|For other uses, see Ghost Rider (disambiguation)|
|For alternate versions of Phil Coulson, see Phil Coulson's Character Hub|
Phillip J. "Phil" Coulson was a highly decorated agent and former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Coulson was Nick Fury's right-hand man for many important missions and his liaison to the Avengers. He served as the primary operative in the Avengers Initiative following a Skrull Invasion of Earth in 1995 that led to the surfacing of Captain Marvel. Coulson later ran ground interference, surveillance and tactical operations in Puente Antiguo, New Mexico as part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s investigation surrounding an incident with Thor and the Destroyer. He was also the primary S.H.I.E.L.D. operative in the investigation into Stark Industries.
During the Attack on the Helicarrier, Coulson was killed by Loki. His death gave the Avengers the push they needed to band together and stop the Chitauri invasion. On Fury's orders, Coulson was brought to the Guest House, a secret facility where he was brought back to life using treatments developed by Project T.A.H.I.T.I., which Coulson had formerly presided over. To preserve his sanity, it was necessary to erase all his memories of his own death and resurrection.
Coulson returned to S.H.I.E.L.D. to lead a new team to investigate the cases S.H.I.E.L.D. had not yet classified. While on this team, Coulson discovered that he had been killed and brought back to life. During the HYDRA Uprising, despite the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the betrayal of Grant Ward, he led his team against the forces of HYDRA. He then led the charge in the final battle against John Garrett, in which Garrett was ultimately defeated. After the battle, Nick Fury appointed him the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., ordering him to rebuild the organization from the ground up.
As director, Coulson led the new S.H.I.E.L.D. in many battles against HYDRA, crippling that terrorist organization. He made some contacts with the United States Air Force via Glenn Talbot. However, he became a fugitive when another faction of S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Robert Gonzales, attacked and occupied his base. Joining forces with a few loyal friends, Coulson fought to reclaim S.H.I.E.L.D. He eventually made a deal with Gonzales, and they worked together against HYDRA, finally reunifying the two factions into one organization with Coulson as its rightful director. A new threat soon arose, the Inhumans led by Jiaying. In the ensuing conflict, both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans suffered casualties. Coulson paid a high price for victory, having his left hand cut off. He was resilient. He started a new project that would ensure the safety of humanity.
The mission of recruiting Inhumans for his team became difficult, as the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, led by Rosalind Price, was also going after the new Inhumans. Coulson developed a relationship with Price while facing threats from Ward's new version of HYDRA, from Lash and from the Inhumans. After Ward killed Price, Coulson followed him to the planet Maveth and killed Ward to avenge all the people he had murdered. Believing that Gideon Malick was the last remaining leader of HYDRA, Coulson discovered that the Hive had returned to Earth from Maveth, using Ward's body as host. With Malick's death, Coulson felt responsible for the new threat. He fought to prevent Hive from accomplishing his plan to change all humans to Inhumans and make them part of Hive. After Lincoln Campbell sacrificed himself to kill Hive and save humanity, the directorship of S.H.I.E.L.D. passed to Jeffrey Mace, while Coulson and Alphonso Mackenzie went in pursuit of the former agent turned vigilante, Daisy Johnson.
With the revelation of Lucy Bauer's ambition to find the Darkhold, Coulson created an alliance with Johnson and Ghost Rider to find the book before Bauer did. He was caught in an explosion with Ghost Rider and Leo Fitz, caused by Eli Morrow, and was temporarily trapped in another dimension. He returned with the help of Holden Radcliffe and his Life-Model Decoy assistant, Aida. Coulson then led the last fight against Morrow. Following the revelation that Mace was not actually an Inhuman, Coulson assumed the position of de facto Director while Mace remained de jure Director. Under Coulson's directorship, S.H.I.E.L.D. continued fighting the anti-Inhuman hate group known as the Watchdogs, led by Anton Ivanov, who targeted Coulson. Holden Radcliffe kidnapped Coulson, replaced him with an LMD, and plugged him into the Framework, where Coulson lived as a history teacher. With the help of Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons, Coulson escaped the Framework, only to face off against Aida's threat in the real world.
Coulson killed Aida by temporarily bonding with the Spirit of Vengeance and afterward was sent to the year 2091, along with other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The team discovered that Earth had been destroyed, and the surviving humans were enslaved by the Kree. He and the other agents eventually returned to the present day, although Coulson revealed that he was dying from his old injury, due to his deal with the Spirit of Vengeance. In order to learn more about the destruction of Earth, Coulson was imprisoned by Hale, who not only revealed that HYDRA still existed under her leadership, but also that there was an impending alien invasion. Following his escape from Hale, S.H.I.E.L.D. entered into a conflict with the Confederacy. As Coulson was trying to negotiate with the Confederacy, Glenn Talbot attempted to become a savior but instead became bent on becoming more powerful. Coulson, despite knowing that this meant sacrificing himself, aided in defeating Talbot in the Battle of Chicago and stopped him from amassing the planet's Gravitonium, successfully averting the destruction of Earth. Accepting his impending death, Coulson retired from S.H.I.E.L.D. and lived out his remaining days in Tahiti with Melinda May, eventually succumbing to his illness.
Recruited by Nick Fury
The son of Robert and Julie Coulson, Phil, was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on July 8, 1964. An only child, he wished that he had siblings, idealizing what kind of relationship he would have with a younger brother. The Coulson family identified as Catholic, but they would only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter. Coulson grew up to be a huge fan of Peggy Carter and Captain America, acquiring a vintage Captain America Card Collection over the course of two years. He played baseball in the Little League and had a batting average over .400.
His father introduced him to working on cars, and together they worked on a red Corvette that Coulson kept his whole life. Coulson lost his father at a very young age, and his mother passed away later on. While in college studying history and learning how S.H.I.E.L.D. had shaped the times, Coulson was recruited to S.H.I.E.L.D. by Nick Fury. He attended the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy of Communications, where he became an expert in S.H.I.E.L.D. history. There, he garnered an appreciation for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s legends and historical figures, especially Daniel Sousa, the first fallen S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. After graduating from the Academy, Coulson became a special agent and was mentored by Fury alongside John Garrett.
Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Coulson's first mission was with Melinda May. He was sent on a retrieval operation to a coffee shop in Sausalito. The mission did not have an exit strategy and resulted in May spending five hours in the bay until Coulson fished her out. Over the years, Coulson and May developed a strong friendship. During their time together, the two often spoke about being able to pick their own missions and call their own shots. During one of their very first missions together, Coulson allowed May to drive Lola, making her vow to never tell anybody about it. During the 1990s, Coulson was also partnered with Katherine Shane for a few operations.
In 1995, Coulson accompanied Nick Fury and a S.H.I.E.L.D. team led by R. Keller to investigate a call about a mysterious woman crash landing in a Blockbuster Video store in Los Angeles. Coulson met with the mall security guard who had made the call. The security guard told Coulson that the woman was making a call at a nearby phone booth. Coulson was tasked with inspecting the Blockbuster, searching for anything of interest at the crash site.
When Coulson was done, he exited the store and discovered that everyone had left. He was unaware that a Skrull had taken Coulson's form and was driving with Fury. When he asked Fury over the phone why he had left him at the Blockbuster, Coulson overheard the scuffle between Fury and the Skrull and the crash as Fury caused an accident which killed the Skrull.
Coulson then regrouped with S.H.I.E.L.D., where he saw Nick Fury and handed him the police report from the recent incident. Because he thought Fury had much to teach him, Coulson asked Fury if he needed a partner. Fury shut him down at that moment, because Coulson's presence reminded him of the Skrull impostor that had tried to kill him earlier. Coulson assisted Talos, who was impersonating R. Keller, as he struggled to get into Keller's office. Coulson scanned his ID card to help him, unaware that the real Keller had been knocked out.
Coulson was later part of a team led by the Keller imposter to bring in Fury, who was working with Vers at Joint Dark Energy Mission Facility. As Coulson and Whitcher made their way through the facility, Coulson was informed of the order to bring in Fury dead or alive. When Fury and Vers tried to escape, Coulson discovered them and held them at gunpoint, before trusting his instinct to let them escape. Coulson aided their getaway by telling his team that they had gone a different direction.
Debrief with Nick Fury
Nick Fury returned from assisting in the fight between the Kree and Skrulls, having lost his left eye. Coulson went to his office and returned with a variety of prosthetic eyes, as well as some files on Carol Danvers. He expressed concern over the Tesseract's location and Fury insisted it would turn up. Coulson didn't know it was inside Goose. Fury then told Coulson that, with Danvers preoccupied on the other side of the universe, he felt the need for an initiative to protect the Earth from intergalactic threats. Coulson assumed S.H.I.E.L.D. needed to find more weapons, but Fury clarified they needed heroes. Coulson then wished Fury well on his recovery before leaving.
Coulson was tasked by S.H.I.E.L.D. to retrieve an unknown object classed as an 0-8-4 from the Burkov Mining Facility in Russia. Upon arrival, Coulson impersonated an agent of the United Nations in order to access the site and retrieve the object. Coulson and May entered a deserted building, where they found a locked safe. Coulson intended to crack the safe, but May signaled the presence of four SVR agents, prompting them to switch roles: May would open the safe while Coulson tried to convince the SVR agents that his mission was well-grounded.
