After reports emerged earlier this year claiming that ABC might have cancelled Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had it not been for the intervention of Disney, many viewers would be forgiven for suspecting that the currently airing fifth season will be the show's last dance. In a pleasant surprise for fans however, the head of ABC spoke out this week, claiming to be "cautiously optimistic" about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. being renewed for season 6.
While this may have something to do with the series posting relatively consistent viewing figures and season five delivering perhaps the most positive critical reaction Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has enjoyed thus far, there may be other factors at play. If Disney did indeed step in to ensure the adventures of Coulson and co. continued to run on ABC, that could indicate that the Mouse House has big plans for the show - plans that could relate to either the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War or Disney's recent acquisition of Fox.
But assuming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 becomes a reality, which direction could the show possibly head in next? After all, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team have already covered digital alternate realities, Life Model Decoys, Inhumans and HYDRA and are currently embroiled in an intergalactic, time-traveling mission to prevent the Earth's destruction. How S.H.I.E.L.D. can grow and evolve further isn't immediately obvious (the current season is still going, after all), but there are a number of possible routes the show could take to remain fresh, exciting and relevant to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Picking Up The Pieces of Infinity War
Perhaps the first time Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began to seriously excite was when it merged into the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Having the big and small screen mediums of the MCU come together in a cohesive way not only energized the fledgling show, but also allowed Marvel's fictional world to be explored in more detail. The crossover also helped to make the impact of Hydra's attack feel far more substantial and long-lasting. Furthermore, episodes that feature appearances by the likes of Nick Fury or Lady Sif generally tend to be some of the show's best installments. In short, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. excels when walking hand-in-hand with its movie counterparts.
Although the show is very much in its own territory at present, a huge opportunity for further cinematic crossover is right around the corner with the release of Avengers: Infinity War. Although much is still unknown about Marvel's highly-anticipated superhero extravaganza, the movie's trailer has confirmed that Thanos will be coming to Earth to wreak havoc and, given how long Marvel have been building towards this single film, the ramifications of that are sure to be seismic.
This would, in theory, give S.H.I.E.L.D. plenty of work to do in season 6, whether that be finishing off Thanos' cronies, searching for heroes lost in the battle or re-establishing order in a fallen world. Some viewers are even theorizing that the show's current season is already showing the consequences of the film, with the Earth's destruction actually a result of the war against Thanos. Whether this is the case or not, the civilian Earthlings of the M.C.U. are sure to be forever changed by the events of Infinity War and it may be left to Phil Coulson to restore a new homeland task-force after the Avengers are done blowing stuff up.
Paving The Way For Phase 4
The MCU's post-Infinity War landscape was, at one stage, looking somewhat uncertain. Now, however, there is a looming takeover of 20th Century Fox by Disney, which means that Marvel Studios will re-acquire the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises in the process. Confirmation that these heroes would be integrated into the MCU soon followed, and if Spider-Man's appearance in Civil War is anything to go by, this is likely to happen sooner rather than later.
Of course, there's little chance of Wolverine, Storm and Cyclops making their MCU debut in an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that doesn't mean that the ABC series can't begin to lay the groundwork for the introduction of mutants. One of the biggest challenges in integrating the X-Men into existing canon is explaining where these mutants have been for the past twenty-odd movies. The answer to this question will most likely be saved for the big screen but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can at least begin to offer some hints and perhaps even feature lesser-known characters from the X-Men comics to ease the process.
Having the S.H.I.E.L.D. gang interact with mutants for the first time would allow the show to explore uncharted territory, and would smooth the way in terms of explaining how this new set of characters fit into Marvel's on-screen set-up. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may also address the differentiation between mutants and Inhumans, and could do so by pitting one race against the other. The prospect of seeing Quake lead a band of her kind against a new mutant threat is a tantalizing one indeed.