The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first foray into TV, with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., didn’t get off to a very good start. Ratings nosedived during season one, as viewers switched off in their droves, disappointed that the magic of the MCU hadn't miraculously transitioned to the small screen.
Things have improved vastly since then. They have done away with the naff tie-in episodes, so fans will never again need to sit through Coulson turning up just after an Avenger has sodded off.
Instead, showrunners Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell have doubled down on the characters that they're allowed to use. They are now able to tell stories their own way, rather than being slaves to the movie continuity.
This shift in approach has made season four the best run yet. The stories of Gabriel Luna’s Ghost Rider, Mallory Jansen’s AIDA, and the Matrix-esque Framework simulation dovetail with one another, building to a highly entertaining finale.
It’ll be a tough task for Whedon, Tancharoen, and Bell to push the show to even headier heights next year. If they're looking for a few tips, here are 15 Ways To Make Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 Brilliant.
15 Bring Back Lance Hunter And Bobbi Morse
Nick Blood’s Lance Hunter and Adrianna Palicki’s Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird) were both introduced at the start of season 2, giving the show a significant adrenaline boost with their "on again/off again" banter. After a full season of FitzSimmons' "will they/won’t they," meeting a couple who had already got together was a real breath of fresh air.
The better-than-usual action choreography of Mockingbird provided another reason to love these new faces. But, tragically, they didn’t stay with the show for very long.
In season three's episode three, Lance and Bobbi were given an emotional "spy’s goodbye;" they took the fall for an incident in Russia where several government officials were killed. Thus they helped keep S.H.I.E.L.D. off the radar, but their humour and personality has been missed since.
Now that S.H.I.E.L.D. is popular once again, could Coulson make a play to bring Bobbi and Lance back into the fold and reveal the truth about what happened in Russia?
Since the mooted Marvel’s Most Wanted spinoff about Lance and Bobbi doesn’t seem to be happening, there’s no real reason not to bring them back. Doing so could make season five all the better.
14 Take The Team To Hell, Or Another Dark Dimension
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has forever teased the idea of other dimensions. Way back in season one, a chap named Ford was trapped between Earth and a dark dimension that he called "hell." The transdimensional "Darkforce" energies also crossed over between Agent Carter and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Season four developed these ideas, bringing in the mysterious Darkhold book and the demonically-assisted Ghost Rider (aka Robbie Reyes). At one point, Robbie, Coulson and Fitz were caught between dimensions, able to see and hear the rest of the team, but not able to communicate them or make physical contact.
Going even further, in the season finale, Robbie mentioned that he spent most of the year in a dimension/realm that could be described as hell. Now that the show is reaching its fifth season and its hundredth episode, it’s time to deliver some payoff.
Coulson's "deal with the devil" presents the perfect chance to bring the gang to a dark dimension and present them with a new unique challenge.
13 Keep The Three-Act Structure
One thing that should definitely be kept from season four is the action-packed three-act structure. From the Ghost Rider, to the threat of LMDs, to The Framework and AIDA’s mad grab for power, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season four never felt dull.
Season five should use this structure again, but fill the slots with fresh ideas. The first chunk of the season will surely be set in space (at least partially), playing off of season four's cliffhanger.
After that, they can dive into Coulson’s deal with the devil and explore a dark dimension. Then the two arcs can mesh together, perhaps with a new threat emerging.
In the age of peak TV, where there’s always something else to watch if you get bored, having a new major story every few weeks is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret weapon to keep fans engaged.
12 Have A Significant Tie-In With The Inhumans
It’s no secret that Marvel and ABC are launching another show this year: Inhumans, which will introduce the royal family of this superhuman race.
Since Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done so much work to seed the mythos of the Inhumans into public consciousness, it’s only fair that the show should get some sort of crossover with the Inhumans series.
Inhumans also owes S.H.I.E.L.D. a big debt on a scheduling level: the latter has moved from its usual fall slot to make room for the new show. Surely, the least Inhumans can do is allow Black Bolt – or whoever – to pop up in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season five and share a few scenes with Daisy "Quake" Johnson.
Quake would love some more information about her Inhuman ancestry., and a crossover event can do a lot to bring new fans in. The CW's DC shows have proven this.
11 Up The Cameo Ante
Given that Avengers: Infinity War will have the biggest cast of any Marvel movie ever, there must be someone who’s willing to cameo in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season five. Fans have long given up hope that Tony Stark will pop by to visit Phil Coulson, but there must be some way these properties can work together.
S.H.I.E.L.D. season five will start its run in January 2018, and from there run for 22 weeks. Infinity War will reach theatres in May 2018, at which point S.H.I.E.L.D. will still be on the air. It would be very cool if Samuel L. Jackson or Cobie Smulders could turn up, and provide the gang with some clandestine task to perform to assist Earth’s mightiest heroes.