Coulson did his best to persuade the SVR, whose leader informed him that they had also been sent to retrieve the mysterious artifact. May eventually broke into the safe and stole the object. The SVR agents arrived and searched for her, but she had escaped with Coulson's SUV, leaving him behind. The SVR soldiers mocked Coulson for being abandoned by his partner. They put a hood on him and took him away in their van for interrogation.
May later returned to save him. She smashed Coulson's SUV into the SVR van. The SVR soldiers got out and tried to capture her, but May incapacitated them and released Coulson. The two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents flirted as they left the facility, taking the 0-8-4 with them. As a result of Coulson's escape, three of the SVR soldiers were executed. Anton Ivanov was the only survivor of the executions, and he vowed vengeance against Coulson.
Coulson also recruited Akela Amador into S.H.I.E.L.D. While Amador was not a team player and did not see the value of teamwork, Coulson felt he could instill those qualities in her. In 2006, Amador led a raid into one of the gulags run by T. Vanchat. The mission had a disastrous outcome. Fearing the worst, Coulson sent a second team to verify the loss of Amador's team. The second team found carnage but no evidence that Amador was one of the victims, leading Coulson to believe she was still alive. Coulson followed up on rumors that Amador was being held in Shanxi Province, but she had already been moved by her captors by the time he arrived.
In 2008, Coulson and May joined a S.H.I.E.L.D. TAC team on an Index Asset Evaluation and Intake mission in Manama, Bahrain. They were searching for Eva Belyakov, believed to possess super strength. Coulson attempted to approach Belyakov peacefully but she became hostile and she and a group of gangsters took O'Brien and a young girl hostage. Coulson called O'Brien's phone to negotiate, but heard O'Brien say, "Leave us alone." Hart subsequently led the TAC team to deal with the threat, but they lost communications as soon as they entered the building. Coulson tried calling S.H.I.E.L.D. for reinforcements but was met with red tape.
With the Bahraini military approaching, Coulson decided to send May in alone, while he stalled the Bahrainis by claiming there was a biological weapon inside. They later heard a gunshot. Coulson and the Bahrainis stormed the building and found Eva and the gangsters dead, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team unharmed, and May cradling the body of the girl. Hart and his men had no memory of what happened. They assumed May fought through thirty men to save them, nicknaming her "The Cavalry". Coulson comforted May over her failure to save the child and encouraged her to let the girl go. The incident traumatized May so greatly that she resigned from fieldwork and took a position in the administrative division of S.H.I.E.L.D.
When Nick Fury encountered Bruce Banner in a bar and saw him transform into Hulk, he called a meeting for some of his S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives. He told the operatives he was embarrassed at how poorly the mission had gone. Coulson told Fury that he and the others would be better prepared the next time Hulk attacked. Fury explained that since Banner was not a super soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. would consider him a secondary issue and Thaddeus Ross would be allowed to deal with him.
- "I can be in Afghanistan by sunrise, Director Fury."
"You can. But you won't. We're the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Note the word "Homeland". We're not currently authorized for foreign ops."
- ―Phil Coulson and Nick Fury[src]
Tony Stark was kidnapped by the Ten Rings in Afghanistan. Coulson and Nick Fury feared that Stark, not being a trained soldier, would tell his captors everything he knew about American national security, since he was involved in making weapons for the United States Armed Forces. Coulson offered to go in search of Stark, but Fury stopped him, saying that S.H.I.E.L.D. was not authorized to operate in Afghanistan. Fury instead sent Coulson to Obadiah Stane, to learn if Stark was a man who would sell his country to save his own skin.
When he arrived at the Stark Industries Headquarters, Stane told Coulson that Stark could not tell the Ten Rings much about the American defense systems. After returning to Fury, Coulson again offered to search for Stark. Fury once more turned him down.
Chasing Tony Stark
- "I'm Agent Phil Coulson with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division."
"That's quite a mouthful."
"I know. We're working on it."
- ―Phil Coulson and Pepper Potts[src]
Three months later, Tony Stark was found by the United States Air Force in the desert. Nick Fury did not believe Stark's story that the terrorists' ammo dump had accidentally exploded. Fury thought that Stark had been recruited by the Ten Rings and sent home, where he had all the necessary equipment to make more weapons for them.
Coulson went to a press conference hosted by Stark. He came across Pepper Potts, explaining that he was sent by S.H.I.E.L.D. to interview Stark about his experience with the Ten Rings. Potts promised to pencil him in for a meeting later in the month. She also advised him to shorten the name of his organization, as it was too long to remember.
Months later, the agency's satellites detected something that appeared to be an unmanned aerial vehicle. When Fury and Coulson saw the footage of its flight through the streets of Los Angeles, they realized the "vehicle" was actually Stark in a flying armored suit. To be sure, they hacked Stark's computers and found confirmation that Stark was developing the armored suit.
Meeting Tony Stark
- "Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division."
"Whew. God, you really need a new name for that."
"Yeah, I hear that a lot."
- ―Phil Coulson and Tony Stark[src]
Upon meeting Tony Stark at the Third Annual Firefighters' Fund gala, Coulson informed Stark of his allegiance with S.H.I.E.L.D. Stark claimed he was too busy to talk with Coulson, but he agreed to a meeting at another time.
A few days later, both Coulson and Nick Fury were in Afghanistan, where they visited the village of Gulmira. When an agent found an abandoned camera, they saw footage of Stark in a repainted armor attacking the Ten Rings and destroying their piles of weapons. Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, Coulson and Fury saw that Stark was being chased by two F-22 Raptors. When one plane went down and Stark risked his life to save the pilot, Fury realized that he was wrong about Stark. He then ordered Coulson to check Obadiah Stane's activities with Stark's finances.
Coulson went to Stark Industries Headquarters, where he encountered Pepper Potts. She informed Coulson that Stane was involved in Stark's kidnapping and attempted murder. Coulson and four other agents tried to arrest Stane, but their efforts were thwarted by Stane who was now wearing his own armor. However, in the ensuing battle, Stark defeated Stane.
Stark and James Rhodes were then taken to a secret base where they encountered Agent Coulson. Coulson told them that Stark's fight against Stane had been good, but that he needed to learn how to become a real fighter, and that his colleagues would teach him.
"I Am Iron Man"
When Coulson returned to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, he and Nick Fury watched the press conference. Coulson asked for Fury's opinion on Stark's possible future work with S.H.I.E.L.D., and Fury liked the acronym so much that he decided to make it official. A few seconds later, both Coulson and Fury were shocked when Stark publicly revealed that he was Iron Man.
Nick Fury assigned Coulson to recruit Mr. Hendricks to S.H.I.E.L.D. He took Hendricks through a practice mission in which Coulson pretended to die, and afterward, offered Hendricks his evaluation on his performance. Later, after Tony Stark rejected the offer to join the Avengers Initiative, S.H.I.E.L.D. started to keep tabs on him. After observing Stark rescue a pilot from an enemy area without collateral damage, Coulson wondered if Stark had finally learned how to play a role in S.H.I.E.L.D. He asked Fury for his opinion, and Fury told him not to mistake Stark's actions for any kind of newfound maturity, and said they would keep watching him.
- "Good morning, Director Fury. I regret to inform you that I'm handing in my resignation. I know you brought me on to Project T.A.H.I.T.I. because you trusted my judgment, and it's that judgment that's telling me I can no longer, in my good conscience, let the testing continue. I understand you started the program to potentially save a mortally wounded Avenger, but the side effects are too extreme."
- ―Phil Coulson to Nick Fury[src]
In coordination with the Avengers Initiative, Nick Fury started Project T.A.H.I.T.I. and appointed Coulson its director. The goal of the project was to create a medicine that could save a mortally wounded Avenger. Located within the Guest House, the scientists assigned to the project used the blood from a decaying alien corpse to create a powerful drug. They called the drug GH.325, and it was capable of repairing injured tissue and curing deadly diseases.
Coulson chose six agents who were dying of terminal illnesses as test subjects. At first, the patients responded positively, but they soon started speaking gibberish and writing strange symbols on anything they could, including their own bodies. Coulson, after seeing the extreme side effects, resigned from his position, recommending the project be shutdown and that the alien corpse be destroyed. He also had the patients' memories replaced and gave them new identities, so they would have a chance at a normal life.
A Busy Week
A few months later, Coulson and Nick Fury led an expedition to Greenland in hopes of finding Steve Rogers, who had been classified as MIA after World War II. They did not find Rogers, but instead found one of the disabled flying bombs from HYDRA's ship, the Valkyrie. The World Security Council eventually ordered S.H.I.E.L.D. to shut down the operation and focus on Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S.. Ignoring the direct order, Fury decided to continue with his usual activities, and he told Coulson to do the same.
