There are two kinds of MCU fans. Those that believe that Marvel Television shows are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and those that do not.
I am firmly in the second camp.
Sure, Marvel TV is given a long leash. They’re allowed to talk about the characters that Marvel Studios uses till they’re blue in the face, but Marvel TV isn’t really invited to the table. If I were to create an analogy, I would say that Marvel TV is like the bathroom attendant of the MCU. They don’t technically work for the company that runs the building, and they’re not allowed to ask for money, but they just stand there doing a job and occasionally they get handed a dollar.
I would like to present the definitive case for why Marvel TV (including Netflix) shows are not actually set in the MCU in any meaningful way.
Let’s break down the arguments.
“But they crossover!” Let’s talk about that first. The buzz about Agents of SHIELD early on was great. We were all excited that a weekly TV show was going to be set within the MCU. Iron Man, Thor, or even Captain America could show up at any moment. References to the Avengers abounded. In fact, early in the first season of Agents of SHIELD, Samuel L. Jackson shows up to chew out Phil Coulson for damaging his jet. I’m not going to lie, that’s pretty cool. I was stoked. The comic book sites were reporting that Jaime Alexander, who plays Sif in the Thor movies, was going to be appearing later that season and we were getting a Thor: The Dark World crossover episode.
And we did… technically. In Thor: the Dark World, the final battle between Thor and Malekith takes place in Greenwich, which I believe is on Earth. There were no extra Avengers showing up in the movie, but that’s okay. You have to remember that this is the era when we were still asking why the other Avengers don’t just stop by to help since they know each other now. Thor was only on Earth this time for about 20 minutes. Phil, Skye, and Ward would catch up with Thor in the crossover episode, right?
Well, the crossover episode came and the Agents of SHIELD showed up and… cleaned up some stuff. That’s it. I’ll give them some credit. The scenes are definitely set in the same place that the finale of Thor: Dark World was set. And then they leave. They run into an Asgardian (played by Peter MacNichol, who was the best part of Ghostbusters II,) and they talk about Thor a little. But it’s not quite the level of crossover we were imagining.
That’s how most of the TV and Netflix crossovers play out. It’s more like they have an unlimited supply of Easter Eggs that they know they’re not going to get in trouble for chucking at the fence. With one exception (which we will talk about in a moment), the largest crossover was when Avengers: Age of Ultron featured the original helicarrier and Agents of SHIELD shoehorned the narrative to say “Oh, THAT was TOTALLY us who got them that helicarrier!” Okay, Phil. That’s nice. Is Nick Fury going to let the Avengers know where he got it? Nope.
The Movies Don’t Mention the TV Shows. Hey, remember how Phil Coulson died that one time? I bet the Avengers do. Phil Coulson’s death was kind of important, being the catalyst that unites the team in order to defeat Loki. It was pivotal to the motivations of Tony Stark “and the rest.” Agents of SHIELD reviving Phil Coulson basically reverses that and takes the MCU backwards.
Maybe that’s why it’s never mentioned by ANYONE in the movies. Despite SHIELD being featured heavily in at least two Marvel movies since The Avengers, it never comes up that Phil Coulson is alive and still walking around. Sure, Nick Fury knows Phil’s alive and he wouldn’t go back on a lie, and maybe Hawkeye and Black Widow know. To be fair, there’s nothing uncharacteristic about spies keeping secrets, but you know who would probably mention running into a mutual friend when they’re fighting side-by-side with an Avenger? Sif. Sif comes to Earth and throws down along-side Coulson. When she gets back, can you even imagine Thor not asking her everything she did while she was on the planet under his protection?
One more thing that’s interesting is that Joss Whedon was asked about Phil Coulson and his future in the Marvel Studios films. He opened up a world of possibilities:
Coulson is dead.
You can check my sources. That’s a direct quote.
In all seriousness, Marvel TV acknowledges that they aren’t really a part of the MCU. In May of 2016, Chloe Bennet, who plays Quake on Agents of SHIELD acknowledged this herself. At a Des Moines Wizard World she was asked why the movie superheroes don’t stop by to help every now and then. Her answer was surprisingly confrontational:
Why don’t you guys go ask them that? Cause they don’t seem to care! The Marvel Cinematic Universe loves to pretend that everything is connected, but then they don’t acknowledge our show at all. So, I would love to do that, but they don’t seem too keen on that idea.
