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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. provides examples of the following tropes:

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    A 
  • Actor Allusion:
    • There are several episodes where Coulson said "law and order". Clark Gregg appeared for one episode in Law & Order.
    • Melinda May's mother states her agency hasn't fallen apart. She is portrayed by actress Tsai Chin, who played the undercover MI-6 agent Ling in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice (as well as meeting 007 again across a poker table as "Madame Wu" in Casino Royale (2006)). Also, they were both in The Joy Luck Club.
    • Adrianne Palicki as a butt-kicking Amazonian Beauty with an invisible airplane? Where have we seen THAT before? Plus, she travels in an invisible jet, and Dr. Randolph even refers to Bobbi as an "amazonian".
    • Fred Dryer, star of the cop show Hunter, plays a HYDRA leader who's killed by...Hunter.
    • In "One of Us" Kyle MacLachlan gets to have a cup of coffee in a diner.
    • Kirk Acevedo once again plays a Fantastic Racist Jerkass.
    • Also a Casting Gag: after Iron Chef, Mark Dacascos becomes an Inhuman with the powers of ferrokinesis. He also watches a sickly Ward/Hive eat a massive amount of meat.
    • Mallory Jansen is playing around with dark magic again.
    • John Pyper-Ferguson can blow himself up and put himself back together. He previously played a guy who kept surviving his apparent death in increasingly implausible ways in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr..
    • Zach McGowan was a famous pirate captain in Black Sails before he was hanged and reincarnated as the captain of a submarine on that show.
    • David O'Hara portrayed Alistair Fitz, who in the Framework is a high-ranking agent of HYDRA, a Nazi off-shoot. He also portrayed Albert Runcorn, who is essentially a Wizard Nazi (he even dresses like a wizarding version of Gestapo), in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.
    • When Lance Hunter reappears in Season 5, he mentions that one reason he and Bobbi aren't physically together is because she's a great distance away. This is a reference to how the reason Bobbi didn't appear is because her actress was at the time starring in a space exploration series, The Orville.
    • This is not the first time Dove Cameron has played a the child of a villain, trying to make her mother proud, except of course, she chooses evil.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Despite some characters feeling that the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron prove this trope true, it's generally averted. While it's likely that the Aida LMD who read the Darkhold might have been altered in some way, other LMD units simply behave exactly as they were programmed to.
  • Abnormal Ammo: The ICER guns, first called Night Night guns. The bullets break under the skin, releasing a toxin that temporarily paralyzes the target. The same toxin later shows up in grenades.
  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: 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 mother was abusive towards her two elder sons, Christian and Grant, and Ward's father is said to have, at the very least, turned a blind eye. Only the youngest was ever treated well by their mother. Christian in turn lashed out at Grant and their youngest brother, even throwing the youngest down the well. Grant is also said to have been properly screwed up as a child and ended up in juvie after trying to burn Christian alive. Then John Garrett got his hands on Grant and became an even more twisted father figure to the young man.
  • Acting Unnatural:
    • Simmons makes a hilariously bad attempt to act casual (coached by Skye through an earpiece) when Agent Sitwell catches her attempting to access a computer terminal without authorization in "The Hub". After first claiming to be looking for the bathroom only to be told that she is staring at a wall panel, she then attempts to compliment his head. It gets so bad that Skye has to tell her to stop talking, and Simmons defaults to shooting Sitwell with an ICER when she realizes she's not going to be able to talk him down.
    • In "T.R.A.C.K.S.," Simmons claims that the problem is she's horrible at improv, so she made up a massive fake backstory for herself and Coulson, which would be able to cover any situation. As is probably expected, she went too far in the other direction but forgot to clue Coulson in beforehand.
      Coulson: Prostitutes? Plural?
    • Coulson himself sounds rather insincere when he's pretending to be under Lorelei's control to fool Fitz. Fitz being Fitz, however, falls for it.
    • In "Nothing Personal", despite her best efforts to conceal it, Skye can't quite keep her apprehension under the surface while she is with Ward. Ward of course notices, having been trained to recognize physical cues, but she plays it off as stress from the general situation rather than her knowing that he's HYDRA.
  • 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" and "Melinda" reveal 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 having had to kill a young Inhuman girl mind-controlling the team.
    • Skye gradually became this over the course of season 1, including receiving her S.H.I.E.L.D. agent status. In season 2, she's officially become this thanks to training under May, including wearing a new uniform to cement it. Her action sequence in S2E19 "The Dirty Half Dozen" puts any doubts about her status to rest when she pulls off a May-level solo beatdown on a group of armed Hydra soldiers.
    • 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.
    • By the time of Season 3, Simmons also becomes an Action Girl - she's still the weakest of the women in the team, but that's only in relation to the One-Man Army trio that is Daisy, May, and Elena. When she gets into a fight, she holds her own admirably.
  • Action Show, Quiet Drama Scene: Just about every episode or so. Some especially good ones are Fitz and Aida's conversation in the Containment Module in 4x21, at least before things take a severe turn for the worse, and Lincoln's conversation with Hive in the Season 3 Finale as they're both waiting to die.
  • 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.
    • Bobbi Morse is revealed to be Hunter's ex-wife with whom he still has a combative, flirtatious, on-again, off-again relationship. In the comics she had this relationship with Hawkeye. Presumably since there are no plans for Jeremy Renner to ever play the character on the show, they gave the back story to Hunter instead.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Mark Scarlotti has his name changed to Marcus Scarlotti.
    • ExTechOp is the SHIELD program responsible for Garrett and Deathlok. In the MCU, it's renamed Cybertek and is its own organization.
    • Daisy Johnson was known as "Skye" for the first two seasons. Her parents' names were also modified to accommodate the changes to her backstory.
    • Originally, Melinda May was known as Agent Althea Rice. When Ming-Na Wen was cast in the role, they changed the name to avoid naming an Asian character 'Rice'.
