Warning: the following contains spoilers for "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and, by extension, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
So, that happened.
In a move that can only be described as "what-how-why-they-can't-do-that," the newest Marvel Studios movie, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," ended with the dissolution of its most prominent organization: the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
When Cap and Black Widow learn that Red Skull's Hydra legacy lives on throughout the highest levels of S.H.I.E.L.D., the two heroes team together with Falcon, Maria Hill and Nick Fury to bring the entire organization down. They're successful, and by the end of "Winter Soldier," S.H.I.E.L.D. is no more.
It's a bold creative choice to remove one of the most reliable pillars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe completely from the equation. Not just because it changes the face of the universe, and not just because it throws the story of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" into doubt (who will assemble Earth's mightiest heroes now that Nick Fury is unemployed and presumed dead?), but also because it throws an entire television series completely out of whack.
Really, how can "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." continue when the titular agency no longer exists? Will the adventures of resurrected Coulson and his ragtag bunch of spies end in the season finale, with a different show — like the rumored "Agent Carter," for instance — taking its place in the fall?
Or are there still ways for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." to continue without S.H.I.E.L.D. up and running as an official entity? Of course there are.
The entire premise of the ABC series centers on Coulson's covert continued existence. He has Level 8 clearance. What if Level 9 clearance exists, and that's an emergency protocol to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. alive after its "Winter Soldier" destruction?
What if Coulson and his team decide to carry on missions without the official green-light from their former S.H.I.E.L.D. higher-ups? What if they work on behalf of Nick Fury, now underground and on the run?
Heck, what if Coulson's agents head to space and become agents of S.W.O.R.D., the Sentient World Observation and Response Department? That would certainly explain things if the big blue guy responsible (at least in part) for Coulson and Skye's recoveries turns out to be a Kree:
And it would tie things nicely into a certain star-spanning Marvel movie hitting theaters this summer:
After "Guardians of the Galaxy" arrives in August, could we see "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Space" in the fall? Is that just too crazy to work?
No matter how (or if) the series decides to move forward, one thing is certain: The game is forever changed by the events of "Winter Soldier." Hydra has ruined S.H.I.E.L.D. as we know it, and Cap and his pals have blown the whole thing up. Whether Coulson decides to soldier on as a shadow agent, or on his own terms, whether he tries to put the band back together or simply abandons ship for starrier pastures — we'll find out over the next few weeks, as "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." races toward the finish line.
How do you think "Winter Soldier" will affect "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." moving forward?