Watching Over Tony Stark
At his birthday party, Tony Stark got drunk and had a battle with James Rhodes. So Nick Fury put Coulson in charge of guarding Stark, making sure Stark did not leave his house while he looked for a cure for his Palladium poisoning. Later, Coulson went to Stark's workshop and found one of the early prototypes of Captain America's shield in Howard Stark's casket. Tony Stark took the shield and used it to balance the Particle Accelerator he was building.
Coulson informed Fury about the appearance of a wormhole over New Mexico. Coulson had spent the week trying to warn Fury that the wormhole was a possibility. Fury had Coulson lead an expedition to New Mexico. Coulson contacted Natasha Romanoff and asked her to handle things at Stark's house.
- "Tell them those Tae-Bo tapes really paid off."
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
On the way to New Mexico, Coulson stopped at a Roxxon service station to buy snacks and fill his car with gas. While he was in the shop, two robbers entered and threatened the clerk with shotguns. Coulson intervened, passing them his car keys and showing them his gun. While handing over the gun, pretending to be compliant, he quickly rendered both of them unconscious. He returned to the counter and bought two snacks, paid, told the clerk to keep the change and to tell the police that she was the one who defeated the gunmen.
Upon arriving in the desert of New Mexico, Coulson and his team discovered the crater site with the mysterious hammer at the center. They labeled the object an 0-8-4 and called in a team to analyze it. Though the locals had discovered the hammer before Coulson's team, no one had been able to lift or move it, not even with the help of their vehicles. Coulson and his men set up a perimeter and a base of operations surrounding the crater. Coulson also consulted with Elliot Randolph, since S.H.I.E.L.D. determined a link between the hammer and Norse mythology.
Meeting "Donald Blake"
- "You made my men, some of the most highly trained professionals in the world, look like a bunch of minimum wage mall cops. That’s hurtful. In my experience, it takes someone who’s received similar training to do what you did to them. Why don’t you tell me where you received your training? Pakistan? Chechnya? Afghanistan? You know, you strike me more as the soldier of fortune type."
- ―Phil Coulson to Thor[src]
Coulson was sent to confiscate all of the research about the mysterious wormhole that Jane Foster and her scientific team had collected. Coulson and his agents traveled to Puente Antiguo and confiscated all the scientists' equipment, despite Foster's protests. That same night, an unknown man infiltrated Coulson's base and single-handedly took out a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents using various fighting styles. Coulson observed from a distance, asking Clint Barton to prepare to take action against the intruder if necessary. When the attacker tried and failed to lift the hammer, a group of agents easily captured him.
Shortly after, Coulson interrogated the stranger about his identity and training, believing him to be a warrior of some type. The stranger refused to answer questions. The interrogation was interrupted when Erik Selvig arrived and informed Coulson that the stranger was Donald Blake, a member of his scientific staff. An agent confirmed Selving's story by running a background check in the computer database and finding a falsified document created by Foster. Though Coulson knew that Selvig was lying, he agreed to free "Blake," secretly assigning agents to follow Selvig and his friend.
Attacked by the Destroyer
A few days later, Jasper Sitwell discovered the coordinates of another potential crater site that appeared to have an exact signature match to the hammer. Upon investigation, Coulson and a unit of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents found a gigantic automaton of unknown origin. As the automaton slowly approached, Sitwell asked Coulson if the automaton was one of Tony Stark's inventions. Coulson replied that Stark had never said anything to him about it. Coulson then tried to speak with the automaton, but the iron giant attacked them.
Coulson survived the attack. When the automaton attacked Puente Antiguo, Coulson saw "Donald Blake" gaining mysterious supernatural powers. When "Blake" summoned the hammer and defeated the automaton, Coulson realized that he was actually Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and Prince of Asgard. Coulson confronted Thor, who offered his services in protecting Earth under the sole condition that Coulson return all of Foster's research and material. Coulson agreed to Thor's terms and requested that they be debriefed just before Thor flew upwards with Foster in his arms. Later, Coulson and Clint Barton supervised the transport of the automaton to a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility.
The Big Problem
Coulson met with Jasper Sitwell in a cafe to discuss the news that The World Security Council had ordered S.H.I.E.L.D. to recruit Emil Blonsky for the Avengers Initiative. Sitwell and Coulson disapproved. Coulson explained that the Council considered Blonsky a war hero and was pinning an incident in Harlem on Bruce Banner, though it was started by Blonsky after he transformed into the Abomination. After ensuring that Sitwell had the proper Clearance Level, he explained that Blonsky was not in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.
Coulson and Sitwell agreed that releasing Blonsky from the Army's custody and adding him to the Avengers Initiative roster would be foolish. Because they were compelled by the WSC order, they decided to send someone to talk to General Ross who would be so irritating that Ross would simply refuse to free Blonsky. Not without reservations, Coulson decided to send Tony Stark. A few days later, Coulson and Sitwell met at the same cafe. Their plan had worked, as Stark's annoying behavior made Ross so angry that he refused to free Blonsky.
Sometime later, Natasha Romanoff was sent to Moscow to interrogate Mikhail Fjodorov, with Coulson in charge of the mission. After Fjodorov was killed, Romanoff cut off contact with S.H.I.E.L.D. and started chasing Sofia, who wanted to kill Romanoff and become the new Black Widow.
Coulson followed Chuzhoi and Rogusskii, who had been sent by Starodoub to kill Romanoff. Two of Coulson's agents were killed by Sofia, and Coulson arrived just in time to save Romanoff's life. He gave her the necessary equipment to infiltrate Yuri Klementiev's yacht, where she met Sofia again, an encounter which cost Gennady Markov his life.
After Coulson discovered Sofia's employer was the billionaire Richard Frampton, Natasha went and infiltrated his headquarters in Vladivostok. She learned that Frampton worked for the Ten Rings terrorist organization and that he had made a Jericho missile they intended to explode near the border between Russia and North Korea, destabilizing the peace. Romanoff destroyed the missile, and Coulson led a team of agents to the launch area, where they captured all surviving members of the Ten Rings.
Finding Captain America
A year after the Battle of Puente Antiguo, a group of scientists successfully reactivated the giant automaton that attacked the city. When Coulson saw this, he told the chief scientist to make the automaton a hundred times smaller and put a trigger on it. The resulting weapon was the Destroyer Armor Prototype Gun, and it marked the beginning of Phase 2 of the Tesseract project.
A few minutes later, Coulson was called by Nick Fury, who informed him that Steve Rogers had finally been found. When Coulson arrived at the place he had been found, he saw his colleagues excavating Rogers' completely frozen, but still living, body from the wreck of HYDRA's giant plane, the Valkyrie. However, there was no time for celebrating, as Fury immediately sent Coulson on another mission.
Fury asked for an update on the situation and Coulson reported that he did not know what was happening. Fury ordered an evacuation of the facility, and Coulson took charge of moving the Phase 2 prototypes to a safe distance. When the Tesseract was activated and Loki arrived on Earth to launch an invasion, the facility started collapsing. Coulson ordered the agents to abandon the prototypes and save themselves. They all boarded a helicopter and flew away from the destroyed facility. Fury then ordered Coulson to return to base as their mission was a level seven and they were now at war.
Contacting the Black Widow
With the Tesseract in the hands of a hostile demigod, Nick Fury decided to activate the Avengers Initiative and call to action a group of extraordinary people who could protect the planet better than S.H.I.E.L.D. The first candidate was Bruce Banner, but Fury needed Natasha Romanoff to convince Banner. Coulson called Romanoff on the phone, interrupting her interrogation. When Coulson told her that Clint Barton had gone rogue, Romanoff easily defeated Georgi Luchkov and his subordinates. While Coulson went to recruit Tony Stark, Romanoff traveled to Kolkata, India where she found Banner and convinced him to join S.H.I.E.L.D.
Visiting Tony Stark
Coulson attempted to contact Tony Stark, but Stark refused to answer his calls, forcing Coulson to override J.A.R.V.I.S.'s security protocols and visit Stark in person at Stark Tower. Coulson interrupted Stark's dinner with Pepper Potts and informed Stark that he was needed for the Avengers Initiative. Stark was reluctant to join, until Coulson gave him all the data about the Initiative and the Tesseract. Stark grudgingly agreed. Coulson then drove Potts to the airport while they discussed Audrey Nathan.
Meeting Captain America
- "I gotta say, it's an honor to meet you, officially. I sort of met you. I mean, I watched you while you were sleeping. I mean, I was... I was present while you were unconscious from the ice. You know, it's really, it's just a... just a huge honor to have you on board."
"Well, I hope I'm the man for the job."
"Oh, you are. Absolutely."
- ―Phil Coulson and Steve Rogers[src]
Coulson's next assignment was to escort Steve Rogers to the Helicarrier. Rogers had joined the Avengers Initiative upon Fury's invitation. Aboard the Quinjet, Coulson asked Rogers to sign his vintage Captain America Card Collection, which he had gathered over two years. Coulson was awed by Rogers and revealed that Captain America had been a role model to him.
Once they boarded the Helicarrier, Coulson introduced Rogers to Natasha Romanoff. Romanoff told Coulson that he was needed on the bridge. When he reached the bridge, Coulson informed Bruce Banner that they were searching for the Tesseract, using cell phone signals, cameras, and wireless phones to find its location.
