Series: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Unmarked spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier below, as it becomes crucial to the plot of the first season and the rest of the series.
"We're the line between the world and a much weirder world. We protect people from news they're not ready to hear, and when we can't do that, we keep them safe."
— Agent Grant Ward
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
is a TV series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
, focusing on the organization S.H.I.E.L.D.
and taking place after The Avengers
and Iron Man 3
chronologically. Premiering in September 2013 on ABC
, it was created and executive produced by Joss Whedon
, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen
(Joss Whedon also directed the pilot). It stars Ming-Na Wen
, Elizabeth Henstridge
, Iain De Caestecker, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet
, and Clark Gregg
as a very much alive
Agent Phil Coulson.
The series began with the eponymous agents investigating and containing various supernatural and high-tech objects and individuals in order to keep the public safe, a task that has become more complicated in the aftermath of the Battle of New York blowing the lid off of their previous level of secrecy
. The status quo was upended midway through the first season, when S.H.I.E.L.D. was dissolved after it was compromised by the terrorist group HYDRA.
The series now follows Coulson as his team struggles to rebuild the organization from its remaining loyal elements, even as they are being hunted by the US Army, HYDRA, and other hostile forces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Notably, while the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films focused on Marvel Comics
characters who already existed in the comics themselves, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
focuses primarily on characters who are original to the MCU (beyond S.H.I.E.L.D. itself originating from the comics, of course), though there have been an increasing number of crossovers with comic and MCU characters, and several episodes have been direct follow-ups to the films. The reciprocity goes both ways, with events in the series seriously impacting the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
, and a comic book series with the Marvel 616 versions of the team debuted in early 2015.
There is a recap page
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. provides examples of the following tropes:
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- Abnormal Ammo: The ICER guns, first called Night Night guns. The bullets break under the skin, releasing a toxin that paralyzes the target. The same toxin later shows up in grenades.
- Absurdly Youthful Parent: Discussed in "T.R.A.C.K.S." when Coulson and Simmons go undercover as father and daughter, as Simmons claims that he's "much too young to have a daughter my age." (Though the official website gives the characters' ages at the time as 49 and 26, respectively, so she's probably just being polite, perhaps to try to make up for her Compliment Backfire about his age in "FZZT".)
- Abusive Parents: Ward's were at least neglectful, as they apparently managed to miss his older brother being an abusive bully as shown in "The Well" and "Ragtag." It's later stated that Ward's parents were "worse" than his older brother, who threw his younger brother down a well. John Garrett also physically and emotionally abused Ward.
- Acting Unnatural:
- Action Girl:
- Melinda May, so much so that her nickname is "The Cavalry," even if she claims to hate being called that. Initially, she joined the team on the condition that she was only there to pilot the plane and provide nominal support. But after a few close scrapes, she eventually volunteers for field combat duty. "Repairs" reveals May's reluctance is because she once rescued a S.H.I.E.L.D. team single-handedly, hence "The Cavalry" nickname, but is haunted by the number of people she had to kill in order to do so.
- Skye gradually became this over the course of season 1, including receiving her S.H.I.E.L.D. agent status. Season 2 reveals she's officially become this, including wearing a new uniform to cement it.
- Maria Hill in "Nothing Personal". While Coulson gets into a straight fight with Talbot, Hill takes out most of his unit by herself. Coulson ends up stunning Talbot and the last two with an Icer.
- Season 2 also introduces Bobbi Morse and Agent Isabelle Hartley. The former is a member of the Avengers in the comics and is a combatant on par with Black Widow, while the latter is played by Xena herself, Lucy Lawless. Both should be enough proof to their claims to this.
- Adaptation Expansion: With the revelation that Skye is Daisy Johnson, the show becomes this for her backstory. In the comics, Daisy was introduced as one of many members of Nick Fury's new squad, who became a Breakout Character and the most prominent member of that team, but all that's known about her backstory is that she was the long-lost daughter of Mister Hyde and the protogé of Nick Fury. In the show, though, we now have a season-and-a-half worth of details for her backstory leading up to how she got her powers.
- Adaptation Name Change: Mark Scarlotti has his name changed to Marcus Scarlotti.
- Adaptational Badass: Lorelei. She can zap the will of any man just by saying a pair of words. In comics, Lorelei is nowhere that powerful. In comics, she's just a Butt Monkey with delusions of being better than her sister, who only controlled Thor with love potions given by someone else (Malekith and Loki) and not by her own power, and each time she ruined it.
- Adaptational Heroism:
- The show's version of Donnie Gill. He still ends up as a bad guy, but is given a sympathetic backstory. It's also made abundantly clear that he never intended for his actions to hurt anyone, at least at first, and he also never served HYDRA willingly. When he's acting of his own free will, it's against HYDRA. The only reason why SHIELD put him down at the end of "Making Friends and Influencing People" is so HYDRA won't be able to use him again.
- The second season also has Calvin Zabo, better known as Mister Hyde, but known primarily in the show as The Doctor, AKA Skye's father. In the comics he was just a selfish crook who fathered his child with a prostitute he didn't care much for, while in the show he's a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who's on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to avenge his beloved wife's murder and wants to reconnect with the daughter that was taken from him. He's still a savage killer, but one with a very sympathetic backstory behind such.
- Adaptational Villainy:
- As of "T.R.A.C.K.S.", Deathlok. Although since he's acting under duress he's more of an Anti-Villain.
- And as of "Turn, Turn, Turn", The Clairvoyant is revealed to be John Garrett.
- Adaptational Wimp: Eric Koenig was a member of the Howling Commandos in the comics and one of Fury's frequent sidekicks. In the show, he's played by Patton Oswalt, which should tell you something about the kind of character he's become in this series.
- Adorkable: All of the ongoing characters fit this trope in one way or the other, most notably FitzSimmons, Skye, Coulson, and even on occasion May (and not just when she's impersonating Simmons, either). For one example, check out game night where Ward says in a sour voice "you sunk my battleship", May pranks Fitz with shaving cream, and the team at large accuss Simmons of using her "britishness" against them in Scrabble.
- Adult Fear: Raina uses threats against Mike Peterson's son to get to him.
- Affably Evil: The Clairvoyant, revealed to be John Garrett, keeps the chummy, friendly attitude he had long before the reveal of who he was, and is shown to have a pretty fun Villainous Friendship with his dragon, and generally treats his subordinates with a lot of friendly respect, with the only exception of Quinn. Doesn't change the fact he's a murdering sociopath who'd gladly kill anyone to make himself immortal.
- Age Lift: The show's version of Donnie Gill is an 18-year old student rather than an adult criminal-for-hire.
- Only a slight example, but Daisy Johnson's age is generally given as 19 in the comics (which is why it was so impressive that she became Director of SHIELD after Steve Rogers stepped down), but the revelation that Skye is Daisy Johnson, it becomes a case of this since, even though the actress is only a few years older than Daisy's comic book age, its established that she's actually older than that, making it an example of this.
- Agony of the Feet: In "Beginning of the End", May nailguns The Mole's foot to the floor to end their fight. Several times.
- Almost Kiss: For a moment after Ward comes to Skye's rescue during "The Asset", she really looks like she wants to kiss him. Thus cranking up the Unresolved Sexual Tension.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us:
- In "0-8-4", Reyes and her group briefly hijack the Bus and take the team hostage until they manage to retake the plane.
- In "Yes Men", Lorelei uses the brainwashed Ward and Fitz to take control of the Bus, which lasts until Sif manages to capture her and nullify her powers.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn", as a result of events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, HYDRA takes control of multiple S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities. Meanwhile, due to each side thinking the other is the enemy, Victoria Hand's forces assault and forcibly board the Bus.
- Building on this in "Providence", HYDRA attacks the Fridge, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s combination maximum security prison/storage facility, releasing all the prisoners as a distraction, while they steal every piece of advanced tech they can grab.
- In "Nothing Personal", the team is forced to abandon the Providence base when it's raided by Colonel Talbot's forces.
- From the end of "The Only Light in the Darkness" to the end of "Beginning of the End", the team loses control of the Bus altogether due to Centipede hijacking it.
- In "Face My Enemy", Agent 33 disguised as May sneaks on board the Bus and plants a device that will make all its systems overload and explode, with the team just barely stopping it in time.
- Ambiguous Situation: We meet Christian Ward in Season 2, and he claims Grant made up him being an abuser, and that he does that sort of thing all the time.. It's left open to interpretation which of them is lying. It's finally revealed that it was Christian in "The Things We Bury".
- And I Must Scream:
- At the end of "The Asset", Dr. Franklin Hall is revealed to still be alive, trapped inside the gravitonium device.
- "A Magical Place" reveals that Coulson was in this situation after his death: the experimental procedures Fury ordered to revive him caused him so much pain he begged to be allowed to die, and caused complications that were the reason for altering his memories.
- The Hooded Hero in the first episode, Mike Peterson, was just a struggling single father who took part in an experiment after he got laid off of work following an injury. He later uses his abilities to help the team and seems to honestly want to be a hero, but Project Centipede instead transform him into Deathlok, and force him to act as The Heavy for them while using his son to keep him in line.
- The villain from "The Asset." Just trying to protect the world from Gravitonium
- It's unclear what Raina's ultimate goal is, but it's clear she's a Wide-Eyed Idealist who just believes these are the necessary steps for the future.
- An Ice Person: Donnie Gill, aka Blizzard.
- Apologetic Attacker: Simmons when she shoots Agent Sitwell with the Night-Night gun.
- Appeal to Obscurity: Coulson uses this when Skye asks why they can't warn the Peruvian locals about the 0-8-4:
Coulson: Remember the panic when that anti-matter meteorite splashed down just off the coast of Miami and nearly devoured the city?
Coulson: Precisely. Because we kept it quiet and contained.
- Arbitrary Skepticism:
- Psychics are routinely dismissed as a myth, on the basis that S.H.I.E.L.D has never encountered a genuine psychic (but have interviewed plenty of fakes). Skye has lampshaded this more than once. As of the end of the first season, they still haven't encountered a genuine psychic.
- In "The Well", Skye wonders if perhaps all ancient gods were just visiting aliens. Unlike ESP, this hypothesis doesn't get the brush-off.
- Arc Symbol: These symbols◊, which Ward photographed for Centipede, reappear briefly in a montage of Coulson's surgery, are scrawled by Garrett on the glass door after he's injected with GH-325 and are etched by Coulson onto his wall in The Stinger of "Beginning of the End".
- In Season 2, it is revealed that the symbols are related to GH-325 , and are meant to form a 3D map leading to an underground temple built under the direction of the Kree.
- Arc Welding:
- In "The Bridge," it comes to light that Centipede was the mysterious party behind the Akela Amador case, and are continuing to use the now even more advanced eye implant technology to control their agents. Furthermore, the mystery of Coulson's resurrection is one that Centipede is also eager to solve....
- The end of "Seeds" reveals that recurring villain Ian Quinn is also working for the Clairvoyant.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn," it becomes clear that everything related to Centipede and the Clairvoyant has been orchestrated by HYDRA. Or at the very least, the Clairvoyant acting in HYDRA's interests. This also ties the series more directly into the narrative of the films, specifically Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- Arc Words:
- "Tahiti. It's a magical place." Coulson uses the exact same words every time he describes his unknown visit to Tahiti after the events of The Avengers, suggesting the phrase may be a cover for some more mysterious truth about Coulson's rebirth (Hill says "he must never know" what really happened). Coulson catches onto this in "The Hub" when he automatically responds when it's not appropriate, and realizes that the truth is being kept from him. Later, at the end of "The Well", Coulson has a dream where he is relaxing in Tahiti. When his masseuse utters the words he awakes in a panic. Eventually subverted: In "Yes Men", Coulson says, "It sucked."
- Promotional materials for the show that have aired since episode 10 have used the term "It's all connected".
- Argentina Is Naziland: The 0-8-4 turns out to be a piece of technology made by HYDRA agents who fled to Peru after World War II.
- Artistic License – Biology:
- After escaping from a room underwater, Agents Fitz and Simmons are put in decompression chambers to protect them from the bends. But the sequence made clear that the room they were in was at a much lower pressure than the water outside (hence why weakening the window let the water blow it in). As they weren't taking any significant number of breathes while under increased pressure, they weren't absorbing extra gas into their blood stream, and were not under any threat of developing the bends.
- Artistic Licence - Geography:
- Episode 3 is set partly in Malta; several characters mention the "stunning beaches", and Coulson and Ward are later shown mooring a boat on a large, deserted sandy beach. In reality, Malta's beaches are almost all rocky and far from conventionally stunning, and the few that are sandy are very small, set at the back of busy bays, and permanently crowded with tourists.
- There is no University of Ohio. There's an Ohio University, but Cleveland is much more recognizable than Athens, Ohio. Granted, the Cleveland scenes in the show were filmed in LA.
- 'Milton Keynes Prison, United Kingdom' (actually called HMP Woodhill) looks nothing like its show incarnation, being made of the same building materials as most of the rest of Milton Keynes; namely, red brick and terracotta tiles.
- Trip refers to Casablanca as the "Middle East" in "Making Friends And Influencing People" - Casablanca is in north Africa, and is further west than Madrid.
- Artistic License – Gun Safety: Played straight by Skye, who apparently has trouble telling the safety release from the magazine release. Studiously averted by Coulson, who even when he is forced to sweep a team member with his muzzle, holds it high or low to keep them safe.
- Artistic License – History:
- The archeologist in episode 2 says the temple is "at least 500 years old" and "filled with pre-Inca artifacts". 500 years old send us back to the 16th century, which is the fall of the Inca empire at the hands of the Spanish. So any Inca temple is automatically "at least 500 years old", there is no big deal about that, and only 500 years old would actually be unusually recent for an Inca temple. For the same reasons, there is no reason such a temple would be filled with pre-inca artifacts, except if the Inca or somebody else somehow used it to store pre-Inca artifacts they had scavenged. So although nothing in those two statement is technically impossible, it is just pseudo-historic rubbish and in the mouth of a senior archeologist it sounds completely ridiculous.
