The Heart of (the Inner) S.H.I.E.L.D

“What does S.H.I.E.L.D stand for Agent Ward?”  “Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division.”  “What does that mean to you?”  “It means someone really wanted our initials to spell S.H.I.E.L.D”Maria Hill and Agent Ward, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

In May of 2008, Summer movie-goers were introduced to what would become the Marvel cinematic universe via Jon Faverau’s Iron Man.  The origin story of billionaire Tony Stark and his Iron Man Armor.  In the midst of all the tech, action, and Robert Downey Jr.’s seemingly patented “Stark Snark”, a secondary character emerged:  Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Looking the consummate “G-Man” – something strait out of Mad Men at times – he became a larger presence as the Marvel cinematic universe grew, appearing in Iron Man 2, Thor, and finally The Avengers.  It was in The Avengers that Coulson’s character shined brightest, as his belief in what that group of Superheroes could become was so deep, so engrained into who he was, that his willingness to sacrifice himself to give them a cause to rally around becomes the emotional heart and pivot point of the film:  the idea that the film’s greatest hero was, in fact, the one without powers.

Enter the new weekly serial show on ABC:  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Set after the events of The Avengers and Iron Man 3, it follows a quirky group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by none other than a resurrected Phil Coulson.  A strait laced Agent Ward, a has-been desk jockey called back into the field (who you know is going to have a semi-tragic back story as to why she was relegated to the level of S.H.I.E.L.D where the “red tape” is made), a pair of geeky, young, tech and bio geniuses, and the girl who hates S.H.I.E.L.D. but ends up working with them (i.e. Faith from Buffy).  This team, like their leader, doesn’t have powers but have to operate in a world where not only do super-powered beings exist but these agents often assist or oppose them).

As part of the explanation of why Coulson is still amongst the living, he mentions that the members of  The Avengers are only “Level Six” clearance.   Conversely, those connected to his team and the highest echelons in the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization are “Level Seven”, meaning The Avengers know nothing of his resurrection (and presently cannot).  This would seem to indicate that if there was an “inner ring” within S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is on the inside.

Those familiar with 20th Century writer C.S. “Jack” Lewis know he gave a commencement address that later became an essay called “The Inner Ring”.  The idea behind the “Inner Ring” is that there is a small group of people who are “in the know” on a particular subject and everyone else doesn’t know and are therefore “on the outside”.  A germane example to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be the fact that very few -in the aggregate – even knew that S.H.I.E.L.D. existed prior to the Battle of New York in The Avengers and now everyone knows.  Lewis makes a point to say that Inner Rings are not evil and they are, in fact, inevitable.  It is not their existence  that is an issue, it is the desire to be part of them that is of concern.  As Lewis states:  “A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous…the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things”.  I suspect this might be something that pops up in later episodes – or seasons – of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  

Along those same lines, Lewis also mentions how easily the quest for the Inner Ring makes scoundrels of men and how few are immune to it.  Presently, I count Phil Coulson amongst those few.  Phil Coulson enjoys his work for the sake of what it is: a chance to do good.  He is utterly sold out to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mission to protect the unsuspecting from what they do not know; if his sacrifice in The Avengers doesn’t illustrate this enough, his words to the pilot episode’s antagonist does.  So intent on this mission is he that he requires his hand-picked team to devise a non-lethal option to subdue the antagonist if Coulson cannot talk him down.  Of this appreciation, Lewis says (via The Screwtape Letters):  “The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what others says about it, is by very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack”. Additionally, he pulls no punches as to the subtle nature of the Inner Ring:  “Over a drink or cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still – just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or niaf, or a prig, – the hint [of the Inner Ring] will come”

While Nick Fury and Maria Hill may be the  brains of the outfit, and The Avengers the muscle, it is such decisions that make Coulson the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. (both the organization and the show).  Nevertheless, there may come a day when Agent Coulson is not immune to desiring the Inner Ring and loses some of what makes him shiny.  If it does, as I suspect it might revolve around how/why he was brought back (my money is on a Stark/SHIELD “life-model-decoy”) may such a struggle make him a stronger hero and shining example of the impact of those  who aren’t “super”.


Posted on by Aaron in Uncategorized

About Aaron

Author, Speaker, and Super Nerd. Aaron Welty speaks and writes regularly connecting the dots of life, faith, and science fiction. Originally from Michigan, he now lives and works in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.

3 Responses to The Heart of (the Inner) S.H.I.E.L.D

  1. Pingback: The Heroic Philosophy of Phil Coulson - Aaron Welty | Aaron Welty

  2. Pingback: The "Fallout" Episodes - Aaron Welty | Aaron Welty

  3. Bruce

    Nick Fury will always be the boss.

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