When Stark managed to capture Loki in Stuttgart, Germany, Thor suddenly appeared and tried to take Loki back to Asgard. It was agreed that Thor would join the Avengers in their mission against Loki. The group assembled on the Helicarrier, where Thor informed them of Loki's plan to conquer the planet with the army of the Chitauri.
Later, Coulson met with Thor, informing him that Jane Foster had been moved to a secure location, when Loki returned and put Erik Selvig under his control. Thor thanked Coulson for protecting Foster and said he believed Selvig was a good man, noting that Loki would have targeted him because of his friendship with Thor. Coulson explained that Selvig often spoke of his encounter with Thor.
A brainwashed Clint Barton attacked the Helicarrier with a group of brainwashed mercenaries, allowing Loki to escape from his prison cell. When Coulson reached Loki's cell, he found the Asgardian free and Thor trapped in his place. Coulson threatened Loki with a weapon created from Asgardian technology. Coulson was unaware that he was aiming the weapon at an illusion, while the real Loki snuck up behind him and stabbed him in the heart with his Scepter.
Mortally wounded, Coulson could do nothing to prevent Loki from ejecting Thor from the Helicarrier. Coulson told Loki that he was going to lose, and fired on Loki with the Destroyer Gun, sending him crashing through a wall. Fury reached Coulson just before he died, and Coulson told him it was O.K., that his death would give the Avengers something to fight for. Later, when the battle was over and lost, Fury let his agents know that Coulson had been killed by Loki. Fury used Coulson's death to motivate the divided Avengers into working together as a team. With Coulson as their inspiration, the Avengers defeated Loki, preventing his invasion.
- "Let me die, please. Please. Please, I'm begging you let me die. Please! Please, let me die!"
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
Days after Coulson died, Nick Fury had his body taken to the Guest House, where S.H.I.E.L.D. medical staff used an experimental drug to repair his damaged organs at a cellular level, as a part of Project T.A.H.I.T.I. It took at least seven operations, but Fury's doctors were able to bring Coulson back to life. The process was extremely agonizing for Coulson, who begged the doctors to let him die.
Not long after he was resurrected, Coulson began to experience the same mental breakdowns suffered by other patients of Project T.A.H.I.T.I. He began carving alien symbols and screaming at his doctors that he needed to know what the symbols meant. Fearing that he could suffer a horrible death, the doctors chose to erase his memory.
Nick Fury and J. Streiten ordered that some of his memories be altered with a robotic-assisted neural micro-surgery, to make him believe that he had been revived in Tahiti. The fake memories were meant to help him cope with the pain. Coulson was also made to forget everything about Project T.A.H.I.T.I., including the fact he had headed the project. The details of his revival were restricted to Coulson. Streiten maintained that the methods used to restore Coulson to life were unethical and he felt that they should have let him die.
Coulson was told that he had been dead for only eight seconds, but he suspected it was longer. He remembered being somewhere else, in a beautiful afterlife. Later, Coulson rejoined S.H.I.E.L.D. and wrote a report for Nick Fury detailing Chitauri weaponry on the black market and recalled the events surrounding Benjamin Pollack and Claire Weiss's bank robberies using a Chitauri Gun, which S.H.I.E.L.D. labeled "Item 47."
The New Team
When Fitz and Simmons arrived, they were both nervous to meet Coulson. Coulson thought that they were one person, because they were always referred to as "FitzSimmons". Coulson discussed their history at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, mentioning that they were the youngest students ever to graduate, and that they had conducted an unauthorized biofuel experiment, which resulted in an explosion.
Coulson was impressed with the scientists and invited them to join his team. Simmons was excited by the idea, but Fitz was initially afraid of going into the field. Simmons was able to convince him. Stationed on the Bus, the pair designed specialized equipment and compounds on the spot in various emergency situations.
The First Mission
While Maria Hill was meeting with Grant Ward, Coulson entered, revealing that he was not dead as everyone believed. They discussed their first assignment together, which was to locate and assist Mike Peterson, a known enhanced individual. Later, Coulson spoke with Hill about his time in Tahiti, but said he was more than happy to be back on the job. Hill and Dr. J. Streiten were reluctant to release Coulson for active duty, given the horrific nature of his recovery. They were astonished to learn that Coulson didn't know the truth about his death and resurrection. Hill told Streiten that Coulson could never know the truth.
Coulson went to visit Melinda May, whom he had worked with in the past. He asked her if she would join his team, promising that he would be picking the ops and making the calls. May was still haunted by her last mission with Coulson in Bahrain. She was reluctant to return to combat. Coulson told her that he only needed her to "drive the Bus."
Coulson arrived on the Bus in his car, Lola. As he and Ward explored the plane, Coulson disclosed that the Bus used to be standard issue for new teams until the Helicarriers were created. May appeared and said they had located one of the Rising Tide's most prolific hackers. Ward was more interested in the fact that May was part of the team, due to her legendary status as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson stressed that she was merely the pilot and was not there for combat missions.
During the new team's first mission, they encountered the Rising Tide "hacktivist" known as Skye. She had posted a video of Michael Peterson, the man S.H.I.E.L.D. was searching for, so they wanted her for questioning. Coulson and Grant Ward tracked Skye to her van, where they found her making a video about S.H.I.E.L.D. not being able to stop the Rising Tide. Coulson arrested her and brought her to the Bus.
Coulson and Ward Interrogated Skye. Coulson apologized for Ward's hostility, saying Ward had history with the Rising Tide. Coulson asked Skye where Peterson was and she claimed she didn't know anything. Then Coulson discover that Skye was on the scene when Peterson saved Debbie. During the interrogation, Coulson learned of Peterson's connection to the Centipede Project. To gain Skye's trust, Coulson pretended to give Ward a truth serum and Ward told Skye some low-level intel about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s activities. In return, Skye told Ward what little she knew about the Centipede project.
Using the information given by Skye, Leo Fitz, with the aid of the Echo Chamber, was able to recreate the CCTV footage of the explosion within the Centipede Project lab and determine its cause. Coulson confirmed that the explosion was the result of a man having been submitted to the unstable Extremis process. The video showed the exploding man had a Centipede Device locked onto his arm. By examining a damaged Centipede Device retrieved from the lab, Jemma Simmons learned that the Centipede Serum was very similar to the Super Soldier Serum developed by Abraham Erskine during World War II. The team began working on a plan to subdue Peterson, before he too exploded.
Michael Peterson kidnapped Skye and assaulted Melinda May. Skye managed to hack into the Bus's computers and alert the team to her and Peterson's location. Coulson and Grant Ward arrived at Union Station and Coulson tried to convince Peterson to surrender. Peterson punched the door off of Skye's Van and tried to escape with Skye and Ace Peterson into the building.
Coulson entered the building, trying to find Peterson to calm him down before he exploded and killed Skye and other civilians. Coulson was able to find Ace, who had been separated from his father. Coulson handed Ace to a police officer to take outside, and promised Ace that he would save his father. Coulson welcomed May as a third party arrived to try to kill Peterson. Coulson ordered Ward to the second floor of the building and take aim at Peterson, while he stayed on the first floor to make sure Peterson didn't escape. Coulson insisted that Ward only fire if he had to, and Ward reluctantly agreed.
Coulson caught up to Peterson and tried to talk him down. Coulson placed his gun down on the ground as a show of peace, but Peterson noticed Ward was upstairs aiming a rifle at him. Coulson said he knew that the Centipede Serum was poisoning Mike's body, reminding him that the man at the Centipede lab had gotten worked up and exploded. Peterson insisted he was not like that man. Peterson claimed that organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D. were responsible for him losing his wife and job, angrily saying that the government was waiting to make an example of anyone who stood up against them, like he himself was doing. Coulson said that Peterson was a good man and that he could still become a true hero. Coulson promised to help him. Ward suddenly shot Peterson with the Night-Night Gun.
After stopping Mike Peterson and getting him the help he needed, Coulson accompanied Skye to take Ace Peterson to stay with his aunt. As they left, Coulson asked Skye if she had thought about joining the team. Skye was undecided, so Coulson assured her that they could do some good. After getting a call from Grant Ward about an 0-8-4, Coulson and Skye flew back to the Bus in Lola.
Finding an 0-8-4
Back on the Bus, Coulson was confronted by Grant Ward. Ward complained that Skye was not a trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and didn't belong on the team. Coulson argued that it was because Skye didn't think like an agent that they needed her. He pointed out that S.H.I.E.L.D. employed civilian consultants all the time, using Tony Stark as an example. Ward then informed Coulson that they have been called to Peru to investigate an 0-8-4, an unidentified object, at an archaeological site called Llactapata.
When Coulson and his team arrived on site in Peru, Skye volunteered to warn the local residents of the potential danger. Coulson, not wanting to start a panic, explained that he wanted to keep the investigation contained. He told Skye that she was only there to create a diversion if word did get out. The team was then led to the temple by an archaeologist, who showed them to the 0-8-4.
Once inside the temple, Coulson was contacted by Ward, after he and May had had a confrontation with a group of soldiers. Coulson went out to see what was happening and soon spotted the commanding officer. He recognized her as Camilla Reyes, with whom he had worked years earlier. Reyes wanted to claim the 0-8-4 for Peru. Coulson contended that an 0-8-4 superseded all national claims. The two began reminiscing, when a group of rebels attacked. Coulson's Team and Reyes' soldiers were forced to retreat to the Bus.
Ward was able to pry the 0-8-4 out of the wall of the temple before retreating. When everyone had boarded the Bus, Coulson gave orders to set a course for a nearby S.H.I.E.L.D. base to carry out a contingency protocol to contain and neutralize the artifact. Coulson approached May, saying he knew she had not wanted to see combat and he was sorry, but she remained silent. Coulson interrupted Ward, Simmons and Fitz, who were arguing over the artifact. He said that they all had special talents and ordered them to work it out. Coulson then gave Reyes a tour of the Bus.
In his office, Coulson showed Reyes some of his collectibles. She tried to seduce him, but Coulson recognized it as a ruse and knew Reyes and her men were trying to hijack the plane. Coulson told her that Grant Ward should already know that her men would need to eliminate Melinda May from the controls to be successful. Coulson tried to reach May, but was forced to surrender after learning his team was being held hostage. He gave control of the plane to Reyes.
Coulson was tempted to let Reyes kill him rather than give her information on the plane's destination, but Reyes threatened to kill his entire team by dumping them from the cargo bay where they were imprisoned. Coulson learned that the 0-8-4 had been made shortly after World War II by a group of former HYDRA scientists, commissioned by the Peruvian government to use against the rebels. It had been lost during a battle because of its temporal instability, which caused it to vanish and reappear within the stone that the temple had been built around.
Coulson had loosened his bonds, when he saw one of Fitz's drones flying through the cabin. He guessed what was about to happen and used his ropes to tie himself to a post. Fitz caused the 0-8-4 to discharge, blasting a hole in the side of the plane, causing all of the interior doors on the plane to open. Coulson, Reyes, and several soldiers were sucked towards the hole. Coulson managed to pull himself out of harm's way, taking Reyes with him.
Meeting with Nick Fury
The Bus arrived at the Slingshot facility in the desert, where the 0-8-4 was to be launched into the sun. Skye asked Coulson why they had gone to the trouble of acquiring the object, if they were just going to destroy it. Coulson explained that the 0-8-4 was too dangerous for any one country or organization to possess.
Following his mission in Peru, Coulson went and met with Nick Fury, who was angry at Coulson because of the damage done to the Bus. Fury also warned Coulson that Skye might still be loyal to the Rising Tide. He then ordered Coulson not to let Simmons and Fitz install their fish tank on the plane.
The team received a call that a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist named Dr. Franklin Hall had been kidnapped in an incident involving an invisible substance picking up and throwing down trucks. The team investigated and Fitz and Simmons learned that an element called Gravitonium, which could change the effects of gravity, had been used.
Coulson and Ward tracked down the supplier of the vehicles and equipment used in the attack, leading them to Todd Chesterfield who had been paid in gold. When they learned where the gold had originated, they discovered that Hall was being kept by Ian Quinn.
Skye successfully infiltrated Quinn's Mansion and, Coulson and Ward were able to break into the compound. Coulson located Dr. Hall and tried to convince him to leave, but Hall claimed that the Gravitonium was too dangerous to be in the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Quinn. Coulson learned Hall's plan was to sink the complex thereby destroying the Gravitonium and Quinn. Coulson realized that if Hall succeeded, thousands of people would be killed, so he shot the glass beneath them, causing Hall to fall into the Gravitonium, which appeared to absorb him.
Back on the Bus, Coulson instructed agent Tyler to put the Gravitonium in the Fridge, a S.H.I.E.L.D. detainment and storage facility, and claimed he wanted nobody to know about its existence, honoring Hall's wishes. After ending the call, Coulson tried to remember how to load a gun. Melinda May entered his office saying that she didn't enjoy these close encounters, which Coulson understood to mean that she was still uncomfortable about field work, but she corrected him, saying that she was ready to return to the field. Coulson questioned whether she meant combat or watching his back. May replied that it meant the same thing.
Searching for Akela Amador
Coulson went to see Skye in a S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV. He discussed several types of heists, telling Skye he needed her to figure out how someone had been exploiting security systems in a string of recent jewel thefts.
Coulson, Melinda May and Skye went to investigate a robbery on a train, where a group of military officers escorting some diamonds were taken down by a lone woman with her eyes closed. They learned from Skye through social media that the assailant was Akela Amador, who was Coulson's old protégé. Coulson told how Amador was a former agent who had supposedly gone rogue after a bad mission. Coulson decided to hold off on informing HQ so that he could investigate for himself.
Coulson and Grant Ward retraced her steps and tried to locate her, arriving in Zloda, Belarus. They spoke to an Innkeeper who claimed that Amador was an angel because she had correctly sensed the woman had a tumor, which made Amador's abilities more of a mystery. While they were continuing their investigation, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons traced a video signal that seemed to show Amador's point of view. They quickly realized that Amador was looking at them. Fitz, Simmons, and Skye were in a van that was attacked by Amador, who drove into the van's side, knocking it over.
Coulson and his team were fine, but the attack solidified Amador's position as an enemy. Skye was able to decrypt the broadcast and the team discovered that the source of the video was coming from Amador's own right eye, which was a prosthetic. Watching the video feed from her eye, they learned that Amador was being controlled by an unknown person. Coulson remained adamant that the team needed to help her on their own without reporting to HQ. Coulson realized that they could determine Amador's position if they continued to monitor the video feed from her eye.
Coulson found out that May was attempting to bring Amador to HQ. May and Amador began fighting. Coulson arrived before Amador could kill May and sedated Amador with the Night-Night Gun. Coulson waited for Amador to wake up, then revealed to her that his team had rerouted her eye's signal to a pair of glasses being worn by Ward as he carried out the operator's directives with Skye, giving the rest of the team time to disable the failsafe. Knowing she was safe, Amador was able to reconcile with Coulson, her former mentor, explaining to him that if she had followed orders, she wouldn't have been in that situation.
Coulson with May's assistance, tracked down Amador's operator, named the Englishman, only to discover that he too was being controlled by a third party when a kill switch in a similar eye implant killed him. With the case resolved for now, Coulson discussed the loose ends with Amador before saying his goodbyes and handing her over to S.H.I.E.L.D. authorities. He promised her a fair trial, but Amador was simply happy to finally be free of the eye implant's control. As she left, Amador asked May what had happened to Coulson, noting a difference in him. May recounted how he had almost died before the Battle of New York, but Amador said that something had been done to him, before dropping the subject, leaving May confused. Later, Coulson joined Skye in the SUV and talked about the recent mission.
Coulson introduced his team to Quan Chen, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Hong Kong district who told them that meta-human Chan Ho Yin had been kidnapped. Skye, surprised to find out there were other people with powers, was told by Coulson that Chan was on the Index, a short list of people with incredible abilities kept by S.H.I.E.L.D..
Skye claimed that she was innocent, noting that she has been on the Bus with the team for the last two weeks, but Coulson claimed this would have given her the perfect opportunity to hack S.H.I.E.L.D. Backed by Grant Ward, Skye set out to prove her innocence by helping them find the hacker who sent the leak. In Texas, the team attempted to capture Miles Lydon, an experienced Rising Tide hacker, but he managed to escape them.
Coulson, Melinda May and Quan, along with other agents, infiltrated the lab. Ward released Skye when Coulson told them they needed her help to hack the facility's system. After the agents freed Chan, he quickly killed Quan, claiming that no matter who he went with he would never be able to use his gift. Chan began to attack the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents present, despite his powers causing him pain and burning his skin. Coulson and May injected Chan with an extremely high dose of the Centipede serum, causing Chan's body to overheat and explode. However, with Lydon's help they managed to transfer the energy from the explosion out of the building and into the sky, saving the civilians. Coulson thanked Lydon before kicking him off the plane.
Coulson then turned his attention to Skye and claimed that ever since she got on the plane she had been hiding something. He ordered her to confess or he would be done with her. Skye revealed a chip that had all of the existing information on her parents, from which she only found a single file docketed by S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson decided to let her stay, but in return she would have to wear a Tracking Bracelet that let S.H.I.E.L.D. track her every move, and limited her ability to interact with electronic devices without permission.
- "Blood work finally came back. I'm perfectly normal. Little heavy on the iron, but don't worry, you don't have to start calling me Iron Man."
"Wasn't planning on it."
"My doctors never requested any tests. I ordered them for myself. But you knew that. This piece of paper is telling me that everything's fine, but... I don't feel fine. I feel different."
- ―Phil Coulson and Melinda May[src]
Coulson underwent several medical tests which Simmons questioned, saying that he was not due for a physical for another three months. Coulson said he got a call from his physical therapist and had told her that he had been feeling "rusty".
Coulson and his team headed to the campsite. The team investigated the earlier incident as Fitz and Simmons discovered mysterious electrostatic anomalies and examined a hole in Cross's head. As Simmons went closer to examine Cross's corpse, static discharged from his body before it fell to the ground. On the Bus, Skye researched Cross but claimed that he was clean of any criminal record. Ward said that everyone looks clean on their first "go around". Coulson told Ward he was being too hard on Skye but Ward said that if she wanted their trust back she had to earn it. Coulson defended Skye saying that what she had just done was a good start. Coulson came down to the lab with Simmons who analyzed the victim's body while Fitz stayed out of the lab, expressing a general apprehension and disgust for being around dead things. Simmons showed Coulson the brain of the victim which had been struck by 2,000 megajoules of electricity.
Coulson, May, and Ward quickly drove to the new location with Skye, pinpointing the event to a farmhouse not far away. Coulson told Skye to do a background check on the owner of the farm. The energy signature suddenly disappeared and Ward, May, and Coulson arrived too late to save the owner, Frank Whalen. Coulson, Ward, and May traveled to the local firehouse where Tony Diaz exhibited strange behavior before retreating to the kitchen. Diaz claimed to hear a noise similar to the one heard by Cross earlier. Coulson said that he heard nothing, before noticing a pan lifting in the air. Alarmed, Coulson held Diaz at gunpoint. May contacted Coulson, reporting her discovery of a Chitauri Helmet.
Coulson asked how they got it, and Diaz said it was a souvenir from their clean up work in New York. He claimed that he, Cross, and Whalen were only cleaning it, leading Simmons to realize that Diaz was infected and that the helmet must have had an alien virus on it. Diaz, realizing he was going to end up like his friends, slowly became erratic and frightened. Coulson told Ward and May to evacuate everyone from the building. Coulson stayed, and comforted Diaz during his last moments, sharing his experience from his own brief death, before leaving Diaz to his fate.
Coulson returned to the Bus and told Simmons to begin developing a cure. Simmons told Coulson that the infection was spread through electrostatic energy, as a shock. In the middle of her explanation, a lab tool hovered ominously behind Simmons. Coulson apologized sincerely, and locked her in the lab, as he realized Simmons was infected. Coulson reassured his team that Simmons would find a way to cure herself. Coulson contacted Felix Blake to find out more about the virus. Blake told them they had no record of the virus, but in order to save the rest of the team, they must put their infected agent down. Coulson tried to buy time to avoid this protocol by hanging up on Blake.
Coulson revealed to May that he ordered the physical exam for himself, because of his own doubts. She told him to unbutton his shirt, which revealed the scar left behind by Loki, and she told him that he felt different because he was different. Coulson met with Blake, and Blake warned him that if he kept pulling stunts like this, the "higher-ups" would take the team away from him. Coulson brushed the comment off, and told Blake he would like to see them try. Blake left, jovially noting the change in Coulson's disposition.
Returning to The Hub
At an unknown location, a captured Coulson was escorted to a torture room to be interrogated. When the interrogator arrived Coulson informed him that his cover had been blown, revealing the interrogator to be S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Shaw. May and Ward arrived to take out the other men and free Coulson before making their way out of the facility. Together, the agents escaped what was revealed to be an underground base in Siberia, where they used a pair of sleds to escape back to the Bus.
Coulson informed the rest of the team, but noted that the data was clearance level 8 and beyond their priorities. However, Skye questioned this, alarmed at being shut out of the process so quickly and that the rest of the team wasn't privy to the same information as Coulson. Ward countered that every agent can't have the same information, claiming that it would make the entire organization vulnerable. At the Hub, Coulson was asked by Skye if she could research S.H.I.E.L.D.'s data for information about her parents. Coulson told her they had more important things to do, but that he would look into it for her. Jasper Sitwell greeted the group and told Coulson, May, and Ward to join him for the briefing, locking Skye out again as Leo Fitz and Simmons opted to check out the science labs. Coulson, May, and Ward were introduced to Victoria Hand, who informed them that the South Ossetian rebels had developed a weapon called the Overkill Device, which they planned to use to declare their independence from Russia and Georgia. Hand explained that the device was designed to create sonic vibrations that were powerful enough to trigger and disable enemy weapons from a great distance, a technology that posed a wide-sweeping threat.
Before Ward went on his mission, Coulson told him to take care of Fitz, who had next to no field experience. Coulson and Hand discussed his recovery, they noted that not all agents got sent to Tahiti, and Coulson once again strangely responded that it was a magical place. Coulson reassured Hand that Ward and Fitz would complete the mission. Coulson met up with Skye in the hallways of the Hub. She tried to get answers from Coulson, but he coldly told her to "trust the system". With no other way to get answers, Skye decided to come up with a plan for her and Simmons to get the information they need. Coulson found May alone aboard the Bus practicing Tai Chi. May remained silent as he confessed that he did not like hiding information from the team, but realized that he must trust the system.
Coulson confronted Hand about hiding the fact that there was no extraction plan for his agents, claiming that as a level 8, he had a right to know their safety was ensured. Hand pointed out that Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton never had an extraction plan. Coulson retorted that they were aware of it going into the field. Hand simply told him to trust the system. Coulson rejoined the team and they set out to go help Ward and Fitz. Coulson told Skye that he found the file on her parents, and informed her that it was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who left her at the orphanage. Skye emotionally thanked him for the information. Coulson revealed to May in private that he only told her part of the truth and asked for May's help in the rest. Later, Coulson made a phone call to gain information about his mysterious recovery. The agent told him that he didn't have access to the file, despite his clearance level.
Coulson and his team were assigned as part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. clean-up crew after Thor's battle with Malekith and the Dark Elves. While they cleaned up Greenwich University, which was affected by the battle, Coulson explained to Skye about the origins of Asgardians.
Coulson and his team went to investigate the death of Bjorn. Coulson talked to Neils as Simmons discovered that whatever was in the tree was not of earthly origin, and Fitz confirmed that the staff was Asgardian. Coulson tried to get more details from the Ranger when Skye called to say something was happening on the news. Violence had breaken out in the streets of Oslo, resulting in twenty injured civilians. The news revealed that the riot was started by the same couple who had written a startling message on the streets: WE ARE GODS.
Skye asked Coulson to call Thor for help. Coulson states that he did but Nick Fury told him that Thor had gone "off the grid". Coulson then tells them that when Mjølnir landed in New Mexico they consulted an expert on Norse Mythology, Elliot Randolph. Coulson went to meet with Randolph and he told them the story of an Asgardian warrior, part of an army campaign who fell in love with Earth and stayed behind, who possessed a weapon called the Berserker Staff which granted the user incredible strength but drove him into an uncontrollable rage.
Coulson and his team headed to Baffin Island, Canada because Randolph told him to look for clues there. While there he checked in with Skye who doing research online. She had found numerous negative comments left by people regarding the battle in Greenwich. But she did hear chatter about going underground, meaning the Paganists were searching for the next piece of the Asgardian staff underground. Coulson and Fitz followed, only to find the empty-handed Randolph. Coulson took Randolph aboard the Bus for questioning. Coulson tried to get answers out of Randolph but he claimed he only wanted the staff to study it. Coulson explained that from his past experiences with Asgardians, cases like this were personal to him. He told Randolph to get comfortable.
Ward told Coulson that the Asgardian Staff seemed to be bringing up his worst memory. Coulson replied that the fact Ward was telling him that made him feel like he could trust him, and suggested that Ward let some of his rage out on Randolph. Ward entered the room and attempted to get answers from Randolph. When he did not cooperate, Ward tried to stab him but Randolph twisted and bent the knife, confirming Coulson's theory that Randolph was the Asgardian warrior who stayed behind.
Coulson revealed to Randolph how he found out about his heritage, noting he was not the first Asgardian he had had in his custody and said that Asgardians do not panic when in captivity. Coulson also noted the professor's pen, saying he would not have been able to get it on his salary. Coulson also noticed how Randolph was not curious to learn how he had met other aliens. While the team was amazed by Randolph's presence, May locked the interrogation room on Coulson's orders.
The group arrived at the monastery, in time to see Nystrom stab Randolph with the staff. Ward reluctantly grabbed the staff and attacked Nystrom, whom he managed to defeat. Meanwhile, Simmons was having trouble stopping Randolph's bleeding since she was unfamiliar with his alien anatomy. Coulson stuck his hand into Randolph's wound and told them that since Asgardians heal faster, all they had to do was keep him alive long enough for his body to heal itself. Simmons told Coulson to look for his heart. Coulson found Randolph's heart and managed to save him by stopping the bleeding.
The Truth Revealed
Coulson was tempted to touch the staff to figure out his the details of resurrection, but Randolph convinced him against it. Later, Coulson woke up on a massage table and asked his masseuse if he fell asleep. She replied that it meant he was relaxed. He agreed and said that Tahiti was too good to be true. The masseuse said, "It's a magical place." At that, Coulson woke up in his bed from the nightmare.