- Played for laughs in "Yes Men". A Hell's Angels biker believes that Ben Franklin was president and "ruled the entire country".
- Artistic Licence Law: Malta again: the writers ignore or are unaware that Malta is part of the EU (it's referred to as a haven from EU regulations) and the only entirely Catholic country in the world outside of Vatican City, so far from free of religious and legal constraints on scientific research. This is particularly jarring since there are other tiny countries in Europe, such as Liechtenstein, which are not part of the EU and have much more favorable tax laws.
- Artistic License – Linguistics: As weird as it may appear, the official language of Belarus is... Russian. That makes signs in "Eye Spy" look out of place - yes, they are written in mostly correct Belarussian language, which is used mostly by Belarussian dissidents, not the government.
- Ascended Meme: The Twitter hashtag #CoulsonLives was initially used by fans to beg Marvel to bring back their favorite character. It was later featured by Marvel in a trailer with a promise that tweeting it more would unlock a special extended trailer.
- Ashes to Crashes: Invoked as a distraction and a tracking mechanism when Simmons and Coulson are undercover.
- As You Know: Used frequently for exposition.
- The Atoner: Mike is this in "The Bridge" for his actions in the pilot. In "Beginning of the End," After being freed from Garrett's control, he becomes this for everything HYDRA made him do.
- Back from the Dead: Coulson, obviously. His record says he was dead for 8 (or 40) seconds after Loki stabbed him. In "The Magical Place" he finally learns the full story — he was dead for days. And then he learns it was even worse.
- In Season 2 episode "The Writing On The Wall", it's revealed that Coulson wasn't the only one to go through the procedure - he first tested it on other SHIELD agents who died.
- Back-to-Back Badasses: Coulson and Reyes fighting their way from the temple to the plane.
- Badass Boast: Two back-to-back from different characters in "Face My Enemy":
Agent 33: I won't go down easy.
Agent May: That makes two of us.
- Badass Bookworm: Fitz gets to be one for an episode in "The Hub": secret agent labrat reporting for duty!
- Badass Bureaucrat: May. When introduced, she is working a desk job and joins the team only under Coulson's pressure and certain conditions.
- Badass Family: The Koenig Brothers are all SHIELD agents and presumably pretty high up if Fury trusts them with secret bases.
- Badass in a Nice Suit:
- Coulson fits this to perfection. He even goes into combat wearing his suit (and he has a closet full of identical suits on the Bus).
- Ward usually averts this trope, but the few times he dresses up, he looks every bit as good as Coulson.
- Badass Normal: Much of S.H.I.E.L.D., especially Ward, Melinda May and to a lesser extent Coulson. The first episode has them bring down a Super Soldier and later episodes involve a guy with fire powers and a cyborg.
- Bad Boss:
- Centipede, as an organization, is not very good to its own people - often casually killing and throwing away agents and even those with executive power without a second thought either due to failure, convenience or simply because they're not needed any more. This essentially turns everyone who works for Centipede into a Mauve Shirt: even Raina, The Heavy of the organization and the villain we've come to know most, tells the heroes in no uncertain terms that her superiors don't give a crap about her well being and would gladly let her die rather than extend the effort saving her.
- Bait and Switch: The ending of "The End of the Beginning makes it appear that Victoria Hand is the Clairvoyant and is planning on killing Coulson and his team for finding out. The next episode, "Turn, Turn, Turn", reveals that she isn't the Clairvoyant or even a member of HYDRA, but she thinks he's HYDRA.
- Batman Gambit:
- In "The Hub," Victoria Hand and S.H.I.E.L.D. intentionally make no extraction plan for Ward and Fitz's mission to disable a terrorist superweapon, knowing full well that upon discovering this, the rest of Coulson's team will go in and save them themselves. Hand even makes sure that everything happened according to plan before fully attending to their assault on the terrorist base.
- May pulls one on everybody in "The Magical Place". She encourages Hand in kicking Skye off the plane, knowing that Hand's by-the-book command style would prevent Skye from being effective in any case. May also knows that the rest of the team will go behind her back to assist Skye, and that Skye herself will refuse to abandon the mission. Skye goes off the grid and tracks down Coulson's location, just as May expected her to do
- In "Providence", The Mole casually explains everything they did in order to get each member of Coulson's team to trust them.
- Battle Discretion Shot: We see the beginning of the fight between Ward and a large enemy group in "The Well", but then the scene becomes a flashback from his childhood; when the flashback ends, Ward is standing surrounded by fallen foes.
- Beard of Evil: Soon after Ward is revealed to be a HYDRA agent, he decides to start letting his beard grow out. However, he doesn't get a real one until Season 2.
- Beard of Sorrow: ...The reason he has such a full beard in Season 2. Tortured by grief and regret, Ward attempted suicide at least three times while incarcerated, and isn't allowed near a razor or anything else that can be potentially sharp. Fitz has developed quite bit of stubble himself, possibly due to the brain damage he suffered causing him to forget things like shaving.
- Becoming the Mask: The Mole shows signs of this, something both The Clairvoyant and Raina comment on. In "Ragtag" he admits he cares about the team, but isn't willing to make a Heel-Face Turn for them.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Heavily implied to be some between Ward and Skye when he admits he finds Skye attractive after getting jammed with truth serum. She describes him as "firm" and starts going out of her way to show cleavage after he admits he finds her beautiful. A couple episodes later, Ward insists that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't have truth serum and he was only pretending to be under the influence. The training scenes in "The Asset" arguably turn it into Unresolved Sexual Tension.
- The Bermuda Triangle: When finding out the Kree city is located in Puerto Rico, Triplett wonders if that is in the Bermuda Triangle and it would explain a lot of things. Turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. already took care of the Bermuda mystery in the 80s.
- Berserk Button:
- Don't ever betray Coulson's trust. Ever. When he finds out Skye was hiding something from the team in "Girl in the Flower Dress", it's the first instance of true anger he's ever displayed. And in "Beginning of the End" he has a nice To the Pain speech for The Mole.
- Putting his team members at risk without his knowledge pushes this button too. Victoria Hand learned this in "The Hub" when she stranded Ward and Fitz in hostile territory without an extraction plan - and more importantly, not telling them that they didn't have an extraction plan.
- Don't call May "The Cavalry." If you're lucky, she'll just give you a Death Glare.
- Big Bad:
- Season 1: The Clairvoyant is the the head of the Centipede organization. It's revealed that the Clairvoyant is actually a mole within S.H.I.E.L.D. with a high-level security clearance, rather than being a psychic. He's finally revealed to be Agent John Garrett.
- Season 2 starts with a Big Bad Ensemble of Daniel Whitehall and The Doctor, but this becomes a Big Bad Duumvirate at the end of "A Hen in the Wolf House", when they team up to weaponize the Obelisk and destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. As of "The Things We Bury", Grant Ward seems to have joined the Duumvirate as well, though the alliance between the three of them is shaky at best. The Doctor's true motivation is revenge on Whitehall for killing his wife, and Whitehall will probably not be too pleased if he ever finds out that Ward handed Bakshi, his previous Dragon, over to Coulson.
- Big Bad Friend: The Clairvoyant's identity, as revealed in "Turn, Turn, Turn": The Clairvoyant turns out to be Agent John Garrett, Coulson's best friend, who's also an agent of HYDRA. Worse, Ward is working for him.
- Big Brother Is Watching: Ian Quinn believes this of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Skye does too (initially) but later says they're the "Nice Big Brother". In the following episode Coulson states that Social Media makes his job easier every year. "People surveil themselves."
- Big Damn Heroes:
- The Team going to extract Ward and Fitz in "The Hub." The rescue scene itself is reminiscent of the Trope Namer moment from ''Firefly''.
- "The Magical Place" has the rest of the team coming out of nowhere to save Skye from a Centipede super-soldier, then the whole team, all in black, looking Badass and coming to Coulson's rescue.
- Nick Fury gets two of these in "Beginning of the End", first by rescuing Fitz-Simmons, then joining Coulson for the confrontation with The Clairvoyant.
- Bigger Bad: As of "Turn, Turn, Turn": It's revealed that Garrett is The Clairvoyant and works for HYDRA, but he's never been seen taking orders from anyone, and Alexander Pierce is The Ghost. Regardless of how much control Pierce or HYDRA as a whole has over Garrett, Garrett's still functionally the series Big Bad.
- The Big Guy: Ward. Triplett also serves in this capacity in some later episodes.
- Big "NO!": In the Season One finale, Simmons does one just before Fitz blows the window out. A variation on the usual trope as the "big no" happens before someone dies (or is expected to).
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Ward Family. Grant and his brother, Christian were physically abused by their mom, while their dad turned a blind eye to it. She didn't however abuse her other son, Thomas. Christian wanted to hurt him to get back at his mom, but he didn't have the stomach for it, so he made Grant do it for him. Eventually Grant snapped and tried to burn down the family home with his brother inside (driving 1000 miles back from the military school he was at) and nearly got tried as an adult, until Garret took him under his wing and corrupted him. Christian went on to be a respected senator.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
- Debbie, the doctor dealing with Centipede, initially playing the part of a victim.
- Raina, the girl in the flower dress, who pretends to help the people but she screws over when it comes to completing her mission.
- Agent Garrett comes off as a genuinely nice and charming guy... then he turns out to be the Clairvoyant.
- Ward, who in the same episode is revealed to be The Mole.
- Bittersweet Ending: Featured in many of the first-season episodes, particular as the story arc gets more serious and the Big Bad gets more dangerous. See the individual episode recaps for details.
- Bizarre Alien Biology:
- The Chitauri virus that was brought to earth after the Battle of New York transfers through electrostatic shock, rather than touch, air, or fluid exchange like terrestrial viruses.
- Discussed when Simmons doesn't know how to perform first aid on an Asgardian.
- In "T.A.H.I.T.I.", The GH serum, which was used to revive Coulson and Skye, appears to be alien blood.
- Black Dude Dies First: Played with in Season 2, with both Triplett and Mack getting close calls in a span of three episodes before Triplett ends up being the one to cark it for real with a Heroic Sacrifice at the halfway point.
- Bland-Name Product: The logo seen on a delivery truck in the background of the first few minutes of the pilot says "World Parcel Service".
- Bloodier and Gorier: In "The Things We Bury" the vivisection of Skye's mother by Whitehall is shown in abundant and gory detail.
- Body Horror:
- Centipede likes to force their agents to do their bidding by replacing their eyes with cameras that double as self-destruct buttons through which they can also issue orders.
- Coulson recalling the procedure that brought him back to life: a procedure where his head was cut open and lasers being fired into his exposed brain while he was still conscious.
- In "T.A.H.I.T.I", the blue humanoid that Coulson finds in the Guest House, who is visibly decaying in a tube of liquid and whose body is being used to produce all of the GH drugs.
- "What They Become". Whatever Raina has become through her exposure to Terrigen mists, it has claws, yellow eyes, and quills all over her face and body. She later says that she cuts herself everytime she moves and her insides feel like gravel, possibly meaning she even has quills on the inside. Ouch.
- Bloodless Carnage: While the show isn't shy about showing violence and the resulting aftermath, the Night-Night guns and ICERs allow the characters to engage in gunplay while keeping the body count low since targets are knocked out, rather than outright killed. Averted in later in the series and especially "Aftershocks" where there's real guns used and even a headshot.
- Borrowed Catchphrase: After Fitz plays with spy gadgets from decades ago and burns the curtains, May sarcastically said "Watch out HYDRA, here we come". This is a minor variation of the battle cry of The Invaders.
- Brains and Brawn: The team is roughly split between "brawny" field-experienced agents and the "brainy" techies. Team leader Coulson is arguably the one with equal amounts of both, while Skye is a tech training to become an agent. Season 2 introduced Mack, who's a brain but with the physique and capabilities of being brawn, and Bobbi, who's a brawn but is smart enough to cross into brain.
- Break the Badass: Melinda May doesn't just get knocked down a peg or two, she ends up on the floor in "Turn, Turn, Turn" after Coulson discovers that she's been spying on him.
- Break the Cutie:
- Coulson learning about his death and return.
- To a lesser extent, Skye and the ongoing revelations about her parents.
- To a huge extent, this applies to the entire team when they learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. is infiltrated by HYDRA, and Ward is The Mole.
- Fitz, as a result of oxygen deprivation caused by Ward. While he's still brilliant, he has trouble organizing his thoughts and articulating them.
- Breaking the Fellowship: The events of the Uprising Arc has destroyed the 'family' atmosphere of The Hub. They don't trust each other anymore, and the Cast Herds are breaking up.
- Brick Joke: Fitz comes up with an idea to prank Skye in the first act of "Repairs". The prank itself doesn't show up until near the end of the episode, going off in front of everybody in scaring all of them — including Fitz.
- Broken Pedestal:
- The Clairvoyant's true identity has this effect on his heroic subordinates. Inversely, Raina is disappointed to find out he's not really psychic.
- Several members of the team get hit hard when they discover who The Mole is.
- Buffy Speak: Miles talking to Skye in Episode 5:
Miles: I'll get us a suite... at... the fancy place that has suites.
Skye: My SO volunteered to take the super-creepy hallway instead of the... slightly less creepy dungeon-room...
- And from "Beginning of the End":
Coulson: ...stupid stupid stupid! And cruel! And very stupid!
- California Doubling: Many of the exteriors are clearly shot in the Los Angeles area, with only a wider establishing shot to set it as someplace else.
- Call Back:
- In "The Magical Place", Simmons' Bad Bad Acting makes another appearance (first seen in "The Hub"), and we see Skye demonstrate both her disarming moves and her unwillingness to shoot from "The Asset".
- When Fitz shows off the new ICERs to Ward and May, Ward picks one up, and appreciatively notes that Fitz has lost the ounce that was off.
- When the villains raid the Fridge in "Providence", we see the HYDRA laser beam from "0-8-4", the Berserker Staff from "The Well", and the Gravitonium from "The Asset".
- Coulson knows what the Destroyer gun does.
- Eric Koenig's brother.
- The Cameo:
- The first episode contains brief flashes of members of the Avengers during the opening voiceover, plus Maria Hill shows up.
- At the end of the second episode, Nick Fury appears.
- Episode 13 featured the inevitable Stan Lee cameo.
- Came Back Wrong: It's hinted as the series progresses that Coulson may have done this, as explained in the next bullets. By "The Hub", Coulson himself is is convinced of this, and requested a medical exam and blood tests to be run. According to the results, he's normal. A little high on the iron, but otherwise normal.
- In "The Asset", his difficulty handling a pistol and his comment, "This should be just muscle memory."
- In the fourth episode, "Eye Spy," Coulson's former protegee Akela asks May what happened to him. When the puzzled May begins to suggest that Coulson has loosened up since Akela worked with him, Akela - who has had plenty of opportunity to use her X-Ray Vision on Coulson - interrupts her to ask more insistently, "What did they do to him?"
- "The Magical Place" reveals that the experimental procedures used to bring him back caused him so much agony that he completely lost the will to live and was psychologically broken. The false memories of Tahiti were created in an attempt to bring back the man he had been before.
- T.A.H.I.T.I. goes even further when it's revealed the mysterious serum used to bring Coulson back was taken from the corpse of what looks like an alien life form.
- Canon Foreigner: Most of the main cast are this, at least at first. Averted by Skye, who turns out to be Quake.
- Canon Immigrant: Coulson made his first appearance in Earth-616 (the mainstream Marvel Universe of the original comics, as opposed to the Marvel Cinematic Universe) in the 2012 series Battle Scars. The S.H.I.E.L.D. comic book series introduced 616 versions of May, Simmons and Fitz — there's no mention of Ward, and Skye technically is already in 616, even before the show started.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: Lots of it, apropos for both a Joss Whedon production and the highly-trained S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives themselves.
- In the pilot, Skye's sending a message about how S.H.I.E.L.D. won't be able to find and silence the Rising Tide. When Coulson promptly appears outside the door of her van, she greets him with a breezy "Hey. What up?" Subverted in that it's clearly false bravado. There's a very visible Oh, Crap look on Skye's face when the door opens.
- Played straight in the Season One finale when Fury and Coulson are under heavy fire by Centipede-enhanced soldiers and John Garrett AKA Deathlok Mark I, and simply snark at the events around them.
- Catch Phrase: Whenever Coulson is questioned about his injury, he refers to recovering in Tahiti, always describing it as "It's a magical place", suggesting that his memories of the place might not be real. He's fully dropped it by "Yes Men" where he says "It sucked" when asked by Agent Sitwell.
- Cavalry Betrayal: Variant. Ward figures that he and Fitz are on the wrong side of this in "The Hub", after realising that there's no extraction team and that S.H.I.E.L.D. will level the camp once the MacGuffin is disarmed. They both decide to go out fighting. Then Agent May (who is known within S.H.I.E.L.D. as 'The Cavalry') shows up in the Bus with the rest of the team.
- Celebrity Paradox: The Big Lebowski is mentioned in "FZZT". Jeff Bridges, who stars in that, is Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger in Iron Man.
- Fitz-Simmons referencing Doctor Who creates several more: Christopher Eccleston (The Ninth Doctor) is Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) is Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Toby Jones (The Dream Doctor) is Dr. Arnim Zola in the Captain America movies. Best of all, their mentor at S.H.I.E.L.D. academy, Agent Weaver, is played by Christine Adams (Cathica).
- In the Season 2 episode "A Hen in the Wolf House", Skye mockingly calls Lance Ron Burgundy. Paul Rudd, who played Brian Fantana in the Anchorman films, plays Scott Lang a.k.a. Ant-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Cerebus Syndrome: While the show was always a serious spy-thriller, at first it was episodic and had a few lighthearted, even laugh-out-loud moments. The events of Winter Soldier, however, definitely caused a darker shift in tone as S.H.I.E.L.D. falls apart around them and they don't know who to trust.
- A more localized example would be the episode "T.R.A.C.K.S." It starts off as a lighter fare, with Team Coulson going on a train heist and Simmons coming up with a ridiculously complex cover story due to the Running Gag of her being a terrible improviser (and gains sympathy from Stan Lee himself), and the episode creatively repeats the same scene multiple times from the different agents' perspectives. Then they get to the villains' destination, which results in Skye getting shot and the multi-episode arc where the team scrambles to save her life, which ends with Coulson learning the truth about his resurrection. Which was precisely what The Clairvoyant wanted so that he could learn too.
- Cerebus Retcon: Towards the end of the first season, it's a Running Gag the way everyone quickly realizes that The Clairvoyant had gone insane from the alien blood used to restore his dying body. Come the second second, this is played dead serious since Coulson had also been given the blood and his biggest fear is that he too will lose his mind.
- Chekhov's Boomerang:
- The Night Night gun will not go away, though they do give it a less-silly name as time goes on.
- Skye's Walking Tech Bane bracelet haunts her throughout "The Magical Place", six episodes after it was first snapped on. She later uses it to her advantage when posing as Agent May to interrogate a businessman about his alleged dealings with Centipede.
- The "Overkill Device" shockwave-pulse launcher invented by Fitz in "The Hub" returns, now mass-produced by S.H.I.E.L.D., in "Turn, Turn, Turn." Agent Hand's men are using it to take out the guns on The Bus.
- The HYDRA-tech plasma particle beam weapon from "0-8-4" returns as Garrett's "gold card" when they raid The Fridge in "Providence", and in "Beginning of the End" it's used by Coulson to finish off Garrett.
- May gets to take another swing with the Berserker Staff in "Beginning of the End", using it to even the odds against Cybertek's soldiers.
- Chekhov's Gag: In "Eye-Spy", Ward mentions to Coulson that Skye is having trouble telling a gun's safety from the magazine release. Later in the episode, Skye goes to ready her pistol... and promptly ejects the magazine instead.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Used in the pilot with the Night-Night Gun.
- The airplane safety pamphlet for the Bus. It's introduced in "0-8-4" as a quick joke about the plane's uniqueness and Ward's unfriendliness towards the new girl Skye. By the end of the episode, Skye uses one of the safety rafts marked on the pamphlet to block a hole in the plane and save Ward's life.
- In the same episode, the team activates the 0-8-4 with electro-magnetic radiation, which Fitz pointed out could have accidentally happened earlier.
- In "Eye Spy," a gun which fires a knock-out substance is introduced matter-of-factly as a prototype currently being worked on, and turns up again to incapacitate Akela. Effectively, a Chekhov's Gun that's actually a gun.
- During the pilot, Skye takes a moment in her van to tuck a memory card down her shirt. In "Girl in the Flower Dress," we find out that it contains all the information she's been able to find about her missing parents.
- The mini-EMP device in "The Hub".
- Akela's implant in "The Bridge" later shows up in Centipede soldiers and Deathlok.
- The shockwave gadget from "0-8-4" returns when Coulson uses it to knock the Clairvoyant out in "Turn, Turn, Turn".
- The Hulk action figure Mike's son wanted in the pilot returns in the first-season finale, carried to him by Skye as assurance that his dad's OK.
- Chekhov's Skill:
- In "The Asset", Ward teaches Skye how to disarm someone holding her at gunpoint in close range, something Skye admits she has trouble performing. It comes in handy in the final act of the episode.
- In "The Magical Place", Skye uses the disarming technique again to 'prove' she's a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
- In the pilot, Skye reveals that she uses coordinate-based keys to encrypt the files on her laptop. She later uses the same encryption on a hard drive containing all of the team's research data.
- Civil War: With the events of Winter Soldier, the last six episodes of this season deal with the conflict between loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and their HYDRA counterparts.
- Classified Information It's S.H.I.E.L.D.. Dealing with classified information is just their thing. This is somewhat relaxed on the Bus which means that Skye becomes very frustrated at the levels of security in the Hub. She also makes a joke about it with Miles. But we can't tell it to you unless you are a Troper Level 8. How do you become a level 8? Sorry, that's classified.
- Code Name: This is discussed between Raina and Chan in "Girl in the Flower Dress". Raina argues that it's important for Chan to use a superhero alias ("Scorch"), since nobody knows who Steve Rogers is, but everyone knows Captain America.
- Co-Dragons: The Mole and Deathlok are this to the Clairvoyant.
- Coffin Contraband: Director Fury hid the data from Project T.A.H.I.T.I. in Phil Coulson's unoccupied grave.
- Collapsible Helmet: Lorelei's collapsible Asgardian restraint.
- Combat Pragmatist:
- Ward in particular has shown a willingness to use anything and everything (including a drawer full of kitchen utensils) as a weapon. Coulson also qualifies.
- Fitz may count as this now that we have seen him employing his drones as remote combat vehicles.
- Melinda May deserves her own entry now that she has employed a nail gun as a hand-to-hand weapon.
- Comic Book Movies Dont Use Code Names: In most cases it does not apply: most characters are either adaptions of comic book characters with no Secret Identity (Hill, Hand, Talbot, Fury), or complete Canon Foreigners (the main cast, Coulson included). Franklin Hall, Donnie Gill and Marcus Daniels have not been called Graviton, Blizzard or Blackout. The super soldier subjected to "Project Deathlok" has been called that way. Big names from the Cinematic Universe at large who are just mentioned may vary: sometimes they are "Red Skull", "Captain America", and other times they are "Romanov", "Blonsky"... And there is a hidden Big Bad called "The Clairvoyant"; before his reveal they call him that because they have no other name to use. Season 2 continues this trend, with Carl Creel never being referred to as Absorbing Man and Marcus Scarlotti not being called Whiplash (likely to avoid confusion with the MCU's other Whiplash). However, Hartley does refer to Creel as an aborbing man as a one-off gag.
- Compliment Backfire:
- In "FZZT", Simmons ends Coulson's medical by commenting that he's in excellent physical condition, "especially for a man of your age!" It does not go down well.
- In "Making Friends and Influencing People", Ward tells Fitz that he elected to drop him and Simmons into the ocean rather than shooting them at the end of Season 1 because he had confidence that they'd find way to save themselves. Assuming he's even telling the truth, it still leaves Fitz (justifiably) even angrier than before, to the point where he briefly seems about to kill or maim Ward in retribution.
- Composite Character:
- Donnie Gill is named after the second Blizzard, but his status as an engineering genius comes from Gregor Shapanka, the original Silver Age Blizzard.
- In "Ragtag", John Garrett is revealed to be the original Deathlok.
- Conflict Ball: In both "The Hub" and "The Magical Place", Victoria Hand forces Coulson's team to go out of their way to do things in the most difficult manner possible: denying them information, disrupting their usual working process, and showing as little regard for their lives that she can manage, in complete contradiction to the way that the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shown to operate. This goes Up to Eleven when the Civil War breaks out within S.H.I.E.L.D. and she orders her troops to attack the crew of the Bus with automatic weapons, believing they have been infiltrated by HYDRA.
- Consulting a Convicted Killer: As the Season 2 premiere shows, Ward is being kept in a secure cell in the playground, and Skye consults him on HYDRA-related intel.
- Contamination Situation: In the November sweeps episode "FZZT", Simmons is infected with a virus carried by Loki's soldiers that will eventually cause her to explode, taking the entire plane (and all the other characters) down with her. After apparently failing to develop an anti-serum, she jumps from the plane, in what is intended to be a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Continuity Lockout: Despite spinning off from a movie series with seven films in it as of December 2013 (and still growing), the show does a pretty good job of averting this. Characters are mostly independent of the movies, and while call backs are made to specific events and characters in the MCU, with at least one episode explicitly set in the immediate aftermath of Thor: The Dark World, the overall effect on the show is small. When the effect is larger (like with the pilot and Extremis), it's explained so that you don't have to have seen the movies to understand.
- The episode "Turn, Turn, Turn" is tied to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was released a few days prior. The film explains the sudden resurgence of HYDRA, though the episode still makes sense without watching the film. It does, however, heavily spoil the film, including the ending, and subsequent episodes build on this.
- The Season One finale requires a bit more knowledge of the events of the film, in particular why Nick Fury has gone underground, and why he isn't wearing his trademark eyepatch anymore. The significance of him showing his blind eye also makes more sense after seeing what he does with it in the movie.
- Continuity Nod: The show is naturally stuffed to the brim with references to the rest of the MCU, including:
- The explosions in the first episode (as well as the source of Mike Peterson's powers) are a result of Extremis. Even better, they find this out via recreating the scene of the crime in a massive hologram, outdoing Tony in the movie by making it act like a Pensieve Flashback as well.
- Thor is mentioned by name in a conversation between Agent Ward and Maria Hill.
- The first time we see Ward, he is recovering a "Chitauri neural link", presumably a relic from the events of The Avengers.
- Coulson cracks a one-liner at Tony Stark's expense.
- Coulson mentions that the last 0-8-4 was a hammer.
- Lola turns out to have tech from the anti-gravity car that Howard Stark invented in the 1940s.
- Ward is stated as having the highest grades as a Stealth Expert for an agent since Romanov.
- Mike notes that it depends on "what kind of person you are" in reference to his powers.
- The first user of the Centipede device acts similarly to Emil Blonsky after his super soldier serum injection in The Incredible Hulk, yelling at the lab worker "I want to feel more!"
