[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Tuesday's episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!]
In a world where superpowers have become the norm, it was actually quite surprising to learn during Tuesday's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that the malevolent Clairvoyant does not, in fact, have powers; they just have security clearance.
That's right, the super-villain who has been dogging Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team is actually a high-ranking member of S.H.I.E.L.D., with the close of Tuesday's episode indicating that Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows) is apparently the Big Bad who's been trying to find out how Coulson was brought to life — information that was hidden by Director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
But is Victoria Hand really the Clairvoyant? And has Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) really betrayed Coulson? TVGuide.com caught up with executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon to get the scoop on what's next for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, why you need to see Captain America: Winter Soldier and how they planned the finale without a second-season renewal:
Does this mean Victoria Hand is actually the Clairvoyant or could there still be somebody working above her?
Maurissa Tancharoen: I think it's become clear that not all is as it seems to be on the show. She certainly appears to be the bad guy.
Jed Whedon: We'll find out more about exactly what her agenda is and why she's doing the terrible things she's doing very soon. We liked the character very much. She's one of the cooler Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so when we brought her in, we had big plans for her. Her motivations, while they are evil, we'll learn more about them and about her side of things.
Did Melinda May maybe not realize she was working for the enemy by using that secret phone line to report back on Coulson?
Whedon: May is faithful to Coulson and you can see at the end of the episode that she's just as confused as he is by what's going on.
Tancharoen: We don't necessarily know who she's been reporting to on the other line.
Did you know from the beginning that you'd have someone on that plane looking in on Coulson?
Tancharoen: We did.
Whedon: The phone calls reporting on Coulson was one of our early ideas.
Tancharoen: It's very clear, from the beginning of the show, that May and Coulson have a very long history. There's a real friendship there. Whenever they have isolated scenes together, you can sense the history of that friendship. The phone call is not only to raise the questions of whether she's a traitor or a sleeper — because it's a little confusing since everything seems so genuine between them...
Whedon: But it's also a question of whether or not their friendship is real. Yes, she was reporting on him, but does she really care about Coulson or was all of that a lie?
The plane is now inbound for the Hub, where S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have orders to kill them. Is this a breakdown in the organization? And how much does this have to do with Captain America: Winter Soldier?
Whedon: It's not a coincidence that this is the episode that airs right before Cap comes out, but we have to stay silent on exactly how much the movie affects us or we affect the movie because Marvel is watching our every move.
Not only did we see Coulson and May standing off, but Coulson also accused Ward (Brett Dalton) of betraying them. Will the team be able to work together to save their own lives?
Tancharoen: That's part of the tension and drama that fuels the rest of the season. We used the first part of the season to bring this team of strangers together and now we're at a place where that trust that they've built and that bond that they've built is now being tested. You're starting to see the fragmentation of that bond.
What's next for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team?
Whedon: We will see what happens immediately after. Things got crazy at the end of Episode 116 and we continue that tradition in 117.
Tancharoen: There are even more surprises.
Whedon: And more questions to be asked. We're very excited about [next week's] episode.
Tancharoen: You definitely have to see Captain America in between.
Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is actually at the Hub where everything is going down. Is this a chance for her to prove herself in the field and help the team survive?
Tancharoen: Perhaps. We've definitely seen a shift in Simmons in the past few episodes. When we first met her, she was this wide-eyed scientist who was new to the field. In Episode 15, she goes head-to-head with Coulson about their conflicting stances on what to do with this miracle drug. It's become very clear that she has her own opinion and her own agenda to put science first, and also her own moral stance first before Coulson's and before the team's. There's a strength to her that we've seen grow.
Whedon: Everyone is experiencing a loss of innocence, but [Fitz and Simmons] have the most profound because they were the most innocent. She's at the Hub with her own agenda, so we'll see how that plays out.
Coulson has always been a company man through and through. Could S.H.I.E.L.D. keeping these secrets from Coulson ultimately break him?
Whedon: That's part of the gauntlet that we wanted to run him through. How do you be a company man in an organization that is devoted to secrets? When they're keeping those secrets from you, what does that do to you? Coulson has already been through a lot. He's going to go through some more. That's the question we've been asking him all season: What happens to a guy when the ground crumbles from beneath him?