    • Slingshot has her real name changed from Yo-Yo Rodriguez to Elena Rodriguez, probably because the former would have sounded silly in live-action. The original name then becomes her new Code Name, although Slingshot was used for the title of her spinoff web mini-series.
  • 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 repeatedly fails to get Thor to drink her love potions and has the brilliant idea of challenging a dragon to a contest of wills.
  • 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 S.H.I.E.L.D. put him down at the end of "Making Friends and Influencing People" is so HYDRA wouldn't be able to use him again.
    • The second season also has Cal, a.k.a. Calvin Zabo, better known as Mister Hyde. In the comics he was just a selfish crook, 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 he regrets that the formula he developed to give himself super strength has also affected his mind. He's still a savage killer, but one with a very sympathetic backstory behind such. It also turns out that his wife is actually still alive and the true Big Bad of Season Two, who keeps her husband under her thumb until he pulls a last minute redemption by choosing to kill her to save their daughter, Skye/Daisy.
  • 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.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "4,722" hours is almost entirely a one-woman show following Jemma's struggles to survive alone on Maveth, at least until she meets Will Daniels, at which point it becomes a two-person show.
    • "Rewind" follows Fitz and Hunter as they seek to figure out what's happened to the team when Fitz is left behind on present-day Earth after the rest of the team is transported into the future.
  • Adorkable: All of the ongoing characters fit this trope in one way or the other like 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 accuses 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.
    • Daisy Johnson's age is generally given as 19 in the comics (which is why it was so impressive that she became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. 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, it's 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:
    • When Grant Ward's older brother Christian is introduced in season 2, he claims that all of Grant's stories are made-up and paints Grant as a psychopath. It's left open to interpretation which of them is lying, as Grant is saying much the same thing in this very scene to Skye. In "The Things We Bury", Christian is revealed to be the abusive bully Grant claimed him to be, though Grant himself is hardly well-adjusted.
    • Mack and Bobbi have some secret 'other thing' they're working on that they're keeping to themselves, despite Hunter's best attempts to figure it out. "One of Us" reveals that they're working for a secret, rival branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. that wants Fury's Toolkit for themselves.
  • Ancestral Weapon: Gonzales has in his possession a pistol which used to belong to his grandfather and was used in combat in the Second World War. He uses it in a Kill Me Now, or Forever Stay Your Hand ploy with Agent May, prior to offering her a seat on "real" S.H.I.E.L.D.'s board.
  • Ancient Astronauts: As established in the rest of the MCU, Earth has been visited many times by aliens in ancient times, with two cases being relevant to the plot of the show:
    • The Asgardians, who were considered gods and left some of their technology lying around.
    • The Kree visited the planet and carried out experiments to genetically engineer humans into weapons for their war.
    • Enoch states that he's been observing humanity for 32,000 years.
  • 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.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • 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.
    • 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. "What They Become" reveals that she's an Inhuman who wants to unlock her powers, though she immediately regrets the result.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Simmons when she shoots Agent Sitwell with the Night-Night gun.
    • May of all people gets to do this when she is about to knock out a bank manager, although she doesn't mange to sound very sincere.
  • 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?
    Skye: No.
    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.
      Skye: Not long ago, I would have dumped ESP in the aliens-and-portals-are-for-crazy-people pile, but now...
      Coulson: Psychic powers are a myth.
      Skye: So was Thor.
    • The Inhumans are guilty of this, too. Jiaying has her doubts that Raina is precognitive, despite living in an entire community of superhumans and being ageless herself. She justifies this by citing the fact that no Inhuman prior has demonstrated such a skill, only for the teleporter Gordon to counter that his gift is also unique.
    • Likewise, Lincoln is dismissive of the hypothesis that Lash could switch forms, solely on basis that "no Inhuman has ever done that before," seemingly forgetting that he knew at least two Inhumans with unique gifts a year ago.
    • 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 a top-down representation of an ancient Kree city on Earth, the purpose of which is to release Terrigen mists to activate latent Inhuman powers.
  • 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."
      • In the Season 5 finale, knowing he's dying and won't have much time left, Coulson and May leave S.H.I.E.L.D. to spend their last few days together on Tahiti — the real one. After walking off the Zephyr for what is seemingly the last time, Phil tells May, "It is pretty magical."
    • Promotional materials for the show that have aired since episode 10 have used the term "It's all connected".
    • "Closure", spoken by Ward several times late in season 2.
    • The multi-season Inhumans storyline has variants of "what they become."
      • Raina breathlessly asks the Clairvoyant "What will I become?"
      • The episode where Raina finally gets into the temple with Daisy is titled "What They Become," and Raina puts her spin on the line near the end.
        Raina: Now we finally get to find out what we become!
      • In the episode immediately after, when Raina gets a chance to see her reflection.
      • When some of the original Kree of the Inhumans experiments are summoned back to Earth, right before one kills Alisha's duplicate.
        Alisha: You should be proud of what we've become.
    • "Wake up" during the Framework storyline.
    • "A life spent, a life earned," is said quite a few times at various points in the Lighthouse during season 5, as is "vacancy."
    • The phrase "I worked myself to the bone" is notably spoken by different villains in both Seasons 4 and 5.
    • The title "Destroyer of Worlds" is passed around in reference to several main characters throughout Season 5, first being given to Daisy and then to Ruby before finally settling on the real culprit, Talbot.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: The 0-8-4 turns out to be a piece of technology made by HYDRA agents who fled to Peru after World War II.
  • Artifact Title: Defied; Phil Coulson and his team are working to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. after its destruction in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Cal's formula includes several drugs, steroids as well as such oddities as gorilla testosterone and peppermint.
  • 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 archaeologist 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 archaeologist 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.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Well into the range of character error, Simmons claims "radiocarbon 14 dates some of these trees at 9000 years old." There's a perfectly good way to determine how old a tree is, but carbon dating isn't it. Carbon dating only works if you're looking for the answer to "How long ago did that die?"
