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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Postmortem: Who's the Mystery Man? Who Didn't Survive?

[WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from Tuesday's season finale of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!] Ding dong, the psychopath is dead! That's right, in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ultimate showdown between villain Clairvoyant, aka John Garrett (Bill Paxton), and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. came out on top thanks in part to...

Natalie Abrams
Natalie Abrams

[WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from Tuesday's season finale of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!]

Ding dong, the psychopath is dead!

That's right, in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ultimate showdown between villain Clairvoyant, aka John Garrett (Bill Paxton), and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. came out on top thanks in part to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

After the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director rescued Fitz (Iain De Caestrcker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) from the middle of the ocean, Nick showed up to help Coulson take Garrett down. Deathlok (J. August Richards) was also more than happy to help Coulson and Nick defeat Garrett after Skye (Chloe Bennet) saved his son. But it was Coulson who got the last laugh. After Garrett jumped in the machine that fully turned him into the new Deathlok, Coulson quickly obliterated him with the laser from "0-8-4.," and Ward (Brett Dalton) was then arrested. 

ABC's Fall 2014 Schedule: Thursday gets rearranged, S.H.I.E.L.D. on the move

But it wouldn't be a Marvel-esque finale without a few tag scenes that raise new mysteries for Season 2, including the newly named S.H.I.E.L.D. director Coulson mindlessly carving the mysterious alien equation on a wall and Raina (Ruth Negga) telling a man with silver hair (and burned and apparently dripping skin?) that she found his daughter, handing him a picture of Skye.

So, is Garrett really gone? Will Fitz survive his ordeal? And who the heck was that mystery man? You've got questions and we've got answers, care of executive producers Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Loeb:

Nick Fury has named Coulson the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and told him to rebuild the organization, but I can't imagine it will be that easy. Is rebuilding the goal of the series now?
Jeffrey Bell:
God, I hope it's not easy. Right now, there is no S.H.I.E.L.D. They're viewed as a terrorist organization around the world, so I think there's a long route to go. We have no funding, we have an authority, we have no buildings. That seems like a pretty great uphill climb to have to do. It's a good goal to have, whether it takes a season or more, it provides a lot of good stories.

How did Samuel L. Jackson's cameo come together?
Jeph Loeb:
Well, Nick Fury is the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and our show is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so with what we knew coming out of Captain America 2, we knew the only way for our show to continue with any tense of authority was to have him and Coulson get together. We just made sure with Marvel that we could make that happen.

When S.H.I.E.L.D. was first picked up to series, the big question was how Coulson was alive, but throughout the series that shifted to why. Was the plan always ultimately to say that he's an Avenger?
I have to give credit to the extraordinary synergy that we have with the movie studio. Our Chief Creative Officer [Joe Quesada] pushed from the beginning to get to this stage in Coulson's life, which will be both challenging and exciting.

We know that the T.A.H.I.T.I. serum does something to people to make them go crazy. Does that tag scene indicate the beginning of Coulson losing it?
That's a great question.
Loeb: Just because there's no S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't mean there's a Level 8. 

Garrett was blown up. Can you definitively say that he's gone for good and what came with that decision not to keep him around?
This is Marvel, so nobody's definitely gone.
Loeb: We began our story around a character who died. It's always interesting when people ask us if he's really dead.
Bell: Our team, particularly Coulson, has had a lot of setbacks this season. He found out that everything he believed in was a lie, a man on his team betrayed him, the whole organization was full of corrupt people. We felt like we needed to bring this season to a certain conclusion and give our team a handful of wins as much as there are other threads still loose. Wrapping up the Deathlok arc for Mike Peterson and having him wander the earth like Cain, Skye looking for where she came from and those breadcrumbs are still out there. We thought we needed a couple of wins, so capturing Ward felt like one. We talked a lot about different ways with Garrett and there was something huge, ridiculous and wonderful about the way he ended that fit with the character. By the way, both Deathlok and Coulson got a victory with Garrett.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: What is the blue alien? One theory debunked!

