldn’t “see” coulson coming back to life it makes lean towards Dr. Strange being the first surgeon as magic would be able to block a clairvoyant, IMO.

  19. MARVEL ZOMBIES!! Season 2 will rival the Walking Dead.

    Actually, I like the Inhumans speculation. Thanks Rob. Articles like this (that spawn the creativity of your readers) are why I frequent this site.

  20. killing people via smartphone? no, this visual effect and sound effect was the exact same as the tech used in Iron Man 1, the sonic device that Obidiah used on the cave baddies and on tony stark himself later on…it caused temporary paralysis.

    • Exactly what i saw/ thought about!

      +100 ^^^

  21. If Coulson were given the Infinity formula (a derivation of the original Super soldier serum made from the blood samples taken from Cap) back in the 50′s (once he was old enough to volunteer for military service) to slow his aging it would basically answer everything about the character and his resurrection.

    1. Having lived through the 40-60′s would explain his nostalgia and collection of items from those decades.

    2. As the most experienced, active agent on Earth; he would be of premier value to Fury and Shield. Thus explaining the lengths that Fury took to keep him around and to locate him when captured.

    3. The use of a version of the Super Soldier serum (probably formulated within the past year from blood samples taken from Cap in the 21st century and refined with the much more advanced technology available today over that of the 40s-50′s)to help revive him would not only be plausible but logical thing to give to someone who had already been dosed with a derivative of the same formula before.

    • I could live with that and it seems to me to be the most probable. Especially as it would tie-in to CA:TWS nicely

    • That would work pretty well actually

  22. Does anyone else think that Aldrich Killian is the Clairvoyant? If Agents of Shield takes place before Iron Man 3 (which I think it is due to Extremis still being developed) then it would make sense that he’s so interested in this operation. Didn’t someone say in the last episode that the Clairvoyant was heavily tech-savvy or something along those lines? That’s what’s making me think it might be him.

    • Yes, but Iron Man 3 Extremis events have already been referred to in past tense on the show.

  23. What if the serum was actually a ‘prototype’ kree manipulation, and secretly no human is human everyone is actualy cybotronians from the planet krypton where every one were warrior women and had the thirst of the god thor but, colsen was injected with the first kree experiment and he passed it onto he’s kids scarlet and quick and that can lead onto the Inhumans


    • NO.

      • Oh, my mistake.

        Seriously, though. AoS could be an Ultron origins. Coulson appears to be slowly turning against SHIELD, he knows way too much about the organization (and the Avengers), and he’s “probably not going to be in Avengers 2″ per Joss Whedon.

        It would be pretty dark for Coulson to end up becoming Ultron (considering they are changing Ultron’s origin anyway…) I’m also wondering why his brain was glowing red. Not really a big deal, but it reminded me of the red Ultron glow.

        I feel like that take on Ultron would be best if his voice was actually Coulson’s, which it won’t be, so it’s probably wrong. I think it’d make a cool alternate universe though, where Coulson ends up killing most of the Avengers.

        I’m personally still holding out for Vision.

  25. BTW, great article Rob. Agree with the others in that this is why I still come back to this site.

    • Cheers!

  26. The way I see it is this… (this time with all of the details)

    As seen in CA: The First Avenger, back in the 40′s they took dozens of samples of Captain America’s blood to use to try to re-invent the Super soldier serum. These derivative formulas were almost certainly used by the government and tested on volunteers during the 40′s + 50′s until they ran out of the source material (Cap’s Blood).

    Phil Coulson was the kid that we saw as the very end of CA:The First Avenger, who was playing as his hero Captain America. Ten years after the war ended, Phil signed up for the military and managed to make it into one of the test groups to be given one of the derivative super soldier serums which at the time seemed to fail due to there being no visible changes to the subject. Phil them completed his stint in the military and was then recruited by SHIELD as an agent.

    Over time however it became obvious that the experiment did have an effect on Phil in the form of greatly reduced aging (IE. just like the Infinity formula which was given to Nick Fury in the mainstream Marvel Universe). This reduced aging has allowed Phil to stay on the job and acquire more experience then any other agent. He has become “the job” as he has outlived or had to distance himself from most all of the people that he knew earlier in life. The fact that Phil is over 80 is a secret kept to just Phil and SHIELD operatives of Level 9+. All of this made him the perfect “right hand man” to the director and justifies the extreme methods that Fury has taken to both resurrect Agent Coulson and to locate him when captured.

    This would explain everything about Phil. His collection of items from the 50′s & 60′s, his hero worship of Captain America, the “seen it all” attitude that he has evidenced throughout the entire history of the character on screen, Fury’s confidence in him, his lack of friends/associates outside of SHIELD, etc…

    It also explains why they were able to both keep his brain alive via electrical stimulation ( the cellular preservative properties of the super soldier serum helped to slow down decay) and why they would utilize a dose of what appears to be the super solider serum (likely derived and refined from samples of Caps blood taken since his revival in the 21st century) to help kickstart his resuscitation.

    An unexpected result of the dose of the newer serum is that it may had some additional effects such as:

    ~ Slightly enhanced endurance and agility.

    ~ The emotional/mental boost to the subject which Erskine described as “making a good man…into a better man”. (which would explain the personality improvements that Phil has evidenced during the series which have been noted upon numerous occasions by the agents who had worked with him prior to his “death”).

    All of the speculation above is backed up by things that we have seen in both the movies as well as the TV series and IMO is the best explanation for Phil and what brought him back to life.

  27. Great article!

  28. in the first couple episodes i can’t remember which one a door came flying off a van and Coulson moved like a super human

    • Pilot episode.

      Mike throws the door from Sky’s van at Coulson and AC manages to dodge it.

        • thats right the One Shot he goes from a casual guy in a suit buying twinkies to Chuck Norris

          “keep the change”

    • That’s what I thought too, I just couldn’t find that scene – I even had our TV man Ant checking our archive so I removed that line.

      • thanks for the article…i dont watch the show anymore but i can keep up with SR’s help :D

  29. Here’s what I’m thinking; Zola is the “clairvoyant”. Also the fact that he’s uploaded himself into a computer (if true) then I beleive that for the MCU: Zola = MODOK. The phone trick used to kill his no.2 was the same one used by Stain in IM1. High freq something of other.. So starktech. This either means centipede is AIM or centipede is simply An AIM bioweapon’s program masterminded by Zola. He’s the genetics expert afterall, he’s looking to create super soldiers.. Or rather ubermensch ;)… Contract for Hydra? AIM doesnt use super solders.. But hydra sure as heck does in the comics.