So is Marvel Studios quietly working on a way to get the stars of Agents of SHIELD into Avengers: Infinity War? Is Daredevil going to show up to represent Steve Rogers in his inevitable trial? If the answer was even maybe then a mouse-eared sniper would have cut Chloe Bennet off mid-sentence.
Marvel TV Had No Idea SHIELD Was Being Destroyed. I promised we would talk about the largest crossover, and here we are. When Captain America: Winter Soldier destroyed SHIELD on a Friday, Agents of SHIELD picked up the pieces the following Tuesday. From the outside, this looks like they were working together, but internally the Agents of SHIELD folks were flying by the seat of their pants. Let’s present a timeline:
1) Marvel Studios starts working on Captain America: Winter Soldier in which SHIELD is found to be infiltrated by HYDRA and must be destroyed.
2) Marvel TV announces a show called Agents of SHIELD starring Clark Gregg as a stunningly alive Phil Coulson.
3) The Russo brothers host a producers screening of Winter Soldier after the film is nearly complete.
3b) After the screening, Marvel TV walks out quietly with their heads down.
4) Marvel TV quickly changes their character arcs to match what just happened.
Don’t take my word for it. Check the Collider clip below to see the Russo brothers talk about how the Agents of SHIELD people found out that SHIELD was not going to exist anymore:
These people don’t talk to each other, and Marvel TV picks up the scraps like Adrienne Toomes fighting with Damage Control. On that note:
Damage Control. In October of 2015, Variety reported that Marvel TV was working on a half-hour comedy based on Marvel’s Damage Control, the “underpaid cleanup crew” of the Marvel Universe. The show was set to be in the style of The Office and was being developed by Ben Karlin, who had worked on The Daily Show and Modern Family. This resulted in a little bit of an arms race between Marvel and DC television since DC was working on a similar idea set in the DC Universe called Powerless. Damage Control even had a pilot commitment, but months go by and no casting details emerge.
We were all wondering if anything was happening with Damage Control and we finally got our answer in July of 2017 when Spider-Man: Homecoming introduces the “‘United States Department of Damage Control” to take over rebuilding of Manhattan in the wake of the events of The Avengers. So, did Marvel TV give up on a pilot and Marvel Studios picked up the pieces? Or did Marvel Studios just let them know the bad news that there wasn’t going to be a Damage Control TV show?
Alfre Woodard. Just in case you thought this issue was only with Agents of SHIELD, here’s an example from the Netflix side of Marvel. In 2016, it was announced that Alfre Woodard had been cast to appear in both Captain America: Civil War and Luke Cage.
So we finally have the moment!
The two sides are going to work together. An award-winning actress is going to play a powerhouse character in a major MCU film property and in the (then) untarnished Netflix corner of the MCU. Civil War comes out and she is playing: Miriam, the grieving mother of a young man killed in Sokovia. She has a scene opposite Robert Downey Jr. that really sells the moment. Truly great stuff.
As we get closer to Luke Cage, it’s revealed that Woodard is playing a character named Mariah Dillard. If you’ve seen Luke Cage then you know that “Black Mariah” Dillard is a very different person from Miriam (other than an uncanny resemblance). Interestingly enough, the press release for Woodard joining the cast of Luke Cage makes no mention of her role in Civil War, which most likely would have already been filmed. It is apparent that not only do these people NOT talk to each other, it looks like they have no idea who is in the other’s projects.
I’ve heard it said that it’s possible that Alfre Woodard is playing the same character but with multiple names or an alias. I’ll be frank, it takes some serious rationalization to say she’s playing the same character in both productions. You don’t just assume a second name in order to go confront the biggest name in technology when you’re a disciplined career politician/crimelord like Black Mariah. Considering Mariah’s big scene with Cottonmouth, we can safely say that it wouldn’t be a photograph that came out of the purse if Miriam and Mariah were the same person.
I know it’s hard to see the truth. Marvel has done a great job constructing the MCU and people have spent years constructing timelines of how to properly consume every minute in the proper order. The truth is this: Marvel Television is not in the MCU any more than Sony’s Silver & Black or Venom are in the MCU. They’re just lucky to be in the position they are in.
Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments.