Agents of SHIELD is confirmed to end after one final season, and this represents a far bigger deal than many seem to realize. First airing in 2013 on ABC in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's gargantuan success with The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD picked up the story of Phil Coulson and explored the wider ramifications of Marvel's cinematic releases. Although critical reaction was initially lukewarm, Agents of SHIELD eventually found both its rhythm, and a passionate core fan base who resonated with the series as part of the MCU and as its own unique entity.
Agents of SHIELD's sixth season finished back in August but, prior to the season finale, it was revealed that the SHIELD team would be retiring for good after one final, seventh season. While this announcement was understandably disappointing for fans, it does at least allow Agents of SHIELD to conclude on its own terms, and after one or two near-cancellations in the past that left the show's future hanging in the balance, this is a very welcome outcome.
As Marvel's longest-running, and arguably its most popular, current TV show, Agents of SHIELD's ending is already a significant moment for the franchise. But as well as having consequences for some major MCU characters and components, Agents of SHIELD's cancellation also marks a transition to the next phase in Marvel's conquest of the small screen.
Marvel TV Phase 1 Is Officially Over
The television side of MCU canon isn't divided as distinctly as the cinematic releases, which are separated into clear phases. Nevertheless, a rough evolution can be traced. Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, both of which aired on ABC, can be seen as Marvel's TV Phase 1 - two spinoffs starring supporting characters from the movie series that widen the fictional world created by films such as Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor.
Marvel then transitioned into their Netflix phase, producing a series of (mostly) popular shows on the streaming service. Following the structure of the MCU's cinematic adventures, the likes of Daredevil and Jessica Jones built towards eventual team-up, The Defenders. In more recent years, Marvel TV has shifted focus onto lesser-known superheroes and shows that have been part on the MCU in spirit only, such as Runaways, Cloak & Dagger and the ill-fated Inhumans.
The vast majority of these projects, even those that found critical and commercial success, have now been cancelled. Marvel Studios' entire Netflix slate was axed, Peggy Carter lasted two seasons, Inhumans only one. Both Runaways and Cloak & Dagger are currently filming their third and second seasons, respectively, but it would be unwise to put money on either lasting beyond that.
Through all of these ups and downs, Agents of SHIELD has soldiered on. The MCU's very first presence on cable TV, the opening gambit in Marvel's dominance of the small screen, and a constant thread from the early post-Avengers period through to veiled references suggesting some purple fella might be causing trouble in New York, has finally been dropped. After six years, Marvel TV Phase 1 can officially be declared over. Given Agents of SHIELD's inherent links to Nick Fury, Thor and Captain America, the show's cancellation is also another step in moving on from that original Avengers cast.
Marvel TV Is Becoming Part Of Phase 4 On Disney+
A driving motivation in the slew of Marvel TV cancellations might've been the introduction of Disney+, the studio's own in-house streaming service, turning cable TV and Netflix into rivals instead of partners. Of course, the MCU has a major role to play in Disney+'s roster of content and this became apparent during the official Phase 4 announcement at this year's San Diego Comic Con.
More than ever before, MCU TV shows are now being held up alongside the franchise's forthcoming movies as integral parts of the new phase, with the likes of Wandavision, Hawkeye, Loki and Falcon & The Winter Soldier taking their place on the slate. Significantly, these projects will not only feature A-list talent (Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, etc.) but will also introduce major new characters to the franchise, such as She-Hulk and Moon Knight.
Agents of SHIELD's ending represents a major step in Marvel's transition from the world of traditional network TV to keeping everything under a single, Disney-owned banner. While this will certainly bring more freedom and bigger names, only time will tell as to whether Disney+ can put more eyes onto the MCU's TV output.
MCU Stories That Die With Agents Of SHIELD
Agents of SHIELD's final season is also significant due to all of the characters and stories that will no longer be an active part of the MCU. Phil Coulson, for example, is a veteran of the franchise that only came into his own after Clark Gregg was given a starring role in his own spinoff. As things stand in Agents of SHIELD, the real Coulson is dead and a Life Model Decoy has taken his place, strongly suggesting that the character's story will go down with the ship.
The end of Agents of SHIELD also puts the final nail in the Inhumans' coffin. While they might be the black sheep of the Marvel family now, the Inhumans were once set to star in their own solo movie and were introduced to the MCU thanks to Agents of SHIELD, which revealed one of its main characters as Quake. After ABC's Inhumans series tanked spectacularly, the concept became damaged goods and Marvel would later go on to regain the rights to the word "mutant," rendering the presence of Inhumans in their world more of a hindrance than a benefit.
Agents of SHIELD season 7 will see the long-awaited return of HYDRA - an entity that has been a major part of the franchise since the very beginning, triggering the chase for the Infinity Stones, the rise of Captain America and the return of Bucky as the Winter Soldier. As with Phil Coulson, Agents of SHIELD allowed HYDRA to live on after its role in the movies came to an end, but that outlet will no longer be available when the show leaves screens.
Fortunately, a glimmer if hope remains. Clark Gregg's Coulson had a supporting role in Captain Marvel, so it's possible his LMD could feature in the sequel. Furthermore, the beauty of HYDRA means that there's always another "head" waiting in the shadows for the perfect opportunity to strike. In either case, the absence of these stories will be keenly felt as Marvel TV draws its first phase to a close.
Agents of SHIELD season 7 is set to premiere in mid-2020 on ABC.