Next to finding out how Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) survived, fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s consummate company man have been desperate to learn more about the mysterious cellist, a person he was dating whom was briefly mentioned at the time of his death in The Avengers.
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On Tuesday's episode (8/7c, ABC), those fans will finally get to meet the woman who became Coulson's true love Audrey, portrayed by Whedonverse alum Amy Acker. "What I find remarkable is that Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson said one line in The Avengers and that was it," executive producer Jeffrey Bell tells TVGuide.com. "Out of that, we all began to imagine: Who is that person? What's so special about that person? When's the worst time for him to run back into her? It could also be the best time. As his world is falling apart, and as S.H.I.E.L.D. falls apart, here's the woman who believes this man was killed back at the Battle of New York. That's the 'Why now?' of it. The 'Why Amy?' part is because she's Amy."
The entire Whedonverse shares that sentiment for Acker, who is best known for playing Fred on Angel, had a recurring role on Dollhouse, and recently shared the screen with Gregg in S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producer Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing adaptation. "Spoiler alert, we all love Amy Acker," Bell says. "Everything she imbues is something we felt that Coulson would love."
"She has, as an actress, a lot of what Audrey Hepburn has," executive producer Jeph Loeb adds. "There's ordinary elements to her that you can believe she's both the princess and the pauper simultaneously. For us, it was important that when you say, 'The cellist,' you have in your mind someone who's extremely erudite, but we wanted someone who was also very approachable that the audience would fall in love with immediately so we can understand why Coulson had kept this relationship at the forefront of his mind despite all the other things that he had. In many ways, what's so important about the relationship is that he had to give it up because of what had happened to him."
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With Coulson and his team on the run and struggling to stay alive after the discovery that Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., this meeting brings the hope that Coulson could trade in this life for something much more quiet with Audrey. Alas, their reunion will be "abbreviated," Loeb says and notes that Coulson will come back into her life in a very similar way that he first entered it. "She was in jeopardy, and he came as someone to protect her," he says. "A similar situation has now occurred, which requires him to step in." But his actions could have consequences since Audrey not only believes him to be dead, but that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a terrorist organization. "How do you save the person that you love or care deeply for when there is so much else going on? That's really the razor's edge that the episode dances on."
There is one piece of good news, though. After big bad Garrett (Bill Paxton) thanked Ward (Brett Dalton) for the cellist tip during last week's episode, some fans worried that the Clairvoyant might have already gotten to Coulson's former flame. However, Bell explains that Garrett was only referencing using that information against Coulson when he was in the machine, not some new nefarious plan he has for Audrey. Still, "Once you've seen the cellist episode and then go back to Episode 18, there's a moment where Garrett says something to a particular person that leads you to believe that he knows more than he's letting on."
But reuniting, albeit briefly, with Audrey could be the push in the right direction for Coulson, who has been struggling with all that he's given to S.H.I.E.L.D in the wake of such a huge betrayal. "Sometimes, when you go on that really important mission, you remember why you went on all those missions altogether," Loeb says.
"We believe that he has the strength and fortitude that he could carry on in spite of it," Bell adds. "That's one of the things that we love about his character: That heroic nature, S.H.I.E.L.D. or no S.H.I.E.L.D., he's going to find a way to do the right thing."
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Still, Coulson's dedication to what S.H.I.E.L.D. now stands for will weigh heavily through the final episodes of the super series' freshman run, especially now that Ward, who was revealed as a Hydra sleeper within Coulson's team, returns to the fold on Tuesday. "At our core, we're a spy show, and the issue of trust always there, but now with Hydra being revealed, it influences everything and everyone," Bell says. "The audience knows that Ward is a traitor, but everyone within the episode is looking at one another asking, 'What else is not what it appears to be?'"
Now in a secret and supposedly secure S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker, the team will be forced to go through rigorous testing to make sure they're on the level, which means the audience is actually one step ahead of the team for once, knowing that Ward is the bad guy. But that may be exactly what the producers want. "I wouldn't trust us," Loeb says. "To show the audience that there's a bomb under the table and watch the party go forward is much more satisfying than just blowing it up. Us knowing that everything he's saying is a lie, us watching him be charming and be who he used to be to them, suddenly the audience is projecting everything on Ward."
Could Ward just be a distraction to keep the audience from seeing what's really going on? "That's a great question" Bell says. "Don't trust anyone."
What will make unearthing the truth much harder is the fact that Ward seems to have genuine feelings for Skye (Chloe Bennet). "It also makes his stakes higher, because if he does have feelings for her and he's been ordered to do certain things, he continues to have to negotiate very muddy waters," Bell says. "And that's fun. And by fun, I mean terrible."
Are you excited to see Coulson and his cellist reunite? Do you think Ward could be redeemed?
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC.