Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can't continue to ignore the consequences of Avengers: Infinity War. When the ABC show began in 2013, it was billed as the MCU's official tie-in TV series, strongly affected by major events in the movies. Things changed in 2015, though, when Marvel Studios was separated from the wider Marvel Entertainment group as part of a corporate restructuring at Disney. Since then, explicit connections have become rarer.
But there was no way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could ignore the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Season 5 contained a smart tie-in, revealing that in a sense Thanos himself was the show's real villain, and the final episodes were supposed to be happening at the exact same time as Avengers: Infinity War. Then, to the surprise of viewers, the season finale completely ignored Thanos' snap. Incredibly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 - which should really be set a year into the Decimation era - will also ignore it.
The fundamental problem is that the relationship between Marvel Television and Marvel Studios isn't anywhere near so close as it used to be. What's more, Marvel Studios wanted to keep the plot of Avengers: Endgame a closely-guarded secret - to the extent that only Robert Downey Jr. read the entire script. There was no way they were going to reveal all the plot to television executives who were entirely unconnected to the movie.
All this means that Marvel Television simply didn't know enough about what was due to happen in Avengers: Endgame in order to tie into it. They couldn't set Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 during the snap period because they didn't know what the world was supposed to be like, and they can't set their shows afterwards because they have no idea what to expect from the post-Endgame MCU. As a result, Jeph Loeb recently confirmed that he considers all Marvel Television shows to be set before Thanos' snap.
For the most part, this isn't a problem. Jessica Jones season 3 is the last of the Marvel Netflix shows, and assuming time remains moving at the same glacial pace as the rest of Marvel Netflix, it's likely to still be set in 2017. Both Cloak & Dagger and Runaways are a little more distant from the movies, and they've even avoided giving a concrete sense of exactly when they're set. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is different. It's the explicit tie-in TV series; season 5 was concurrent with the events of Avengers: Infinity War, and season 6 is set a year later. There's no way to make this timeline work. "We have a logic in our head that makes sense," Whedon explained, "But we certainly don’t want to burden the audience of telling them all that. We just want them to enjoy the ride and let the couch discussions be about that." Unfortunately, in a universe where everything is supposed to be connected somehow, that probably isn't possible.
This is all pretty disappointing, not least because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could have served an important function in the MCU. Although the snap affected half the life in the universe, the Russo brothers chose to focus in upon people viewers know and love. The true scale and horror of what Thanos had accomplished wasn't really demonstrated. The closest Marvel Studios came to it was an official tie-in novel that was clearly set some time after the snap, but avoided spoiling anything. No doubt Marvel Studios found it much easier to carefully control the information they gave to a single author and his editor than to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s team of writers and producers. And so an entire five-year period in the history of the MCU will essentially go unexplored, and the scale of the Avengers' victory will never truly be understood. That needn't have been the case; it would have just required a lot closer cooperation between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 premieres on Friday, May 10 on ABC.