SHIELD’s Fallen Agents: Serving the Story

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Agents of SHIELD’s Fallen Agents: Serving the Story

This started out as an idea for an obituary for the Fallen Agent. It would have been clever and fun and cute and tried to pay homage to the agent – Lincoln – who died embodying something better then everything that SHIELD stands for.  He died like Captain America, and Captain America wanted SHIELD torn down.  He wanted people to think for themselves and be themselves.   Lincoln lived and loved,  and wanted to be his own man.  Lincoln was a hero.


This started out as a goodbye to Brett Dalton, who’s portrayal of the anti-villain Grant Ward has been one of the most talked about controversial performances of the show.  From those who fought to the bitter end to redeem him — regardless of the consequences — to those who simply enjoyed the wild ride and the transformation from mild mannered agent to monster, it was one heck of a performance.  He died a villain, who realized it perhaps at the last.


Except my editor reminded me that we lost Andrew Garner, AKA LASH too and in the midst of “Bring Lincoln Back” and “Hive Lives” I thought about Andrew and I thought about Tripp and I thought about Raina and I thought about all of their other friends who are probably going to return for brief character arcs in season 4 to further drive the 6 main cast members crazy, keep our hearts racing and our pulses pounding.

Stories are tough.

So let me start with one, to explain how I plan to say goodbye, to Lincoln, to Ward, to Andrew, to Raina, to them all to prepare for season 4.

Big Friendly Dinosaurs


When I was about six, I wanted to be a paleontologist.  I wanted to dig up dinosaurs.  For a little kid whose parents were constantly fighting, dinosaurs were like incredible big friendly parents.  So when I saw there was a movie coming out about dinosaurs I was beyond excited to see it.  When I discovered that Jurassic Park wasn’t coming out when I wanted it to (IE, the moment I discovered it existed).  I wrote a very stern, angry letter in orange crayon to Edwards Cinemas ( it was obviously their fault) until my mother promised to take me to see the movie at the sneak preview.


Six years old, sitting in a theater watching Alan Grant, Ellie Satler, Lex, Tim, Sam Jackson, all of them being chased by dinosaurs, I wasn’t just in love — I was enraptured. At six years old I declared to my mother that I was going to make movies.  I was going to capture that magic, I was going to make people believe, make them weep, make them cheer, make them feel.  I was going to grow up and make movies. I was going to grow up and tell stories.

Flash forward to 24 years later, from my first fandom to this last one.  I’m older, I’m wiser. I didn’t grow up to make movies (yet), but I’ve been in a few.  I’ve made plenty of people weep, in my personal and professional circumstances.  I’ve made plenty of people feel, good and bad.  I’ve even managed to capture the magic a few times, Though I live in Southern California. Magic swims in the air here. It feeds into who we are, infects those who come into contact with it, makes them believe in the impossible and capable of the improbable.

I’ve told quite a few stories too, which makes me receptive to good ones like Agents of SHIELD.  This isn’t the first story that I’ve felt connected to, but it came at a point when it needed to teach me something important.

Agents of SHIELD


Nothing has caused more discussion in my life then Agents of SHIELD. Nothing’s caused more personal reflection on my life then the past three years worth of Agents of SHIELD’s story.  Coulson returning to life and assembling a ragtag team of misfits has resonated with me somehow, the trials and tribulations of the agents captured my attention.  I had characters I could relate to, I had a large established fandom, I felt like a part of something big and wonderful.


Except…it wasn’t always wonderful.  There were good times and bad times.  My favorite character was Grant Ward, and that carried with it a certain stigma.  I felt ostracized and alone a lot of the time. I felt angry and sad and more than a little bullied.  I had to learn to be empathetic, how to enjoy my favorite and other people’s favorites too. You learn how to smile and laugh when someone makes a derogatory remark about your favorite if you want to stay in the pool, Or you get angry and get kicked out by the life guard.  Eventually you just swim, and hope that nobody notices you while you’re caught by the tides.

Some days, the remarks would hit me hard.  They’d hit me so hard I’d lose work, calling in because I couldn’t face getting up and going into a world where the colors weren’t as vibrant, a world where people didn’t understand.   I felt like a monster.


Here, at the end, trying to write about him and Lincoln,  trying to do not just them but Blair Underwood’s Andrew Garner justice, I’m angry.  I’m angry at all the losses, trying to forgive –

No, forget just them, I’m angry at all the losses this TV season.  The 2016 TV season lost us dozens of our favorite characters.  People raged, people wrote letters, people start petitions, people sent angry messages.  Writers feel attacked and fans like me tell their work place that they’re grieving because they can’t stop crying in public. Fans lash out and call themselves trash and garbage while trying to hide their pain and writers get told they need to be fired simply for telling a story.