Coulson and Skye discussed Hannah Hutchins who was the safety inspector at StatiCorp. People suspected her of having telekinetic abilities, as she appeared to be able to move objects with her mind. Skye asked Coulson about it, and he told her that telekinetic powers were unheard of on the Index. The team traveled to Batesville to conduct an index asset evaluation and intake. Civilians had crowded around Hutchins's house, demanding that she be arrested. Coulson's team and the police were unable to calm the citizens, prompting May to sedate Hutchins. On the Bus, Coulson asked May to go into the interrogation room with him, both for protection and to get Hutchins to trust them. Coulson and May entered the Cage and Hutchins awoke and started backing up against the wall, scared. Coulson tried to appear friendly, and gave her a bottle of water and introduced himself and May. Coulson's gentle interrogation of Hutchins pulled up more information about the Staticorp accident.
Apparently, Hutchins had been receiving complaints for weeks about the coupling assembly coming loose at the bolts. Tobias Ford had been the technician there. Hutchins had gone down every few days to check the bolts and found no more issues. Coulson informed her that they believed she may have acquired some sort of telekinetic ability as a result of the accident. Hutchins broke down as she realized they thought it was her who had caused the freak accidents. Coulson explained that all of the incidents had one thing in common: her. Hutchins insisted that they were not her doing, and Coulson asked who she believed was causing it. After hesitation, she admitted to believing demons were haunting her because God did not protect her anymore.
Coulson and his team discussed Hutchins. Skye insisted that Hutchins was "overly nice"; she took the job as safety manager because she actually cared about people's lives, and she volunteered at a shelter and rescued puppies. Skye pointed out that person like Hutchins, who had lots of empathy would be completely devastated by the loss of life. Hutchins blamed herself. Skye begged Coulson to let her talk to Hutchins as a friend, but Coulson denied her request, saying it was too dangerous. In his office, Coulson set Skye straight about May's past. It was not an assault or a rescue. It was an index asset evaluation and intake that "went south."
A civilian girl and some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were being held captive by the followers of the gifted individual. May had gone in to retrieve them and took it upon herself to cross off the enemy force. Coulson said that May was never the same after that incident. He said she had once been warm and mischievous, much like Skye. Their talk was interrupted by Ford, who locked Skye and Coulson in the office. Coulson constructed a makeshift bomb out of his collectible Walkie-Talkie Wristwatch, though it pained him to destroy it. Later, Coulson praised Skye on her ability to read people and learn how their minds work. He said that was why he wanted her to pay close attention to this mission because he knew that one day she would be very good at it. Later, Coulson, Skye, Ward, and Simmons played "Upwords" in the lounge. Fitz walked into the lounge with shaving cream covering his face and hand. The team burst out laughing.
Recruiting Mike Peterson
- "When I took this job, I made a choice, the same choice everyone else here made – this life over the other one, the one with holiday dinners and PTA meetings, recitals. It's not easy. But if the time comes to make the hard call, it's simpler. But you have a son. You have someone waiting for you to come home. You need to think about that. You need to think about him. Before you make your choice."
- ―Phil Coulson to Mike Peterson[src]
Coulson recruited Mike Peterson to his team as super-soldier support. Soon, soldiers working for the Centipede Project sprang Edison Po from prison after perfecting the Centipede serum. Coulson's Team traced a Centipede-powered soldier, Brian Hayward, to an abandoned factory and walked into an ambush by a squad of Centipede-powered soldiers. When Po and Raina saw that Peterson still had his powers despite not having had an injection in quite some time, they realized he was the key to Stage 3 of their plan.
Coulson's team discovered that the soldiers had been subjected to the same eye procedure that Akela Amador had underwent. Po told Raina that he informed the Clairvoyant about her. Raina asked who the Clairvoyant was and Po replied that the last person who tried to learn the identity of the Clairvoyant had received a knife in the eye. Coulson and Ward went on a mission to investigate Brian Hayward, one of the Centipede Soldiers who was identified on the CCTV footage. As they drove to the location of Hayward's sister, Ward managed to get Coulson to open up about his previous relationship, which included dinners at the Richmond. When they met the sister of Hayward, Ward approached her telling her Heyward had won the lottery and needed to contact them. They traced her call when she called her brother to tell him what had happened, giving them the current location of Centipede.
- "After New York, you weren't dead for eight seconds or forty seconds or whatever they put in your file. You were dead for... days."
"It should be, but Director Fury moved heaven and Earth. He had a team of scientists working around the clock using procedures that no good doctor would ever allow."
- ―J. Streiten and Phil Coulson[src]
Mike Peterson tried to contact his son, Ace Peterson, and learned that he has been kidnapped by Project Centipede. Peterson appeared to offer himself in exchange for his son's release. Coulson escorted Peterson to the exchange where Peterson revealed that Centipede actually wanted Coulson in exchange for Ace, not himself, but he hesitated go through with the betrayal. Coulson told Peterson it was okay, understanding that he had no other choice.
Coulson was initially tortured by Edison Po, who told him that the Clairvoyant couldn't glean the information they wanted because the Clairvoyant had been unable to sense Coulson since his resurrection. The Clairvoyant decided that Po's methods were ineffective and killed him, after which Raina took over Coulson's interrogation. She used a scanning device to compel him to remember aspects of his being brought back to life. Coulson experienced flashbacks in which a reluctant Dr. J. Streiten and others operated on him. During the flashbacks, Coulson's skull cap was removed and his brain was directly stimulated by a robotic apparatus, while Coulson begged to be allowed to die. Coulson's team rescued him, after which he confronted Streiten, who told Coulson he had been dead for days, not minutes, and was resurrected at the orders of Nick Fury. Streiten reveals that after his revival, Coulson had lost the will to live, and that the doctors manipulated Coulson's brain to give him false memories and restore him to the man he was before.
While Skye and the rest of the team visited S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy of Science and Technology, Coulson and Melinda May traveled to Mexico City, Mexico, where they tracked down former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Richard Lumley, who had been involved with Skye's case and fell off the grid soon after. Lumley told Coulson the story of that long-ago op. Shortly after returning home, the other agents involved in the op began to be eliminated until only he and Linda Avery remained. Avery took steps to hide Skye in the foster care system. She made sure Skye would never be in one home for too long, before Avery was murdered herself. Coulson, tired of secrets, revealed this to Skye. He feared that learning of all of the lives lost on her behalf would shatter her spirit, however, Skye's resilience surprised him. She was grateful that S.H.I.E.L.D. had protected her all of these years and considered them to be the family that she never had.
The Mysterious Weapon
Upon learning of Ian Quinn's ties to the Clairvoyant, Coulson focused his team's efforts on finding and apprehending Quinn. After the mission at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy of Science and Technology, the team was informed by John Garrett about some mysterious weapon in Jamaica. The team went to the town of Negril and found the weapon. After some skirmish with the guards they managed to get the weapon onboard the Bus and fly off. Once they examined the weapon, Skye was able to hack the weapon's code and track its origin to the remote town of Limoux, France. During the flight to France, Coulson had a video conversation with Garrett about the weapon and Garrett's former protege, Agent Ward.
Tracking the Clairvoyant
The team found records of Quinn making a ten-million dollar purchase from Cybertek. Coulson believed that Cybertek would deliver the purchase to Quinn personally, so his team went undercover. Coulson made arrangements with the Italian authorities to allow S.H.I.E.L.D. to take over the investigations on Cybertek. He placed his team on the train on which Cybertek security chief, Carlo Mancini, was traveling to make the delivery to Quinn.
Unfortunately, Coulson and his team were betrayed by local officer Luca Russo, who was working with Cybertek, and was being paid large amounts of money to ensure that Cybertek's deliveries went unhindered. Coulson, and Agents Grant Ward and Melinda May, were separated from the train, leaving only Agents Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons and Skye to track the delivery.
Coulson managed to track down his team, Cybertek and Quinn to a mansion on the Italian countryside. He arrived too late prevent the delivery of Quinn's purchase from Cybertek, a prosthetic leg. The leg had been made for captured former S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee, Michael Peterson, in the Clairvoyant's efforts to transform Peterson into the cybernetic assassin called "Deathlok". Coulson was also too late to prevent Quinn from shooting Skye twice in the stomach at the behest of the Clairvoyant. After taking Quinn into custody, Coulson found the wounded Skye and called for Simmons. Simmons managed to temporarily prevent Skye from dying by placing her into a Hyperbaric Chamber, which lowered her core body temperature for the two-hour transport to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Trauma Zentrum in Switzerland.
The Guest House
- "Right now Quinn doesn't matter – only Skye does. And I need you to pilot the plane."
"You heard what the doctor said."
"She said there was nothing more they could do for her, but there are doctors who brought me back from the dead. If they can do that, I'm betting they can save Skye."
- ―Phil Coulson and Melinda May[src]
Coulson tried to contact Nick Fury for answers. Dr. Jazuat told the team that Skye could only remain alive on life support. In grief, Coulson and his team returned to the Bus. Enraged, May began to beat Quinn senseless until Coulson ordered her out. Coulson decided that they would look for a way to save Skye's life, like the doctors had for him. Coulson explained to Ward, Fitz, and Simmons what actually happened in "Tahiti".