    • But being a biochemist, she definitely should know better. In addition, the other proposed method, dendrochronology, is equally inadequate for the situation. On a freshly cut tree, you can just count the rings, simple as that.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Eliot Randolf claimed that he was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. In actual sense, to be canonized, one must be seen dead and then a long series of investigation is then done in order for him to be acknowledged if he is worthy or not. A detailed explanation can be seen here.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Subverted with Ward in Season 2 as he thinks he's on the way to becoming this, oblivious to the fact no one on the team is going to forgive him for his actions.
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    B 
  • Back from the Dead: Coulson, obviously. Though he was supposedly killed by Loki in The Avengers, he claims that it was only for 40 seconds (Hill says he likes to inflate the number). Over the course of the first season, it's revealed that it's rather more complicated than that. He was dead for days, and a serum derived from a deceased Kree was used to bring him back. On top of that, he was originally in charge of the project, and tested it on numerous other agents, only to shelve it when the psychological side effects drove them all mad.
  • 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.
    • And from "S.O.S.":
      Mack: You're Gordon, right?
      Gordon: And you are...?
      Mack: I'm the guy who kills Gordon.
  • Badass Bookworm:
    • Both Fitz and Simmons eventually grow into this in the second season, with Simmons becoming a Guile Hero who takes down foes while pretending to be a naive ditz, and Fitz charges into battles without hesitation.
    • Fitz gets bonus points for taking out a dangerous Inhuman enemy with a cloaked handgun.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Jeffrey Mace is quite adept when it comes to dealing with the officials and paperwork that is part of S.H.I.E.L.D. He also happens to be super strong and super tough. Of course, that's all just for show, as his super strength and toughness are derived from a serum based off of Cal's serum. Without said serum, Mace is essentially ineffective.
  • Badass Family: The Koenig Siblings are all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (except for Thurston) 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. Although, Coulson arguably no longer qualifies after getting a prosthetic hand after Season 2 that gradually incorporates more gadgets as time goes on. 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 — they usually manage to sacrifice one an episode as soon as they're no longer immediately useful or have failed in some manner. 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 expend any effort saving her.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Jiaying has seemingly good powers, at the same time as her darker motives are revealed, the source of her powers is also revealed to be achieved by sucking the life out of other humans.
  • 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.
    • In "What If", Daisy wakes up in the Framework world where she's in a relationship with Ward, who apparently an openly loyal HYDRA agent. Turns out Ward is still a traitor...it's just that in this reality, he's [a traitor to HYDRA.
    • The denouement of "The End" has a scene of the crew gathering together for a solemn memorial ceremony, with Leopold notably absent. Coulson gets choked up while talking about how he "never got to say goodbye", and we realize the memorial is actually for himself, and not Fitz, whose past self is still out in space somewhere with Enoch.
  • Ban on A.I.: In season 4, it's revealed that in the aftermath of the events from Avengers: Age of Ultron, Artificial Intelligence has been declared illegal. The same season resolves around Radcliffe and his creation Aida, who naturally rebels against her creator, again proving why this law exists.
  • 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 Ward 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 anything even remotely sharp. Fitz has developed quite bit of stubble himself, possibly due to the brain damage he suffered causing him to forget things like shaving.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The Framework was designed to remove a person's greatest regret in life, and then alter history accordingly. This leads to everything in the Framework world going straight to Hell.
    • Coulson: His biggest regret was that joining S.H.I.E.L.D. prevented him from having an ordinary life. In the Framework, he turned down Nick Fury's offer and is now a high school teacher who doesn't even care that HYDRA is taking one of his students. He even tells the kid not to forget his bag, since he's not coming back.
    • May: Her biggest regret was killing Katya in Bahrain. In the Framework, she didn't kill her. As a result, Katya was sent to the US where she caused an incident that killed over 100 people, mostly students. This allowed HYDRA to easily take over by stoking people's Fantastic Racism against Inhumans and presenting themselves as the best solution to the problem. Meanwhile, May now has an even bigger regret in not killing Katya since she could have prevented those 100 deaths by doing so and is now an Inhuman-hunting Knight Templar loyally serving HYDRA.
    • Fitz: His greatest regret was having a lousy relationship with his father, though he acknowledges that this is a good thing since his father was a gigantic dick. In the Framework, he was raised solely by his father, and grew up to be just as big of a dick. He is now the Number Two in HYDRA, and a sadistic Mad Scientist who performs cruel experiments on Inhumans.
    • Mace: The only aversion to the trope whose regret was truly corrected. His greatest regret was that he was never the hero that he pretended to be. In the Framework, he leads La Résistance against HYDRA, is a real Inhuman, and really does save people (albeit at the cost of his own life).
  • 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. (Though this takes on a bittersweet aspect in retrospect after we learn exactly how she got the nickname.)
  • Beware the Nice Ones
    • Good-natured hacker Skye. By the end of Season 2 not only does she gain arguably the most dangerous set of superpowers SHIELD has so far encountered — enough to concern Asgardians and Kree — but she also becomes a walking embodiment of It Gets Easier as she cold-bloodedly kills a dozen HYDRA mooks. Indeed, as of the end of Season 2, she has one of the largest confirmed on-screen body counts of any character in the series, rivaling even May.
      • As of Season 5, she is suspected of having destroyed Earth itself with her powers.
    • Meek and mild Simmons, who crosses the line when she attempts to murder Ward after spending most of the season considering ways to kill inhumans.
    • Bobbi and Lance seem to be good-natured people. Unless you're HYDRA. Then you're dead. And they'll do so without so much as losing a beat in an argument with each other.
  • The Big Bad Shuffle: The show loves to play with this. Sometimes it throws a Big-Bad Ensemble at us, sometimes it moves from A to B to C, sometimes it's one Big Bad the whole time but we're confused about who it is...
    • 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, and Centipede is a faction of HYDRA.
    • Season 2 uses a Big-Bad Ensemble of rotating Arc Villains. The first half of Season 2 starts with Daniel Whitehall, a HYDRA leader who wants to weaponize the Obelisk and destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. The second half of season 2 not only replaces Whitehall with Dr. List as the major HYDRA threat, it introduces Robert Gonzales as the leader of a second branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. The other S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to take control away from Coulson, who they distrust for his secretive leadership and exposure to alien influence. Throughout all this, Grant Ward and Cal aka "the Doctor" complicate the situation as Wild Cards. The final 3 episodes turn Jiaying, the leader of the Inhumans in Afterlife, into one by starting a war with Coulson's and Gonzales's unified S.H.I.E.L.D. after killing Gonzales and pulling a Wounded Gazelle Gambit.
    • Season 3's initial Big-Bad Ensemble is Lash, Grant Ward, and Rosalind Price. It eventually becomes Gideon Malick and Ward as a Big Bad Duumvirate aiming to bring the mysterious Inhuman known as "It" back to earth. Following Ward's death, "It" (later revealed to be the MCU version of "Hive") possesses his corpse and returns to Earth, thus properly stepping into the Big Bad role for the rest of the season .
    • Season 4 sees the show once again using the Big-Bad Ensemble Arc Villain approach. The Ghost Rider storyline appears to have Dr. Lucy Bauer as its primary antagonist, however she is killed off and Eli Morrow is revealed as the true villain of that part of the show note . Meanwhile, the Watchdog's new mysterious benefactor — The Superior — has effectively become the Big Bad of that organization and Aida is merely the Dragon-in-Chief to her creator Dr. Holden Radcliffe for the LMD story. The Watchdogs and Radcliffe & Aida form a Villain Team-Up, but ultimately Aida kills Radcliffe and makes the Watchdogs' leader her personal cybernetic assistant, making Aida the true Big Bad.
    • Season 5 starts with Kasius as the Arc Villain. His brother Faulnak tries to make a name for himself too, but ultimately doesn't get very far. After returning to the present, there is a Big Bad Shuffle between General Hale, then Qovas, and then finally Talbot himself, with Taryan being an Overarching Villain for the entire season.
  • 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.
    • In season 3, Lash is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s on-call therapist Andrew Garner.
  • 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.
    • Ghost Rider gets one of these when he saved Daisy and Simmons from James. He also has an even bigger one in the season finale when he returns from hell and proceeds to fight Aida and her LM Ds, causing the former to escape in terror and the latter to be destroyed. He wasn't actually saving anyone at that point, but his return provided Coulson's team with the only way they could defeat Aida.
  • The Big Guy: Ward was trained to be "the whole solution" in a combat situation, be it eliminating hostiles or disarming bombs. He is Team Coulson's heavy hitter. Triplett also serves in this capacity after Ward is outed as a mole.
  • Big "NO!": In the season 1 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).
    • In the season 2 mid-season finale, Triplett does one when he sees Skye turned to stone by the Diviner in the Kree City and thinks she's died. He doesn't know, however that she's actually undergoing Terragenesis.
  • 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. Her third son, Thomas, was treated well because she liked him. 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 Garrett took him under his wing and corrupted him. Christian went on to be a respected senator. Grant kills all three of them in Season 2, though Thomas goes unmentioned. Season 3 finally brings in Thomas, who actually grew up to be a well-adjusted adult and helps S.H.I.E.L.D. lure Grant into a trap.
  • 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.
    • From Season 2, Jiaying, whose supportive demeanor hides a bloodthirsty Determinator with a touch of Fantastic Racism.
  • 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, is derived from the corpse of a long-dead Kree.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Season 2 can be like this, particularly in the second half. There are many different factions running around, and most of them are neither fully good nor fully evil, including Team Coulson. Individual characters may vary widely across the hero/villain spectrum within the span of only a few episodes. No faction is "purely good", and the only purely evil faction is HYDRA.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration:
    • The third episode has Skye infiltrating a party to which she managed to wrangle her own invitation (with the intention of dropping a bug that'll disarm the security system momentarily and allow some more combat orientated agents in).
    • In "Face My Enemy", Coulson and May pose as husband and wife to infiltrate a black-tie fundraiser where the star item is a painting with alien writing on the back.
  • 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".
  • Blink And You Miss It: In 0-8-4 Fitz-Simmons take a photo with the temple.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: In "The Things We Bury" the vivisection of Skye's mother by Whitehall is shown in abundant and gory detail.
    • Season 5 has really pushed the show's level of violence to a new level, and the Lighthouse pod has some of the most gruesome violence in the MCU outside of the Netflix shows like Daredevil and The Punisher. We get heads chopped off by Razor Floss, throats slit, faces torn open by the Roaches, numerous blood sprays when people get shot, and eyes ripped out, just to name a few. Although a lot of these are less sickening than you might expect thanks to the unspoken sci-fi "blood and gore is less impactful when it's not red or human" rule, the mid-season finale has Kasius slit Future Elena's throat completely on screen, and it's bloody as you would expect.
  • 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". Being exposed to the Terrigen mists causes Raina to sprout quills all over her body, in addition to giving her a generally reptillian appearance. She later says that she cuts herself every time she moves and her insides feel like gravel, possibly meaning she even has quills on the inside. Ouch.
  • Book-Ends: In the season 2 premiere, Hunter was forced to amputate Hartley's arm after she touched the Diviner and it began turning her to stone. In the season 2 finale, after Coulson catches one of the synthesized Terrigen crystals to keep it from shattering and killing everyone in the room, Mack cuts off his hand with a fire axe to save his life.
    • The series also starts off with Skye's hacker group known as The Rising Tide being a very minor problem. Some of the last lines in the Season 2 finale have Skye and Coulson joke about how their new problems are... rising like a tide, though this time it's referring to far more dangerous things.
