Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D., a character study

Wyatt Miller

Phil Coulson has come a long way since his first appearance in “Iron Man” as the seemingly unimportant agent of a seemingly unimportant agency. Five movies later, Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, has attained the status of geek legend. What better way to reward such a rank than by giving him his own television series? 

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” already has five episodes under its belt, each one displaying the witty humor, explosive action and mythological continuity that makes the Marvel movies so great. Coulson thrives as the connective tissue between the Marvel films, with his appearance in “Iron Man” laying the groundwork for his cameos in later films, often popping in to offer a goofy line or to help debrief the future members of the Avenger Initiative. Gregg’s starring role in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is rife with the promise of amazing crossovers on the horizon. 

But didn’t Coulson die in “The Avengers”? Although his life was tragically cut short by Loki’s badass blade, he appears relatively unharmed in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..” This plot twist provides one of the series’ most compelling mysteries. In the pilot, Coulson reveals that his death at the hands of Loki was merely a ploy with the express goal of uniting the dysfunctional superheroes into one unit. After his faked death, Coulson escaped to Tahiti to await further orders. As soon as he is out of earshot, two superior agents make the case that Coulson’s idea of what happened is far from the actual truth, and that there is something he does not know. 

Gregg’s performance as Coulson has always carried a disarmingly stoic energy that conceals greater truths we may not yet know about the character. In the early days before “The Avengers” was released, I had a theory that Coulson may be a double agent for the Skrulls, a shape-changing race of aliens from the comics who were believed to be Loki’s army in the film. His death in “The Avengers” effectively disproved my Skrull theory and left me feeling quite disappointed there was not more to discover about the son of Coul.

With this recent development in the series, that curiosity is rekindled, and I have a few new theories as to why everyone’s favorite agent is still alive. One theory is that Coulson is a clone, an ideal example of the perfect S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. I could see a warehouse of Coulsons lined up for distribution every time he dies. With this, S.H.I.E.L.D. would always have an effective team builder on hand who never ceases to exist. My other theory is that S.H.I.E.L.D. retains a semblance of Thor’s Asgardian technology that awoke Coulson with some freaky Nordic magic in Tahiti. Coulson himself states, in what has become a catchphrase, “Tahiti is a magical place.” 

Regardless of how or why Coulson is still alive, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is proving to be one of the most compelling entries yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.