NEW YORK — In the final shot of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Season 4, Agent Phil Coulson stands before a reinforced window, asteroids filling a starry vista before him — and the audience is left wondering how he reached that otherworldly perch. His team is apparently headed for the Final Frontier — so Space.com was eager to catch up with the cast and executive producer at New York Comic Con to chat about what that will mean for Season 5.
The series focuses on a tight-knit team of government agents who deal with the weird corners of the Marvel universe that make their way to Earth. The show will return to ABC Dec. 1, the cast confirmed at a panel here Saturday (Oct. 7), with many of the show's characters on a spaceship or space station having no idea where they are or how they arrived.
"We're affectionately referring to it as 'LOST IN SPAAAACE!'" Jeph Loeb, the show's executive producer, told Space.com at a press roundtable Saturday. "We will be in space — where in space is part of the mystery of where they are and how or if they'll ever get home." [The 20 Weirdest Aliens in the Marvel Universe]
Ming-Na Wen, who plays S.H.I.E.L.D agent Melinda May, added that this would be another shift in a show that tends to put the core team in very different situations from season to season.
"Every season has been such a surprise, and so different than the previous," Wen said during the roundtable. "We're really excited that having these characters now in a wholly, completely different environment and how they're going to be able to try to tackle these new challenges — it brings out a lot more insecurities as well as trying to find a way to have teamwork."
"Aesthetically, this season is so different; it feels very grown up, and quite dark, and just cool," Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays scientist Jemma Simmons, said at the roundtable. "I think that some of the themes that we're using are very current."
"It's been the biggest leap we've had," added Ian De Caestecker, who plays Simmons' partner-in-science, Leopold Fitz.
The characters will be thrown into the unknown this season, Loeb said, but so will the audience; in the past, the audience has been a few steps ahead of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, but in this case, everyone will be in the dark about the team's new situation.
"You can expect a lot of challenges for the team, because we're 'out of this world,'" Natalia Cordova-Buckley, who plays "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez, said at the roundtable. Yo-Yo is a team newcomer but will be a series regular starting this season.
The ending of Season 4 left several characters with changed relationships that haven't yet been resolved, and the new season will pick up right where they left off, the actors confirmed. However, the characters won't have much time to delve into those issues at first.
"Being in space, we have different challenges," said Henry Simmons, who plays Mack (short for Alphonso Mackenzie). "We have to deal with external threats before personal conflict."
Mac and Yo-Yo's romance, for example, "does take a backseat because we are in a new world," Cordova-Buckley said.
"It's hard to make out when you're trying to survive," Simmons added.
Another pair on the show — scientists Leopold Fitz and Jemma Simmons — was particularly shaken by the final storyline in the previous season. And outer space certainly won't help matters, the actors said.
"Space, historically, for Fitz [and] Simmons, has never been great for them," Henstridge said, referring to a time Simmons was suddenly transported to an alien planet in an earlier season, putting a rift between the two. ['Doctor Strange' Astrophysicist Talks Mind-Bending Marvel Science]
But along with drama, space will provide a spot for humor as the characters react to their new surroundings in characteristic ways.
"Speaking from personal experience, [Simmons has] been in space before, for a while, so I definitely make that known," Henstridge said. The character "definitely brings her British eye rolls and her 'Oh, for goodness' sake, we're here again,' rather than the first time, [when] she was obviously terrified."
"I feel like we know these characters so well now that you can almost predict how they're going to react in certain situations," she added.
All of the actors were excited for their characters, fleshed out over several seasons, to have the chance to grow and interact in a totally new environment. And there are several big moments of payoff in the characters' interactions that have been building for a long time, they said.
"We get to have some really cool moments that have been earned, that when you see them, you'll be like, 'Oh my God; I've been waiting five seasons for that to happen,' and we finally get to have those moments,'" Henstridge said.
"Season 4 was one of our best seasons, and yet again they've completely created this whole new world again for Season 5," Chloe Bennet, who plays agent Daisy Johnson (formerly Skye, also known as Quake), said during the roundtable discussion. 'And I think you guys are going to love it. Space is dope!"
"I grew up watching those shows — 'Star Trek,' those things," added Clark Gregg, who plays Coulson, the team's leader. "I wouldn't say that it's like that. But to have it really bridge into more of the sci-fi, cosmic parts of the Marvel universe in ways that would be surprising to people, it's really thrilling."
But that's not to say there won't be plenty of space tropes viewers know and love, although the cast was tight-lipped on whether they got to film any scenes in zero gravity. For one thing, there will be aliens, Loeb said. And for another:
"All the things that you want to see our characters do — we're going to get to see Agent May try to figure out how to zoom through space. It's not going to be like your usual piloting that needs to get done," Loeb said. "And there's stuff in the way … so you've got to look out for that, or else you go boom. And there will be lots of 'go boom.'"