    • With the Season 5 finale being written as a Series Fauxnale, the series both begins and ends with Tahiti.
  • Bloodless Carnage:
    • While the show isn't shy about showing violence and the resulting aftermath in season 1, 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.
    • In season 2 and 3, it's averted such as in "Aftershocks" where there's real guns used and even a headshot.
    • It's fully gone by the start of by season 4 with the introduction of Ghost Rider; what he does to the Aryan Brotherhood thugs is nasty.
  • 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 introduces 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, andWard 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. Happened again mentally in Season 4 after he came out of the Framework.
  • 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.
    • Season 4 has it happen again in the time between it and Season 3 on orders of the new Director.
  • 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.
    • Mack spends all of Season 3 repeatedly wishing for a Shotgun-Axe. He finally gets and uses one during the season finalé.
  • 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 the identity of The Mole.
  • Buffy Speak:
    • Miles talking to Skye in Episode 5:
      Miles: I'll get us a suite... at... the fancy place that has suites.
    • Later in "The Well":
      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!
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: When Coulson meets the big villain of season 4, he learns the man's obsession with him is partly fueled due to the events of a mission Coulson went on early in his career. While Coulson does have some memories of the mission, he has no idea who the guy himself is, or even what the object was they went there for, which his comrades were tortured and executed for failing to protect.
    Coulson: As far as I'm concerned, you're just another Red Shirt, like so many others who tried to stop me from saving the world. So, cool original story, bro. But this means nothing to me.

    C 
  • 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. He returns in the first season finale.
    • Episode 13 featured the inevitable Stan Lee cameo.
    • William Sadler has a brief cameo in "Laws of Nature", reprising his role as President Matthew Ellis from Iron Man 3.
  • Came Back Wrong: It's hinted as the first season progresses that Coulson's resurrection is a little more complicated than it appears. It's revealed that a healing serum derived from an alien was used to revive him, but as a consequence he was driven mad by compulsions to reproduce memories of markings transferred genetically through the serum. His memories were wiped to fix the problem, but being exposed to the symbols causes a relapse. Thankfully, figuring out what they mean takes care of that problem.
  • Canon Character All Along:
    • Skye. Throughout the first season, she's a hacker with a mysterious background. At the beginning of the second season, the team starts suspecting she may have alien origin. It isn't until the tenth episode that it's revealed that she is actually Daisy Johnson/Quake, a well known S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from the comics.
    • Andrew Garner, May's husband, is nothing more that a regular psychoanalyst and professor — until at some point between seasons 2 and 3 he became an Inhuman, a canon supervillain named Lash.
  • 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 is technically is already in 616, even before the show started. Ward eventually did make the jump to the comics, but since this happened long after he was revealed to be a HYDRA agent on the show, he was introduced as a baddie right from the start.
  • Cartwright Curse: The team sure goes through a lot of love interests, with the most common cause of turnover being Ward and/or Hive. As of the end of season 3:
    • Skye/Daisy: Miles (Dumped when she learned that he compromised a classified data stream to a HYDRA subsidiary for money, getting innocent people killed), Ward (Rejected when she learned he was Evil All Along, later killed and possessed by Hive), and Lincoln (Heroic Sacrifice stopping Hive). Season 4 hints she may have started having a thing with Robbie Reyes, the Ghost Rider himself, so hers may be coming to an end...if they do become an Official Couple.
    • May: Ward (See above) and Andrew (Turned into Lash, later killed by follower of Hive).
    • Coulson: Audrey (Had to leave her after his death in the movies), Rosalind (Murdered by Ward).
    • Simmons: Will (Killed by Hive), Fitz (In surprisingly good condition considering everyone else on this list).
  • Casting Gag:
    • This isn't Jamie Harris' first time playing a teleporter.
    • In Season 4's "Identity and Change", Amy mentioning her dad is a reference to the fact that the actress, Stella Frances Gregg, is the daughter of Clark Gregg.
    • Patrick Warburton plays the video host for the Lighthouse, instructing visitors on how to proceed. This is not the first time he has provided proper video instructions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvEl6_R-sD8
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: 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.
  • Ceiling Corpse: This is how Skye discovers Eric Koenig's body and realizes that Ward is a traitor; the latter stashed the body on the ceiling and it dripped on her.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
  • 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.
    • The episode "T.R.A.C.K.S." 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.
    • "Aftershocks" lampshades this with Skye remarking that "We'll laugh a lot less" in the future.
  • 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 captured by Fitz and Ward in "The Hub" returns in "Turn, Turn, Turn". Agent Hand's men use it to take out the guns on The Bus. It shows up yet again in "Heavy is the Head" where it's used to destabilize Creel's abilities long enough for the Obelisk's effects to petrify him.
    • 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 the HYDRA moles.
    • Midway through in Season Two, it's revealed that Bobbi and Mack are part of a secret branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. that consider themselves to be the real S.H.I.E.L.D. They want the Toolbox Fury gave Coulson, presumably since it has all the hidden S.H.I.E.L.D. assets that survived the collapse. Their justification is that Coulson's exposure to the GH serum has compromised his judgement, in addition to the fact that his leadership style is too similar to Fury's, who they blame for allowing the conditions which enabled HYDRA to fester.
  • 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 because they are his personal enforcers instead of grunts like the mass produced super soldiers.
  • 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: With most of the major characters, this trope doesn't apply: they are either adaptions of comic book characters with no Secret Identity (Hill, Hand, Talbot, Fury), or complete Canon Foreigners (the main cast, Coulson included). With characters who do have a codename in the comics, this trope is usually played straight, but sometimes also averted.
    • Franklin Hall, Donnie Gill and Marcus Daniels have not been called Graviton, Blizzard or Blackout.
      • It takes a hell of a long time, but the Graviton name is eventually used in Season 5. By Talbot, who is part of a Hive Mind including Franklin Hall and others.
    • Averted with Deathlok. Even though it's just the name of the super-soldier project that created him, everyone calls him by it.
    • 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", etc.
    • Averted with the 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 absorbing man as a one-off gag.
      • As with Franklin Hall, Creel technically gets a codename in Season 5...as part of the entity that forms Graviton.
    • Justified with Bobbi Morse: unlike her comic book counterpart, she's not a superhero nor a member of the Avengers, just a regular agent, so there's no reason for her to have a codename. Ultimately played with though as advertisements do refer to her as Mockingbird, but it's not used in-universe yet.
    • In the second season it's revealed that The Doctor/Cal is not in fact a canon foreigner, but his codename in the comics (Mister Hyde) hasn't been used yet.
    • Daisy Johnson isn't called "Quake" for 1.5 seasons. Then she becomes quite well known for that name indeed.
    • Averted with Ghost Rider, who was actually called as such several times in season 4 by people who only know him as an urban legend.
  • Commuting on a Bus: The season 4 finale hints that this will be Ghost Rider's role if he returns in season 5, as he clearly does not fit into S.H.I.E.L.D's organizational structure, what with being a vigilante and having to fight hell's battles and all, but will likely lend a hand when necessary.
  • 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.
    • Aida, who was an artificial intelligence in the Squadron Supreme comics, develops many of Alkhema's traits in the second half of season four. Most notably her desire to wipe out humanity, upgrade herself occasionally and create robotic duplicates of various protagonists. She also becomes the Framework's version of Madame Hydra.
    • The show's version of Graviton, by virtue of being a Hive Mind, is a combination of his comic book self, Franklin Hall, fellow comics characters Glenn Talbot and Carl Creel, and Canon Foreigner Ian Quinn.
  • 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.
    • Agents Morse and Mack pick it up halfway through Season 2, when they are revealed to be spying on Coulson and scheming to take Fury's "toolbox" to another branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mack even chokes Hunter into unconsciousness when the latter starts asking too many questions. Hunter mocks the situation by asking the "Real S.H.I.E.L.D." never bothered to talk to Coulson.
    • Mack and Simmons developing Fantastic Racism for gifted people right as Skye is transformed into an Inhuman. Despite (or perhaps because of) the reasons for their change in attitude being mostly unrelated, it still comes across as the writers trying to manufacture conflict. Simmons in particular inspires of a lot of debate as to whether the change was a logical progression of her character or not.
    • Coulson's "Theta Protocol" a secret project he'd been working on without any of his team's knowledge which turns out to be a Helicarrier he was repairing for use in the event of a world-threatening emergency. It's the source of much suspicion about Coulson from Gonzales' faction, but as soon as they find out what it is most of them are immediately okay with it. Presumably he kept it a secret from his own team because Theta Protocol was a project for Nick Fury, who they thought was dead.
  • 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 "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: Has its own page.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: Skye's search for her birth parents turned up a heavily redacted document that indicates that the person who turned her over to the child welfare system when she was an infant was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Skye joins S.H.I.E.L.D. in an effort to get access to the unredacted document.
  • Cool Car: Lola, Coulson's 1962 C1 series Corvette convertible. She's outfitted with Stark hover tech and is weaponized.
  • 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.
    • Turned Up to Eleven by the appearance of Zephyr One. Coulson gushes about "how much I love my new toy".
  • 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.
  • Crapsack World: The Framework, as a result of Aida being Literal-Minded. She was told to erase one regret for each person that entered it. Instead of removing the circumstances that caused that regret, they made different decisions in the same exact scenarios. May not killing the Inhuman girl in Bahrain resulted in her using her powers to kill even more people. This caused even more widespread hatred of Inhumans and allowed HYDRA to seize control.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • 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.
    • In "The Ghost", Mack's cut-off description of one of Ghost Rider's kills implies that the Rider ripped out a Neo-Nazi's spine in a reverse Ass Shove.
  • Crying Wolf: Happens to Raina in "Scars". She's granted a vision of Afterlife being destroyed by S.H.I.E.L.D. following a disastrous meeting between Jiaying and a S.H.I.E.L.D. representative. When she attempts to warn Gordon, she suggests she attend the meeting in Jiaying's place in an attempt to subvert the vision, but after both Skye and Cal vouch for Raina's Manipulative Bitch tendencies he assumes she's trying to usurp power from Jiaying and has her imprisoned. Unfortunately Raina was actually telling the truth this time. Jiaying goes to the meeting and single-handedly starts a war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans by murdering Gonzales and then shooting herself to pretend it was in self defense.
  • Curb-Stomp Cushion: Ruby vs. Carl Creel in "Inside Voices". She dodges almost every single one of his blows while getting off some pretty strong hits of her own...and does almost no damage to him whatsoever because a fully grown man who's built like a tank is going to take very little injury from a 90-pound teenage girl, no matter how skilled she is, and that's without him literally being Made of Iron.
    D 
  • 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.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Coulson gives Daisy one of these when she's reluctant to face Graviton!Talbot alone.
    Coulson: Now you find the strength in your heart to appeal to his good nature. And if you can't, then you find the strength in your arms to beat his ass senseless.
  • 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 a deranged child who was psychically controlling others to inflict pain on her behalf. The experience resulted in her divorce and traumatized her from ever wanting to have children of her own, and is reminded of the event each time her nickname is spoken.
    • 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.
    • Season 2 itself as a whole kicks Cerebus Syndrome into high gear because it lacks the more lighthearted and episodic plots of season 1 and thus more more room for drama.
    • Season 4 kicks it up several notches. On the content alone, just the first episode approaches levels of violence only previously seen on the Netflix shows. That's nothing to say of the overall story and atmosphere, feeling much darker and grim; this is most noticeable around halfway through the season when the heroes are placed in seemingly impossible-to-break-free nightmarish scenarios that feel far more oppressive than anything they've faced on the series up until that point. Clark Gregg and the writers have said the new, later time slot for Season 4 means that they'll be able to get away with darker stories that they couldn't have done in the first three seasons.
    • Season 5 is even darker than Season 4. Within the first twenty minutes of the episode, a character is killed in an incredibly gruesome way with the rest of the episode coming off akin to a horror movie. The first half of the season deals with a dystopian Bad Future where the Earth has been destroyed, and the second half deals with trying to prevent this apocalypse, seemingly caused by Daisy, from ever taking place in the present, while seemingly failing at every turn to stop the unfolding events at hand, thus seemingly confirming Fitz's belief that You Can't Fight Fate. It goes From Bad to Worse when they realize Coulson is dying and that it's unlikely this can be prevented as he doesn't want to earn a "third chance", and if that still weren't grimdark enough, by the end of the season the show makes explicit references to Avengers: Infinity War, which as many viewers know will ultimately result in half of the universe's population spontaneously fading into ash. By this season, Agents Of SHIELD may just be the darkest entry in the entire MCU.
  • 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.
    • 4722 Hours is a stellar example, where the entire episode is Jemma explaining to Fitz what happened to her after she was swallowed by the monolith. She was stranded in a "blue planet" for six months and found companionship with another stranded human, a NASA astronaut named Will. He's also the reason why Jemma wanted to go back to the portal.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Crossing off" is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s favored terminology. This term is used in "The Team" and the same episode also averts the trope by having Mack directly use the word "kill" to describe what S.H.I.E.L.D. agents occasionally have to do.
  • 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.
  • Death World: The planet the Kree Monolith sends people to once supported an advance civilization, but by the time of the series it's a barren wasteland of a desert, with the strong implication that Hive himself is responsible for this. The planet is eventually named "Maveth", which is Hebrew for "Death".
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: This article makes a case for Grant Ward serving as a deconstruction of a particular type of Anti-Hero, by showing that the pain of his past life does not justify him taking it out on others and making it clear that everything is not about him. Since the end of season two, he's also a deconstruction of both Yandere (his revenge for Agent 33's death is really more about him) and Stalker with a Crush.
  • 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."
  • Deuteragonist: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is considered Couslon's show, but Daisy's story is important and drove the plot and Driving Question for a season and a half. A case could be made for May and Ward splitting tritagonist duties.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Fitz, of all people, in Season 3, Episode 10, "Maveth." He kills the Hive-possessed Will with a flare gun. In Hive's defense, Worf Had the Flu.
  • 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". It's used as a blanket term for any form of enhanced human, regardless of the source. In "One of Us", Simmons suggests expanding the definition to differentiate between those with artificial enhancements and those whose powers are genetic. By season three, "inhuman" is also used and for all intents and purposes means the same as "mutant".
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The series has a habit of doing this Once a Season.
    • In the first season, the Centipede Group serve as recurring villains until Agent Garrett, Agent Ward and HYDRA are revealed as the true antagonists in the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
    • The second season begins with Daniel Whitehall, HYDRA and Calvin Zabo as the prime adversaries of Coulson and his team, before they are subsumed by Jiaying and her Inhuman allies.
    • The third season starts with Ward and HYDRA on one side and Rosalind Price and the ATCU on the other, before the ATCU is subordinated to S.H.I.E.L.D. and first Malick and then Hive take over the leadership of HYDRA.
    • The fourth season has two, as it kicks off with a plot where Lucy and her ghostly cohorts are driving a nefarious plot over the Darkhold, Jeffrey Mace is an overly micromanaging new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Robbie Reyes rampages as Ghost Rider. Partway into the season, Reyes' uncle Eli Morrow is revealed as the true seeker (and now the wielder) of the Darkhold's power, but he dies two episodes later.. Going into the LMD arc, it appears that Senator Nadeer is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s newest foe as the Watchdog's patron and leader of the Inhuman hunt. Then she dies unceremoniously in an explosion and the focus shifts to Anton Invanov, The Superior, and true leader of the Watchdogs. Then he is Demoted to Dragon by Aida who has also (kinda-sorta)killed her creator, Holden Radcliff.
  • 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.
    • The last episodes of the third season mention many times that the powers of the Inhumans are not random, that they are designed with a purpose, even if that purpose is never clear. Did anyone said "Intelligent design"?
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male:
    • Subverted/played with concerning Grant Ward. His mother was extremely abusive towards him and his brother Christian, which apparently motivated Christian's own abusive tendencies. Despite that, Grant himself doesn't mention it much and instead focuses more on his brother's abuse, but given he tried to kill his whole family as it were, and the possibility that Christian's abuse was fabricated, it's entirely possible he didn't bring it up much because he knows he'd get more sympathy if the 'bad guy' was his brother. Saying that, it's still treated as horrible and she still gets vilified.
    • Averted, played with, and possibly inverted by Bobbi and Lance. Bobbi has tendencies towards emotional abuse towards Lance as a result of her spy work, frequently lying to him, and is implied to have done some horrible things, least of apparently setting all his belongings on fire. However, this is given a negative view and Lance is treated sympathetically for it. It's played with in that his complaints about it are sometimes played for comedy, such as him calling her "a demonic hellbeast". It's inverted with how he himself isn't too much better given he's very verbally abusive, slightly emotionally abusive (in his case, frequently guilt-tripping her), and is implied to have done some pretty shitty stuff himself, yet he's not treated as negatively. In general, they're both incredibly dysfunctional and self-destructive as a couple, but Bobbi isn't treated like a saint and is given quite a lot of blame for the relationship.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male:
    • Played straight when Ward is raped on-screen by Lorelei, a female Asgardian who can take control of men with her voice. Ward is forced to have sex with her against his will, and afterwards the show treats it as infidelity on his part. Topped with victim-shaming when another character afterwards remarks, "all men are weak" note  whilst the women beside her nod in agreement. Doubles as Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi due to Lorelei's mind-control powers.
