This year has been a Cinderella story of sorts for Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The show was facing an almost certain cancellation after both of ABC's other MCU spin-offs, Agent Carter and Marvel's Most Wanted, were canned, the latter before ever making it to air. But then, The Inhumans was a disaster and S.H.I.E.L.D. went from a partial season to a half season to a full season order. Now, even with the Season 5 finale written as a series-ender, they've been renewed again, and fans are asking: Will Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. connect to Avengers: Infinity War? Or, will the finale of Season 5 deviate completely from the film franchise once and for all?
Back when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was first greenlit for ABC in the wake of the box office domination of The Avengers, the idea was the show and the movies would be part of the same universe. Starting with crossover character Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who was "mysteriously resurrected" after his death at Loki's hands in the film, the first season deliberately paced themselves extra slowly, with the plan to reveal everything in the final three episodes, which aired post-Captain America: Winter Solider release.
But, the slow burn of a “peak TV” show like Game of Thrones does not work on a network show, where the season is 22 episodes instead of 10. Waiting until the last two or three for the action to kick in due to a movie release schedule was untenable. Moreover, director Joss Whedon was furious his one death in The Avengers was overturned, and refused to cross back over any of the S.H.I.E.L.D. characters into Avengers: Age of Ultron, and suddenly, the TV and movie worlds were divided.
After being roundly snubbed by Ultron, the show went its own way. It stopped doing episodes which were directly set in the aftermath of movie incidents. Once in a while, the show might bring up a major plot point, like the Sokova Accords, but not in conjunction with film releases, and only in reference to its own Inhuman plots, none of which have ever been acknowledged or mentioned in the movie universe.
By Season 3, the show had evolved past the films into a different show, one which was one part MCU "normal people in a superhero world" and one part "Inhumans as X-Men knockoffs." They'd solved their pacing problems and learned to combine “peak TV” length plots into a standard TV season by creating “pods” of 7-10 episodes. These close-ended plotlines formed a larger whole.
But with a complete removal from the movie world also comes a different problem. Unlike Netflix's The Defenders characters, whose interlocked series function as a "small screen MCU," Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has no companion shows and zero crossover potential outside of the movies. Moreover, the show’s “Live + Same Day” ratings (aka the number of people who watch the show as appointment television) are stuck at an average of 2 million. ABC doesn't have a reason to keep it, other than Disney mandating it stay on the air as a weekly free reminder the MCU is always happening somewhere.
That's why fans are super hopeful this coming season's ending might finally link directly back to the movie again and the events of Avengers: Infinity War, especially with this Season 6 renewal. Joss Whedon has long gone from the show's production team, and Clark Gregg has already been tipped to appear as Agent Coulson in next year's Captain Marvel film. Moreover, the final episodes have reference Infinity War's events, including noting a "disturbance in New York City" in the episode after Infinity War's premiere.
Will Thanos' finger snap effect the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in next week's finale, and carry over into Season 6? Fans will find out soon enough. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Season 5 finale airs on May 18, 2018 at 9 p.m. ET.