- While talking to Ward and May about recruiting Skye as a consultant, Coulson mentions that "technically Stark is one".
- The 0-8-4 from the episode of the same name is HYDRA tech.
- Skye mentions that S.H.I.E.L.D. had covered up New Mexico and Project Pegasus (where they were studying the Tesseract).
- Coulson mentions sacrificing his card collection to help Fury in "The Asset".
- Inverted in the pilot; Ward tells Maria Hill that he is level 6 and knows that Coulson died on the Helicarrier. Coulson emerges from the shadows and says, "Welcome to Level 7." Later, Ward asks if the Avengers know that Coulson is alive. Coulson says they aren't cleared Level 7.
- In "The Asset", Dr. Hall mentions the S.H.I.E.L.D. Tesseract experiments seen in The Avengers.
- In "Girl in the Flower Dress", Coulson uses the same type of bomb used in Iron Man to open the door. He and the team even turns their back to the bomb like in Iron Man.
- Agent Blake, from The Avengers Blu Ray bonus short film "Item 47", appears in "FZZT". ("Item 47" featured criminals who end up being recruited to S.H.I.E.L.D. as technical experts, in the same way Skye joined up. Blake, along with Agent Sitwell, was assigned to recover alien technology that had fallen into civilian hands; very much a proto-Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. mission.)
- The Chitauri helmet artifact and the virus it carries which Simmons becomes infected with were relics left in the wreckage after the Battle of New York.
- Agent Jasper Sitwell, who appeared with Coulson in "The Consultant" short film, makes an appearance in "The Hub."
- Agents Barton and Romanov (aka Hawkeye and Black Widow) of The Avengers are mentioned in the same episode; apparently they are the only S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who are badass enough to go on missions without an extraction team. Which the movie confirmed in Romanov's case.
- "The Well" picks up directly after the events of Thor: The Dark World, with the team helping on cleanup of the university campus after the battle, and then dealing with some leftover Asgardian business.
- In "The Well", Coulson gives a small reference to his former cellist girlfriend from Portland. She's brought up again in "The Magical Place" as part of Raina's attempt to get Coulson to work with her. She appears in person, played by Amy Acker, in "The Only Light in the Darkness".
- In "The Bridge", Mike mentions having bought his son a complete set of Avengers action figures. In the pilot episode, the boy was shown looking at said toys in a store window, though he claimed he didn't want any due to their shaky financial situation.
- In "The Magical Place", Edison Po is killed using a sonic device like the one Stane used all the way back in the first Iron Man.
- Vanchat is mentioned in "Pilot" as the one selling a Chitauri Neural Link in the black market, most of which is bought by Project Centipede to use in their devices. He's also mentioned in "Eye Spy" as the one responsible for killing a S.H.I.E.L.D. team and keeping Akela Amador prisoner before selling her to Centipede. He finally appears in "The Magical Place", still selling chitauri metal. His capture and interrogation at the hands of Agent Ward leads to S.H.I.E.L.D. raiding Centipede locations all over the world.
- In "Seeds", Bucky Barnes is listed on the S.H.I.E.L.D. memorial at the academy. Also doubles as a bit of foreshadowing for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the same episode, Simmons mentions HYDRA from Captain America: The First Avenger and A.I.M. from Iron Man 3 while giving a lecture about the possibility of science being used for nefarious purposes.
- Coulson threatens to have Ward assigned to Blonsky's cell in Alaska if his relationship with May threatens the team.
- Sif from the Thor movies appears in "Yes Men".
- The reason she appears is because an Asgardian criminal escaped during Malekith's Dark Elf Invasion.
- Sif's prior appearance on Earth is how the team identifies her as a friend of Thor and therefore an ally. Coulson later mentions her role in the battle with the Destroyer when vouching for her combat prowess. They also don't know her name, because S.H.I.E.L.D. never learned it in the movie.
- When she first sees Coulson, Sif is initially shocked and suspicious, having heard of his death from Thor.
- She also refers to him the same way Thor did in his first movie, as "Son of Coul".
- In the same episode, Sif mentions the Kree, one of the alien races featured in Guardians of the Galaxy.
- After recapturing Lorelei, Sif mentions that Odin has ordered her brought back to Asgard alive. Audience members who've seen the film will know that Odin has been replaced by Loki in disguise, hence his desire to have a dangerous enemy returned unharmed.
- In "End of the Beginning", Agent Sitwell is told by Agent Hand that he is being reassigned to the Lemurian Star, the S.H.I.E.L.D. freighter he is seen onboard at the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. All episodes immediately following this one relate directly to the events of Winter Soldier.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn," Fitz mentions that the "mouse hole" laser cutter that he and the team use to escape the Bus is something he developed but was never mass-distributed. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury and Maria Hill use the device. Garrett mentions that "the top agents always want the good stuff for themselves."
- Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff gets a name-check in "Providence", as does Maria Hill. Agent Koenig also says that he's been living at the titular S.H.I.E.L.D. outpost since the Chitauri's invasion of New York.
- "The Only Light in Darkness" contains yet another Shout-Out to Black Widow, as well as a piece of energy absorption technology designed by Bruce Banner. Triplett is also revealed to be the grandson of a Howling Commando from Captain America: The First Avenger.
- The opening scene of "Nothing Personal" shows Maria Hill on the phone to Pepper Potts. Pepper is now Hill's boss at Stark Industries, following her resignation from S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. During their conversation, Hill paraphrases Tony Stark's "privatizing world peace" line from Iron Man 2, which is apparently now something of a company mandate.
- In "Beginning of the End", Nick Fury shows up to give Coulson a weapon to fight the Centipede soldiers: the BFG he used on Loki in The Avengers. He also finally explains why Coulson's death in The Avengers was undone. The episode also directly references his actions following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Coulson: I know what it does.
- In "Face the Enemy," HYDRA is shown in possession of the same type of holographic mask and voice replication technology used by Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- A Freeze-Frame Bonus shows that Melinda has Black Widow's number in her cellphone.
- In "A Hen in the Wolf House", Whitehall mentions "Our founder" and "his Tesseract".
- Whitehall's statement in the opening of "Shadows":
Whitehall: Oh, there's no reason left to fear the Red Skull. He's dead. However, his vision is not. The work HYDRA has done will live on.
- In "The Writing On The Wall", Ward mentions Baron von Strucker, who was last seen experimenting on Wanda and Pietro Maximoff in The Stinger of The Winter Soldier.
- "The Things We Bury" opens with a flashback to 1945, where Whitehall is shown being informed of the Red Skull's death from the end of The First Avenger.
- Cool Car: Lola, Coulson's 1962 C1 series Corvette convertible. She's outfitted with Stark hover tech. On the other hand, Camilla Reyes calls it out as a Midlife Crisis Car in "0-8-4". Coulson countered by calling it an Afterlife Crisis Car. We have seen her drop from the Bus in flight to eventually land in a parking lot.
Attendant: That'll be twenty dollars.
- Cool Plane: The S.H.I.E.L.D. Mobile Command Unit, the precursor to the Helicarrier. Its codename is the Bus. It's cool both in how it can fly — the engines can rotate so that it can hover — and in the interior, which includes a garage, bunks, training rooms, and a mini-bar. Unusually, the fact it's a cool plane is regularly referenced by the characters (most other shows just take such things for granted), and lampshaded in the second episode when Nick Fury vetoes Coulson's plan to install a fish tank. One character even quips that the brig must be between the jacuzzi and the squash court.
- CPR (Clean, Pretty, Reliable): Simultaneously played with, played straight, and averted in "The Well", when Coulson performs open-heart massage on a fallen Asgardian. Played with; given the faster healing rate of the Asgardian heart, all he has to do is keep it pumping for a few moments until it can repair itself. Played straight; the patient is walking around by the end of the episode. Averted; Coulson ended up bloody to the wrists—it wasn't pretty.
- Coulson, as acting Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (he's the highest agent left), enacts the Odyssey Protocol, effectively sending the entire organization underground.
- Fury has secret bases that Level 8 agents are unaware of. Not even Coulson, his "one good eye", knew about Providence. He created them in case S.H.I.E.L.D. fell.
- Creator Cameo: Stan Lee in "T.R.A.C.K.S."
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Rip the General's rib out, then stab him to death with it as a demonstration of your super-soldier powers? Nice one, Garrett.
- Danger Takes A Back Seat: Coulson with the doctor in The Stinger of "The Magical Place". Given the circumstances, the doctor looks like he expects to be killed, and is quite relieved when Coulson has gone and he is still alive.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Most of the team.
- Ward's lack of social skill is not a surprise "considering his family history." He later reveals that he had an abusive older brother. He learned to fight in order to protect himself and his second, younger brother, which eventually led to him becoming a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. We have seen that he tried to set fire to his family home, and kill the abusive brother by extension. His parents were going to have him prosecuted before Garrett recruited him, direct from the juvenile holding facility. When the Berserker staff unlocks his worst memory, it causes him to become incredibly angry and fragile for some time even after putting the staff down.
- Skye is implied to have unpersoned herself at some point; one doesn't do that on a whim. She is also the child of two people who were unpersoned by S.H.I.E.L.D. for some reason. Also, she was dropped off at an orphanage by an unidentified S.H.I.E.L.D. agent — and Coulson hints that there's things in her past he won't tell her, because some secrets cannot be revealed. When he does, she finds out she herself is an 0-8-4 and that her family, village, and team sent to protect her were slaughtered in the attempt to abduct her. It's also strongly suggested that her parents are "monsters" of some sort.
- May is a legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. agent known as "The Cavalry" but she hates that name and hates field work, which was why she volunteered to become a paper pusher. Turns out she had to kill twenty cultists to save a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and one civilian. With no weapons. Her comments to Coulson imply the civilian died and that she is haunted by the number of people she had to kill.
- Coulson died at the hands of Loki before an alien invasion, and his continued existence isn't as simple as "he went to Tahiti to recuperate", like he believes. Unlike most versions, we saw the Dark and Troubled Past before the series started. He's implied to have done a lot before the MCU films started too.
- Although Fitz's life still wasn't a cakewalk despite not being outright traumatic. He feels alienated from his parents despite them meaning well, because they can't understand him or what he does, and had few to no friends even at the Academy up until he met Simmons because no one else could relate to him either. (And she may well still be his only real friend.) Really, only Simmons seems completely well-adjusted out of the main cast, which leads to a bad case of Break the Cutie after the "Uprising" arc.
- Darker and Edgier: Episode 11 ("The Magical Place"), compared with what went before. Fitz loses most of his Adorkable traits; the entire team is a lot angrier than we've ever seen them. Even the team's costumes are in line with this: Fitz-Simmons abandon their usual bright colors and dress in black; Ward wears a combat jumpsuit versus his normal leather jacket. The episodes that follow are also considerably darker than the first 10.
- Dark Lord on Life Support: Played with:
- "End of the Beginning" has Garrett and Coulson track down Thomas Nash, who they believe to be the Clairvoyant. They discover that he's in a wheelchair and requires breathing tubes, and can only communicate through a speech synthesizer. He's a subversion; the real Clairvoyant set him up as a fall guy and had someone else running the synthesizer before having Ward shoot him.
- "Ragtag" reveals that Garrett, the real Clairvoyant, really is one. He has a cybernetic implant feeding him Centipede serum, yet he has no super strength because he's so far gone that the serum only brings him up to "normal", and he's going to die without the GH serum even with it.
- A Day in the Limelight: Although the series is an ensemble theme, every character has had at least one episode devoted to letting them stand out in some way.
- Deadly Euphemism: "Crossing off" is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s favored terminology.
- Deadpan Snarker: This being a Joss Whedon production, it's more like World of Snark, but special mention goes to Coulson because he snarks at the team just like he did with the Avengers.
- Death by Irony: Almost: in "FZZT", Simmons says that it's sad a man was killed by the unexplained phenomena of the week, yet still very interesting. It's a virus, and she gets infected with it. She doesn't die, but it's very close.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: May seems to be becoming one, based on the ending of "Repairs" when she plays a prank on Fitz. She used to do that kind of thing much more, until being traumatized by field work.
- Determinator: Never tell Coulson "there's no way."
- Differently Powered Individual: The series uses the term "Gifted" to refer to those with powers, presumably because FOX has the rights to nearly all of the mutants and the word "mutant".
- Distracted by the Sexy: Simmons can't seem to keep her eyes, or hands, off Mike in "The Bridge". He's been working out and she likes it.
- The Dividual: Fitz and Simmons spend so much time together that they're referred to as "Fitz-Simmons" and it's joked that not everyone knows which is which.
- Does Not Like Guns: Discussed with May and Ward when Fitz introduces the ICErs. When May picks one up, Ward remarks that he thought she didn't like guns; May says she only uses them when she needs them, and they seemed like a perfect fit for that particular mission.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The plot of "FZZT", which involves firefighters contracting a Chitauri virus after helping out at the Battle of New York is eerily similar to the real life instances of rescuers who developed fatal illnesses after helping search for victims of 9/11.
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Ward gets mind-controlled and raped by Lorelei. Yet he shows no signs of trauma, and he is the one apologizing at the end of the episode.
- Downer Ending:
- "The Bridge" - Coulson's been betrayed and kidnapped, Skye's trust in Coulson took a turn for the worse with May telling her that Coulson isn't really looking into her parents, Mike is most likely dead (and Ace watched him die), and Ward at best is seriously injured.
- "T.R.A.C.K.S." - Skye has been gut-shot and is near death. Exacerbated by the series taking a month-long hiatus, in part in order to avoid having to compete with the Sochi Olympics.
- "Turn, Turn, Turn" - S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by HYDRA, Agent Garrett turns out to be the Clairvoyant, and Grant Ward reveals himself as The Mole by murdering Victoria Hand and freeing Garrett.
