“It’s all connected.”
That’s the mantra the TV side of the Marvel juggernaut has been repeating since Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in 2013 with great anticipation and stellar ratings – the idea that the shared screen universe fans were falling in love with in movie theaters was extending to the small screen.
And to be fair, AoS began with great promise. The series centered on Agent Coulson, the fan-favorite glue guy that tethered together most of the early MCU films. The pilot featured a cameo by Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, featured an early guest appearance by Jamie Alexander as Sif and a loose-tie-in to the immediate aftermath of Thor: The Dark World and even a couple brief appearances by Samuel L. Jackson.
Needless to say, the short-lived Agent Carter starring Peggy Atwell (eventual veteran of three MCU films) was about as direct a film-to-TV translation as there could be, although its period setting left a natural divide between film and TV that really didn’t need to be reconciled.
The Netflix side of the TV MCU has had a much looser association. The first season of Daredevil made it clear the “Defenders”-sub universe existed in the post-Avengers New York City, although mentions of the film MCU throughout the Netflix series has been mostly in passing and somewhat maddeningly vague.
In theory, however, all the TV shows exist in the same world – Ghost Rider inhabits the same world as Ant-Man and somewhere Hawkeye’s kids and Runaways' Molly Hayes (now Hernandez) may be watching the same YouTube channels. And oh yeah, Medusa’s hair is out there somewhere. Hell, maybe it was made into Okoye’s wig.
The most direct melding of the Marvel film and TV worlds came of course towards the conclusion of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s inaugural season. On the eve of the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the scene in which Hydra agents disguised as police officers attack Nick Fury in the streets of Washington, D.C. and Fury then encounters the Winter Soldier for the first time ran in its entirety as a scene in AoS, and then the entire TV series flipped on the next weekly episode continuing the premise that S.H.I.E.L.D. was effectively dismantled as a secret Hydra front.
It was ambitious, audacious and easily the TV series’ signature moment, inviting promise of a world in which it really is “all connected.”
And which now has set precedent for all Marvel’s TV properties to be flipped on their ear … or any sense of shared universe connection will be revealed as a façade.
We’ve now given you a nine-paragraph preamble to avoid spoilers for Infinity War so here it goes:
As of this moment, half of the population of the MCU Earth is faded away into brown dust, and that has to profoundly affect any Marvel TV series that takes place between now and April and May 2019 when anyone who’s ever read a comic book expects that to be undone in Avengers 4 (which is a topic for another day).
We’re looking at you Luke Cage season 2 … Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger … Hulu’s The Runaways season 2 … whichever new Netflix seasons debut in the next 12 months. And of course, sometime in the next couple of weeks (there's three more episodes this season) and if it survives into a sixth season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to acknowledge this game-changing event, or the any illusions of the MCU being a shared universe across film and TV will be ultimately busted.
While the Marvel Studios side of the equation as seemingly built in a backdoor to resolve this issue - July's Ant-Man and the Wasp by all indications is set soon after the events of Civil War and before Infinity War, and next year’s Captain Marvel is set in the 1990’s and – the TV MCU can’t use a similar device across the board.
AoS has to pick on up the ending of Infinity War over the next few weeks or reveal it’s never actually inhabited the actual same universe as the movies. The Netflix series, almost all primarily set in NYC – which again, just lost half of its population – has to either 1.) acknowledge the elephant in the room in-story; 2.) qualify that each series debuting in the next calendar year are set prior to the events of Infinity War (which would be awkward at best); or 3.) simply ignore the issue, which would blow up the conceit with extreme prejudice for the people it was most intended to appeal to to begin with.
And #3 may be the most likely outcome. Despite that first season of AoS the MCU film to TV connection seems to be a one-way street, somewhat understandable given the films and TV shows aren’t even produced under the same roof. Marvel Studios and Marvel Entertainment’s TV arms are separate entities and we think we can all safely assume Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios answer to no one within the Marvel family tree.
There simply has just been no reciprocal relationship between the TV shows and the films.
In Infinity War Spider-Man made the scene within minutes when an alien spacecraft touched down on (okay, hovered over) the streets of Manhattan. None of the Defenders responded?
Is the Avengers so much of a clique that they couldn't have used Daisy's or Yo-Yo's or Luke's or Jessica's abilities in Wakanda?
Clark Gregg’s surprise reemergence as Phil Coulson in next year’s Captain Marvel may offer some hope that a reaffirmation of the movie and TV world is in the works, but given its 90’s setting, it may also just be a one-off.
So, it’s your move, Marvel. What was once perhaps seen as a potential mutually advantageous relationship – one in which a burgeoning film division could benefit from audience cultivation in the form of introducing TV audiences to the MCU – now seems superfluous at this point. As of this weekend Marvel Studios is officially attracting the biggest movie audiences around the world that is known possible and doesn’t seem to need any help.
There seem to be few to no advantages for official MCU continuity to play out on television … and no argument for why The Inhumans was a good thing in a shared serial storytelling sense.
But we’ve reached the point where in the bigger picture it probably doesn’t really matter. The TV MCU can probably continue to claim relationship to the films without dictating any negative repercussions on them – a sort of weightless conceit. But whether or not anyone at Marvel, either Studios, Entertainment or both still regards the larger shared MCU as a real thing will be answered in the coming weeks and months by whether we see any brown dust on the small screen…
…or at the very least, a dustpan or two.