Back in 2019, Avengers Endgame closed the Infinity Saga by finishing the stories of three of the franchise’s longest-running Avengers: Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff. But they were not the only long-running Marvel Cinematic Universe staples to leave with the Infinity Saga’s end. The franchise’s first TV show, the seven seasons-long Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., was canceled the following year. With it, the franchise lost another of its longest-running cast members, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), as well as the stable base of the MCU which kept the Infinity Saga anchored for so long. With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D gone, the MCU has lost something vital.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D first aired in 2013, before Thor: The Dark World and as a follow-up to The Avengers spirit Iron Man 3. While the first season started on a rocky note, the series found a fanbase once it upended its premise thanks to the series-shattering events of Captain America the Winter Soldier, and while it did not enjoy the critical praise of Netflix’s Marvel shows or the ratings of some of the recent Disney+ shows, it remained consistent. It is beloved among fans, Seasons 2-7 all have over 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, including two with 100 percent ratings. But the show’s value to the franchise goes beyond being liked and well-made.
Agents of SHIELD Captured Ordinary Life in the MCU
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D brought several irreplaceable elements to the MCU. First, the franchise’s pilot and first season began with a clear manifesto: What is it like to live as an ordinary citizen in a universe full of superheroes? “They said it was enough to be a man,” pleads Mike Peterson (J August Richards) with Coulson in the pilot, “But there’s more than man! There’s gods!” Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D did not follow the larger-than-life superheroes, although all of its cast were heroic and exceptional. Instead, it followed the lives of the average people in the MCU, the day-to-day life of average citizens who live with these world-ending crises at least once a year.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D could explore that in-depth, in a way the films don’t have time for, and the other TV series couldn’t due to their limited time. Lasting whole seasons and following the traditional TV format, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D had the time, and that was its intention. The series did, of course, follow some world-ending events of its own and regularly altered the MCU in ways as important as the films (although its place in modern continuity is unclear). But because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D was weekly, following the SHIELD agents as they dealt each week with the repercussions of living in the MCU, the franchise captured something vital.
SHIELD Was the Anchor that Kept the MCU Together
This series was an anchor. It was a central hub where every event in the franchise could converge. It was a venue for telling stories that couldn’t be told on film. Like an ongoing comic book series, it captured that feeling of a story that continues in perpetuity rather than simply following large-scale events. It could bring in aspects of the MCU that couldn’t make it to film. For instance, Season 2 told the closest to an X-Men story the franchise could tell thanks to licensing issues, and that story is one that often fares better in TV and comics than film thanks to its sheer breadth and spread. These are things that SHIELD provided.
Without Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D as an anchor, a window into the daily lives of MCU citizens, and a long-form weekly narrative to center the series, the MCU has come a bit unmoored. Many point fingers at various causes: the real-world pandemic, the influx of too much material, and the loss of Tony, Steve and Natasha. But few have yet noticed the giant gaping hole left in the franchise with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D‘s cancellation and possible deletion from continuity. Without a stable base to keep the franchise together, the MCU feels less each day like a singular, unified universe. This show brought that, and without it the franchise may be drifting away from itself.