Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Finale: Where is Coulson?

Last night's shocking season finale sets up a whole new status quo for Agents of SHIELD, but just where is Coulson in the tag at the end?

Spoiler warning for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.


Last night’s season finale for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have finally wrapped up the stories of AIDA and the Framework, but it continued the show’s legacy of teasing out a number of future events. Season four saw SHIELD bring Life Model Decoys, the Darkhold, and the Spirit of Vengeance into the MCU, all of which played crucial roles in the web of plot threads that coalesced last night. Throughout all the fiery action and tearful drama, the show also added new layers to the mythology of the series and the MCU as a whole. And while we’ve likely seen the last of the alternate Hydra-led reality of the Framework, most of the other elements are still in play.

By the end of the episode, Robbie Reyes and the Darkhold are still out there somewhere. We also don’t know what’s become of the Superior’s brain and the unaccounted for LMD bodies he’s been controlling. And even more crucial, the last we see of our agents is their abduction by a mysterious government agency, likely tied to Coulson’s deal and his new room with a view. The final shot leaves quite the impression, teasing a new frontier for the series and hinting at even more comic book connections in the upcoming fifth season. But just where is Coulson?

Back to Work

Ever since Hydra revealed that they’d infiltrated SHIELD over the decades and then attempted to kill millions of people in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the public haven’t been too keen on the peacekeeping organization. While this hasn’t amounted to much in the movies, Agents of SHIELD has naturally had to deal with the fallout since season one. As such, they’ve regularly been forced to go underground, often hiding from other branches of the government and their frenemy Brigadier General Glenn Talbot. Given the takeover of the SHIELD base by the LMDs earlier this season and the death of director Mace, Talbot and the U.S. government are more than a little worried about SHIELD’s actions again.

While not a lot of focus has been put on this plot due to the Framework story, our agents returned to the real world with a number of forces coming after them. Following AIDA’s plans to further besmirch their names last night, it’s really no surprise when the team’s diner hangout session is raiding by military forces. But while the agents and audience first believe these shadowy figures to be part of Talbot’s team, a few wrinkles are soon added.

First, the spook in charge is someone we don’t appear to have met before. He’s also armed with some very interesting tech that somehow freezes everyone but him and his team. There’s then mention of a two-minute window, before we cut to Coulson waking up in what looks like a cell. We’re clearly seeing a time-jump, however, as Phil seems more than comfortable with his surroundings, despite appearing to be floating in outer space. With that final reveal and Coulson’s talk of getting back to work, it seems all but a given that next season will introduce the comic book organization S.W.O.R.D.

S.H.I.E.L.D. In Space

While the shot of Coulson in space will be plenty exciting for viewers of the show without comic book backgrounds, Marvel fans will immediately think of the Sentient World Observation and Response Department. Better known as S.W.O.R.D., the organization operates like SHIELD but in outer space. From a space station in orbit over Earth called the Peak, the SWORD team is a counterterrorism force mostly focused on extraterrestrial and cosmic threats.

Debuting in 2005’s Astonishing X-Men #3, SWORD has quickly risen to a fan-favorite group thanks to its mix of mutant and Avengers members and the group’s colorful leader Abigail Brand. While members like Beast and Lockheed won’t be showing up due to Fox owning their rights, and Captain Marvel seems unlikely to appear on TV, Brand and Henry Gyrich are two likely candidates for an appearance on the show. Gyrich actually showed up in the first X-Men film as the assistant to mutant-hating Senator Kelly, but he could easily be co-owned like the Watchers.

Given the expansion of the cosmic side of the MCU in the Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, it makes sense for SHIELD to tap into this angle. The show’s even been to space in the past, thanks to the story of Maveth. Given the clandestine nature of their work, it’s not hard to imagine why the team would be plucked from Earth to avoid recrimination so they can continue to help save the world from far above it. That idea even fits with the comics, as SHIELD and SWORD have had a shaky relationship with one another following Nick Fury stepping down from leading the former.

The even stronger possibility for the inclusion of SWORD is its creator. The man behind Astonishing X-Men and the creator of SWORD was none other than Joss Whedon. And while Whedon is only attached to SHIELD in name, his brother is the series’ co-showrunner. While we’d never suggest SWORD will only appear as some form of comic book nepotism, it’s fitting that Jed Whedon would help bring his brother Joss’ creation to life in the MCU.

There is another wrinkle, however, and it ties into Coulson’s deal with the Spirit of Vengeance. While simply showing Phil in space could have been for the sake of brevity, it’s interesting to see him up there all alone. There’s no telling what sort of deal he struck to wield the power of the Ghost Rider, but perhaps we’re seeing the results of it with the character in space. It could also be some other simulation, much like the Framework or even T.A.H.I.T.I. But the most obvious answer is still the most straightforward one, though only in the world of SHIELD could waking up in space aboard an alien-fighting watchtower count as straightforward.

After last season reveal, the nature of the LMDs took quite some time to fully integrate into the story. And fans weren’t even aware of the possibility of Ghost Rider until Comic-Con last year. With SHIELD not returning until the spring of 2018, there’s no telling when we’ll learn more about season five. But whether Coulson’s in space or in his own head, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be returning with a very different status quo.

Next: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Finale Review & Discussion

Tom Welling in Crisis on Infinite Earths and Smallville
Crisis On Infinite Earths Was The Perfect Ending To Smallville