SHIELD’s Season 6 premiere has to undo a lot of the closure of the Season 5 finale – which was clearly designed to be a series ending, before being given two additional seasons by outgoing ABC boss Channing Dungey, taking the series through Season 7 – but it does a fairly compelling job of getting itself out of the narrative corner the writers put themselves in last year. It’s impossible to imagine SHIELD without Gregg (and he’s such an engaging and charismatic on-screen presence that we wouldn’t want to), but it’s a relief to see that the showrunners didn’t let Coulson cheat death yet again after giving the embattled SHIELD agent-turned-director such an emotional send-off with May at the end of Season 5.
Instead, we get to see Gregg exploring a very different character here. This isn’t the first time SHIELD has used a familiar face for a villainous twist, but Gregg seems to relish the chance to play a darker role, pulling it off with convincing menace even in his brief time on screen. While it may run the risk of hitting similar beats to the Grant Ward/Hive storyline, with our heroes having a deeply emotional reaction to a character who has no connection with them, there’s enough that’s still ambiguous about “Sarge’s” motives at this point to leave the door open for some intriguing storytelling possibilities.
And while the showrunners maintain that Agents of SHIELD Season 6 is purposefully avoiding the events of Avengers: Endgame by taking place pre-Snap (don’t try and do the math on that, it makes no sense), the introduction of a seemingly alternate universe version of Coulson does appear to tie into the MCU’s wider plans for a multiverse, since the trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home has already revealed the existence of other dimensions with striking similarities to our own. Of course, it’s a safe bet that the movies will continue ignoring the Marvel TV universe, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude the show from having a little fun with the expanding universe.
Marvel previously released a sneak peek at the Anti-Coulson’s debut on Twitter – check it out below:
“S.H.I.E.L.D.? Never heard of it.” Get a jaw-dropping look at @clarkgregg’s new role on Marvel’s #AgentsofSHIELD! pic.twitter.com/CMV3PCe84s
— Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (@AgentsofSHIELD) March 30, 2019
The Season 6 premiere picks up a year after the events of Season 5, with Daisy, Simmons, Piper, and Davis on a mission in deep space to try and retrieve Fitz from his cryogenic deep freeze. While they initially hit a dead end, the end of episode stinger reassures us that Fitz is very much alive, although undeniably changed by his time in space. FitzSimmons have been through so many trials and tribulations to keep them apart at this point, seeing them stable and happy would feel like an alternate reality in itself.
Meanwhile, Mack is attempting to settle in as the new director of SHIELD and expand their ranks. The earthbound portion of the team is attempting to track a strange anomaly that keeps popping up in different parts of the world and causing “reality warps.” Mack has also apparently shut the door on continuing his romance with Yo-Yo after the events of last season, so she’s moved on, kind of, with the charming new Agent Keller, which probably means Keller ain’t long for this world.
But with Fitz AWOL and Simmons on the hunt for him, SHIELD is missing its two brightest minds, which means the team has no theories about what could be causing these anomalies or how to track them. May has been tasked with recruiting new agents, but as Mack notes, “we’ve got plenty of muscle; we need brains.”
That’s what brings in Dr. Marcus Benson, a scientist who has a history with May (and Andrew) and no enthusiasm for taking part in any spy games. Mack wants him to oversee a “SHIELD Academy,” to help rebuild from the ground up – and luckily, Benson’s fascination with deep space is enough to get him in the door, once he realizes what SHIELD has gotten itself into.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the aforementioned deep space, Daisy and Simmons’ team has been on the hunt for Fitz for months, and the strain is starting to show. Daisy has been using her powers to make an impression with the alien races they’ve encountered to ensure that everyone knows Quake is a threat, but that also seems to be drawing some unwanted attention from another hostile intergalactic force – the Confederacy. Unfortunately, continuing the trend of the past few seasons, Simmons is still willing to go to any lengths in pursuit of Fitz, and her decision to take Daisy, Piper, and Davis even deeper into deep space is a disturbing but unsurprising development that will no doubt have major consequences for the team.
After last year’s space-bound adventure, it’s nice to see Agents of SHIELD venturing even deeper into the cosmic realm, just as the MCU movies are doing, and there are some impressive visuals (especially considering the TV budget) on display as Daisy’s team visits an unfamiliar alien world. And while we don’t get much context for Clark Gregg’s new character (except that he and his posse have a somewhat Mad Max vibe, and plenty of heavy-duty weaponry), we can’t wait to see how he interacts with our team, considering he’s wearing the face of their fallen leader.