Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has often been regarded as the red-headed stepchild of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Marvel’s blockbuster films gain worldwide acclaim with fans, and Marvel’s Netflix series often become critical darlings (with rare exceptions), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been relegated to an unenviable category in the eyes of many fans: non-essential viewing. S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s storylines are often directly affected by events that occur in the films (Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. radically and permanently upended the ABC series, for instance), but that train only goes in one direction. S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s stalwarts like Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and their most prominent superpowered hero, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), are not allowed (for complicated corporate reasons) to fraternize with the Avengers in the movies, despite ostensibly sharing the same universe. (Though this divide may end ‘at some point.’)
S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s ratings have gradually fallen as viewers abandoned the series. In its 4th season, ABC shifted S.H.I.E.L.D. from its Tuesday prime time 8pm timeslot to 10pm, ostensibly to give the series a little less pressure to hit expected numbers and perhaps to allow the leeway to let the series’ storylines take on a bit of a harder edge more in line with its sister shows on Netflix. S.H.I.E.L.D., in turn, responded with what has been acclaimed as their very best season of television.
Divided into three distinct but interwoven story ‘pods,’ season 4 began by introducing the fan favorite mystical hero Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna); then shifted into the perils of artificial intelligence with its “LMD” storyline, which introduced the femme fatale android AIDA (Mallory Jansen), who would become the Big Bad of the season; and concluded with a bravura series of episodes in the Framework, a virtual reality world created by AIDA where Hydra ruled society. The Framework allowed S.H.I.E.L.D. to bring back deceased fan favorite characters like Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt), which rewarded longtime viewers while delving even deeper into the flaws of characters like Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker).
While its low ratings frequently placed the series “on the bubble” for cancellation, ABC continues to stand by the show and rewarded S.H.I.E.L.D. with a fifth season and a new Friday night timeslot. However, fans of the series will have to wait even longer for the answers to major cliffhangers like “What is Coulson doing in outer space?” The network has decided to punt Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to mid-season with a January premiere – albeit with the promise that its 22 episode run will air without any interruptions. In its stead, ABC has something else major planned for the upcoming fall TV season, something already familiar to fans of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Marvel’s Inhumans.
Introduced during the seminal Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run of “Fantastic Four” in the 1960’s, the Inhumans are one of the oldest concepts in the Marvel Universe. The Inhumans bear a passing similarity to the mutants of the X-Men franchise, with some key variances. While mutants are simply born with genetic gifts, Inhumans have a somewhat more complicated origin – genetically manipulated by the alien Kree race, Inhumans must be subjected to a substance called Terrigen, which cocoons them, and then grants them superhuman abilities, often transforming (or deforming) them physically. The Inhumans are traditionally ruled by a Royal Family consisting of their nearly omnipotent mute king Black Bolt; their Queen, Medusa; and others including Karnak, Maximus the Mad, Triton, Crystal, and a huge teleporting dog named Lockjaw.
Long story short, because Marvel Studios does not own the film or television rights to the more popular X-Men franchise, Marvel has, for the past several years, de-emphasized the mutants in the comics, with a heightened focus on the similar Inhumans, whose rights they do control. Marvel has manifestly tried to make the Inhumans into “the next big thing” since 2012, placing them at the forefront of nearly every major event in the Marvel Universe including “Infinity” and “Civil War II,” before making them literally come to blows with the X-Men in the enjoyable and successful “Inhumans Vs. X-Men” crossover earlier this year. Yet however much of the spotlight Marvel grants the Inhumans, they still haven’t quite caught on the way the publisher hopes, certainly not to the point where they can supplant the X-Men in popularity.
Inhumans were, until recently, slated for a feature film treatment like the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, though the Inhumans film’s release date continued to slide later and later, from 2019 to 2020, before it was removed from Marvel Studio’s film slate altogether. Meanwhile, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. waved the banner for the Inhumans in the MCU, weaving the superpowered race as a focal point of their storylines since season 2, including revealing that Agent Skye was actually Daisy Johnson, herself an Inhuman called Quake. Chloe Bennet’s character has since enjoyed her status as the foremost Inhuman in the MCU – at least until the Royal Family finally becomes ready for prime time this fall.
