Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Character Review: Phil Coulson


Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’s second season can almost be thought of as two separate seasons. The first half covered the deterioration of Hydra and Coulson’s psyche, ending with a huge bang — or, if you will, shake. The second half covered the discovery of the Inhumans and superpowered people.

Because there’s been so much character development this season (and since we have the time to kill), let’s dive in and take a trip down Agents of SHIELD memory lane, character by character.

Miss a post? Get caught up: Melinda May  |  Grant Ward  |  Fitz  |  Simmons  |  Bobbi Morse  |  Lance Hunter  |  Cal Zabo  |  Alphonso “Mac” MacKenzie  |  The Inhumans  |  Skye  |  Lincoln

[Mid-Season Report: Coulson]

The Positive: Look, this wouldn’t be Agents of SHIELD without Phil Coulson. He’s the Director of a defunct organization he’s trying to rebuild from the ground up, given full blessings by the old Director, who’s in the wind (until Ultron shows up).

And now there’s aliens in the mix.

Coulson had a balancing act this season, what with mental changes, mental instability, and forces working against him — both internal and external. What helped him through these changes was a revolving door of deepening relationships with his team members.

Examples: We saw how close he and Agent May truly are, from when she had a backup plan for keeping him safe as he went insane with alien writing to what actually happened in Bahrain. Coulson lost his faith in Fitz and his deteriorated mental capacity, but over the course of a few episodes, he found himself believing in the tech nerd once again. Coulson also put Simmons’ life in the hands of Bobbi, his undercover agent.

He also teamed up with Hunter, a wild card who never really said whether he was going to stick around with SHIELD until he wrote it on a cocktail napkin on a resort island somewhere. He and Hunter went AWOL against fake!SHIELD, and while it was a team-up that we never expected, we loved it all the same.

His relationship with Skye was one of the most heartening ones of the season (second only to him and May, in my opinion) where their father/daughter relationship really took hold. It almost hurt in those last six episodes or so of the season when Coulson kept looking for Skye and kept getting so close only to have her slip away. And he held his own against Cal not once, but twice, first when he killed Whitehall before Cal could and then after Cal Hyded-out in the finale. It took a lot to talk sense into someone as crazy as Cal, but if anyone could do it, it was Coulson.

No matter how much everyone else seemed to distrust Coulson, as an audience, we still managed to trust him. We still believed he knew what he was doing. Heck, he teamed up with Grant Ward to try to bring some normalcy (or at least consistency) to SHIELD. With all of the betrayals and backstabbing taking place in the back half of the season, he needed to do something. And we trusted that he knew what he was doing when he brought Ward into the mix.

Plus, getting your hand cut off automatically makes you cooler (see: Luke Skywalker, Buster Bluth, Ulysses Klawe … okay maybe it’s not the best list).

The Negative: Something with Coulson never quite added up this season. Was it just me? He seemed off, not quite himself, and it wasn’t the alien language/writing doing its crazy thing. He didn’t seem to hold as much gravitas in scenes, letting others do the heavy lifting.

As the season went on, there seemed to be less and less Coulson quips and one-liners. Characters compared him to Nick Fury — keeping secrets, disappearing without notice — and usually getting compared to Samuel L. Jackson bolsters a character. In this case, it felt like it detracted from the one we all love. Suddenly, Coulson didn’t feel like the leader anymore. Suddenly, it seemed too easy for him to be undermined by his own team.

Or blindsided.

Or betrayed.

Because of this lingering, constant feeling of undermining, we were given less and less of his heartfelt speeches and more and more of Coulson conceding to others. He regained some of his old traction when he took off on the run against fake!SHIELD, but as soon as he returned, it was back to “keeping the peace,” although no one really seemed to care if it was kept because everyone just kept doing their own plans.

Everyone bickered with Coulson, and his happy SHIELD family fell to shambles no matter what he did. I think that’s what hurt the most with his character this season. Coulson gels well when he has a supporting team, but the squad faded in and out so much this season, we barely got anything consistent. Sure, his relationships deepened with most characters, but they didn’t feel like lasting, mostly because those changes happened at the start of the season and so much happened in the next twenty-odd episodes.

Next Season: Well, having your hand cut off is one way to end a season. Dare I even think of a ten-second Tony Stark cameo telling him how to use the missile launches he installed in the bionic hand?

But seriously. Giving Skye reign over her own super hero team will give Coulson a mini version of the Avengers — you know, those guys he used to hang out with on the big screen — and give him a world he’s familiar with, but can still learn from.

He has the remnants of fake!SHIELD as well, or so we assume, so at least he has a boat! If Bobbi and Mack are staying aboard under Coulson, who will run this new iteration of SHIELD more fairly (aka less like Nick Fury), I can see fake!SHIELD just sliding into the other one as well.

The possibilities are endless for where Season 3 can take Coulson, and I imagine the Agents of SHIELD writers already have him back on the most Coulson-y path there is. Goodness knows we all need more Clark Gregg in our lives.

Where He Started: B
Where He Ended: C+
Overall Grade: B-. Too much undermining of his character’s plans made it hard for Coulson to remain the Coulson we know and love. While there must be changes to make sure he doesn’t stay stale or get left behind, it felt more uneven than helpful. Season three will 


Ladies and gentlemen, we have hit the end of these character reviews! Apparently you really enjoyed reading them, or one person kept clicking back again and again. Regardless, I had a lot of fun writing these, and I hope you could tell and enjoyed reading them.

If you’re like me, and I know I am, you’re looking forward to what Season 3 holds, barely managing to keep it together until September and only doing so because there’s the prospect of Ant-Man in a few weeks. Next, I’ll be taking a brief hiatus and then powering through something else. Maybe you’ll get some X-Men: The Animated Series reviews. Maybe you’ll get crazy Agents of SHIELD brainstorm sessions. Who knows?

Just remember, Hail Hydra and #NoWardRedemptionArc are not things of the past … Probably.

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