By the way if there’s one metric I want to get rid of it’s the “I’m trash for _____”. You’re not trash. No matter what you love you are NEVER trash.


Where were my friendly dinosaurs? Where was the simple us versus them mentality, man versus beast that made up nature? Instead of friendly dinosaurs you have one man, dying for the woman he loved, committing suicide on camera in a bold and brilliant move, you have another who was killed, possessed, mutilated, dying with that same man in what felt like a bid to make sure that neither character died alone?

Not just here, but everywhere, all over television. If I’m anything like the typical television watcher or movie goer there’s at least one character that the average couch potato like myself calls a friend over, screams in their ear about, sobs over possibly, drives them to drink to excess, and makes them feel things.  From Jon Snow to Peggy Carter, from Black Canary to Lincoln Campbell, from Grant Ward to Negan’s victim on the Walking Dead – the list goes on.

Was there any point to this? Was there justice to be had for these deaths? Were the fans that wanted people fired and out of work right? Was Lincoln’s Death Unfair? Ward’s? Anyone who died this 2016 television season? You can wade into the debate but I knew I was feeling pretty raw about it.  People are entitled to think what they want.

After all, was it my place to say? While sometimes stories reflect outdated or unusual biases, I knew I only had control over my own actions. I could only draw attention to the issue, or better yet work within the system myself to make these positive changes. All the same, I was left, I’m still left with a deep well of grief.  These were like friends. Everyone lost someone. My real friends are tenuous enough. How could I cope?



Ironically in telling my work that I was grieving, I received the best piece of advice on how to deal, “There’s no wrong way to grieve, Carolyn, just remember to keep washing dishes.”


I’d gotten variations on the same theme from others since announcing point blank that I wasn’t okay, that I was desperately unhappy, that I was incredibly depressed by everything involving Grant Ward, not to mention Andrew, not to mention this show in it’s entirety.  Since Tuesday I’d confessed all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sob into my pillow at the sheer unfairness of everything, to rage, to scream, to do something.  My friendly dinosaurs had disappeared and in their place was emotion and feeling and there was this seething frothing rage.  Rage that, after soul searching, directed back to me.  Personal feelings. Feelings I had been running from for most of my life.

These characters helped people, made them think, made them feel, inspired them with lessons.   How were we supposed to honor the fact that they were gone, that they lived? That Lincoln and Daisy had a brief but bright and wonderful love that made many people happy? That Lincoln was a healer who got to heal but doesn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his healing? That Andrew and May never had that chance at happiness? That Grant Ward never really had a chance at anything because he kept screwing up? Some fundamental component was missing to complete the cycle of grief for me. There were no graves I could visit. No funerals to attend, no funerals even on camera.  How could I grieve, for all these people that had been lost?

Serving the Story

How fans see most writers after a season finale probably. While it might feel that way, it’s really not true.

Then something that Brett Dalton said come back to me. “If it serves the story that Hive goes now then I’m fine with it.” Luke Mitchell said something similar and pointed out the very real unfairness in the situation frequently to other actors. It could have been Natalia that went, or Ming. Instead it was him and he was happy with it.  What was serving the story? What did that mean? It conjures up images perhaps of a secret room beneath Hollywood where a mighty and benevolent God (yes in my mind it’s Dinosaur shaped) dispenses stories.  Jed and Mo and Jeff Bell and Marvel and DC and Fox and CBS and NBC all visit this dinosaur god and after offering an appropriate blood sacrifice get told where to go next perhaps.  A literal embodiment of the “It’s all Connected” hashtag.


However after a google search I learned that “Serve the Story” is an improv and writing technique designed to remove egocentric bias. The idea is that mostly, you want everything to go right for you, for the protagonist, for the characters.  You want to get the girl, to live life, to live successfully and to have no troubles whatsoever.  This is not a good thing – apparently – so you take yourself out of that mindset and you ask yourself “if it serves the story?”  Then you can take a step back and be the hero of your own narrative.  There are many reason why celebrities support victims of cancer and other diseases but one of the biggest perhaps is They’re the heroes of their own narrative. People like Ryan Strong who Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. recently visited – demonstrate the strength of Captain America and Tony Stark every day. You can read more about him Here.

Telling a Good Story

Remember how I mentioned how I wanted to tell stories? How at six years old I was convinced that the magic would be real, that I could capture it, bottle it, sell it to people and achieve that same magical high that I got from seeing Jurassic Park?You get older, you get wiser, you realize that it’s not as easy as you think it is.  For every dinosaur’s roar there’s twenty guys working the sound effects. For every dinosaur stomp there’s thirty guys trying to make it work.  For every fully fledged dinosaur there’s a whole team making it happen. Just ask Mark Kolpack about what it takes to make the VFX happen for Daisy’s woosh.