- Dragon with an Agenda: The entire Centipede faction could be considered one to HYDRA, as its primary purpose is to save Garrett's life. Once that finally happens, Garrett states his desire to overthrow HYDRA and rule the world on his own. By contrast, the HYDRA faction in season 2 seems far closer to the interpretation seen in the Captain America films, though it is possible this could change.
- Driving Question:
- Who is in charge and what is the purpose of the Centipede project? The Clairvoyant is in charge of it, and is revealed to be Garrett. The Centipede project is a subdivision of HYDRA.
- What really happened to Coulson after Loki stabbed him? As of "The Magical Place", this is finally answered: he was dead for days until S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to resurrect him, and then rewrote his memories. But there is more to this story...
- Who is Skye? By halfway through season two, we know that she's an Inhuman who was found by SHIELD after HYDRA killed her mother and everyone else in their community that they could find. The SHIELD team was then pursued and wiped out by her psychotically bipolar father until the survivors arranged for her to be continuously shuffled through the foster system to hide her. She's also the MCU counterpart of Daisy Johnson.
- Who is the alien whose corpse provided the miracle drug that revived Coulson and saved Skye? How did it end up in such a situation? If its function is to heal, why was it under such heavy guard that only Director Fury, level 10 clearance, could freely access the place it was held?
- Who else is going to turn out to be working for HYDRA? Who will survive the coming Civil War?
- Who was in charge of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project if it wasn't Nick Fury? The closing scene of "Nothing Personal" reveals that it was Coulson himself.
- Season 2 gives us questions regarding Reinhardt/Daniel Whitehall, the supposed new leader of HYDRA. How does he look the same 70 years later? How did he escape S.H.I.E.L.D. custody? And why is he so obsessed with the Obelisk? He escaped SHIELD custody thanks to Alexander Pierce. His restored youth is due to a serum he developed by vivisecting Skye's mother, who was an Inhuman who aged very slowly. He knew about her because he had seen her touch the Obelisk in the 40s with no ill effects, which is also why he is obsessed with the Obelisk - he wants to know what else it can do.
- Drunk on the Dark Side:
- This seems to be a side-effect of the Centipede serum. Both characters shown exposed to it ended up falling victim to this.
- This is explicitly stated to be the result of contact with the Berserker Staff from "The Well." By its very design, it gives you super strength, then makes you feel angry and unstoppable.
- Dull Surprise: In "Ragtag," when Coulson finds out he himself was involved in the T.A.H.I.T.I. project before his death, he looks shocked, but his reaction is simply: "huh."
- Early Installment Weirdness: In its first appearance in Season Two premiere "Shadows" the Obelisk only turns Hartley's hand to stone when the she touches it, then slowly spreads to the rest of her body with enough time for the team to drop pursuit, drive away and even attempt to save Hartley by amputating her arm on the move. In subsequent appearances, the victims of the Obelisk barely manage to make two steps before being petrified completely.
- The show as a whole appeared to be another Half-Arc Season series, with a mission of the week taking the team out to snag another 084 while building the mystery of Centipede and the Clairvoyant. Then the second half of the season kicked in and threw all that under the bus by tying it into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As of the second season, it's far more arc-driven, with very little of the episodic nature. It's also quite a bit darker.
- Emerging from the Shadows: Wait a minute, Coulson is dead, it's in the report, he died before the battle of New York. Cue for Coulson to step out of the dark and clarify that the Reports of His Death Were Greatly Exaggerated.
- Empowered Badass Normal: Ward and May each get their turn swinging the Berserker staff in "The Well".
- Episode on a Plane: "Repairs" is Demons on a Plane.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: In "0-8-4," the cars are extremely combustible once the rebels attack; shooting a Chevrolet pickup through the rear window will cause it to detonate.
- Everything Is Online: In "Girl in the Flower Dress", Miles can use his computer to control traffic lights and all the doors in a building. Globally the trope is played straight, but in a less unrealistic way than usual. Skye can hack absolutely anything, from NSA satellite systems to security doors in a building, but in some cases (The Extremis lab in episode 5, Quinn's estate, the Hub communication panel) she has to physically get into the facility to access the local network. So everything is online, but at least not everything is directly accessible through the Internet.
- Everyone Can See It: Fitz-Simmons are the only ones who seem remotely surprised when they start developing romantic feelings towards one another. Other characters can practically be felt rolling their eyes in the background during their awkward Cannot Spit It Out moments.
- Everyone's Baby Sister: Fitz and Simmons both qualify as this trope. The other characters' reactions to their lives being endangered in "FZZT" and "Beginning of the End" exceed what we've learned to expect when Coulson, May, Ward, and Skye risk their lives. Fitz and Simmons are the non-field agents on the team, and two of the youngest. In "FZZT":
May (of Simmons): She's only a kid.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Fitz is of this opinion.
Fitz: What we need is a highly trained monkey.
Simmons: [exasperated] Oh, Fitz!
Fitz: He could turn off the alarm with his adorable little paws!
- This has carried over to the S.H.I.E.L.D comic series, where Fitz has a trained monkey.
- Evil All Along: As of "Turn, Turn, Turn", The large number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were actually members of HYDRA, including Garrett and Ward.
- Evil Cripple: "The End of the Beginning" introduces Thomas Nash, who Coulson and Garrett believe to be The Clairvoyant. When they raid his headquarters, he never moves and only communicates through a speech synthesizer. In the end he is a subversion. He was really catatonic and not controlling the synthesizer at all, and the real Clairvoyant goaded Ward into shooting Nash in the hopes that people would believe the Clairvoyant to be dead.
- Evil Evolves: The Centipede organization is constantly improving their technology, most of which appears to be originally stolen from other sources. The Centipede device itself is an excellent example.
- Eviler Than Thou: Raina is one of the primary villains of Season 1, and always keeps a calm demeanor, even when things are collapsing around her. Then comes Season 2, whose main antagonists — Daniel Whitehall and The Doctor — both absolutely terrify her.
- Exact Words:
- In "The Magical Place", May gives Agent Hand her "professional opinion" that Skye "will be of no use on the plane". Which is precisely true, since she knows Hand will never let Skye do what needs to be done to locate Coulson and Skye is of better use out in the field.
- In "Ragtag", Coulson tells Skye to get ready to receive a "large file transfer". Which involves throwing an entire file cabinet full of paper files out of a window.
- In "The Only Light in the Darkness", The Mole uses this to evade detection.
- In "Beginning of the End", an angry and confused Coulson confronts Nick Fury over why the T.A.H.I.T.I. resurrection process was enacted on him if it was specifically intended for the resurrection of an Avenger. Fury makes it clear that as far as he is concerned, Coulson is an Avenger.
- In "Heavy is the Head", Fitz, while looking for a way to neutralise Creel's powers, insistently repeats the phrase "I didn't solve this today!" Skye and Trip write it off as his frustration at being unable to solve the problem, but Mack works out that Fitz is trying to tell them that one of his old designs can be modified for the job.
- As of "Making Friends and Influencing People", this is how Simmons managed to keep her cover intact in HYDRA, because she sucks at flat-out lying.
- Explosive Leash: Several characters are fitted with bionic eyes that provide x-ray vision and HUD instructions — and explode to instantly kill the subject if they disobey.
- Eureka Moment: Skye has one in "End of the Beginning":
Coulson: I feel like he's still out there...in our heads.
Skye: Or in our files.
- Also, FitzSimmons in "FZZT":
Simmons: The antibodies from the three firefighters aren't strong enough to fight this virus. It's born from alien DNA. There's noone to create an antiserum from, because noone's actually survived this, except...
- Eyeless Face: A man like this appears in The Tag of "What They Become". Judging by him possessing a Diviner, he's likely an Inhuman. He doesn't even have sockets!
- Eye Scream: Akela Amador gets pointy things to the eye twice in "Eye-Spy" and by the end of the episode, is one less. Then again, the alternative was to have said eye implant explode, taking her out with it.
- Face-Heel Turn: The show has featured this trope multiple times, both played straight and as a fake out.
- Facial Dialogue: Half of one, as Coulson speaks, and May doesn't but he reacts like she's been answering him the whole time.
- Fake Guest Star: Three of the four actors who joined the lead cast a while after the show premiered are still credited as guest stars in Season 2, despite appearing in every episode since and having more or less equal screen time to the leads: B J Britt (Triplett, introduced in 1x14note ), Henry Simmons (Mack, introducedn in 2x01), and Adrianne Palicki (Bobbi Morse, introduced in 2x05). Averted with Nick Blood (Hunter), who is credited with the leads right from his introduction in the Season 2 premiere.
- Ruth Negga (Raina) has appeared in nine episodes since her introduction in 1x05, appeared at a number of publicity events with the six original leads between seasons, and in Season 2 has nearly as many appearances as lead-credited Brett Dalton, but is still credited as a guest star.
- Fake Nationality: In-Universe: Fitz and Skye pose as a couple while on a mission, so Fitz suggests that they should pretend to be the same nationality. After hearing Skye's terrible Scottish accent, he decides to adopt an American accent instead.
- Fake Shemp: Nick Fury and Maria Hill make a "cameo" during a Flashback in "The Magical Place", but are only shown from a distance and have their faces obscured.
- Fake Static: Coulson pulls this to avoid orders in "FZZT". It wasn't a good excuse and the other person knew it was fake, but he was pressed for time.
- Faked Kidnapping: In "The Asset": Dr. Hall set up his own kidnapping once he knew that Quinn needed him in order to take him down, but S.H.I.E.L.D. had no idea he did this and Quinn himself thinks the whole thing was his idea.
- False Flag Operation: In "A Fractured House", HYDRA mercenaries attack the United Nations while impersonating S.H.I.E.L.D., in order to turn the world's militaries against them. Talbot sees through that from the start, as he notes to Senator Ward.
- Faux Affably Evil:
- Raina. She manipulates, kidnaps, and tortures while never saying a single harsh word. The most egregious example is when she purposefully leaves Debbie to her death and says "I wish you all the best" as the elevator doors close between them.
- Then there's the Clairvoyant. He maintains the chummy attitude he's previously been using in a civilian disguise, even after his true identity is revealed. Even when The Dragon is experiencing a Villainous BSOD, he kept laughing and joking, not caring about what was happening. His charm and affability is only a charade though, and there's no one he won't sacrifice to further his goals.
- Fire-Forged Friends: The team begins this process in "0-8-4", to a greater or lesser extent depending on which characters.
- "The Girl in the Flower Dress" implies that this happened between Skye and Miles prior to the series.
- Simmons and Triplett apparently have complete trust in each other by "Providence", as a result of being trapped together at the Hub during the HYDRA takeover. This doesn't extend to the rest of the team, though - Coulson eventually accepts her arguments that Triplett should be allowed to join the Bus for a while, but he and Fitz at least still have their doubts.
- First Episode Spoiler:
- #CoulsonLives! This is the hashtag for the 7-second teaser.
- FitzSimmons turning out to be two people midway through the Pilot. (Up until they appear on-screen, they're referred to as if they're a single person, with pronouns deliberately avoided, and the singular often used.)
- Five-Bad Band: The Centipede Group a.k.a. HYDRA
- Big Bad: John Garrett / The Clairvoyant leads the group.
- The Dragon: Edison Po, later replaced by Raina and then by Grant Ward. Each of them served as the spokesman/pointman for The Clairvoyant.
- The Evil Genius: Ian Quinn is implied to be the R&D arm of the Centipede Group because his episodes focus on developing new technology: the gravitonium, the weather control device, the cyborg implants, etc.
- The Brute: Deathlok is forced to become The Clairvoyant's hitman and augmented with great physical strength and firepower to do this.
- The Dark Chick: Raina's role is to use empathy and manipulation to convince others to help The Centipede Group, such as convincing Gifted to join them.
- Flat Earth Atheist: In "Eye-Spy", people point out that science hasn't confirmed the validity of psychic powers. This being in a universe filled with Norse gods, aliens, and gamma radiation monsters. Skye points out the absurdity of this.
- Flock of Wolves: The Bus has a serious mole problem:
- Skye is a mole for the Rising Tide terrorist/hacktivist organization, though she cuts ties as she begins to warm up to S.H.I.E.L.D., and specifically when her mentor turns out to be a blatant hypocrite.
- May is a mole for Fury, given the full details of Coulson's resurrection and tasked with keeping an eye on him to make sure there were no side effects. She also built the team (short of Skye) specifically to help take him down and fix him if it became necessary.
- Ward is a mole for HYDRA, specifically the Clairvoyant and the Centipede project. While he was trawling for information in general, his mission goal was to discover the secret behind Coulson's resurrection.
- Fitz-Simmons are a mole for ...no one. They seem to be just a pair of skilled scientists who managed to get on the Bus and dumped into the heart of some of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s worst conspiracies through no fault of their own - though they do set up an encrypted line to allow them to relay their research about the TAHITI serum to each other, which ends up causing some trouble despite the fact that their intentions were good. However, May does reveal that they were brought onto the team for the sake of reprogramming Coulson should he become unstable, though they were unaware of this.
- As of "Nothing Personal", even Coulson himself is revealed to have inadvertently worked against his own current interests in the past, (though he's lost the memories of doing so), by heading the T.A.H.I.T.I. project shortly before becoming its first true success.
- As of "Ye Who Enter Here", it's revealed that Bobbi and Mack are conspiring together on an agenda of unknown purpose.
- Flying Car: Lola, which makes for the difference between "new" and "improved".
- Food Porn: Fitz describing his sandwich in "The Hub" certainly qualifies. No wonder he gets mad once Ward throws it away.
- Coulson's "rusty" when it comes to breaking down a handgun. He makes a remark about how he had it down as muscle memory. Akela, who knew Coulson quite well before his 'death' and effectively has x-ray vision, is very concerned, and asks "what did they do to him?" Another hint that he's not quite the man he was prior to The Avengers.
- In "0-8-4", Coulson explains to Skye that an 0-8-4 is "an object of unknown origin. Kind of like you." "Seeds" reveals that Skye is indeed an 0-8-4.
- At the end of the pilot, Coulson notes "we didn't cut off the head of the Centipede." Which organisation runs Centipede? HYDRA? The one with the motto about having their heads cut off?
- In "The Hub" Ward asks Fitz "How long can you hold your breath underwater?" In "Ragtag" Ward drops the pod with Fitz and Simmons into the ocean. Fitz's reply is "Not very long." He nearly dies from oxygen deprivation in "End of the Beginning" while escaping the pod.
- In "T.A.H.I.T.I." John Garrett says of Ward, "You wouldn't believe what I could talk this son-of-a-gun into." Indeed, talking someone into joining an evil organization bent on world domination is no small task.
- In "T.A.H.I.T.I.", one of the facility's security guards eventually recognizes Coulson and asks of they've met. Coulson doesn't remember him but says they may very well have met, because he may have "spent some time" in the facility being ressurected. His suspicion is correct, but the conversation takes on a whole new meaning when we learn that Coulson was also in charge of T.A.H.I.T.I. before it was used to resurrect him.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn," The Clairvoyant said if he wanted Team Coulson dead he could have killed them anytime he wanted. Since Ward is his inside man, he's probably right.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn" Fitz tells Garrett that he will suffer for what he's done, and that he (Fitz) plans on being a very big part of that. Four episodes later, Fitz uses an EMP device to short out Garrett's cybernetic components, bringing him to the edge of death.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn", Coulson defeats Garrett in battle after Fitz tosses him an EMP device, which knocks him out. But why would an EMP device hurt an organic being? Later on it's revealed that Garrett is a cyborg, and Fitz himself nearly kills him with a second EMP.
- In "Providence," Maria Hill states that she's working with Tony Stark to privatize world peace in the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s dissolution.
- The big twist at the end of 'Shadows' that the Simmons we have been watching was Fitz's hallucination, and that the real Simmons has left the team floored a lot of people, but if you think about it, there are subtle hints throughout the episode:
- Simmons has no lanyard, unlike all of the other characters on base. Even Fitz himself has a lanyard hanging off his left hip.
- While all the other main characters have undergone a visible change from last season (e.g. Coulson is wearing black suits, May wears civilian clothes, Skye has bangs and a field outfit, Ward has a beard, and Fitz has stubble and shorter hair), the Simmons in this episode is wearing a very familiar outfit, the exact same one she wore in FZZT, when she contracted the alien virus. Besides that, if you check out the promo art for this season, Simmons is shown as having shorter hair than she did last season, unlike the hallucination of Simmons, who has the same longer season 1 hair.
- Only Fitz registers her presence - when May comes up to the lab, she only answers Fitz and completely ignores Simmons. She also offers to stay and help with some DNA analysis - why would she do that if Simmons were actually there? What could she as a specialist contribute to a DNA analysis that the biochemist apparently standing right there couldn't?
- Fitz always intervenes before Simmons can interact with anything in their environment, repeatedly snapping at her not to touch the cloaking device work on his desk, and throwing his medication across the worktop before she can reach for the bottle herself. Also, when May is around, Fitz apparently finds himself able to finish his own sentences without Simmons's help, unlike when they're alone, and immediately echoes anything she says that's directed at May.
- Also, Fitz sees the lead shaving turn to flesh and blood, and is unsure if what he's seeing is real, implying that he's had hallucinations before (and is incidentally seeing one now). May confirms it's real.
- When Koenig, Fitz and Skye are watching the interrogation on the Bus, Fitz is standing outside one of the bunks, with Simmons sitting on the bed. There's a shot of Fitz in the corridor just after Simmons places her hand on his shoulder, but Simmons' hand is suddenly not there. Fitz just has his hand on his own shoulder, which is clearly visible once you're familiar with The Reveal, but mostly obscured by the door the first time you see it.
- In "0-8-4", Ward is seen reading Matterhorn, a book assigned to him by Garrett. It's a novel where one of the arcs is about Marines in Vietnam building a firebase, being forced to abandon it, and struggling to recapture it from the enemy. This can be seen as a parallel to Garrett's story of being trained by S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nicky Fury before being (by his own account) left for dead by his agency, his turning to HYDRA, and Team Coulson's subsequent fight to stop Garrett and the Centipede organization.
- Former Regime Personnel: This becomes a problem in season 2. With the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. a large number of highly trained people were out of work and seeking new opportunities. Most went into the private sector or were hired by various US government agencies. Some went underground like Team Coulsen in order to continue with their mission. However, many took whatever intelligence and/or secret technology they had and sold it to the highest bidder. In the worst cases, some were recruited willingly or unwillingly by HYDRA.
- Four Philosophy Ensemble: Coulson is a Realist, Ward is the Cynic, Skye is the Optimist, May alternates between Conflicted and Apathetic, and Fitz-Simmons are Apathetic.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Coulson is Phlegmatic, Ward is Choleric, May and Fitz are Melancholic, and Skye and Simmons are Sanguine.
- Four Is Death: Subtly used in the episode, "The Only Light in the Darkness." The group in total ends up splitting up into two groups of four, and while Coulson's group ends up okay, back at Providence May leaves, and Eric is killed by Ward leading Skye to the realization that Ward is a HYDRA agent.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At the end of "Turn, Turn, Turn", when S.H.I.E.L.D. has been overtaken by HYDRA, the normal closing screen of the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo is replaced with that of HYDRA.
- Freudian Slip: Fitz has one while talking to Skye in the pilot.
- Funny Background Event:
- In the first episode, when S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to apprehend Mike, he promptly kicks a van door off. The crowd scatters... except for one man in the distance, who looks at the door and then, uninterested, saunters off.
- In "0-8-4", after the skirmish at the end, if you pay attention, you can see Fitz holding onto one of the pillars for dear life. Also in the episode is a brief shot of Fitz and Simmons taking a selfie with the Peruvian ruins.
- In 'The Asset', when Ward is teaching Skye how to box, there's a moment when Fitz can be seen in the lab annoying Simmons with the laser they're working on.
- In "Girl in the Flower Dress", as Agent Kwan asks how they will get into the building, May shoots off the ground towards the roof.
- In "Yes Men", when Ward is trying to convince May that he's no longer brainwashed, Sif walks in leading the imprisoned Lorelei. The look on Sif's face when she sees Ward, May, and the half-destroyed Bus is hilarious.
- Fun with Acronyms:
- Lampshaded by Ward during his interview.
Maria Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?
Agent Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Maria Hill: And what does that mean to you?
Agent Ward: It means somebody really wanted our initials to spell "shield".
- A meta example would be the official name for "the Bus" - the Mobile Command Unit, or MCU.
- Two episodes, "T.R.A.C.K.S." and "T.A.H.I.T.I.", are stylized as acronyms which are never explained. T.A.H.I.T.I. appears In-Universe, so it may get some explanation down the road.
- Gambit Pileup: By the end of "The End of the Beginning", it's clear that there are no less than three factions within S.H.I.E.L.D., each with its own agenda. There's the main team, led by Agent Coulson; an unnamed group trying to keep the details of Coulson's resurrection a secret from Coulson and everybody else; and a more villainous faction who answers to the Clairvoyant (revealed to all be HYDRA moles).
- Gender-Equal Ensemble: The six main characters. They've also balanced out the action heroes with the action girls. May is the most badass member of The Team, while Skye and Simmons have no particular ability in combat whereas the men have two badasses (Coulson and Ward) as well as the weakest team member (Fitz).
- Played with in Season 2, where Team Coulson now consists of seven men (Coulson, Fitz, Triplett, Hunter, Mack, and Sam and Billy Koenig) and four women (May, Skye, Simmons, and Bobbi); however, Coulson is now mostly behind the scenes and does less field work, while Sam and Billy appear very rarely and seem to mostly work outside the main team, making it still an even split between the eight field agents. Notably, Triplett and Hunter are the only male combatantsnote while all but Simmons of the women are now combatantsnote , leaving a 2:3 ratio of male/female fighters. Ward is also out there, but he's no longer part of the team.
- Genre Savvy:
- Having more mileage in the MCU than anyone else, Coulson is all over this trope.
- May has no evidence to suspect that Nick Fury would be Not Quite Dead and not really dead as reported, and yet, she was right.
- In "Heavy is the Head", Coulson decides to cryogenically freeze Creel, even though he's apparently been killed by the Obelisk, since turning to stone is one of Creel's abilities, and he suspects it might not be permanent.
- The Gods Must Be Lazy: In "The Well" Coulson complains about the apparent lack of the Norse god of "cleaning up after yourself" while dealing with the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World's climax in London.
- Good Is Not Nice: Although SHIELD are the good guys, it is occasionally hinted at that the organization engages in activities such as assassinations.
- Confirmed in the second season, when we're told that "hostile gifted individuals"note are sometimes crossed off the Index. We also later see a SHIELD assassin from the "dark side" of the organization.
- G-Rated Drug: Creel/Absorbing Man "enjoys" the feeling he gets when absorbing the properties of other materials into his body, as demonstrated when he turns into wood purely for recreational purposes. His handler even pays him with rare materials.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: On the cover of the Mobile Command manual given to Skye in "0-8-4", the Russian text can be translated as "of the vehicle-born mobile station command", with the last word's grammatical form being one used in phrases like "giving a command". and it starts with a lowercase letter.
- Other episodes showcase agent Ward speaking fluent Italian and Spanish, as well as Coulson himself speaking relatively accent-free Spanish.
- The first episode of season two features German dialogue between supposed native speakers that, while brief, is grammatically accurate... and painfully obviously not spoken by anyone with a grasp of German.
- Gravity Screw: When Dr. Hall puts the graviton device on full power, gravity in the compound starts going every which-way.
- Green Aesop: A subtle one in "The Asset": Quinn is implied to use ecologically short-sighted methods like strip-mining to make a profit, but it's not the focus of the episode, and in the end, Dr. Hall is the one who nearly kills everyone.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: Averted when Ward tries to talk his way into a SHIELD facility. No matter what he says or does, even the usual 'call their superiors' trick, they absolutely refuse to let him in and invite him to call up the chain of command. He does eventually get them to let him in, but he needs an helicopter shooting at him to do so.
- Guest Star Party Member:
- Sif joins forces with Coulson's team in "Yes Men".
- Maria Hill teams up with Coulson, Fitz-Simmons and Triplett in "Nothing Personal".
- Nick Fury in the Season One finale.
- Heroic BSOD:
- Simmons has a brief one in "FZZT" after realizing she has been infected by the Chitauri electromagnetic virus.
- May is in the midst of an extended one when she is recruited back into the team.
- The whole team experiences this in "T.R.A.C.K.S." after Skye is shot.
- In "T.A.H.I.T.I.", after Coulson finds the alien corpse that serves as the source of the GH drug, he's so shocked that Garrett finds him wandering down the hall like a zombie.
- Heroic Sacrifice: In "The Bridge", Coulson voluntarily surrenders himself to Raina to get Mike Peterson's son released.
- In "The Beginning Of The End", Fitz tries to do one of these to save Simmons. She will have none of that and saves his life, but he's not in good shape at the end of the episode.
- Hero's First Rescue: In the premiere, Mike Peterson's heroic debut was climbing up the side of a burning building to rescue a woman trapped in the top floor.
- He's Back: See Wham Line, below.
- Fitz in "The Things We Bury", after spending the first part of the season seeming like he wouldn't recover from his brain damage, turns back into the Techno Wizard we all know and love.
- Hidden Agenda Villain: For much of the first season it was unknown what Centipede's end goals were. They are creating super-soldiers, but why? "Providence" eventually gives an answer: Garrett's conversation with Raina suggests the group was founded by HYDRA and recruited with promises of "changing the world", meaning they've always been pawns in HYDRA's goals. "Ragtag" makes it even more clear: John Garrett is being kept alive by first-generation Deathlok technology, which is failing. He wants the Centipede tech to replace it and the GH-325 drug is the last element.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: An ancient Asgardian citizen has been living in hiding on Earth for centuries and is currently the foremost expert on Norse language and mythology.
- Hide Your Gays: To some extent; Victoria Hand was a lesbian in the comics, and her actress confirmed she was playing her as such. However, they never address this fact, which greatly reduces the Bury Your Gays implications if you've not read the comics and/or had no idea about her supposed sexuality. It's justified example, as Hand's sexuality was very minor in the comics, only coming up once, and at no point in the show was it relevant information while she appeared.
- High-Altitude Interrogation: A variant: During an interrogation, Ward straps himself to his chair while Fitz/Simmons open the ceiling, threatening to pull someone out via the difference in air pressure.
- High Dive Escape: In "The Asset", Skye escapes from Quinn's mansion by leaping off the balcony into the swimming pool.
- Hijacked by Ganon: The identity of the Clairvoyant is revealed in "Turn, Turn, Turn". However, mere seconds later, it's also revealed he wasn't just working towards his own ends, but also for HYDRA, albeit, he's mostly using HYDRA's resources for his goals.
- According to the 2014 San Diego Comic Con panel, HYDRA will continue to be a major antagonistic presence in the second season, led by Daniel Whitehall, a.k.a. The Kraken.
- Hoist by His Own Petard:
- By the time of "T.R.A.C.K.S.", Centipede has developed dendrotoxin grenades that have similar effects as the Night-Night Gun, because they somehow got their hands on the formula.
- Also in "T.R.A.C.K.S.", May is captured. One of her captors stabs her in the shoulder with a knife to torture her. She then uses said knife to cut herself loose and kill his henchmen.
