The future of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently uncertain. By all accounts, the series is in "the bubble," where it could either be renewed for a sixth season or cancelled. ABC actually considered canceling Marvel's flagship show after the critically-acclaimed season 4, but Disney intervened. This time round, ABC President Channing Dungey has publicly said she's "cautiously optimistic" for the series's future. In spite of those positive comments however, showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have deliberately put together a plot that they believe could serve as a satisfying conclusion to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. "We're ready for if this is the end," Tancharoen noted.
It's understandable. The show's ratings aren't great and, five seasons in, there's a danger Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could begin to run out of ideas. Yet this season has seen the S.H.I.E.L.D. team go where no Marvel TV show has gone before. As one of the characters noted, "We’re in space. It’s the one thing we haven’t done yet." Speaking at this year's WonderCon, Tancharoen admitted that quote reflected the view in the writer's room - so where else is there to go now? Given that season 5 seems to be tying up loose plot threads, from Gravitonium to Hydra, is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s story done?
Well, it doesn't have to be. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the unlimited potential of any series inspired by over 50 years' worth of superhero comics. Even if Coulson's story seems to be coming to a close, there's no reason S.H.I.E.L.D. can't continue to push the boundaries of the wider MCU.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Deserves A Sixth Season
It's true that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ratings this season haven't been great. In truth, that may have little to do with the show's quality. ABC scheduled Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 in what many regard as a "graveyard slot," Friday at 9pm. ABC claimed they were aiming to turn this slot into "a destination for our fantasy and science fiction fans," but it doesn't seem to have worked. Back in May 2017, Dungey pointed to two shows that were moving to Fridays as part of this strategy, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Once Upon A Time. The latter, sadly, has already been confirmed as canceled.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually in a stronger position than Once Upon A Time. Although live ratings aren't the best, the series performs well in terms of DVR. That suggests S.H.I.E.L.D. still has a strong fan-base who are keen to watch the series - they just aren't interested in tuning in for the Friday 9pm slot. What's more, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a strong international seller for ABC. The series airs in 15 countries and is particularly popular in Europe.
In terms of quality, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually Marvel's best-reviewed TV show on Rotten Tomatoes. Over the course of over 100 episodes, the series has built up a mythology all of its own, embracing everything from Ghost Rider to the Inhumans. After a faltering start, it's now a true superhero TV series, starring Clark Gregg's beloved Agent Coulson and Chloe Bennet's Daisy Johnson. S.H.I.E.L.D. now deserves to be seen as one of Marvel's strongest offerings, and it's more than demonstrated the potential for a sixth season.
Every Agents of SHIELD Season Totally Reinvents The Dynamic
It's important to stress that, more than any other superhero show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is constantly reinventing itself. Just look at some of the major twists:
- Season 1 was turned on its head by the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., completely transforming the initial spy series. Grant Ward's betrayal was a core part of this.
- The Inhumans plot in season 2 saw the series begin to transition, from a show starring humans in a superhuman world, to one where superheroes stood side-by-side with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. It also expanded Marvel's mythology beyond the movies for the first time.
- Season 3 saw Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dabble with high-concept sci-fi for the first time, in the phenomenal episode "4,722 Hours."
- Marvel divided season 4 into three pods, each of which was functionally different. The move to a later timeslot allowed the series to develop a fresh aesthetic, darker than ever before.
- The first half of season 5 was pure sci-fi, with Coulson and his team trapped in a dystopian future.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a shapeshifter of a superhero show, always changing into another form, always toying with a fresh and new idea. It's not that the series doesn't have an identity of its own; rather, it's that the identity comes from the central characters. Setting these characters against different threats and concepts gives Marvel an admirable degree of flexibility. That means season 6 can't be dismissed out of hand, simply because "there's nothing left to do."
Besides which, there is something left to do. Season 5 may be tying together a lot of plot threads from previous seasons, but one important thread remains.