Back in the good old days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when something weird happened, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be right on top of it. Before the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. would immediately have boots on the ground when a man in an armored suit started invading other countries soon after a billionaire suspiciously re-emerged from a kidnapping or a mysterious magic hammer appears in the New Mexico desert. But that was then. Today, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a shell of its former self, and nowhere in today's MCU is its absence more glaring than on the island of Oahu, where the events of Marvel's Inhumans are unfolding.
As Inhumans continues, the lack of S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes more and more jarring. After Maximus (Iwan Rheon) achieved a coup in the Inhumans' hidden lunar city of Attilan, the Royal Family escaped and were scattered all over Oahu. In their efforts to reunite, each member of the Royal Family has gotten involved in violent incidents that would easily and logically warrant S.H.I.E.L.D. investigations. For example, Black Bolt (Anson Mount) was imprisoned after causing a traffic disturbance, shoplifting a suit, resisting arrest, and accidentally destroying police cars with his powers. He quickly broke out of jail and is currently a fugitive from the law. A mysterious man with superpowers managing a prison break would be prime S.H.I.E.L.D. fodder.
The rest of the Royal Family have been up to similar illegal shenanigans as their king, leading to several Inhumans and humans alike dying in the resulting chaos. Medusa (Serinda Swan) seemingly murdered Auran (Sonya Balmores) in a parking lot before breaking and entering into someone's home and stealing clothes and a gun. She and her human helper Louise (Ellen Woglom) are also being hunted by the police. Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor) befriending local Hawaiian surfers into helping him fight off Maximus' Inhuman assassins got one of the surfers killed. Karnak (Ken Leung) somehow found himself involved with cannabis farmers and drug dealers that resulted in stabbings and murders. Even Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), who hasn't been involved in any outright violence on Earth except for her giant dog Lockjaw getting hit by an ATV, has been blabbing about her life as a princess on the moon and showing Lockjaw can teleport to the two humans she's met.
All of these incidents are red flags that would normally bring S.H.I.E.L.D. running. The Royal Family would absolutely be persons of interest to S.H.I.E.L.D. even before taking into account that Phil Coulson's (Clark Gregg) team of Agents count several Inhumans among their ranks like Daisy Johnson/Quake (Chloe Bennet) and Yo-Yo Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova). If Inhumans had taken place before 2014, a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier would be floating over Oahu while Agents scoured the jungles and streets of Honolulu rounding up the Royal Family.
Inhumans was produced as an event series for ABC and co-financed by the IMAX Corporation. Even though Marvel Television President Jeph Loeb loves to tout that the Marvel series are "all connected", the decision was made for Inhumans to be a standalone series that would be set in the MCU but have no crossovers, not even with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the flagship Marvel TV series on ABC. Perhaps fueled by the desire to keep the budget limited, the lack of S.H.I.E.L.D. cameos nevertheless hurts Inhumans, especially when an appearance by Phil Coulson or Daisy Johnson would be such a natural fit. Even if they weren't trying to apprehend Black Bolt and family, the local police are no substitute for S.H.I.E.L.D. and are ill-equipped to help the Inhumans.
The question of when Inhumans takes place in the MCU timeline would lead to the answer as to Coulson and his team's whereabouts. So far, the events of the series have spanned just a few days, but it's hard to pin down when in 2017 everything is happening. However, as the MCU more or less unfolds in real time, the events of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that concluded season 4 would mean Coulson's team are simply out of the picture at the moment and are unable to help the Inhumans.
The conclusion of the third pod of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 explains S.H.I.E.L.D.'s absence from being able to appear in Inhumans. After they successfully prevented AIDA (Mallory Jansen) from leaving the HYDRA-controlled, virtual reality of the Framework and entering the real world, the Agents were immediately captured by an unknown force. The last we saw of Coulson and his team, they were frozen in a diner and then arrested; Coulson himself awoke and found himself somewhere in outer space.
The in-universe explanation for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s absence from Inhumans is that they've simply been away. First they were in the Framework and now they're no longer on Earth. The first pod of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 takes place in outer space. Otherwise, S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been all over such a major event as the discovery of an older and more powerful race of Inhumans living on the moon all along. The whereabouts of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents who were last seen on board a helicarrier in Avengers: Age of Ultron is another story. But considering Fury and Hill haven't appeared on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since season 1, no one should hold their breath waiting for them to appear in Inhumans.
The real losers in all of this are the fans. Since there was no crossover between Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D. planned - and with the prospects of a second season of Inhumans looking bleak considering its low ratings - fans were denied awesome moments we would have loved to see like Coulson talking to Black Bolt; Medusa explaining Daisy's Inhuman heritage to her; Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) scientifically analyzing Lockjaw; and Melinda May (Ming Na Wen) suspiciously regarding Karnak and his strange powers. There was potential for an incredible amount of fun from a Marvel team up between the Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D., but now all of that could be out the window unless Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is somehow able to incorporate the Royal Family as guest stars in season 5. It's a loss not just for Inhumans but for the fans and the entire MCU that Marvel willingly severed its S.H.I.E.L.D. connection at the start.
Marvel's Inhumans airs Fridays @ 9pm on ABC and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 premieres Friday, December 1st on ABC.