The first episode of Loki proves Marvel Studios will never reference Agents of SHIELD or be constrained by it – but the show still matters regardless.
WARNING: The following contains SPOILERS for Loki episode 1, “Glorious Purpose.”
It’s time to accept Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not canon to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When Marvel Television launched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2013, the show was positioned as the MCU’s official tie-in TV series. Unfortunately, it soon became clear the connections would only ever work one way; the TV series would follow the lead of the films, but the movies would never reference it in turn. Joss Whedon even passed on using Agent Phil Coulson in Avengers: Age of Ultron. “As far as I’m concerned, in this movie, Coulson’s dead,” he explained at the time. “If you come back in the sequel and say Coulson’s alive, it’s like putting f***ing John Gielgud in the sequel to ‘Arthur.’ It mattered that he’s gone. It’s a different world now. And you have to run with that.” The relationship between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television became even more strained after a corporate restructuring in 2015 that separated Marvel Studios from the rest of Marvel Entertainment.
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to continue tying into the films regardless, sometimes on thematic levels rather than in terms of plot points, and there’s a sense in which Thanos himself was the villain of season 5. When ABC unexpectedly renewed the show for another two seasons, it caused something of a continuity nightmare as Marvel Television had absolutely no idea what the film studio had planned for the aftermath of the Snap. There’s simply no way to reconcile the timeline of seasons 6 and 7 with the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. For all that’s the case, though, fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have desperately tried to figure out how things can fit.
But the last few months appear to have settled the issue. Marvel and Disney set up an option to view the MCU in chronological order on Disney+ – and the new timeline subtly broke Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. WandaVision featured a completely different design for a book of dark magic called the Darkhold from the one featured in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and now Loki has followed Joss Whedon’s lead in avoiding referencing Coulson’s resurrection. However warmly Kevin Feige may speak of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s clear the films and subsequent Disney+ series never intend to reference it, and the studio will not be constrained by it in any way. For all intents and purposes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, by extension, the rest of Marvel Television’s productions, are not canon.
Though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may not be canon, the Multiverse introduced in Loki provides a way to make it fit. Viewers who want to enjoy the series because of its relationship to the rest of the MCU can simply presume it takes place in a branched timeline, one in which Coulson was resurrected and things worked out in a different way, one in which Thanos’ Snap never happened because of changes made earlier in the timeline.
But even that isn’t truly necessary. The debate over Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s canonicity has always been driven by a mistaken assumption, that the series’ status in relation to the rest of the MCU is what makes it worth watching. It’s easy to understand why that error has slipped in, because the connectivity was at the center of its marketing back when it launched. But over the course of its seven seasons, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. blazed its own trail and developed its own rich mythology, embracing Inhumans, a new Ghost Rider, and even its own model of time travel that was more consistent than Avengers: Endgame. The connectivity is not what makes this show worth the rewatch, it’s the ever-improving quality of its writing, and the growing skills of its actors and crew throughout the seven seasons. Canon does not dictate quality, as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. proves.
Loki releases new episodes every Wednesday on Disney+.
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- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
- Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
- The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release date: Feb 17, 2023
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: May 05, 2023
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