After all, the MCU connectivity is the only thing that S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t yet managed to master. The Thor: The Dark World tie-in was truly awful, but the Lady Sif episodes that came later hinted at a better way to connect with the big screen. S.H.I.E.L.D. may never get the big stars, but supporting players could be used in fun ways.
10 Bring Back Ghost Rider (But Not Too Much)
It’ll be interesting to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. uses Robbie Reyes. If they feature him too much, the novelty will wear off and the VFX budget will be wasted. But if they only use him to get them out of tight spots every now and then, Robbie will begin to seem like a "deus ex machina," instead of the character that fans have come to love.
The answer, perhaps, is to make one of the arcs of season five a story that Robbie can significantly contribute to over several episodes.
If the powers-that-be decide to feature a trip to "hell" for Coulson and company, this would be a perfect point to bring Robbie back.
Fans have seen his origin story, his family life, and his antihero antics, but they haven’t seen where Robbie goes when he’s not on Earth. By showing what he goes through when he’s not being a vigilante, the writing staff could develop Robbie into an even more rounded character.
9 Introduce SWORD And Add Some Inter-Agency Tension
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season four ended with Coulson and his team being picked up by a shady-looking group of people. After this some time went by that viewers didn’t get to see, and suddenly Coulson woke up in a space station and got ready for work.
The rumour mill quickly posited that these shifty figures were agents of S.W.O.R.D.: another intelligence agency from Marvel Comics, who have a base in space dubbed "The Peak." Their prime directive is to deal with extra-terrestrial threats to Planet Earth.
Perhaps these S.W.O.R.D. agents picked up S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best and brightest because they believed a major space-based threat is imminent. After all, Coulson and the gang have plenty of experience with aliens, planets, and non-Earthly artefacts.
It would be great if this fan theory turned out to be true. It would allow lots of cool new characters to join the fray (such as S.W.O.R.D.’s pyrokinetic leader Abigail Brand), and create fresh opportunities for inter-agency banter.
8 Tie Up The Graviton Cliffhanger
The Graviton cliffhanger has become something of an in-joke among fans. Casual viewers might struggle to remember it, but in season one, Dr Franklin Hall was introduced as a scientist who’s been messing with a gravity-altering element called Gravitonium.
The episode ended with Coulson sending Hall flying into a big puddle of Gravitonium. The scientist disappeared into it, and was believed dead when S.H.I.E.L.D. locked up the Gravitonium in The Fridge. But then, in a post-credits scene, his hand emerged from the silver goo. Fans immediately speculated that Hall was going to become a supervillain.
But this never happened. Years have gone by, and the only further mention of Gravitonium came in season one's “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Therein, the element fell into the hands of HYDRA, who had no clue Franklin was inside it.
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. could please its long-term fans by bringing Hall back into season five. It could make the 100th episode spectacular, by tying the show back to its earliest days.
7 Continue Avoiding The "Unmasking A Mystery Villain" Trope
As well as pointing out what they could take from the comics and the plotlines they could revisit, it’s also worth mentioning what the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s writing staff has done well already. For example, they very rarely use the "unmasking a mystery villain" trope.
Over on the DC side of the fence, this plot structure – introduce a masked baddie, build some mystery, then unmask them at the end – has become overdone. The Flash did this in both its second and third seasons, and Arrow did it this year too.
The only time that S.H.I.E.L.D. did it was with Bill Paxton’s Clairvoyant in season one. But this was something of a necessary evil, given that the threat of HYDRA couldn’t be revealed before Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s release.
By having AIDA as a presence throughout season four, the showrunners allowed actress Mallory Janssen to run the whole gamut of emotions in sensational style. Whichever big baddie follows her deserves the same chance to shine.
6 Introduce A Big New Space-Based Baddie
Exactly who the villain will be in the space-based segment of season five remains a mystery. It seems safe to assume it will be some sort of extra-terrestrial nasty.
It would be interesting if this new threat was teased in Inhumans (which will take place, at least in part, on the Moon) or was linked somehow to Infinity War.
Ultimately, it may be wiser for S.H.I.E.L.D. to set up its own outer space enemy, rather than trying to weave too tightly with other properties. Since at least two Infinity Stones are currently on Earth, it wouldn’t be difficult to make up a reason for a new villain to visit the planet.
The writers could create their own character using one of the established alien races (like the Chitarui, the Dark Elves, or the Kree), or borrow a villain, such as Majeston Zelia (ruler of the Dark Gods), Mikaboshi (who once devoured 98% of the Multiverse), or Korvac (a time-traveller from the 31st century). Whichever route they go down, the threat will have to massive to justify the move to space.
5 Push Mack And Yo-Yo Into Even More Turmoil
In a grim sort of way, part of the fun with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is seeing the writers dream up new ways to utterly torment their beloved characters. In season four, Mack’s time spent in The Framework, with the digital copy of his dead daughter, came to a head in a heart-breaking way.
Disgruntled love interest/Secret Warriors alum Yo-Yo managed to get inside The Framework and save Mack before he died inside the crumbling simulation, adding yet another layer of emotional intensity. It pretty much goes without saying, but it’ll be tough to top this arc in terms of character development and nerve-shredding turmoil.
Perhaps Mack could go dark again? Maybe there’s a fragment of the Ghost Rider still inside him. Or perhaps Yo-Yo could get caught up in a dangerous solo mission that forces her to go off the grid, leaving Mack to play the role of "terrified partner left at home" this time around.
Whatever they come up with, it’ll have to be seriously traumatic to surpass the intensity of what came before.
4 Reveal AIDA’s Plan B
An artificial intelligence as smart as AIDA wouldn’t have made itself a physical body without also making a back-up, to ensure its longevity. Exploring AIDA's post-corporeal contingency plan could be a thrilling way to spend a couple of episodes.
Maybe there’s a copy of AIDA’s mind stored inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. databanks somewhere. Perhaps, at some point in the season, the team will stumble upon it and accidentally active it. Like the HAL computer system from 2001: A Space Odyssey, AIDA’s digital consciousness could attempt to take over S.H.I.E.L.D.’s systems and kill the team. Cue lots of stressed-out hacking from Daisy and Fitz.
Bringing AIDA back as the main villain would be a bit much, but allowing her threat to re-emerge for a short time could work wonderfully. And, it would allow Mallory Jansen to return to the role that she absolutely knocked out of the park last season, which is no bad thing.
3 Add Some More Secret Warriors
Since Lincoln died and Joey turned his back on S.H.I.E.L.D., the Secret Warriors initiative has pretty much been scrapped. Daisy can call in Yo-Yo when she needs some speedster assistance, but that’s about it. Unless you count two people who only occasionally team up, S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t have its own superhero team at the moment.
The "Daisy recruiting new enhanced people" phase of the show seemed very short-lived, which is a shame, because it could open so many doors for cool new guest characters. It would be nice if season five dusted off the Secret Warriors file and brought more powered characters into the fold.
Secret Warriors members from the comics who have yet to appear include Phobos (son of the Olympian god of war), Druid (half human/half monster), Stonewall (the son of Absorbing Man) and Manifold (a teleporting mutant, whose rights may reside with Fox).
Any of these characters could be neat additions to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., or the writers could come with some super-powered heroes of their own.
2 Build Suspicion Around "Evil Fitz," And Maybe Even Follow Through With It
The core characters of the show now remember two realities: the proper one, and the grim alternative presented by The Framework. Coulson remembers making his own soap, May remembers working for HYDRA, Mack remembers losing his daughter for a second time, and Fitz remembers being an evil git who killed Director Mace and Agnes Kitsworth.
The Framework never properly indoctrinated Simmons and Daisy, but both were affected by it: Daisy met a nice version of Ward, and Simmons killed Fitz’s father. All of these simulated memories are now mingling with the agents’ real ones. This is bound to affect their mental stability going forward.
Most of all, Fitz will be worrying about his evilness. Does anyone trust him anymore? Does he even trust himself? Will this darkness emerge one day?
Perhaps the writers’ endgame is to turn Fitz into a full-on villain, with the team – especially Simmons – having to deal with the consequences. They do seem to be pushing Fitz as Stark-like, in the sense that he’s a genius scientist that creates big problems.
1 Weave Coulson Into Infinity War
Call it a long shot, but there’s nothing that would make fans happier than Coulson reuniting with The Avengers and finally revealing that he’s still alive. Earth’s mightiest heroes can stop avenging him now, and they can give him back his Captain America trading cards.
Coulson was the heart of The Avengers, and it would be a shame if he was never weaved back into the sprawling story of the crossover film franchise. It would be amazing if it turned out that Clark Gregg’s iconic super spy has been moved to a cosmic setting to allow him to appear in Infinity War.
Surely, it will take all hands on deck to defeat Thanos. The epic scale of this battle could spread across movies, TV, and Netflix. Wouldn’t it be great, just this once, if Coulson and his team weren’t just on the periphery of the action?
The Helicarrier at the end of Age Of Ultron was a nice touch, but an actual appearance from Coulson in Infinity War – which could connect up with episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. – would bring about utter fan euphoria.
What do you want to see in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s season five? Let us know in the comments!