If you were missing the sense of intrigue, secret agendas and Marvel-style action that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has become known for, "Aftershocks," the midseason premiere, delivered sizable servings of all the above.
Following up on "What They Become," the game-changing midseason finale which revealed Skye (Chloe Bennet) as a newly transformed and seismically powered Inhuman, a Marvel Cinematic Universe analog for the comics' Daisy Johnson AKA Quake -- alongside the similarly changed Raina (Ruth Negga) -- the show wasted no time diving into the aftershocks.
Though the team struck decisive victories against HYDRA and plans to use their captive, Daniel Whitehall's right hand man Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) as a pawn, Skye agonized over her metamorphosis, what it meant and how friends and especially her mentor Coulson (Clark Gregg) would react to it, discovered an unexpected ally in Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) when it came to keeping her secrets while Simmons wants to put an end to everything Inhuman. Speaking of secrets, Mockingbird (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack (Henry Simmons) are openly pursuing an agenda they're taking pains to hide from Coulson, even as the shock of Mack's alien possession causes him to lash out at the Director. And the entire team mourned the death of Agent Triplett (B.J. Britt).
With the gameboard now set for the remainder of the ABC series' second season, the cast and creators weighed in with CBR News on all the new developments and addressed the burning questions prompted by the midseason premiere.
Is Hydra finally down for the count?
Though the agents made fast work of the Hydra remnants on their radar, is it possible we've seen the last of the insidious terror group that once nearly controlled the world? "Hydra's always been played as -- or at least we've been playing it in modern times as -- they're almost like cells and there's a lot of them and as they always say, you cut off one head and many more grow," said executive producer Jeph Loeb. "In our mind, this was an impressive feat Coulson pulled off, but it doesn't necessarily mean that Hydra is done."
"Will they ever be done?" wondered executive producer Jed Whedon. "Their logo's too cool to ever go away."
We'll get a sense of just what might be left as S.H.I.E.L.D. uses their captive Bakshi as bait for any remaining Hydra heads. "In his world what he believes to be the truth certainly is different but it's something that he's catching up to and with," said Kassianides. "For someone that's very intelligent and trained, second-guessing doesn't always work. As to what happens afterwards, he has an influential role to play in the future, but just as to how much and what and which way I can't say."
Why are Mockingbird and Mac conspiring against Coulson?
"The betrayals keep on coming," said Gregg, shaking his head. "It's hard -- I feel like Coulson does so often: you think you can trust somebody; you think you have a nice trip to Puerto Rico and you really bond. It's sad to think that maybe she's working against him. And on the other hand, I think the people who are really good at reading human behavior manage to work past their emotions, to being analytical about people's motivations and whatever validity there might be. So he's a pragmatic at heart. The job requires you be a pragmatist and try to figure out what they're doing, whether it is to turn them back around or defeat them."
But what are the two trusted agents up to? Are they deep-cover Hydra agents, or do they have a more unexpected agenda? "I don't think you should assume anything, honestly," said Palicki. "I think that Mack and Bobbi do have a secret, but whatever they're doing they think is the right thing. So it's not necessarily malicious, but you have to keep an open mind."
"I can say that this secret that they have is gonna have quite an impact on the team," said Simmons. "You start seeing hints of it already in the midseason premiere."
"When the secret does finally come out it's going to have massive repercussions on the entire team, but especially for, I think, her relationship [with Hunter]," Palicki agreed. "The trust thing has been an ongoing issue in their relationship, so this is definitely not going to help."
Nick Blood, who plays Mockingbird's ex-husband, said he doesn't think Hunter bought Bobbi's explanation. "Oh, I think he knows her too well to believe anything she said, really," laughed Blood. "I think he's always, always on guard, always suspicious -- I think with most people, and probably particularly with her, I think he's been let down too many times in the past to take it on face value. But I think possibly naively -- you know what you do when you care about someone, you want to believe that they're telling you the truth? I think that's the case. I think he wants to believe her, but we'll see."
Will Simmons stay on the warpath against superpowers?
"The way it's going now is it feels like everybody is compartmentalizing their own strategies," said Henstridge. "Instead of us being a team, where we'd all work together and we understood there was a leader and we all had our roles to play, Simmons at least is shutting down and she's taking orders from Coulson and just doing it -- as she sees it, the stakes are enormous and she can't let this happen again. She can't go through this again. She's taking a very scientific route, which she's always kind of had in her, but she's always had Fitz to level her own. That's not happening now -- she's not listening to Fitz.