- Hollywood Encryption: Skye's hard drive can only be decrypted at a specific geographic location.
- Hollywood Hacking: Regularly when Skye's hacking skills are involved. Hacking the NSA satellite streams? No problem, it shouldn't take more than one hour.
- Hollywood Mid Life Crisis: Cammila Reyes, Coulson's New Old Flame, suggests he's going through this in "0-8-4." Coulson suggests it's more of an afterlife crisis.
- The pilot contains a clear homage to Back to the Future. The scene where Lola takes flight is shot very similarly to the DeLorean taking flight at the end of the first movie.
- Same scene, different homage, to the scene in The Avengers when Steve Rogers tells Nick Fury that there is nothing he hasn't seen before. Skye says incredulously to Coulson "You're going to show me something new?". In both scenes, the characters are proven wrong by a flying vehicle that shouldn't fly.
- Honesty Is the Best Policy:
- Invoked in the pilot. Coulson jabs Ward with a truth serum and leaves him for Skye to interrogate, just to be absolutely clear they have nothing to hide from her.
- Skye uses it herself in "The Asset". Rather than trouble herself with coming up with a lie to get into Quinn's office, she just tells him the truth: that she's a mole inside S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Hope Spot:
- In "Ragtag", Ward is under orders to kill Fitz-Simmons. The episode is intercut with flashbacks to his experiences with Garrett's dog Buddy, who he was also ordered to shoot during his training. Ward appears to let the dog go, flashing forward to Ward admitting he does care for his old teammates... a weakness which is exactly why he needs to kill them, flashing back to someone, probably Garrett, sniping the dog as Ward ejects them from The Bus.
- In the season 2 premier "Shadows". Izzy may be down an arm, but otherwise the mission was a success: everybody made it out and the obtained the obelisk and the Quinjet they were after. Then Absorbing Man shows up in front of Izzy's team's car and flips it in asphalt form. Izzy and Idaho are killed, and Creel obtains the obelisk.
- "Shadows" provides a larger one for the series overall. Since the Season 1 finale ended with Fitz in a coma and suffering the results of severe oxygen deprivation, Season 2 starts of pretty well for him. He's no longer comatose and, though he did suffer brain damage, it wasn't as debilitating as had been feared, and with Simmons's help he's making a steady recovery. Except he's really not. All of his scenes have been Through the Eyes of Madness, and the final reveal shows that Simmons has left, he's had a complete breakdown and is just hallucinating her constantly. To make matters worse, his belief that he's still a Gadgeteer Genius is belied by the pile of random components on his desk, which he believes to be a nearly completed cloaking device for The Bus.
- Hostage for MacGuffin: In "The Bridge", Centipede kidnaps Mike's son and offers him up in exchange for Mike... until it turns out they actually want Coulson.
- Human Weapon: Akela in Eye-Spy. She is controlled by people who implanted her with a cybernetic eye which can see through walls, transmit video streams, display messages, ... and monitor everything she does, and explodes should she run away or get caught. The ending reveals that her controller is also a pawn who got the exact same treatment. Then, in "A Magical Place", we see the technology again used on Deathlok and some enemy soldiers.
- Hurl It into the Sun: Objects deemed too dangerous to be kept are disposed of via "The Slingshot", a facility where the offending device is stuck in a missile and launched into the sun. "Providence" reveals that the items are actually secretly tucked away in the Fridge, and the missiles are just for show.
- Hypocritical Humor: FitzSimmons are particularly prone to this.
- I Call It "Vera": Coulson calls his car "Lola".
- I Have Your Wife:
- Raina coerces Mike's help by kidnapping his son.
- Cybertek has this as standard practice for gaining employees. It's known as the "incentives program".
- I Love Nuclear Power: It's suggested that Scorch gained his pyrokinetic abilities thanks to a nuclear plant that caught fire near his house.
- I Need A Drink: Coulson's first move after retaking the Bus in "0-8-4" is to the convenient on-board bar. Which Fury, in the stinger, notes that he generously provided.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: The Clairvoyant's identity is ultimately revealed this way; he knows too much about Raina.
- Idiot Ball:
- Victoria Hand seems to be the designated carrier, as a side effect of carrying the Conflict Ball. The whole deal with extracting Fitz and Ward in "The Hub" makes no sense because if she wanted Coulson's team to be the extraction team she should have said so in the first place instead of stone walling them. In "The Magical Place" she acts as if Skye wanting to follow the money is some crazy hacker's trick instead of being one of the most sound, fundamental and time-proven methods of running an investigation known to man. Finally, in "Turn, Turn, Turn," her method for determining who is not an infiltrator for HYDRA is apparently to pretend that she herself is an infiltrator for HYDRA, then demand that agents swear loyalty or be executed. How this is meant to detect genuine HYDRA infiltrators, versus maybe getting her shot by loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, is unclear. It's also based on the idea that no loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents when given the choice between betraying the group and death wouldn't simply lie. Added to this is the fact that she assumes all the members of Coulson's team must be HYDRA moles, just because she has evidence to believe that Coulson is one, even though the team is relatively newly assembled of people who were mostly unknown to one another beforehand. Furthermore, having ordered them all to be killed on sight because of the risk she believes they pose, she's willing to give Simmons a chance to prove her loyalty for apparently no other reason than that she happened to be in the Hub, and not on the Bus, when the Uprising started.
- In "Yes Men", Ward gets the drop on Lorelei with a tranq gun. He's been told that she has the ability to charm most men with her voice and all men with her touch. Not only does he not shoot her immediately, he allows her to get within arm's reach.
- Coulson and Sif both catch one here for sending any male agents against Lorelei. When your enemy has the power to instantly dominate men, leave the men on the plane.
- Eric Koenig gets this in "The Only Light in the Darkness" when he debriefs Coulson's team with a super-accurate lie detector. Despite his suspicions that one of them is The Mole and the lie detector throwing big red warnings all over the place, one adroit answer (with a liberal use of Exact Words) is enough for Eric to conclude everything's fine.
- In "...Ye Who Enter Here," when you're investigating a mysterious alien city associated with a device which kills you if you touch it, you would really think that the guy you send in would be wearing gloves. Sure enough, within seconds he touches something dangerous and it nearly gets a bunch of people killed.
- Ignorance Is Bliss:
- The reason Coulson's special team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents exist is that The World Is Not Ready for most of the weird things happening in the world. He even gives an Appeal to Obscurity example to hammer his point. Playful Hacker Skye feels differently and thinks an Unmasqued World is the way to go.
- "Providence" reveals that once S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secrets have flooded onto the Internet, Skye realizes that Coulson was right: The World Is Not Ready.
- Coulson's being kept in the dark about his resurrection, and the implanted memories of Tahiti were specifically to keep him ignorant of the real circumstances of his resurrection (see And I Must Scream), which otherwise were too unbearable for him to go on living.
- Information Wants to Be Free: An early theme in the series is the security vs. privacy debate, as well as the control vs. freedom of information debate. The show mostly comes down in favor of the security and control of information sides, and the message seems to be that it's easy to demand freedom of information when you're not responsible for its consequences.
- In Medias Res: "0-8-4" opens with the crew on their way back from a mission, Coulson saying that he thinks they've seen the last of the trouble, and an explosion; then it cuts to "19 Hours Earlier". By the time the story gets back to Coulson's remark and the explosion, it's turned out that several things aren't as they first appeared.
- Insistent Terminology:
- Thor's not just handsome, he's dreamy according to Skye and May.
- In "FZZT," it's not a vaccine it's an anti-serum.note
- Inspector Javert: Colonel Talbot doesn't care if Coulson's team was involved with the villains or not — he has his orders to bring them in, no matter what.
- Instant Sedation: The Night-Night gun, as well as its smaller counterpart the Night-Light gun, puts out anyone hit with it.
- Interservice Rivalry: There is a school rivalry level one between the various S.H.I.E.L.D. academies. Operations takes pride in how difficult their training is. Science and Technology takes pride in how hard it is to get accepted into their academy in the first place. Both of them look down on the Analysts.
- Irony: The Mole was on the Bus to find out the secrets behind Coulson's resurrection. In the process, they seduced May solely to cement their cover—not knowing that she had the full details of the project the entire time.
- It Gets Easier: Defied by May:
- Just Plane Wrong:
- Just Shoot Him: In "The End of the Beginning", Ward's reaction to finally meeting the Clairvoyant. Except he turned out to be a decoy; which (as of "Turn, Turn, Turn") it seems Ward knew all along.
- Karmic Death:
- In "Girl in the Flower Dress", Debbie, the Centipede doctor, who experimented on people and caused them to explode, is incinerated by one of her test subjects.
- In "Beginning of the End," Garrett, who betrayed S.H.I.E.L.D. to HYDRA and used Mike Peterson as a lab rat for techniques to save his own life, first gets beaten within an inch of his life by Mike, and then finished off by Coulson with the HYDRA beam weapon.
- Karma Houdini: At the end of the first season, Quinn and Raina, despite brief turns in prison earlier in the season, are able to escape Garrett's downfall.
- Skye's father plots a gruesome death for Whitehall during the mid-winter finale of Season Two, but before he can enact his revenge, Coulson comes out of nowhere and downs Whitehall with a single pistol shot. Given what Whitehall did to Skye's mother, such a death is far too quick and kind. Skye's father agrees.
- Kick the Dog: Quite a few.
- In "T.A.H.I.T.I.," Ian Quinn mocks Garrett about the agents he lost trying to track Quinn. He gets beaten down for his troubles.
- In "Nothing Personal", The Mole shows that in addition to being a traitor, a multiple murderer, and a member of an organization founded by a Nazi, they're also sexist.
- In "Beginning of the End", The Clairvoyant taunts killing Fitz and Simmons with heavy sarcasm.
- In "Ragtag", Garrett orders Ward to kill a dog, just to prove a point.
- Kidnapped Scientist:
- Kirk Summation: In "Turn, Turn, Turn", Coulson brushes off The Clairvoyant with "This is you being a psychopath."
- Lampshade Hanging:
- During Ward's interview in the first episode.
Maria Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?
Agent Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Maria Hill: And what does that mean to you?
Agent Ward: It means somebody really wanted our initials to spell "shield".
- Coulson hangs a lampshade on his dramatic entrance.
Sorry, this corner was really dark and I couldn't help myself. [beat]
I think a bulb is out or something.
- May and Ward both argue with Coulson about his odd insistence on hiring Skye, with Ward pointing out that she's a member of an anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. terrorist group and May flatly stating that the team already has a lack of combat-ready agents.
- "Providence" sees the use of the double-fisted "Hail HYDRA!" salute getting ridiculed by Garrett, who says it makes the user look like a cheerleader.
- La Résistance/Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Skye regards Peruvian anti-mining rebels as this in "0-8-4" when Coulson arrives in the Peruvian countryside, fighting against perceived injustice due to the Peruvian government's willingness to exploit the countryside for natural resources. The Peruvian Army's military police soldiers were perfectly willing to kill the team and blame the rebels (even though they'd rescued them from the rebels and Coulson was their leader's ex-partner, in more ways than one) to get the device (a powerful weapon which they'd commissioned former Nazi/HYDRA scientists to build in the first place).
- Laser-Guided Karma: In season 1, HYDRA is shown to have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., with Garrett, Ward, and Sitwell as confirmed double agents. In season 2, S.H.I.E.L.D. returns the favor, with Simmons among those infiltrating HYDRA.
- Last Name Basis: Everyone is referred to by their last name, barring personal moments, with the exception of Skye, who doesn't have a last name.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler:
- Coulson's "death" in The Avengers.
- The episode "Turn, Turn, Turn" ends up being one for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, provided you didn't see the movie that only opened four days earlier. In a deliberate attempt to give the audience some breathing room, the episode was aired as a rerun before the following week's new episode.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
- The flight designation for "The Bus" is S.H.I.E.L.D. 616.
- After the rocky reception the first half of the season received from critics and fans, Coulson's line about being sick of secrets and conspiracies could be seen as one.
- Legacy Character: "Rag-Tag" reveals that there have been several different Deathloks before Mike, the first of whom was John Garrett.
- Like Brother and Sister: Fitz and Simmons, with their constant, comfortable switching between gentle concern and indignant bickering with each other. The basic dynamic even survives Fitz's Love Epiphany towards Simmons mid-Season 1.
- Little "No": Fitz gives a slow, soft one despair and denial in "FZZT," when it looks like Simmons' last hope for surviving the alien virus has failed.
- Location Subtitles: Every location gets the name of the area, and a quick geostamp describing where it is. Except for S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities, which inevitably get "Location: Classified."
- Locked Out of the Loop: Due to S.H.I.E.L.D clearence levels certain information is off limits to certain people. Notably everything about Coulson's death is classified to even the higher up agents except Fury himself. May knew all along, but was ordered to keep it to herself and report to Fury on a secret encrypted line in case Coulson Came Back Wrong. Coulson is furious when he finds out, especially since Fitz found the encrypted line but not what it's for.
- Love Dodecahedron: A rather linear one. From bottom to top: Simmons crushing on Fitz, crushing on Skye, crushing on Ward, crushing on May, crushing on Coulson, crushing on Lola (and also still in love with Audrey). Fitz's crush on Skye only lasts about a week, and then he starts to reciprocate towards Simmons, who by now has attracted the attentions of Triplett, and possibly reciprocates them. Ward and May's relationship is just meaningless sex, and Ward eventually admits feeling for Skye. May's crush on Coulson is YMMV.
- Love Triangle: Either a Type 3 or Type 4 forms around Simmons towards the end of Season One, with Fitz and Triplett on the other two sides.
