And just like that, the first season of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has ended, not with a whimper but with several bangs. Massive character changes, cliffhangers and huge set-ups for the now confirmed second season of the show mean it's going to be a very long Summer.
To help make the wait a little easier, though, MTV News hopped on the phone with Executive Producer Jeff Bell, and Executive Producer/Head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb to break down every aspect of the shocking season finale.
And in case that little preface wasn't clear, spoilers for the season finale "Beginning of the End," and the entire first season:
Sometimes You Have To Improvise
Just like the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at the center of the show, the creators found it was important over the course of the season to have a set plan, but also allow room for improvisation.
"You set up tentpoles for the season, you set up the arc for the season," Bell said. "All the big stuff we knew where we were going, and then there were all these little surprises along the way."
That big stuff includes bits like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" revealing the season's Big Bad as HYDRA, and allowing main character Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) to turn out to be a traitor to the team.
The little surprises, on the other hand, may have had a tendency to play out even bigger — particularly given their prominence in the season finale.
"We had no idea we would love Raina as much as we do," Bell said, referencing Ruth Negga's villainous character. "[She's a] character who, for us, became a Marvel character, she could have her own comic book. So we found ways to tie her into stories beyond what we had initially considered."
Bell also cited J. August Richards' performance as Deathlok as a direction they knew they were going in; but a performance that allowed them to, "do more with the character than we perhaps would have considered."
"You make adjustments along the way," Bell continued, "but all that tentpole stuff, if you don't lay it out early you're in deep until the end."
What Does S.H.I.E.L.D. Stand For, Agent Ward?
During one of the final scenes, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) echoes a line from the first episode, explaining that what S.H.I.E.L.D. originally stood for was "protection." And that somewhere along the way, whether through evil HYDRA infiltration or otherwise, that got lost.
With Coulson taking over S.H.I.E.L.D. by the end of the episode, in season two "protection" will play a big role in how the team acts.
"It sets the compass for moving ahead, with May saying 'Protection,' and Fury confirming that," Bell said. "That's the job. Whether it's one person, a country or the planet, that's what S.H.I.E.L.D. has done in the past. It's a one-word mission statement on what our character's job is supposed to do. [For] season two, I think that word protection [will] be a cornerstone of what that season will be."
Bell did note, though, that they may be easier said, than done.
"We have no money, no organization, and branded as a terrorist organization," Bell added, laughing, "but that's what makes it fun."
Nick Fury: Agent Of Nothing
One of the big pleasant surprises of the episode was Nick Fury's huge role, from teaming up with Coulson, to bringing a nice gift straight from "Avengers," to his emotional coda on The Bus.
So how did the mega-sized cameo come about?
"When we were talking to Marvel at large about how to end this season, everyone from Marvel New York, us, even Nick Fury and Coulson thought it was important to pass the mantle on screen," Bell said. "We needed Nick Fury to say to Coulson that, 'there's still a S.H.I.E.L.D. and you embody it,' so we could continue to be 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' It gives us a mandate."
It wasn't just about being able to keep the show's name, though.
"So much of the season has been about Coulson's resurrection and the reasons behind that," Loeb added. "We needed to find a way to let Coulson know it was done for the right reasons."
Loeb continued that what Coulson needed was someone who could not just tell him that his resurrection happened for the right reasons, but that he's someone who embodies S.H.I.E.L.D.
"That could only come from one person, and that was Nick Fury," Loeb said.
"It's the handing of the baton," Bell noted. "It's passing it on. If Coulson said, 'You know, there's no S.H.I.E.L.D. but I want to do it anyway,' it wouldn't carry the same weight as having such an awesome character as Nick Fury doing that."
One of the biggest twists in season one was Grant Ward turning evil. And though we did get an episode devoted to his upbringing that at least partially explained his motivations for siding with the similarly evil Agent Garrett, he's still about to be tortured both mentally and physically, and thrown in prison for the rest of his life by season's end.
So is there any hope for Grant Ward?
"The Marvel Universe is built around the complexity of the characters," Loeb said. "There's a tradition of villains who are complex, who you care about, and you worry about, and you hope that they're going to be good guys."
Yeah, but most of those guys don't sleep with their teammates, put the moves on another teammate, and then mercilessly kill their friends, right?
"On the same token, there are really bad guys, there are always bad guys," Loeb continued. "Some of the most fun stories in the Marvel Universe are when the worst villain, and our greatest heroes have to team up because there's another threat that are even bigger than them both. Those are just some of the ways of going, but the real question that remains on the table is: who is Grant Ward?"
Given that Brett Dalton is most likely returning for season two, we're guessing it's one of the more complicated answers.
We leave Skye (Chloe Bennett) in both the best, and worst place we could see her character. She's finally found herself working with Agent Coulson; but in the shadows, unbeknownst to her, Raina has found Skye's monstrous father, a man who killed an entire village to find his daughter.
"The big reveal the audience sees is something she's not aware of," Bell said on the shocking cliffhanger. "So the audience is ahead of her on that. The fact that she's an 0-8-4 is tantalizing to us, and we look forward to working with that. There's a lot of things we know, whether it's Raina talking about her darkness, or monsters, or the man who may or may not be her father, I promise a lot of good story."
Both Loeb and Bell also sang the praises of Bennett, lauding her performance as Skye over the course of season one.
"As an actress we watched her grow tremendously," Loeb said, "and the confidence she showed us at being able to do very challenging things, from drama, to comedy, to terror, to being completely in control, to the incredible hard work she put in physically into the role should be applauded."
"Her arc has been one of maturity, and confidence, and we look forward to seeing what she does next season," Bell added.
Just Tell Us About Fitz/Simmons For The Love Of Monkeys
There's one aspect of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." everyone could agree on: lovable nerd duo Fitz (Iaian de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) were the best. So of course, true to Joss Whedon show fashion, they had to go and tear our hearts out.
First they're trapped on the bottom of the ocean, then Fitz tells Simmons he loves her right before blasting her to safety… At the possible cost of his own life. At episode's end, we know Fitz is alive, but that's all we know. So everything is going to be okay… Right?
"We love their dynamic, and we felt it took a life and death situation..." Bell said about the dramatic profession of love. "We talked about it a lot over the year, and when you have a choice like that, one person may have feelings… The way it went down, Fitz confession was earned. The fact that they survived, and it wasn't initially reciprocated the same way, will have potentially very interesting consequences, and certainly tell a story for us."
May: Well Adjusted?
Surprisingly, the most well adjusted character to come out of this whole thing is probably Melinda May (Ming Na-Wen), who got to kick the snot out of her former lover Grant Ward, and ended up helping run the new S.H.I.E.L.D. with Coulson. So is she just happy, or are there more troubles in store for The Cavalry?
"God, I hope so!" Bell said. "On Ward's side, he deceived her, and she was one of the best. So she has to deal with that. I think she's going to have huge trust issues going forward from that. The Cavalry, from what we've seen, is a much bigger, much more painful thing that will take a lot of time, and a lot of story to solve."
His First Name Is Agent
And of course there's Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who ended the season leading up the new S.H.I.E.L.D. So where will that take him next?
"He suffered a lot of defeat, and a lot of disappointment over the course of 22 episodes," Bell said. "And he emerged from that as a stronger man, but the question is, if he had a chance to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D., what would that look like? With him in that role, will it be similar, will it be different, will that affect him? Suddenly he needs to make a lot more complicated, more grey decisions."
Coulson Writes In Tongues
That's all fine and good, but what about the end of the episode? Coulson wakes up and starts scribbling on a wall, writing something that could be circuit designs, could be an alien language, could be anything.
We've seen this before, both when Agent Garrett was injected with the same formula that resurrected Coulson, and in the fourth episode "Eye Spy." So should fans be trying to decipher this language over the Summer?
"That's a great question," Bell said.
"Just because there's no S.H.I.E.L.D., doesn't mean there still isn't a Level 8," added Loeb.
Patton Oswalt Stars In Twins 2
Okay, here's one we can answer for you. After Patton Oswalt's Eric Koenig was sadly killed a few episodes back, he surprisingly turned up again to greet the agents at their new secret base. So is he a hologram? A clone? A life model decoy?
"Here's what we know," Loeb clarified. "Eric talked about playing 'Call of Duty' with his brother. We know that Eric died, and we know that we went to another secret base, and there was his brother. So we're looking forward to seeing where that goes."
Bye-Bye, Season One
With so many episodes behind them, what did they learn? Naturally, both Bell and Loeb had extensive answers to the question.
"You're always learning, but the audience has to learn at the same time," Bell said. "There were a lot of expectations it was going to be one thing, and it wasn't. For a bunch of reasons. Everybody wanted a Marvel show with Marvel characters, and we had a Marvel villain, a huge one at the center of it called HYDRA that we couldn't say its name. People thought, 'Mike Peterson, he's not Luke Cage, I'm disappointed.' But yeah, he's Deathlok, you just had to wait and be patient."
Loeb, meanwhile, lauded the fact that the team made incredible strides with their first ever live-action show, creating what he called the equivalent of "11 feature films in the space of a year."
"Do I think we're earned a place back at the table for next season?" Loeb added. "Absolutely, and we're incredibly grateful to the audience that stayed with us through this all."
Hello, Season Two
So what can we expect from season two? The duo had one word to share, that calls back to a line said in the season finale.
"I liked the word that you showed me yesterday, Mr. Bell, can I use that word?" Loeb said.
"Yes, sir!" Bell answered.
"Evolution," said Loeb.
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." returns this Fall to ABC. Let us know what you thought of the season finale in the comments below!