One of the clearest messages Sunday afternoon at the "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." PaleyFest Q&A was that yes, upcoming Marvel Studios film "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" will have an effect on the show, and it sounds like it could be a major one.
Before the screening of upcoming episode "End of the Beginning" (airing April 1) that preceded the panel, show executive producer and head of Marvel television Jeph Loeb reminded the crowd at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood that "The Winter Soldier" is out on April 4, and suggested that viewers may see an impact as early as the April 8 episode. Loeb again addressed the issue during the panel itself, albeit in admittedly vague terms.
"We had an episode after 'Thor: The Dark World' where they were cleaning up in London after what happened in that movie, " Loeb said, also informing the crowd that the run of episodes starting April 1 will be seven installments uninterrupted by repeats, all the way through the first season finale. "So it would certainly not surprise anyone if things did happen that we'd mention in the show we're talking about."
The panel -- consisting of the six primary cast members Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson), Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May), Brett Dalton (Grant Ward), Ian De Caestecker (Leo Fitz) and Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons), plus Loeb, showrunners/executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon and executive producer Jeffrey Bell -- got a bit reflective about the show's initial season, including when panel moderator Felicia Day asked the showrunners (who she worked closely with on "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog") what they're most proud of so far.
"We're about to shoot the season finale," Tancharoen said. "It's a long season, everyone's sort of running on fumes at this point, but the fact that we come to work, and are still having a great time together -- we're proud of everyone involved, and we're proud of you guys for showing up and watching the show."
The panel also looked back on the show's formative days, and Coulson's role in Marvel films from "Iron Man" to "Avengers." "All this started largely because of this man," Loeb said, gesturing to Gregg. "Clark Gregg so embodied, and continues to embody, what makes the Marvel Universe special. It's a place that's grounded, we don't come from another planet -- although some of us do -- and what Clark brought to Agent Coulson was a humanity that these gigantic feature films not only needed, they were elevated by."
Tancharoen and Whedon discussed the preliminary planning with "Avengers" writer and director (and Jed's brother) Joss Whedon. Jed Whedod said "it was only about an hour and a half" before the five main characters were generally mapped out. Tancharoen shared that Melinda May's character was originally named "Agent Rice," but, "then we cast Ming-Na Wen -- maybe not so much with the Agent Rice."
Discussing her reaction to recent developments surrounding her character, Wen expressed enthusiasm for watching the show's "twists and turns" unfold -- saying the cast members are often texting and calling each other upon getting script to discuss the latest developments. "We're all such geeks at heart that if we're reacting this way to the script, we just feel the audience will react that way as well, and that excites us."
Asked about the differences between movie Coulson and TV Coulson, Gregg replied, "He's a little different. He doesn't feel the same. It raises a lot of questions, because I only know so much about Agent Coulson from his life before this. The experience of doing the show has been the strangest, most intense, really beautiful, life imitating art. This season has been this incredible journey of getting to know these incredible actors and watching them step up at different moments. Our life has become this wild adventure where everything's up for grabs."
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." recently revealed that Skye is an "0-8-4" -- an object of unknown origin -- and Bennet said it's a mystery that she's become personally invested in. "Everyday I'm on Wikpedia and Twitter and Marvel sites," Bennet said. "Am I this? 'Nope.' Am I this? 'Nope.'" Bennet also stated that she's enjoying the "younger father/daughter" relationship between Coulson and Skye.
The audience Q&A provided a few noteworthy moments, including Loeb revealing that there will be more of Bill Paxton's Agent John Garrett. "We will be seeing him more this season," Loeb said. "There are still a few more surprises that we've yet to shake out of our sleeves, but stay tuned." Day added that Patton Oswalt, as recently announced, will guest star as an agent later this season.
When asked if there was "any word" for season two, Loeb replied, "hope." Loeb also said that while there haven't been specific plans on how the upcoming Netflix shows may relate to "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," but "It's all one universe. Anything that makes the fans happy, I'm in favor of it."
Responding to what Marvel characters or stories the cast and producers would want to see integrated into the show, Gregg had upcoming Marvel films in mind, answering, "As a fan, I wouldn't mind opening the door to the plane and seeing Rocket Raccoon on there. Or Scarlet Witch. I'm not picky." Gregg also replied to a fan who wondered why if the show had too many objects branded with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo: "The organization is not a secret, what we do is."
The panel didn't answer definitively when asked by an audience member if it's possible "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." characters may one day show up in a Marvel feature film, but Tancharoen told the fan, "We like the way you think, though."
Other highlights from the panel including Gregg leaving the stage to deliver hugs to two different audience members, Dalton musing on the evolution of Ward's character ("he's learned to play with the team"), Wen's pitch for Skye to be revealed as the love child between Thor and May (mainly for the chance of filming flashback scenes, she joked), the chemistry between Fitz and Simmons (the consensus seems to be they're more like siblings than anything else), the chance of mutants on the show ("there's no proof at the moment that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe there are mutants," Loeb said) and the possibility of Day guest starring on the series ("Felicia is always on our minds and in our hearts, so we shall see," Tancharoen said).
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." returns with a new episode at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 1 on ABC.