- Lower Deck Episode: The entire show, from the perspective of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- MacGuffin Of The Week: Many of the first 10 episodes followed this formula, with only hints of a broader story arc. "The Bridge", showed retrospectively how several of those episodes connected in to the larger mythology.
- Macgyvering: Fitz builds an anti-weapon blaster out of the pieces of the separatists' Overkill Device in "The Hub".
- Magical Database: The Index, the list of all known Differently Powered Individuals and "special objects" (re: identified 0-8-4s). It's said to not be a very long list, but given the rate at which these things keep popping up, it will likely grow to be one.
- MayIncatec: The Inca temple in "0-8-4" looks like it was built by Mayans, right down to the writing on the inside walls. The Incas didn't even have writing.
- Meaningful Echo:
- In "The Asset", when Skye tries to respond to Quinn referring to S.H.I.E.L.D. as "Big Brother" by paraphrasing a story Ward had told her about his family, only to lose track of what she's saying.
Quinn: S.H.I.E.L.D.'s against everything you stand for. They're big brother.
Skye: Maybe, but they're the nice big brother who stands up for his helpless little brother when he's getting beat up because he ate a piece of cake that he wasn't... you know, you kidnapped a person!
- A moment later, Quinn coincidentally says something Ward had said earlier.
Quinn: [after Skye takes his gun] Do you have what it takes to pull the trigger?
Skye: Nope. [jumps out the window]
- Something that FitzSimmons says in "The Girl in the Flower Dress" gets this treatment in the finale.
[after finding out Skye may have betrayed them for another Rising Tide operative] Fitz:
Why would Skye do this to us, for him? I thought she was our friend. Simmons:
I think she is, Fitz. He's just obviously more than that. [later, as Fitz is about to make a Heroic Sacrifice] Simmons: Why would you do this? You're my best friend in the world! Fitz: Yeah, you're more than that, Jemma.
- The Men in Black: The show has a broad B-plot of showcasing the people behind the dark suits and sunglasses. In addition to being a high-level national security outfit, teams like Agent Coulson's operate as Artifact Collection Agents (whether those "artifacts" are inanimate objects or people).
- Mexican Standoff: In "What They Become". It starts when Skye picks up the Obelisk and immediately kills a Hydra goon with it.
- Mildly Military:
- While Coulson, Ward, and May are professional S.H.I.E.L.D. field agents, Fitz-Simmons and Skye aren't. During a stake out, they break radio silence to ask if Ward left them any snacks in the van.
- Further invoked when Fitz brings a prosciutto and mozarella sandwich along on a stealth infiltration mission; Ward throws it away because enemy tracker dogs can easily follow them by the smell.
- Mêlée à Trois: Season 2 opens with no less than four factions going up against each other in various combinations: S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, the US Military, and whoever Raina and Skye's father are working for/with.
- Memory Gambit: An involuntary one, as revealed in "Nothing Personal": One of Coulson's current drives was to find out who supervised Project T.A.H.I.T.I., since, after The Reveal that S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated by HYDRA, Coulson suspected that HYDRA might have had a hand in resurrecting him and possibly using him as an asset. But then, May manages to get Coulson the file that reveals who supervised the project... and it was Coulson himself, under Nick Fury's orders. T.A.H.I.T.I. was a project designed to resurrect a fallen Avenger if worst came to worst, but Coulson not only recommended cancellation of the project, he even handed his resignation because of it. Coulson revealed that the only apparent way to be able to survive Project T.A.H.I.T.I. sane was through Fake Memories, since the process was so traumatic it'd drive the subject insane. And that's exactly what they did.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Some average Joe gets Extremis injected into him —> a conspiracy to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. down from within.
- The Mole:
- "0-8-4" reveals that Skye is acting as one for the Rising Tide. However, in "Girl in the Flower Dress", it is reveals that she's just there to find out what S.H.I.E.L.D. knows about her parents.
- In "The Asset", Dr. Hall acts as a mole within S.H.I.E.L.D. to set up his own kidnapping.
- In "T.R.A.C.K.S." a supposedly friendly agent is on the take from The Clairvoyant's organization and sets the team up, going so far as to interrogate and torture May. The latter works out about as well for him as you would expect.
- The end of "Yes Men" reveals that May is reporting on the team to someone, presumably the people within S.H.I.E.L.D. who brought Coulson back to life. "Turn, Turn, Turn" reveals that someone to be Director Fury himself.
- "Turn, Turn, Turn" Ward to HYDRA. Garrett too, but given how deep HYDRA goes, he doesn't really qualify as a Mole.
- "Making Friends and Influencing People" reveals Simmons to be another heroic example, infiltrating HYDRA (which Coulson seems to know).
- Now we know Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird was one as well with the mission protecting Simmons.
- Moment Killer:
- Coulson and May are sitting in a car, waiting for a target to show himself. In the meantime, they talked, and May confesses that she had sex with Ward. There's the man! Don't lose him! The discussion about Ward had to be resumed later, when the mission was done.
- Simmons pulls these pretty regularly when talking to the opposite sex: usually when Fitz is trying to disclose his feelings for her, but occasionally when Ward tries being nice to her unexpectedly.
- Monster of the Week: The non-myth-arc episodes that don't have the agents pursuing a Macguffin feature a super-powered villain or phenomenon of some kind, at least at first glance. These sometimes prove to be a Bait and Switch.
- Mood Whiplash: In "Providence", the audience is treated to a truly somber scene where Agent Koenig informs the team that Nick Fury has been shot dead by the Winter Soldier. While the team mourns, Koenig pulls Coulson aside and casually, almost jokingly, informs him that Fury survived his gunshot wounds and is chasing after HYDRA in Europe.
- Moral Myopia: In ''T.A.H.I.T.I.', the team assault the "Guest House" facility and kill the two guards posted there. Those two people are not bad guys. They are Just Following Orders, and those orders come from Nick Fury. Sure, the team tries a peaceful approach first, and they are in a hurry because of Skye dying, but it is surprising that nobody in the team has any second thoughts about murdering two decent guys. The fact that two out of four members of the assault team were HYDRA agents trying to discover the base's secrets was part of the suspicious lack of moralizing. In fact, the HYDRA agents were the ones who did the shooting.
- Mouth of Sauron: Edison Po serves as the spokesperson for the Clairvoyant. After his death, Raina takes his place.
- Movie Superheroes Wear Black:
- When Mike finally suits up to kick some butt, it's in a black S.H.I.E.L.D. jumpsuit. Then averted when he finally becomes Deathlok; his new outfit has plenty of red and yellow.
- Sif wears red and silver armor.
- Averted with Mockingbird, who wears a blue and gray outfit that looks very similar to her post-Secret Invasion costume from the comics.
- Mr. Fanservice:
- Ms. Fanservice:
- Skye, starting with the "reverse interrogation". "The Asset" is another notable example, having her run barefoot in a low-cut dress that's been soaked by a jump into a pool, and "Girl in the Flower Dress" has a scene with her, post-sex, in just her underwear.
- Melinda has her fan-servicey moments, notably performing Tai Chi in "The Hub". She also has her own post-sex scene with Ward in "Repairs".
- Mugged for Disguise: After General Talbot is knocked out by Coulson, Triplett dons his uniform in order to infiltrate a military base.
- In "Face the Enemy," Agent 33 knocks out Melinda and poses as her by stealing her dress and shoes.
- Mythology Gag:
- Skye tells Mike that "with great power comes... a ton of weird crap that you're not ready for!"
- Simmons asks Ward if he is excited to join them on their "journey into mystery." Journey into Mystery is a former Marvel Comics anthology title. It was also the comic that debuted The Mighty Thor, and in recent years has been brought back as a secondary Thor title.
- At the end of the pilot, Coulson quips that they have yet to "cut the head off the Centipede", which might be a reference to HYDRA's (S.H.I.E.L.D.'s rival organization) motto "Cut off one head, two more will take its place." The connection is later confirmed as it's revealed that Centipede is part of HYDRA.
- Coulson mentions cleaning up a fragment of Anti-Matter that crashed down near Miami - the Anti-Matter Universe being a sizable part of the Fantastic Four's mythos.
- Coulson's mobile command is designated S.H.I.E.L.D. 616. The primary Marvel comics universe is designated in-universe as Universe 616.
- Supervillain Graviton was created in the Marvel universe in a complex called Research City, in the Rocky Mountains. The truck at the start of the episode that provides his origin story is emblazoned "Rocky Mountain Office Supplies."
- The equation that Ward is sent to photograph in "Eye-Spy" had some sections written in Skrull.
- Akela mentions that she was held prisoner in the small village of Shang-Chi, which is named for a longtime Marvel character.
- The climax of "Girl in the Flower Dress" has Coulson confronting Chan, just to distract him as May puts two syringes into him to mess up his powers, mimicking the climax of X-Men: The Last Stand.
- According to Simmons, there is a S.H.I.E.L.D. base called the Triskelion that is even bigger than the Hub. Not only is the Triskelion taken from the Ultimate Marvel universe, but in a rare case of preemptive Continuity Nod it is also the base seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- A Freeze-Frame Bonus example in "The Hub," as when the Team is walking through the Hub itself there are numerous signs pointing out other divisions of S.H.I.E.L.D. , such as PsyOps and H.A.M.M.E.R.
- The gas station in the beginning of "Repairs" is called "Roxxon", an energy corporation in the Marvel Comics.
- In "Seeds", it is mentioned that a "Professor Vaughn" is a member of the faculty at the S.H.I.E.L.D. academy.
- In "Yes Men", Lady Sif rattles off a list of blue-skinned alien races from the Marvel Universe, including the Kree and Centaurians.
- In hindsight, the fact that Mike Peterson's first name is "Mike", much like Michael Collins, one Deathlok in the comics.
- In "End of the Beginning", there is a reference to Department H, the Canadian governmental organization responsible for the creation of Wolverine and Alpha Flight.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn", there's a brief disagreement between Garrett and Coulson as to what HYDRA's motto talks about getting cut off, a "limb" or a "head". Their original appearance had it as the former, and it was changed to the latter by the time the MCU got started.
- In "Turn, Turn, Turn", In response to Coulson asking whether The Clairvoyant really believes in the HYDRA goals of spreading death and destruction, he answers "I wouldn't Say I'm a True Believer". This is in reference to Stan Lee's famous quote from the comics editorial pages.
- Garret mentions putting away a guy named Johnny Horton, who had replaced his hands with lion paws. Johnny Horton was a C-list marvel villain named "the Griffin".
- The HYDRA base in the same episode is accessed via a barbershop chair, just like the old S.H.I.E.L.D. barbershop locations in the comics.
- Skye says they're now "Agents of nothing". Nick Fury: Agent of Nothing was the title of the oneshot comic that led into Secret Warriors, also a story about an unofficial team after S.H.I.E.L.D. gets disbanded, and revelations that S.H.I.E.L.D. were controlled by HYDRA the whole time.
- "The Only Light in Darkness":
- It is stated that Blackout got his powers from the Darkforce - a two-fer, since in this continuity it's a form of Cosmic Radiation.
- In the scene where Koenig questions the team, it's revealed that Triplett's grandfather was a Howling Commando. Upon hearing this, Koenig says that he would be "thrilled to have a grandfather that was a Howling Commando" - a reference to the fact that in the comics, Koenig was one of the Howling Commandos.
- In "Nothing Personal," Maria Hill is questioned about a "Man-Thing".
- The X-Men are Exiled from Continuity, but they still had a man in a chair with psychic powers. A quadriplegic man with his whole body immobilized, not just his legs. Still, they found later that things were more complicated than that.
- When the Absorbing Man tries to kidnap Talbot in the Season 2 premiere, he ends up with an Improvised Weapon that looks a lot like a ball and chain.
- He doesn't go by a code name like he does in the comics, but Agent Hartley does refer to him as "an absorbing man" at one point.
- Triplett's undercover identity in the Season 2 premiere as "General Jones" is likely a reference to the Howling Commandos character Gabe Jones - who, as the only African-American member of the company, is popularly believed to be Triplett's as-yet unnamed grandfather.
- While he himself is never referred to by that name, HYDRA's operations to recover Donnie Gill are referred to as "Project Blizzard" - a reference to his supervillain moniker in the comics
- HYDRA's brainwashing method is referred to as "The Faustus technique"-likely a reference to Captain America's foe Dr. Faustus.
- One of the names listed in May's cellphone is "Woo", likely in reference to Jimmy Woo, a prominent S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from the comics.
- "The Hen in the Wolfhouse":
- Bobbi Morse takes down a hallway of mooks reminiscent of Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Having a past with a fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (who even brings up her blonde hair) alludes to her relationship with Hawkeye.
- Melinda May remarks that Lance Hunter calls her ex-wife She-Devil, who ends up being Barbara Morse. In the comics, She-Devil is the moniker of Shanna, wife of Ka-Zar. It's also from a Ka-Zar story where Bobbi Morse debuted.
- Marcus Scarlotti ("Whiplash" in the comics) wields a chain weapon with a blade at the end, acting as a nod to the whip he used in the comics.
- While speculating about the hidden city in "Ye Who Enter Here", one of the guesses Trip has is "Atlantis?"
- The garrison used to access the hidden Kree /Inhuman city is called "The Devil's Sentry". In the comics, Kree Sentries are giant robots designed to protect assets to the empire.
- Those who are able to touch a Diviner are called "Worthy", which is the moniker for the 8 lieutenants of the "Old Serpent" Cul Borson.
- The Diviner contains a Terrigen Crystal which emits a shockwave of Terrigen Mist: this mist is known to be lethal to normal humans. When Trip destroyed the crystal, shards were embedded into his chest which turns him into stone. However, the mist triggered the latent powers of Skye and Raina.
- Raina's new appearance since her exposure to the Terrigen Mists kinda resembles the Ultimate Universe version of Gorgon.