‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, more talk Season 2

Sept. 24, 2014 | 11:04 a.m.

“It’s all connected.”

That was the familiar refrain Tuesday night from Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” producers and cast after the ABC series’ Season 2 premiere aired. (And, if you’ve yet to see the new episode, consider pausing here and coming back after you’ve watched. Spoilers ahead.)

Those words were clearly true from the new season’s get-go, as it started with a taste of the 1940s-set upcoming series “Agent Carter,” starring Hayley Atwell, with a strange and powerful obelisk her team boxed up back then driving the quick-paced, twisting-and-turning action for Agent Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) present-day S.H.I.E.L.D. team.

Season 2 picks up with S.H.I.E.L.D. still in shambles from the disastrous double-agents revelation of HYDRA and the destruction seen in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” that changed the course of the show. HYDRA is still active, there’s that obelisk, the mystery of Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) parents – it’s all connected, the producers said during a press Q&A panel on the Disney lot in Burbank after the premiere aired.

"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." stars Chloe Bennet as Skye and Brett Dalton as Agent Grant Ward. (Justin Lubin/ABC)

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” stars Chloe Bennet as Skye and Brett Dalton as Agent Grant Ward. (Justin Lubin/ABC)

Plot details were scarce – “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” creative leaders have shown themselves to be as secretive as the fictional agency – but they and cast members did discuss changes from last season, whether Gregg might direct an episode, a tense scene between Skye and Brett Dalton’s captive traitor Ward, and more.

“HYDRA happened,” executive producer Jeffrey Bell said. “We lost our big Triskelion. We lost all our toys. We lost our authority, the ability to use our badges.”

“We lost our time slot,” Gregg interjected to laughter.

“But we also gained,” executive producer Jed Whedon added, “the ability to have spies in our organization, moles, and that was something we couldn’t really do before the reveal of HYDRA.”

Bell said that, since the expansive S.H.I.E.L.D. operation was largely disbanded, the team feels more relatable than at the series’ start: “It’s really hard to cheer for the NSA. They can listen to every phone. ‘We have everything.’ So we really feel like the team is much more underdogs this year, they really do have to [say], ‘This is what we have. How can we make it work?’ The stakes are much higher because of that, and, for us, we think it’s easier to cheer for the team.”

About that time slot change: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is now an hour later on Tuesday, at 9 p.m.

Asked if the new hour had affected the show, Jeph Loeb, Marvel’s television chief, deadpanned to laughter, “Well, it does give us a chance to watch ‘NCIS,’ which we’ve been missing.”

Loeb also detailed the upcoming season’s schedule, saying the team had heard the “consistent cry” from viewers about the number of repeats. Noting that to do weekly episodes from September to May they’d need to have started production two years ago, he said Season 2 will basically break down into a fall/winter season, with some story line resolutions before a break – one filled by eight episodes of “Agent Carter” before “S.H.I.E.L.D.” returns and runs through to the 22-episode season’s finale.

Coulson’s team members have already seen major changes in their lives since the show’s start, and that’s especially true for Skye, who started Season 1 as an anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. hacktivist.

Taking a question from Loeb about what’s different, Bennet joked, “It’s really just the bangs,” then continued: “It was really weird to see the difference between the pilot and [now] – Skye is just completely different. She was this kind of hippie living in her van – against S.H.I.E.L.D. and everything it stands for – and then she’s just a full-blown S.H.I.E.L.D. agent dropping from the ceiling …”

Skye faced her former friend and would-be lover Grant Ward, revealed last season as being loyal to his old S.H.I.E.L.D. mentor – a HYDRA operative – and now the team’s maximum-security prisoner, in a psychologically rich scene in the premiere where she sought information about the formidable Absorbing Man.

Speaking with Hero Complex after the Q&A about the scene, Bennet said that her performance was helped by “a nice cocktail of things” – including revisiting past episodes to see the Skye-Ward relationship and her character feeling the influence of fellow agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). Where a less experienced Skye might have let her emotions fly and drop f-bombs on Ward, Bennet said, now “she’s controlling them nicely, I think.”

Ming-Na Wen and Chlose Bennet in "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks may be depleted, but the show’s ensemble has added several members. Newer cast mate B.J. Britt, who plays Ward’s field replacement Triplett, told the panel that he felt embraced by the original group – upon which Dalton actually hugged him (to a shouted protest, “Hey, he’s HYDRA!”). Henry Simmons, whose tech-savvy Mac is trying to relate to the damaged Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), said there “was no trace of ego” among the cast.

Nick Blood, who plays the mercenary-spirited Lance Hunter, said, “Normally when you do a job, there’s one idiot on it. So when everyone’s really nice, you’re thinking, ‘Is that me?’”

His cast mates cracked that, yes, it’s him.

“It may seem like we’re adding a lot of new people,” show co-creator Maurissa Tancharoen said, “but it’s just an example of what S.H.I.E.L.D. is now. We’re seeing Mac, who was a mechanic at the Triskelion – we never would have heard from him before. Now he’s a part of our team.”

Her fellow co-creator Whedon added: “Now we’re seeing all of what S.H.I.E.L.D. is.”

Lucy Lawless, left, Nick Blood and Wilmer Calderon in "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Lucy Lawless, left, Nick Blood and Wilmer Calderon in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Not that the old guard is being neglected.

De Caestecker’s and Elizabeth Henstridge’s characters, respectively Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons but popularly the collective FitzSimmons, had the biggest reveal in the premiere: After he suffered extended oxygen deprivation at Ward’s hands last season, Fitz is mentally struggling and the Simmons he talked to throughout the episode wasn’t real. Call it FitzSadness.

Noting the research that the writers and he had done into the real long-term effects of similar medical cases, the reserved De Caestecker said that knowing that actual people have the same issues added “a bigger deal of responsibility,” which “was something that sparked me on.” Henstridge said she hoped her character would be back in the flesh.

Gregg, the screenwriter and director of 2008’s “Choke” and last year’s “Trust Me,” was asked whether he would want to write and direct an episode of the show.

“I have my hands more than full rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. and just trying to get the George Foreman Grill to work,” he joked. Citing all the prep work the show’s directors do while he’s acting, he said, “Maybe someday in an episode where I’m cryogenically frozen or something.”

Among several questions that tried to draw out spoilers was one about a character seen in the season premiere: the apparently long-long-longtime HYDRA member Whitehall. The character is known in Marvel’s comics as an associate of Baron Strucker, a villain seen in an end-credits sequence of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Might the show’s story line tie into next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the second big-screen adventure of the team, written and directed by Joss Whedon?

“It’s all connected,” Jed Whedon said.

“It’s a crossover with ‘Avengers 4,’” Gregg joked.

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

[For the record, 8:30 a.m. Sept. 25: An earlier version of this post incorrectly quoted Jeffrey Bell as saying, “We lost our authority, the ability to lose our badges.” He said, “We lost our authority, the ability to use our badges.”]

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