The announcement of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in 2012 brought with it a very surprising direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: The idea that this world would be expanding beyond the borders of film onto television as well. And not as a separate entity, since the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. had been built over the course of the films, and events and characters (particularly from the first Avengers) would carry over into the TV series.
This, in turn, has expanded as the #MCU has grown its own worlds on television to coexist alongside the films. This, coupled with the short-but-sweet two seasons of Agent Carter, and now the succession of a Netflix series to introduce the growing list of #Defenders. All of which — like a great comic book universe — coexist in the same inter-connected world, with Easter Eggs and plot references dropped throughout that confirm this shared universe.
But tension has grown, particularly in the last six months, about the lack of intersection between those worlds. The films continue to interact, with Thor showing up in Doctor Strange, Hulk promised for Thor: Ragnarok, and more than half the established film universe coming together for Captain America: Civil War. And yet, even as the TV world exists alongside (and reacts to) events of the film universe, none of the films have taken it upon themselves to reciprocate.
In no TV series is this fact better reflected than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Peggy Carter exists in the past, so it would be difficult (if not impossible) to fit her story world in with anyone else's. The Defenders are forming their own micro-universe that doesn't necessarily hang upon the existence of the Avengers; quite the opposite in fact, as it could just as easily be self-contained and self-sustaining, without needing the larger MCU to justify its existence.
But #AgentsOfSHIELD thrives on this. Like no other piece of the MCU, it subsists year-round, keeping the idea of a continuous world going on a regular basis. It makes the world of #Marvel feel more real, populated, and evolving more than anything else in the MCU. It's also (somewhat inadvertently) become the heart of Marvel's Universe, as it can interact with Peggy Carter via flashbacks, drop Easter Eggs for the Defenders series, and then structures itself to respond to or tie-in with the latest cinematic events. In a sense, it behaves like no one else in the universe — and it's become the crux upon which the universe turns.
Unfortunately, allowing the relationship between TV and film to reciprocate in both directions is where things get complicated. It's been indicated that — due to timing and production schedules — having any such interaction would be nearly impossible; as difficult as trying to negotiate some way to have the X-Men films interact with the Avengers films. Kevin Feige has further indicated they don't want to introduce important characters like Daredevil and Jessica Jones to the films in a few throwaway scenes. Beyond that, there's simple logistics: The films are more high profile, and a much smaller audience watches a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As much as fans might like to see it happen, the Avengers don't need to know that Phil Coulson is alive.
Having a continuous shared world that exists across both film and television has no precedent, and Marvel is very much in uncharted waters with this. DC made clear early on they were deferring away from it and it's easy to see why. The Arrowverse has thrived as its own entity, and the films (individual quality aside) are freed from the burden of having to tie in to a growing history of comic characters over on the CW. No doubt there are countless other behind-the-scenes factors informing the process, and why the MCU's relationship with its differing audiences grows more complicated by the year.
But the announcement of #TheInhumans as a TV series is a key (and rather dispiriting) turning point. The original film was pushed back some time ago to make way for more important properties like Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther. As a result, Marvel is transitioning it into a TV series instead. Anyone who watches Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. knows the show has been building foundation for the Inhumans since its second season, in what potentially looked like set-up for material that could very well carry out across the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But now, it's been made clear that not only will this new show stand on its own with no ties to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but #KevinFeige himself expressed surprise that the show was already using the concept itself.
Unfortunately, it's throwing a bit of a monkey wrench in the exciting potential for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Like a comic book series, the Inhumans concept (as well as the current season usage of Ghost Rider) were the kind of ideas that were ripe for exploration beyond the borders of its introduction series. It would be a great way of throwing back and forth between different TV series (if not TV series and films). The Inhumans are being pushed as essentially a fill-in for mutants (since Fox holds the licensing rights to all things X-Men) and it could've been a great way to let ideas and universe-changing events from the tv series trickle over into future projects as well — including the films.
But that no longer looks to be the case. If The Inhumans largely ignores Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., then it just goes to show how increasingly irrelevant the show has become to the higher-up Marvel overlords. What has become a staple for the Universe is being cast as a mere footprint that will slowly disappear once its run come to an end, meaning the exciting possibilities of this inter-connected universe might never come to fruition the way that we hoped.
To be fair, film and TV are different spheres, and the concept of merging them no doubt works very differently from a comic book publishing house bringing multiple disparate characters and concepts together in one place. Marvel's trek into uncharted waters means making things up as they go. This has brought them great amounts of success, but it also means that a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be one of the biggest casualties from its failures.
And in the end, it's an unfortunate turn for the series. Many wrote it off early on because it didn't have its voice right out of the gate, but those who have stuck around for the duration know that not only did it improve rapidly by the end of its first season, but it's been getting better year by year. With wonderfully realized original characters coexisting alongside inherited and adapted ones. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has managed to thrive with no comic template to follow while also serving as that one continual reference point for the entire MCU — an impressive feat on any terms.
Marvel may forget about it in the end, move on to different ideas, move away from the possibilities of what the show presented. Successes and failures are part of the game, but those of us who have watched through the run of the series will remember: It's represented all the good, bad, and everything in between of this larger universe that it served, all the while offering up a damn fine comic book show along the way.
What do you think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has contributed to the MCU as a whole?