We’re taking a look at the state of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fandom, and the effect of unexpected good news on an oft-embattled fanbase.
For the five years of its rattling run, life as an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan has been a stressful ride.
The series charged into the breach between Marvel films and shorts, blazing the MCU’s path to television for the first time. A ponderous and uneven beginning led to mediocre reviews and flaky viewership. Though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. performs well among secondary streams of viewership, live ratings for each successive season have sunken precipitously, leaving behind a rabid core of fans who have bound themselves to this chameleonic comic book tale like Inhumans to Hive… minus the dubious consent issues.
What’s more, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its fans were often undermined by the very universe that gave it life. Charged with the uniquely tenuous task of weaving its story into and around a greater Cinematic Universe, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did its level best; the show took on Hydra for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, worked behind the scenes for Avengers: Age of Ultron, and blurred the lines of magic for Doctor Strange.
In return, the show was blithely ignored by the larger stories it worked so hard to bind together. The phrase “It’s all connected,” so integral to the early days of Marvel TV marketing, turned out to be a promise that went largely unfulfilled.
So the cycle went on. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. molded itself to the MCU; the ratings dwindled; the fandom closed ranks. (The “small but active fanbase” even earned a direct reference in the show’s fifth season.)
In that context, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s season 5 renewal felt like a minor miracle. (In fact, industry rumors put the renewal up to pressure from Disney, rather than ABC.) The premiere was delayed for a brief and best-forgotten rendezvous with The Inhumans, and shifted for the first time from Tuesdays to Friday nights — a slot legendary for series soon to meet the TV Reaper.
It felt like the smart bet that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 would be its last. It seemed like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. felt this way too, as the story took dramatic steps in wedding FitzSimmons, bringing Coulson and May together, and finally ending the Director’s second lease on life. The season 5 finale was even titled “The End,” and left no tag scene or teaser to promise further stories.
And really, who could complain? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 pushed the show past the 100 episode mark, brought closure or hope to several storylines, and in many ways felt like the ending that fans had hardly dared hope for. We had come this far on a Zephyr wing and a Mackelena prayer… and of course, the arm of Disney.
Was it fair to hope for more for this little show with very big brothers, this complicated contradiction of ratings and love?
Apparently, it was. The news that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was renewed for season 6 (after an agonzingly extended upfronts wait) was greeted with equal parts delight and shock amongst the fandom. Sure, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 comes with a reduced episode order, and won’t premiere until summer of 2019, months after the critical events of Avengers: Infinity War have been resolved for good or ill. But fans in this overlooked corner of the MCU know a lucky break when we get one; less is less than a lot, but more than nothing.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fandom settled in for a long wait, a short story, and more uncertainty at the end of the tunnel.
So it came as, well, a massive freaking surprise when, seemingly out of thin air, ABC President Channing Dungey preemptively renewed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a seventh season. (And then promptly left the studio.) What inspired this seemingly random and profoundly premature act of salvation remains a mystery, but the S.H.I.E.L.D. faithful are not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Still, this early renewal feels… well, a little weird. It feels weird not to have to worry about this little show with the biggest of entertainment parents. It feels weird to watch an entire television season flow by without more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., knowing that more is coming, eventually. It feels weird to have come first, to have been scoffed at, to struggle each year, and still outlive Agent Carter, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil.
It’s a good feeling, don’t get me wrong (sad though I am for our shorter-lived cousins in Marvel TV.) But it will take some getting used to.
Because while the writers, cast, and crew of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are working hard on their upcoming seasons, the fandom? Well, we get to relax. And as devotees of a show that has thrown everything from shocking betrayals, to robot takeovers, to hidden superheroes, to aliens, to time travel and back in our faces for five years, that’s a new experience.
Come summer 2019, I’m sure we’ll be back to the sweet, hair-graying torment that is every season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. But at least while fans fret over the fates of our favorites, the future of our show itself will be secure. And we deserve that.
Because after all this time, who’s like us? Damn few.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 6 will air in Summer 2019 on ABC.