"It's hard. It's her way of grieving," Henstridge continued. "She's traumatized. She's adamant that this cannot happen again. She's turning to science to try and get some absolutes."
Has the death of Tripp left a lasting mark on everyone?
"It's huge," admitted Henstridge. "It's a traumatic event. He's one of our own. Also, just as a cast we're feeling it. That comes through a crazy amount -- you should've seen the table read when he died! It was huge and I think writers take that into consideration. Had it not been B.J. Britt, maybe it wouldn't have been written in so much, but he was such a light in our cast that the ramifications are enormous. It's a testament to him. This is like the Coulson-dying-in-'Avengers' kind of thing. This is the thing that's going to spur and fuel the second half of the season. It's big for every character."
"You want [a loss] to have an emotional impact, and we knew with Tripp it would," said Whedon. "Truthfully, he came in and was around so long because he was loved and because we loved him."
"He really came in with Garrett and was going to be someone to go pretty quickly because he was under Garrett," added executive producer Jeffrey Bell. "But we liked B.J. a lot and what he brought as Tripp and so as we brought him in, he lived a long time... At the end of Episode Ten something wonderful happened as something terrible happened, and the two of them happening together and you having to feel 'Oh God, no -- Tripp...Oh my God, she's...' When we can do that as writers, that's the best we can do."
"That's where it starts to be an amazing job," said Gregg, "because what we deal with emotionally, sometimes it's completely so in sync with what's going on with the characters. We must have done fifteen goodbye parties for B.J. Britt, because we couldn't bear to not see him go. And the ramifications of having cost the team a member in that way are deep, and really throws everybody. There's a grieving process, and people have serious questions about what we were doing there."
One of those questioning Coulson was, of course, Mack -- and there's more fallout to come. "The catalyst of those explosions that Mack has are going to be explored more," said Henry Simmons. "He questions 'Why are we doing this, and at the cost of some of our team members?' There's a lot of emotion behind that; you lose someone who's close to you, a brother, and you're wondering 'Why?'"
Will Fitz continue to keep Skye's secret?
"Similar to what Mack's going through, people are starting to question things," said De Caestecker, who believes Fitz saw a reflection of his own challenging injury in Skye's transformation. "I think that's more based on what happened to him and how people treated him. He's like, 'Let's just take a second...' At that point I think he feels like he's the only one that really understands what she must be going through, that change.
"I think he's a lot better from where he was at the start of the season, but there's still a very long road to recovery even if you don't see it as much," added De Caestecker. "Everything in his head is being processed differently. The realization comes that he'll never be the same again, that he has to accept a different side of him and try and make that better. He's still struggling with a lot of things and I think some of his decisions, like with Skye -- it's an impulse decision, I think. I don't think he knows completely what he's doing a lot of the time."
Skye, meanwhile, continues to struggle with the new reality facing her, according to Bennet. "We'll see her dealing with the loss of Tripp. I think she feels extremely guilty over that considering he went down there to save her and then he died. It's a lot of her figuring out that, 'Oh, when I got upset down there, an earthquake happened, and I keep getting upset and that may be happening again.' It's her exploring whether or not it is her that is creating these things, and then her dealing with what she has to tell the team, because people who have powers, from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s perspective, are put on the Index. That's not really a place she wants to be, I don't think."
"It's dealing with admitting to her family -- it's kind of like she's coming out almost as a superhero to her S.H.I.E.L.D. family and moving forward from there," Bennet added. "Coulson is really who she's worried about. She really doesn't want these powers."
"She says she doesn't," the actress said with a smile, "but deep down it's kind of awesome."
Is the back end of the second season also paving the way to share some connective tissue with "Avengers: Age of Ultron?"
Sharp-eared listeners caught a very pointed reference to an off-screen presence, one we can assure you will be name-changed at least once more during the season: Baron von Strucker, last seen in the tag scene of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" experimenting on Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and a major player -- in the form of actor Thomas Kretschmann -- in this summer's "Avengers" sequel.
So is the Strucker shout-out just a fun Easter egg for in-the-know MCU mavens, or is it paving the way for some TV-to-film story synergy along the lines of last year's intersecting "Winter Solider" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." plotlines?
"It might suggest that," said a straight-faced Whedon, whose brother Joss is, of course, "Age of Ultron's" director as well as another executive producer on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
"Wouldn't that be cool?" Loeb teased.
"I know, it'd be cool," agreed Whedon. "It's one universe, so there is some ripple."
"Hashtag: #ItsAllConnected," added Loeb with a conspiratorial chuckle.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC.