SDCC at Home: Agents of SHIELD – The Stories and Science of Androids, Space Travel and Aliens

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For seven seasons, Marvel Television’s Agents of SHIELD has taken audiences around the globe: from fighting HYDRA at home to the deep edges of space and time.

The show is nearing the end of its journey, as we edge closer to the series finale. However, to celebrate the show and the multitude of sci-fi adventures that the team has been on, members of the cast and crew were joined by The Fleet Science Centre to see how accurate the show has been.

How Science Influenced These Stories

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The panel was kickstarted when moderator Andrea Decker (Fleet Science Center), a self-confessed fan of the show, asked the creative teams about where these fantastical ideas stemmed from. Citing the talented and diverse writers room, Jeffrey Bell (showrunner, executive producer, and writer) said: “Really, it comes out of character. You look at what the character wants and needs and what happens when you apply pain and circumstances.”

Sharla Oliver (co-producer and writer) added that writers would bring ideas to the table that genuinely interested and excited them, whether they had read it online or been told by somebody else. James Oliver (co-producer and writer) also suggested that these ideas allowed them to advance character and conflict in ways that others can’t, citing that “a lot of people can write about a couple having an argument, we get to put that couple inside of an alien computer where your thoughts become real and stab you in the face.”

Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays biochemist Jemma Simmons, talked about how having family members who were involved in science gave her “a false sense of entitlement” and joked that her British accent definitely helped with delivering the specific jargon. Elizabeth also added that she almost continued down that scientific path, before realizing that drama was where her heart was, although the work-experience helped inform the character.

The scientists were asked by Andrea how they felt about Fitz and Simmons, both who work in different fields, having some shared understanding of what the other is working on. Melissa Miller (scientist and science writer at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies) said: “I always tell people that most scientists are really specialised, so on a lot of shows it doesn’t seem realistic that one person could do everything.” But also added that it’s okay for that to be the case in this fictional world. Dr. Troy Sandberg made the point that a lot more upcoming scientists are becoming more versed in multiple fields and studies thanks to the internet and pure fascination.

Inhumans, The Mainframe and Chronicoms

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The panel discussed some of the specific big science-fiction concepts used throughout the show, starting with The Inhumans. Dr Troy talked about how there are already genetically engineered humans on the planet, but that we’re still a long way from specifically manipulating DNA strands to form super-powers, just as long as they don’t violate the laws of physics.

Dr. Anila Kanchan Madiraju (research associate at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies) creates mutant mice and discussed how amazing mice are in terms of reflecting parts of human metabolism. She also discussed how some people’s mutated DNA traits can be looked at as ‘innate superpowers’ and help scientists come up with solutions and medications to prevent diseases like diabetes.

Elizabeth mentioned how fans responded to Jemma by falling in love with science and following in her footsteps, particularly women. Dr. Anita added: “Roles like the one you play, really do reinforce the passion and inspiration that current scientists have” noting that people see scientists as superheroes.

Joel Stoffer, who plays Enoch, talked about difficulties of playing a sentient robot as an actor. Because Enoch is still a sentient being, Joel would respond to emotive conversations with a look of curiosity – to cement his character’s anthropological processing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Life Model Decoys, Dr. Virginia De Sa (Professor in the Cognitive Science Department at UC San Diego) had to admit: “We’re nowhere near as is portrayed in the show” and that machine learning is excellent at specific tasks like face-recognition, but struggles with context.

Craig Titley (executive producer and writer) asked the collective scientists whether we are in fact living in a simulated world like the mainframe, which Virginia suggested that if we were, we wouldn’t know! – just like SHIELD predicted.

The panel wrapped up with the cast and crew of Agents of SHIELD thanking fans for supporting the show over the years, and allowing them to continue to do what they love. While Melissa Miller once again emphasized the important of representation of diverse scientific fields on screen, noting that SHIELD was rare in portraying a whole team working, even if it was in the background.

Agents of SHIELD airs every Wednesday on ABC

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