Life’s a lot like that too.  It never turns out to be as easy as you think it’s going to be.  Sometimes people don’t get the girl, they don’t come back, they don’t get better in fiction – so that we can learn to appreciate those moments in fact.  All of these stories – Lincoln and Ward and Andrew, Daisy and Captain America and Peggy Carter, serve our story.

Grant Ward made me realize the things in my life that I was doing wrong, which means I can begin the journey to making my life and the lives of those I love around me better.  Lincoln I’m sure (more then sure) has inspired quite a few people with his heroism, with his kindness, with his sweetness, with his dedication.  When the moment counted, he stepped up and saved the world.

Andrew, Tripp, Raina, Kara Lynn Palamas, Lincoln, Ward, Coulson, Daisy – none of them are real.   They serve the narrative for people to draw the strength from their stories to build up their own.   I can’t say goodbye to that.  I can’t close the book on it because who knows who might draw strength from Tripp’s sacrifice? Who knows who might draw strength from Kara? From Ward, from Lincoln, from Coulson, from Daisy?  From any of the characters we lost this TV season? You can’t define what people take from art, that ruins the art in the first place. It censors it.  The whole point is to add to the world, not distract from it.

I can however thank the men and women who are able to step out of their own narratives to help build up our own.

See, because in the twist of wanting to become a story teller, I flirted with the idea of becoming a police officer.  I remember the long drawn out tirades of our instructor as he shared about how Law and Order always got it wrong, about the manpower, about the resources, about the work that went into catching criminals.  The man was a hero, and for awhile, I thought that actors and writers – well, weren’t.  They pretended at the things that better men and women did for a living.

They do pretend.   However that in and of itself is it’s own kind of heroism. See, Clark Gregg died to serve the narrative of the human story.  Can you imagine what that was like for him? He’d been a part of the marvel movies for over 10 years and he died on camera to inspire the Avengers.  Take yourself out of your own narrative for a moment.  He pretended to die. That’s gotta be uncomfortable and emotionally taxing right?  He’s died before, probably multiple times.  More than just as Coulson. So has Ming-Na, so has every single other actor on the show.  This won’t be the first time we see Luke Mitchell and Brett Dalton die on screen if they keep acting, and since they don’t have plans to stop any time soon –

When I think about it I realize that  — nobody’s ever going to be as important as a doctor or a firefighter — but that actors and writers that tell their story fill an essential part of who we are.  They reveal the parts of our narratives that we have a hard time seeing so that we can live a life worthy of a story that will be told and shared.  They die, again and again, and live again and again, so we can draw the strength from their narratives that they create about ourselves.  

Honestly both Lincoln Campbell and Grant Ward slip by the wayside when I realize what a big sacrifice that’s gotta be from the talent.  Marvel’s world isn’t real.  Yes they matter, I came to the conclusion however that the people matter more.

A young boy dreams of becoming a superhero.
A young boy dreams of becoming a superhero.

Not everyone can be Clark Gregg, but some people might become FBI agents.  They might become CIA agents or cops and reform the police.  They might save the world because of what Phil Coulson did.  They might save the world because of what Luke Mitchell did as Lincoln Campbell.  They might, like myself, realize that people like Grant Ward can be prevented and volunteer with homeless and neglected children so that they know love in their lives and have a chance.

When I remind myself of how much the characters mean to me, and I ask myself how I can repay them? The answer is clear.  The characters will come and go as the narrative demands.  Miss them, mourn them, make life better because they existed.  You’ll know in your gut when someone has to leave and someone needs to stay because their story isn’t finished:

When it is done, remember who they were and what they did and apply it to our reality.  It needs all the help that it can get. How?

Keep writing, original works, sometimes just for them, sometimes for others, sometimes for yourself, keep writing and push it forward so they can keep telling our story. Humanity’s Story.  Don’t let yourself be mired in the character they played, they’re there.  We had them.  One of the final steps in grieving is using what the person did as inspiration for making your own life better.  Not all of us are going to be around forever.  Have fun with the time we have and make the best with the moments that we share together.  Here’s to those who make a living sharing those moments.

So thank you, Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Dalton.  Thank you Mr. Britt, Ms. Stojan, Mr. Kassianides, Mr. Underwood.  Thank you Ms. Negga, Mr. Oswalt, Mrs. Cordova, Mr. Raba, Ms. Bennet, Mr. Gregg.  Thank you Ms. Atwell, Mr. Cooper, Mr. Evans, Mr. Stan.  Thank you Hollywood.

I think Natalia Cordova summed it up  best in this quote from Tennessee Williams.


Consider yourselves witnessed.

Thank you for telling your characters – and our story.

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