Tancharoen: We've taken him on a journey where we've really put him through his paces. He literally has a second chance at life and he's put all of that into this team. There's a sense of optimism and hope that he has. Through the season, he discovers that a lot of the things that he believed were true were not, like Tahiti and learning what actually happened to him. Now, to think that a longtime friend like May could actually have been betraying him, we're slowly going to see how it rattles him.
What came with the decision to make Skye (Chloe Bennet) an official agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Tancharoen: We're finally confirming that she has a place where she belongs. She's already felt that in the relationships she's formed with everyone and with her mentor relationship with Coulson. She feels that she has a place, but there's something about the symbolism of having the S.H.I.E.L.D. badge, especially from an organization that has such a long history. She deserves it. It's not without going through tremendous trauma and struggle and miraculously coming back to life, then to be rewarded with that badge.
Whedon: We thought it was such a good opportunity to have all of our S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on the plane together. Almost every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that we've established over the season, the movies and the shorts are all there to witness it.
How is Ward dealing with facing a review board for killing the fake Clairvoyant. Will that no longer matter since they're targeted to be killed?
Whedon: We will see in the next episode that he has a definite emotional reaction to everything that's going on and hearing that he might not have killed the right guy. For someone who feels like he made the hard call, when it's the wrong call, sometimes emotions well up. For someone who has these emotions on lockdown, I think we'll be surprised by it.
Should we expect more fun cameos in the final episodes of the season?
Whedon: There will be some faces popping up.
Tancharoen: You will be happy to see these faces pop up toward the end of the season.
Could that include Director Fury, since it was mentioned that he's "back"?
Tancharoen: It's the Marvel universe; anything can happen. Can you believe I just said that?
That was a "Tahiti is a magical place" response.
Tancharoen: [Laughs] Exactly. It's like a tic we have.
What is it like for you guys getting to be part of this larger Marvel universe?
Tancharoen: It's such a unique opportunity to be a part of such a vast universe. The fact that all the films are connected and the different characters show up at the end of the movies, it's just so cool. They've been so smart about how they've laid out the universe and the movies as well as the comics. The fact that we can even play within that is pretty incredible.
Whedon: We marvel, no pun intended, at how they achieved all this, starting with Sam Jackson showing up in Iron Man and how it spun out into this giant web, leading to them being brought together in The Avengers. It really is a mind-blowing achievement, not just the success of it, but just being able to pull it off in a way that's satisfying.
What has surprised you most as you reach the end of the season?
Whedon: This whole thing has been such a quick and crazy learning experience. We've now made 22 [episodes]. We're about to shoot the 22nd one. That's something like 19 hours of content. The thing that's exciting for us is we feel like there's so much story and we don't see a place where we'll run out.
Tancharoen: Also, it's incredible what we and everyone who we work with is able to accomplish in the eight days of shooting. We know that coming out of the gate, people were expecting a Marvel movie every week. That's just logistically impossible as far as us being on that scale. But I do feel like we are living up to that model a little bit.
Whedon: We're very proud of all the work that everyone's done. On a first year show, that's rare. Usually there's a couple swing-and-a-miss, but we're really proud of the whole season and that's a surprise to us because it's rare that it comes out so well when it's so difficult to do.
Because S.H.I.E.L.D. has not yet been renewed, what was planning the season finale like? Did you include some threads into next season?
Tancharoen: You'll see that with all the things we've introduced this season, we're going to be tying up most of those things, as well as teeing up a few new things for Season 2. Some things will absolutely carry over.
Whedon: We're very much teeing up Season 2. We're optimistic that we'll have a chance to tell more stories, so we're leaning into the idea. We're not wrapping it all up in a little bow.
Did you ever consider planning two endings to the season just in case?
Tancharoen: It's hard enough to come up with one ending. [Laughs]
Whedon: We think there's a lot more story there, so we're going to leave some open doors. We're not going to close everything off. If they don't give us a second season...
Tancharoen: We'll do a Kickstarter project to do a special movie or something.
Were you surprised by the Clairvoyant reveal? Hit the comments!
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC. Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters on Friday.