Did you ever toss around the idea of killing Ward?
We love all our actors, so no one is ever casually killed — even Bill, who only came in for six episodes. It was very hard because we love him as an actor and we love the character. It's a big deal to do that. There were so many other ways to create pain, sorrow and conflict. We love Dark Ward. We love the way Brett Dalton is embodying that character. There's more story for our characters by him being alive than if he had died.
Loeb: The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) has done things that are far more heinous than anything Grant Ward has ever done as far as we know, and yet, at the end of the movie, you're rooting for him to come back on the side of the angels. There's a tradition in the Marvel Universe of our villains turning out to be heroes at the end of the day. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch started out as villains and became Avengers on the publishing side. There's also the fun of sometimes your heroes team up with the villain to go after something that's even worse, so there's a lot of story left in Grant Ward, including the ongoing question, which is: Who is Grant Ward? The fact that we're having that conversation, though, is so fascinating to us because Ward was certainly one of those characters that at the beginning of the season people never would've guessed this is where we were going to go at the end of the season. It's that kind of twist that we're going to continue to look for with all of our characters [in Season 2]. What is good? What is evil? What is evolution? Those are all really good questions about where we're going in the future.

Is there really no redemption when it comes to Ward?
One of the things that Dostoevsky talks about is that no character was too high to fall and no character was too low to be redeemed. Crime and Punishment began with a person going out and consciously becoming a cold-blooded murderer and it took 800 pages and an epilogue before the person finally asked for forgiveness.
Loeb: If you can believe it, Dostoevsky was Hydra.
Bell: You just spoiled Season 2. But that's the beauty of it. I really do believe that no one is too pius to fall or too far gone to be redeemed in some way. Jaime Lannister on Game of Thronesdid terrible things and now I feel so bad for him because his sister won't kiss him. Isn't that weird? Does she not love him? He lost a hand! It kills me that I care. We want to do that with Ward; we want him to kiss his sister, metaphorically speaking.

Coulson promised to torture Ward, so will you explore that fine line between justice and vengeance?
That's always the challenge. When does a hero become an anti-hero? What's too far and what do you do in the name of right? Those are great story questions.

What came with the decision not to show Fitz when the team reunited in that final scene?
So that we could have this conversation. [Laughs] We wanted to leave something there for the audience to speculate in terms of where we're going to go. The fun of what Jeff, Jed [Whedon] and Maurissa [Tancharoen] created in the season finale is that there are some things that are very neatly tied up and there are some things that are left open, so we'll start the next season with a bang and answer some questions and open more doors and windows.

Did you intend to insinuate that doctors may be trying to move heaven and earth to save Fitz?
Wow, you're paying attention! Awesome.

Does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. need to be super to succeed?

Let's talk about this mysterious figure that is apparently Skye's father. Is there something in the comics that would point to who this is?
When everything is revealed, it will be a tremendous surprise, but at the same time, everyone will go, "Oh, that's the coolest thing ever."

Raina said there was a darkness in Skye. Will that be explored next season?
I would argue that Raina says a lot of things, but we all have darkness. We don't do anything causally. We're aware of what we're saying. How these things play out and what they mean hopefully are open to interpretation.

Is Skye's father next season's big bad?
That's another good question.
Loeb: We'd love to have a next season order so we can actually tackle that question. [Editor's note: The show was renewed for a second season after this interview took place.]

You found a great way to keep Patton Oswalt on the show in some capacity after Eric was murdered. You say this is his "brother," but could this be your first hint at Life Model Decoys and there are Koenigs in every secret bunker?
All we can say is that Eric told us that he was playing Call of Duty with his brother and then we met his brother, and that's very exciting to us.

Will we see more of Deathlok on his path to redemption next season?
We love J, we loved Mike Peterson, so I hope we can find really fun and surprising ways to keep that character alive.

What lessons did you learn from the first season?  
Bell: People like Dark Ward.
Loeb: It isn't so much the lessons as much as we get to continue telling stories that have momentum and urgency. We always had the plan, which was that we were building towards this unprecedented event of crossing into the major motion picture event, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and our show being irrevocably changed. What we may have learned is that our audience likes to be surprised and our audiences likes when our characters are in real full-blown jeopardy. That certainly is something that will continue as we hope into a second season, as Clark Gregg leads Agent Phil Coulson into a world that has no formal S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra out there and the great unknown. It's so exciting when we're on our own now.

What did you think of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale? Do you have any theories on who Skye's father is? Hit the comments! 

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will return this fall on ABC. Catch up on the first season here.