    • Inverted, somewhat, with his making rape threats towards Skye/Daisy when she rejects him. Though Ward is treated as a villain, it is for reasons other than/in addition to this. He's never called on his sexual abuse towards these women.
    • Averted with AIDA/Madame Hydra and Fitz. While inside, Radcliffe angrily accosts her for brainwashing Fitz into being her lover/attack dog, and once out of the Framework, Fitz is noticeably uncomfortable every time she talks about their romantic entanglements in the Framework, and while he struggles with the fact he did feel love for her in the Framework and empathises with her belief that she only did these things because of Radcliffe, the second he makes it clear he'd pick Jemma over her she snaps and tries to force herself on him. The scene is treated seriously and after he's saved, he's clearly disturbed by it.
  • 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 S.H.I.E.L.D. after HYDRA killed her mother and everyone else in their community that they could find. The S.H.I.E.L.D. 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 S.H.I.E.L.D. 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."
    • In "The Dirty Half Dozen," knowing what he knows, Ward's reaction to seeing Skye use her powers for the first time on a HYDRA agent during battle is this too.
    E 
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • In its first appearance in the season 2 premiere "Shadows", the Obelisk takes a considerable amount of time to petrify Hartley, enough that her team is able to engage in a fairly lengthy escape sequence yet still have time to amputate the affected limb in time to save her. In subsequent appearances, the Obelisk is shown to petrify its victims in under a minute.
    • 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.
    • Season 1 had the most overall connection with the MCU as a whole, having numerous cameos and being directly affected by the events from the movies. The shows gradually detached itself from the events of the films since then, only mentioning them in passing at best.
  • 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.
    Coulson: Sorry, that corner was really dark, and I couldn't help myself. [beat] I think there's a bulb out.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Ward and May each get their turn swinging the Berserker staff in "The Well".
  • Enfant Terrible: The episode "Melinda" has a "gifted" who turns out to be a young girl who "leeches" emotions, and can Mind Rape anyone she touches, turning them into thralls. She is also completely insane.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Ivanov explains why he's been so dedicated to taking SHIELD down: He's convinced that Coulson has been giving out super-powers and hunting alien beings as part of his plot to weaken Earth for a full-scale alien invasion. Mace openly scoffs at the idea but Ivanov defends himself on his "logic" of how else could Coulson be connected to so many super-powered events unless he was somehow behind them all?
  • Episode on a Plane: "Repairs" is Demons on a Plane.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The modern-day version of HYDRA is shown to be multiracial and its members generally do not consider themselves Nazis.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Whitehall ends up on the receiving end, as no less than two villains have opened up about how they really feel about him following his death.
  • 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. The fact that nearly every other character in the show has been referring to the two of them collectively by their Portmanteau Couple Name since the first episode should be another dead giveaway.
    • In "Wake Up Call", Yo-Yo says this of Coulson and May. Radcliffe is of a similar opinion, which is why he replaced May with an LMD, so she would get close to Coulson and learn the location of the Darkhold.
  • 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: [about 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.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: HYDRA is like this.
    • Midway through the second season, Coulson manages to kill a prominent HYDRA leader. The other members of his regional council are well aware of this trope, however, and set up a peaceful transfer of power to avert it. Then Coulson exploits their backstabbing tendencies to get them to play it straight and take one another out before sweeping in to mop up whoever's left; leaving the void empty for at least the time being.
    • Another void is made when Baron von Strucker, having previously decided to sacrifice HYDRA cells in order to distract from his own activities, ends up being wiped out as a result of the actions of the Avengers, Coulson, and Ultron. Grant Ward is the only one left standing and sets out to rebuild HYDRA for revenge on SHIELD.
    • Once he goes down, former members of HYDRA fill out to other groups, like The Watchdogs, who suddenly have more members and technology.
    • The true reason why when you "Cut off one head, two more shall take its place" is revealed; it was "founded on the belief that humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom", and without HYDRA to guide those efforts secretly, they are being pursued openly by elected governments via the Sokovia Accords, which not only legislates control over superhumans, but advanced technology such as artificial intelligence. Holden Radcliffe's experiments would almost certainly have been less destructive if he hadn't been forced to pursue them in secret — if only because SHIELD would have known about them well before he developed true Life Model Decoys.
  • 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 Cal — 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.
    • In "The Things We Bury", Cal says, "I've lost everything important to me. And I want to kill those who took it, and finally be reunited with my family in the afterlife." At the time, it looks like he's talking about killing Coulson for turning Skye against him. By the end of the episode, it's clear that he means he's planning to kill Whitehall for what he did to Jiaying. By the end of the season, it's clear that when he said "in the afterlife," he wasn't talking about dying...
    • On a meta level, Brett Dalton mentioning that he'd be the Big Bad of Season 3. He just didn't specify which of his characters would fill that role.
  • 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 no one to create an antiserum from, because no one's actually survived this, except...
      Fitzsimmons: ...the Chitauri.
  • Expy: Some of the Inhumans' powers are very similar to that of some X-Men.
    • Gordon's teleportation is similar to Nightcrawler's, even including the smoke effect.
    • Alisha's power of duplication is exactly the same as Jamie Madrox's.
    • Like Rogue, Jiaying can drain the lifeforce of others with a touch. It keeps her young, similar to the X-Men villain Selene.
    • Granted, Shock and Awe is a fairly generic superpower, but nevertheless Lincoln could be compared to the young X-Man Bolt.
    • Hive is a worm-like Puppeteer Parasite. Shades of the Yeerks, much?
  • 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.
    • Robbie Reyes' first on-screen transformation very clearly shows one of his eyes popping from the heat of his aflame skull. His second transformation also shows that the fire that burns away his flesh starts from the eyes.

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