'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Clark Gregg Teases the Return of Phil Coulson

Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Preview
Preview
ABC/Mitch Haaseth

After six seasons (120+ episodes!) of the action-packed Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you'd think that viewers would know this ragtag gang of agents inside out. But that's not the case when the ABC series returns for its final adventure — a romp through time to preserve S.H.I.E.L.D. history starting in the 1930s — especially after half of the team has been through some major traumas.

Thanks to time travel, scientist super-couple Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Fitz (Iain De Caesticker) have faced a yet-to-be-disclosed number of offscreen experiences, altering them in unknown ways ("that will be explored," executive producer Jed Whedon slyly teases). They're also apart, again, with Fitz hidden away so that the duo's combined knowledge cannot be used against them by the evil semi-robotic Chronicoms, who are now trying to turn Earth into their new home, Chronyca-3 and see S.H.I.E.L.D. as the only blockage in their way.

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Meanwhile, fighter May (Ming-Na Wen) is healing in a stasis pod after killing mercenary Izel (Karolina Wydra) in the Season 6 ender, leaving May with no idea how she's been changed by her mysterious portal journey. "She is not the same," Whedon says. "She went through a strange world with ethereal creatures, she died, she came back — at least one of those things had to affect her."

But perhaps the biggest wildcard when the season begins is Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). That's right — the beloved former S.H.I.E.L.D. director is back, sort of, and he now exists as a "life model decoy." You may recall Coulson perished in Season 5, but in the Season 6 finale, Simmons created an advanced LMD of him (with added Chronicom tech) to serve as a history expert for the mission about to unfold. How different is this version? "He feels the same, but he's not," Whedon says. "[Coulson wonders], 'Are [my] feelings real, or am I programmed? What am I?'"

Agents of SHIELD Season 7 Time Travel Team New York

(ABC/Mitch Haaseth)

"There is some virtual soul-searching," Gregg agrees. Adding: "[Being an LMD] is a reality the original Coulson was adamantly opposed to, but the team needs him."

Though the response from Coulson's fellow agents to seeing him in the synthetic flesh will vary ("initially, they range from intense relief to outright discomfort," Gregg says), there was no question whether Gregg and his fan-favorite character would be welcomed back for the last expedition. "We're so happy to have Coulson, in any form," executive producer Jeffrey Bell admits. Executive producer Maurissa Tancharoen agrees: "Coulson is the heart of the show."

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Another thing the cast and crew were undeniably excited for? Traversing 1931 Manhattan, which is where their time-traveling caper picks up. "I think everyone talked in an old-timey New York accent for about four weeks," Whedon recalls with a laugh.

To defeat their foe, the world-saving team, which also includes current S.H.I.E.L.D. director Mac (Henry Simmons), badass fighter Quake/Daisy (Chloe Bennet), newest member Deke (Jeff Ward), speedy inhuman Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), and traitor to the Chronicoms Enoch (Joel Stoffer), will spend the season jumping between important S.H.I.E.L.D.-related moments throughout history (we'll also see them check out the 50s and 80s) in the newly-revamped Zephyr. Keep your eyes peeled for Marvel Easter eggs along the way, says Bell. "That's the fun of going back in time, [getting to] see someone in a different life," he says. For example, Agent Carter's Enver Gjokaj is already confirmed to return as Daniel Souza.

Enver Gjokaj Agents of SHIELD Season 7

(ABC)

Our heroes quickly learn that to save S.H.I.E.L.D. from the Chronicoms, they must also save longstanding enemy organization, Hydra. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it opens the door to a wacky season packed with action and hilarity. Bell teases: "I think there will be favorite episodes for [fans], and at the same time they're going to go, 'Oh my god, I can't believe they're doing this.'"

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Seventh and Final Season Premiere, Wednesday, May 27, 10/9c, ABC