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How ‘Civil War’ Changed ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

The fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered this past week, and it has some surprising links to the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War was released just before the end of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s third season, but the film is still causing ripples within the TV series.

Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s second season, the titular agency has preserved its independence from world governments. However, that’s no longer the case. The series’ season four premiere, entitled “The Ghost,” revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. has lost its hard-won autonomy. Moreover, many of the series’ new themes and plot lines stem from Civil War. Let’s take a look at Civil War‘s impact on S.H.I.E.L.D.

Losing the Public’s Trust

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The premise of Captain America: Civil War involved the Avengers losing the world’s trust. The Avengers’ clash with Brock Rumlow in Lagos, Nigeria claimed the lives of many innocent civilians. The tragedy in Nigeria was a haunting reminder of the Avengers’ mixed impact on global security. Despite their dedication to saving lives, the Avengers caused appalling amounts of collateral damage. As a result, the team lost its autonomy, and the United Nations stepped in to oversee it.

In a similar manner, S.H.I.E.L.D. lost the U.S. President’s trust at the end of the TV series’ third season. In “Bouncing Back,” President Matthew Ellis privately authorized Director Phil Coulson to continue operating S.H.I.E.L.D. However, everything came crashing to the ground in “Ascension.” Hive‘s cadre of Primitives sacked S.H.I.E.L.D.’s base of operations, forcing Coulson to call in help from General Glenn Talbot. Talbot, in turn, passed on the base’s location to President Ellis.

It seems as though the Primitives’ victory disrupted S.H.I.E.L.D.’s relationship with the President. If I were President Ellis, I’d certainly find it hard to trust an agency that suffered not just one, but two spectacular defeats. (For the record, Captain America: The Winter Soldier showcased S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first implosion.) This past week, “The Ghost” made it clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. has changed in all but name. We’ve yet to see whether the United States — and the world — trusts this new S.H.I.E.L.D.

Governmental Oversight

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For the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D., both groups’ crushing losses led to various forms of governmental oversight. In Civil War, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross essentially becomes the Avengers’ new field general. Ross serves under the U.N. subcommittee that supervises all superpowered individuals who have signed the Sokovia Accords.

Unlike the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. originated as a government-sponsored organization. But now, a new Director has redesigned the agency’s entire infrastructure, perhaps in line with the Accords. The Director forces Coulson, Melinda May, and their fellow agents to split up and lead separate departments. In addition, all of the organization’s Inhuman “assets” — including Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez — must sign the Accords.

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Remember Daisy Johnson‘s hacker ex-boyfriend, Miles Lydon, from season one? In “Girl in the Flower Dress,” Daisy (then Skye) told Miles that S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t have time to obey due process. In order to save lives, the agency sometimes had to bypass citizens’ basic rights. Yet, S.H.I.E.L.D. has come a long way since then.

In “The Ghost,” Elena tells Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie that S.H.I.E.L.D. moves too slowly. The Accords have hampered not only the agency’s autonomy but also its rapid response to threats. The United Nations believe that the Accords are a necessary step toward a safer world. Nevertheless, everything has a cost, and the Accords are no exception. In fact, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new direction has caused rifts between its agents — much like the Avengers’ very public schism in Civil War.

There’s No Right Side

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Of all the characters in Civil War, Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) has the most unique journey. She initially sides with Tony Stark because she believes the Avengers need to regain the world’s trust. However, she later “switches sides” when she realizes that Tony’s feud with Steve Rogers will continue to cause collateral damage. Natasha is thus one of many Avengers who resign from the team in an official capacity.

Over at S.H.I.E.L.D., some agents adapt to the agency’s new changes better than others. Jemma Simmons becomes the Special Advisor to the Director in Science and Technology in order to influence S.H.I.E.L.D.’s future. In doing so, she embarks on a path that is strikingly similar to that of Black Widow.

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Since May and Coulson don’t fully submit to the new Director’s authority, Simmons finds herself at odds with her former teammates. Even though Simmons doesn’t trust the new Director, she values his trust in her. She tells May: “I knew we’d be divided, undermined, kept in the dark, so I have been clawing for as much power as I can possibly grab to keep a modicum of control over any of this.”

Despite having her own agenda, Simmons becomes an active part of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. Her actions mirror the fact that Black Widow signed the Sokovia Accords while preserving her own individual agency. Both Simmons and Romanoff are trying to make the best of the world’s current state. Still, one has to wonder how far Simmons will go in order to help her friends.

No Going Back

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Joe and Anthony Russo, the co-directors of Civil War, meant for the film’s ending to be controversial. The Russos wanted viewers to walk away with conflicting opinions about who was right. Similarly, “The Ghost” made it clear that this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will generate the same sort of rifts.

The Sokovia Accords have changed how the world works, especially for the Avengers, the Inhumans, and S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s rather clichéd to say, but there truly is no going back to the way things were. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is focusing on more areas with gray morality, and that’s a compelling direction as Phase Three begins.

Check out our Recap and Reaction of “The Ghost” from Alex Mayes and myself. Stay tuned as we cover Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new season!

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Recap and Reaction: “The Ghost”


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