Against all odds, Agents of SHIELD is now a fairly strong TV show. The addition of more comic-book based characters and plot lines as well as strengthening previously one-note characters has made the show into a nice little treat for those who decided to stick around after the poor effort that was the first 3 quarters of season 1.
However, the show is far from perfect; not every character is great (Lincoln) and many now feel like it is being treated as the ugly duckling of the MCU, somewhat unfairly. However, with the upcoming [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409), Marvel has the chance to change this perspective. Personally, I think that they'll miss this chance, but here's what I would do to best capitalize on it.
Previous Agents Tie-ins
Thor: The Dark World
The season 1 episode The Well was billed as the big Marvel crossover event with Thor: The Dark World; and boy did it disappoint. In hindsight it's not any worse than any other early season 1 episodes and Peter MacNicol is always great, but the problem wasn't that it was the same as any other episode, it was that the marketing made it seem like so much more. The entire plot involving a staff that has been on earth for a thousand years actually had nothing to do with the events of the film and the only film tie-ins were a brief clean up scene and a few easy references. No Thor characters showed up in Agents (although Sif did appear later), and no Agents characters appeared in Thor. All in all this episode was a huge disappointment, not because it was uniquely bad, but because it should have been the best episode yet.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is how you do it. For the first time in the show's run it actually felt like an integrated extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and not a weak wannabe. The reveal of the Hydra twist built on existing characters and brought together dangling plot points. This tie-in feels like it was planned from the very inception of the show, because the season wasn't going anywhere without it. This series of episodes doesn't just have the characters watch what happens on a TV, it has the effects of those events ripple and effect the relationships of the characters. It changed the show and is perhaps still the most important episode of Agents yet. Without the Winter Soldier tie-in there would be no show. It builds on the universe, improves the show and nails it. It's rare when an exact moment can be pinpointed when a show turns from bad to good or vice verse, but when Ward killed Koenig, suddenly Agents wasn't garbage anymore.
Guardians of the Galaxy
No crossover, and frankly there was no need to, any kind crossover would've felt forced and silly.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Another big Marvel film set on earth with far reaching and important ramifications. Except for this one, they didn't bother. No one was expecting a winter soldier level twist but they were expecting... something. Dr List appeared in a few lead up eps, but his character didn't do anything, he was just kind of there. There was some foreboding "what is Theta Protocol" talk. Then they had one Maria Hill scene via skype, one forced Raina vision and one Patton Oswalt scene and we were done. They spend ages asking what Theta Protocol, then reveal it in a short pre-credits scene and then never mention it again. This was a case of a tie-in for the sake of a tie in, it was less interesting than the overall story of the season, which unlike season 1, was going strongly at this point. Also, Age of Ultron didn't take place in an hour, it was a couple of days at least, did Coulson do nothing except give Fury the Helicarrier on the third day? This is a prime example of the show's creative heads being out of touch with the film creative heads. This was a distraction, not an event.
Took place in between series and so there was no crossover, events or characters have not been referenced since (that I can remember).
In summary, since Agents of SHIELD began there have been five MCU films released, three of them have had crossovers, and one of them has been good and had any long-lasting effects. No Avenger has ever appeared on the show, and no SHIELD character has ever appeared in a movie. I mean seriously, they got that one programmer from Winter Soldier back for Age of Ultron but it was too hard to make Ming-Na Wen stand behind Nick Fury on the hellicarrier?
How to do a Civil War tie-in
So, this brings us to Captain America: Civil War. The film is set to come out on the 29th of April. Therefore a tie in would come around the 19th or 20th episode of season three. By this time the Secret Warriors story would really be moving forward and a tie-in would come at a risk of being a mere distraction from an interesting main plot. However, the Secret Warriors will be dealing with similar themes to Civil War (as seen by the President's appearances).
One thing that Agents hasn't done enough of is event episodes, episodes which change up the structure and format of the show. We saw them do it in season three already with 4722 Hours and it was one of the series best episodes to date. They should not be afraid to do the same thing for Civil War.
Option 3: Secret Warriors and The Accords
This relatively simple idea would see the Secret Warriors team being hunted by whomever is policing the Sokovia Accords. Almost like a mini-civil war, this episode could focus solely on the Warriors as they lose contact with SHIELD and must use only their wits to contend with this threat. This could add some nice parallels between the film and TV show and would still fit in with the whole "nobody trusts SHIELD anymore" plot that they're going for. However, this episode could feel a bit limited in scope and the Accords enforcers could just as easily be replace with HYDRA, making it just another episode.
Option 2: SHIELD Joins the Hunt
In this unlikely but possible scenario a crossover could see SHIELD work with the Sokovia Accords not against them, as they try to capture a superhuman threat in exchange for maintaining a level of autonomy for the secret warriors team. This could serve for some good team bonding but once again, replace the target with any HYDRA assassin and the episode would still be the same.
Option 1: Quarterback Coulson
Easily my favourite option, the Civil War crossover should do something that the show has been ridiculously scared of doing before, actually connecting to the events of the film. This episode starts from Coulson receiving news of the Superhero registration act taking effect, from there he steps into prime Coulson mode. We follow Coulson across the events of the film as he: organizes safe houses for Captain America, speaks with Sharon Carter about Steve's plans, debates with Maria Hill about who the right side is, rescues Clint Barton's family from an attack from HYDRA, investigates the threat of Baron Zemo. All the while people keep walking in with news about another capture, another brawl taking place. He gives Daisy the task of diverting any traffic designed to finding the Hulk, who would end the war in a second, he sends teams to the locations of fights to clean up any evidence. He sends a few Secret Warriors into hiding.
All in all, this episode should show the events of the whole movie gradually unfolding as Coulson control's the whole event from the shadows, reducing casualties and saving lives. The show would finally take us behind the scenes of a superhero movie as Coulson works his magic. Interestingly for the universe, Coulson's team could draw up a list of every hero and go through their current standing, and how SHIELD can help/is helping protect them. This could finally serve as a way to get Daredevil the acknowledgement it deserves and would be a way to reference the movie characters without simply name-dropping. This is the stuff that SHIELD does and we'd finally get to see it in action.
Obviously, this episode would require all other plots to be put on hold, but you know what? Civil War should be the most important Marvel event yet, and it should be worth all other plots having a brief pause. You could even release the episode after the season final and say that the season is simply set a few weeks before Civil War, giving everyone plenty of time to actually watch the movies.
Obviously it would be great to see Mockingbird or Quake or even Coulson actually in the film, even as a cameo, but I have given up on that occurring. What I do want to see is a crisis slowly evolving and a behind the scenes look at how the inner working of SHIELD react and adjust to control this crisis and help save the day from the shadows, you know, what we all thought the premise would be?
What do you think? How should Agents of SHIELD crossover with Civil War? Comment below and check out some of my other articles...
How to fit Adam Warlock into the MCU