Currently shooting in Hawaii, Inhumans is a huge event and gamble for ABC – one they are sparing no expense for. The 8 episode series stars Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) as Black Bolt, Serinda Swann (Prison Break) as Medusa, Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) as Maximus, Ken Leung (Lost) as Karnak, and Isabelle Cornish (Puberty Blues) as Crystal. Inhumans’ pilot episode is being shot with IMAX cameras for a 2 week theatrical release in IMAX on September 1st before it premieres on ABC on September 22nd. Given the resources and hoopla being committed to Inhumans, the network’s emphasis on this series is understandable. Inhumans needs the biggest promotion possible, which is tantamount to its success.
While Inhumans is certainly a major event with a lot riding on it, for Marvel and for ABC, we argue that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is just as deserving of as powerful a promotional push – if not moreso. As stated previously, S.H.I.E.L.D. has simply never been better, hitting unheard of creative highs while telling the kind of stories only a series with the kind of rich history and beloved characters it has cultivated over four seasons can accomplish. In addition, S.H.I.E.L.D. deftly used the Hydra World of the Framework to deliver taut meta-commentary on current events happening in our society (much like Supergirl on The CW’s second season used aliens as a metaphor for relevant issues surrounding immigration and refugees). Marvel is currently doing the same in comics with their “Secret Empire” event featuring an evil Captain America leading Hydra to conquer the world, but S.H.I.E.L.D.’s story was less heavy handed and more enjoyable.
A fifth season for S.H.I.E.L.D. is well-earned, but a mere renewal isn’t enough. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves more – it deserves a major new promotional push by ABC to spread the word to new and lapsed viewers alike that S.H.I.E.L.D. is not only still on the air, but is more creatively robust, relevant, vital, and enjoyable than ever. The network should commit resources to invite fans new and old to rediscover S.H.I.E.L.D., either during its repeats airing over the summer or preferably on Netflix, where the entire series can be binged. The season 4 DVD and Blu-ray release should also be heavily promoted as essential viewing.
ABC should spread the word far and wide about how good S.H.I.E.L.D. is and why fans must watch the show. More eyes on S.H.I.E.L.D. can also only benefit Inhumans, considering how prominent the Inhumans are in the series and how much background about their race, powers, and history S.H.I.E.L.D. contains. S.H.I.E.L.D. especially needs renewed promotion considering it will now air on Friday nights, one of the least viewed nights for television.
In fact, with the show’s past seasons on Netflix anyway, finding more ways to cross-over the television universes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Defenders, and now Inhumans, helps provide even more legitimacy to a side of the universe some fans actually prefer to the movies themselves. Coulson should pay the Defenders a visit, Daisy needs to meet up with the Royal Family, and any other creative combos they can make. The CW’s DC shows may not share a universe with the cinematic DCEU, but they do find ways to both weave in characters from other shows and have full blown crossover episodes. If Marvel wants to legitimize its TV initiatives, then this kind of crossover can’t be limited to The Defenders. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes sense as the show that ties it all together, and Marvel shouldn’t waste that opportunity.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has earned and deserves due recognition for what it is and always has been: the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on television. S.H.I.E.L.D. came before The Defenders series on Netflix and all the series on FX and Freeform soon to debut. Coulson and his Agents have done all the work, week in and week out, of expanding and enriching the MCU, to relatively little fanfare. Now more than ever, S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves fanfare. Coming off its fourth and most successful season on all fronts, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is hotter than ever – Ghost Rider’s flaming skull hot – and ABC needs to clue fans into its emergence as must-see Marvel television. Anything less than ABC rewarding S.H.I.E.L.D. with the renewed promotion and emphasis the series and its talented cast and crew have earned is not only bad business, but it would frankly be inhuman.
Marvel’s Inhumans premieres theatrically in IMAX on September 1st and on ABC on September 22nd.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 premieres January 2018 Friday nights on ABC.