[Warning: SPOILERS for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. up to Episode #13 ahead.]

It’s gut-check time for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is serving as Marvel Studios’ initial foray into what is nowadays the increasingly diverse – and, in turn, competitive – world of televised entertainment. Last week, the series began what’s been built up as a strong final run of episodes to make up for the rocky first half of season 1, starting with the adventure “T.R.A.C.K.S.” – which, despite being hindered by problems that can be traced back to previous episodes, did feel more like a proper, complex and (dare we say) compelling espionage thriller set in the Marvel universe.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an upward climb for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; when the show restarts on ABC at the beginning of next month (which is March 2014, at the time of writing this), it will not only bring fan-favorite Bill Paxton into the fold, but also continue to progress one of the best plot threads featured in season 1.1 – Milke Peterson’s (J. August Richardson) evolution from ordinary man to Extremis experiment, and now the cyborg specimen known as “Deathlok,” mind-controlled by none other than the mysterious Clairvoyant.

After Paxton is introduced as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent John Garrett in the episode “Tahiti”, the show will then bring on a familiar face to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), known from the Thor movies. That episode, titled “Yes Men”, will see the powerful Asgardian warrior join forces with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his motley team in order to battle the dangerous Lorelei (Elena Satine), a relatively well-known character from the Thor comics.

That and perhaps Sif will demand to take Lola for a spin, judging by the first image of her from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode (via TV Guide).

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One wonders if there will be any update on the current status of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – who, last time we saw him, decided to hang around on Earth with his girlfriend Jane (Natalie Portman) at the end of Thor: The Dark World – and/or if Sif’s appearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might even plant the smallest of seeds for what lies ahead in Thor 3, which is currently in the script stage of development. We’ve been disappointed by “tie-ins” to the larger Marvel universe before (“The Well”, anyone?), but the folk over at Marvel Studios appear to realize that it’s now or never, as far as them justifying a shared universe template that includes all of its TV series – so who knows?

Speaking of not knowing exactly what the future holds – Marvel does love its secrets and Richards recently sat down to talk with Hero Complex about when, exactly, he was informed that his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. character would go from super-soldier knockoff to the dangerous bio-mechanical weapon called Deathlok (another fairly well-established comic book character).

Not far in advance at all. Everything with Marvel is on a need-to-know basis, so I didn’t officially know until the second episode I did, which I think was the 10th episode in the season. Information is carefully guarded over there. I definitely didn’t know that I was Deathlok. I even had a costume fitting, and I didn’t know what I was being fitted for!

J. August Richards as Mike Peterson, pre-Deathlok transformation

Part of what has made Mike Peterson’s journey on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. one of the show’s better elements is the performance by Richards – known in the geek community for playing street-smart (yet big-hearted) demon fighter Charles Gunn on S.H.I.E.L.D. co-creator Joss Whedon’s Buffy spinoff, Angel – in addition to how show-runners Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and their writing staff didn’t skip any steps, in laying out Mike’s motivation and character arc on the series – making him all the more empathetic for it.

Richards also did his part by researching (read: going back through Marvel comics), once he learned that he was playing Deathlok; he now cites the more sympathetic version of the character as his inspiration:

Definitely, in my reading, I was drawn more to the Michael Collins version because this character is such a good man, such a good moral, decent person. For [Peterson] to do the things he’s asked to do as Deathlok are very difficult for him. When I showed up to play the character for the first couple of days, I was still trying to find it. Obviously these are circumstances that I can’t relate to, but I had to really use my imagination to get at what it would be like for Mike Peterson to be turned into Deathlok. Once I figured it out, it was like night and day, just a huge epiphany on what was going on internally for this character.

Similarly, much like the philosophy behind Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that ordinary people can still make a difference in a world of superheroes (and thus, the less-fantastical stories about regular folk are still worth telling), Richards feels that his role on the show gives him a proper chance to dig beneath the surface of the Deathlok persona – and reveal the human core to the comic book-y exterior.

I feel blessed that I’ve been asked to play this character because I always want to play the person behind the superhero. Even when I’m playing a lawyer or a doctor, I want to play a person. A human being. It’s challenging physically, mentally, emotionally and even in the circumstances of the production. The makeup and the costumes. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s something that I love so much.

Are you liking how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has handled the Deathlok character so far? What are you hopes for Sif’s appearance on the show, as well as how the series will be connected to (and thus, be affected by) events that transpire in the MCU, including the upcoming “Phase 2″ Marvel movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns with “Tahiti” on Tuesday, March 4th @8pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of that episode below:

Source: LA Times, TV Guide