Coulson greeted John Garrett, Ward's former S.O, as he boarded the Bus and asked for Quinn. Coulson explained to him the situation and convinced him to help them save Skye, but not before a fight broke out between Ward and Garrett's new trainee, Agent Antoine Triplett. Coulson and Garrett stopped the fight, explaining that Garrett convinced HQ to let him interrogate Quinn. Coulson and Garrett entered the box with Quinn, who explained that he wasn't feeling very cooperative. Garrett grabbed Quinn's tongue as he was speaking, and threatened to tear it out. They began to question him regarding Project Deathlok. Quinn told them that the last person to ask about that program wound up with "two in the stomach", and Coulson almost punched him. Coulson asked if he shot Skye because she saw what they were delivering to him. Quinn responded that he did it because the Clairvoyant told him to.
Coulson argued that the Clairvoyant must have had something pretty deep on Quinn to make him shoot an unarmed girl. Quinn explained several occurrences with Garrett's Team as proof of The Clairvoyant's powers. He said that The Clairvoyant saw everything, except how Coulson returned. It was revealed that The Clairvoyant planned everything that happened so that Coulson would dig deeper into his own death and return in order to save Skye.
Coulson was told by May and Simmons that they were not sure they should dig deeper, partly because Fitz and Simmons didn't fully understand the file. Coulson insisted that they had to do everything possible, even if it meant giving the Clairvoyant what he wanted. May told Coulson that she agreed they should do whatever it took to save Skye. Coulson and the team prepared to enter the Guest House, which was not a S.H.I.E.L.D base, figuring that there might be hostiles. Agents Triplett and May were left aboard the Bus in case their skills were needed there. The field team reached the doors, only to be greeted with the protocol sentence, "How was the drive from Istanbul?" After many attempts to convince the occupants to help (while they repeated the same sentence three times), they decided they needed to say "pretty please" and broke into the hostile environment. Communications went down, but they continued in spite of it.
Coulson found the operating room where he was resurrected, and experienced flashbacks of the horrific procedure. Garrett and Ward continued to look for the triggering device after figuring out that the timer was separate from the actual explosive. Coulson entered an area marked for radiation and refused to put on a suit despite Fitz's warning, because there was no time.
Coulson was found by Garrett, who told him not to let Skye take the drug. They barely made it back on the Bus, which took off in a huge explosion. Coulson entered the medical pod yelling for them to not administer the drug, but Simmons had already proceeded. Coulson was confronted by May, who congratulated him for doing the impossible by saving Skye, and asked why he was not happy about it. Coulson flashed back to entering the room marked T.A.H.I.T.I. and finding that the drug was being extracted from half of a corpse of an unknown alien in a cryotube. He concealed this from May, saying that he did not want Skye to suffer as he had. He left to sit with Skye as she recovered.
Working with Lady Sif
Coulson and his team investigated an energy reading in the desert, consistent with the imminent arrival of Asgardians. They encountered Sif, who had come to Earth seeking Lorelei. Sif explained that Lorelei had escaped imprisonment in Asgard during the attack of the Dark Elves, and that to neutralize her power to control the minds of men, she would have to fit a special collar around Lorelei's neck that prevented her from speaking.
Coulson and his team, along with Sif, arrive at Rosie's Desert Oasis, where they met with policemen who were already enthralled by Lorelei. The police shot at them. While Coulson and Ward dealt with the policemen and the Dogs of Hell who were stationed outside the building, Sif entered and confronted Lorelei who was accompanied by several Dogs of Hell. Lorelei enthralled Ward and the two escaped together. When Coulson, Sif, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. team caught up with them, the two were nowhere to be found. The team realized it was too late. Ward and Lorelei, planning to eliminate any threats to Lorelei's rule, had commandeered the Bus, with help from an enchanted Fitz, who had locked Sif in the interrogation room, and imprisoned Simmons and Skye in the recovery room. Coulson, pretending to be under Lorelei's power as well, learned of Simmons' location and freed her. Lorelei encountered May and claimed that Ward revealed to her that despite their sexual relationship, his heart was with someone other than May.
The team defeated Lorelei. Sif thanked Coulson for the team's aid and said that she would bring Lorelei back to Asgard on Odin's orders. She said she would let Coulson be the one to tell Thor he was not deceased. Coulson approached Skye and confesses that he discovered that the drug used to revive them both was alien in origin. Despite how disturbed Coulson was by this fact, Skye remained optimistic. Coulson swore they would get answers, beginning with tracking down the Clairvoyant. He ordered Skye to keep the origin of the drug a secret until Fury gave them the truth.
Coulson grew concerned because the case was solved too easily. When Skye discovered that S.H.I.E.L.D. psychological files had the same information the Clairvoyant knew, Coulson realized that the Clairvoyant was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, not a psychic. Believing that Ward killed Nash to cover up his tracks, Coulson interrogated him and Ward denied having any association with the Centipede Project. Skye entered to tell Coulson that Melinda May had a secret phone line on the plane. Coulson, believing that May was working with the Clairvoyant, held her at gunpoint. Suddenly, Victoria Hand took over the Bus and ordered her men to kill everyone on board except Coulson, whom she wanted taken alive.
- "HYDRA? You really believe all that crap, spreading death and destruction?"
"I wouldn't say I'm a true believer. Let's just say I felt the wind changing direction and swung my sail. You really should, too."
"I would die before serving HYDRA, you sick son of a bitch."
- ―Phil Coulson and John Garrett[src]
After Captain America exposed to the public that HYDRA had been growing inside of S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA agents sent out a secret message to other agents that it was time to reveal themselves. Coulson and his team, along with Agent John Garrett, received the message and concluded that Victoria Hand must be the Clairvoyant. Hand was leading them to the Hub to be killed, and knowing that Jemma Simmons was there, Coulson's Team and Garrett decided to fight their way through the teams of HYDRA agents to rescue Simmons and capture Hand.
Coulson argued with Garrett about whether they should kill Hand or just capture her. Coulson figured out that Garrett was the Clairvoyant, when Garrett accidentally revealed that Raina and Coulson were both in the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine, something Coulson did not include in his report. Coulson then realized that Garrett had masterminded everything, including his torture and Skye's being shot, all so Coulson could lead Garrett to the Guest House. Suddenly, a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents burst in. Coulson ordered them to arrest Garrett, identifying him as the true Clairvoyant. Garrett ordered the HYDRA sleeper agents in the team to execute the legitimate S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Coulson rejected Garrett's offer to join HYDRA. As Garrett prepared to execute all of them, the group was rescued when Skye and Grant Ward successfully blew up the main generator.
Coulson and the team then subdued Garrett and his men, as Hand arrived having heard Garrett's confession. The true S.H.I.E.L.D. agents took all HYDRA agents into custody. Hand told Coulson to stay in contact. With Nick Fury presumed dead, they were the two highest ranking agents alive who were not HYDRA.
How to Survive
- "The world needs us! HYDRA is out there! We cannot let them win! We cannot let them define us! Do you understand that? We are not agents of nothing! We are agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and that still carries weight! It has to carry weight! After everything we've been through, that carries weight!"
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
After the attack on the Hub, Colonel Glenn Talbot contacted Coulson and told him that he would be sending a peacekeeping force to establish order. Coulson, seeing through Talbot's lie, immediately left the Hub with his team and Agent Antoine Triplett. After taking off on the Bus, Coulson, knowing that every government agency would be after them, had Skye collect everyone's badges and delete all of their information. Coulson received some coordinates. Believing that only Nick Fury could have sent them, Coulson took a leap of faith and followed the coordinates. They led to a secret base called Providence. There they met Agent Eric Koenig, who revealed to Coulson that Fury was indeed still alive. Koenig threatened Coulson not to inform the rest of his team, as only he, Captain America, and Maria Hill were trusted to know Fury's status.
Grant Ward soon arrived at Providence. He told the group that HYDRA had raided the Fridge, taken all of the weapons S.H.I.E.L.D. had recovered, and released the entire criminal population. That included Marcus Daniels, a man Coulson had put away after he began stalking Coulson's former lover, Audrey Nathan. Coulson took Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons and Antoine Triplett to search for Daniels. When Coulson and his team encountered Daniels in the park, he revealed to them that S.H.I.E.L.D had made him stronger. They realized that Daniels would not stop until he got Audrey. The team convinced a reluctant Coulson to use Audrey to draw Daniels out so that they could subdue him with concentrated light powered by the Gamma Power Reserve. The plan was successful and Daniels was killed. On their way back from Portland, Coulson decided to forgive Melinda May for keeping secrets. He realized that he would not be able to accept forgiveness from Audrey (for hiding from her after his resurrection) until he was willing to forgive others. When the team returned to Providence, however, they found the base empty. May, Eric Koenig, Skye, and Grant Ward were gone.
The Shield That Protects
As the others who returned with him from Portland tried to get their bearings, Coulson repeatedly watched Providence's security footage in hopes of learning what happened to his missing team members. When Jemma Simmons found Eric Koenig's body and Leo Fitz found a message from Skye saying, "Ward is HYDRA," they knew Skye was in trouble and needed their help. Colonel Glenn Talbot found them with help from Maria Hill.
After Coulson explained to her the situation, Hill assisted Coulson's Team in escaping from Providence to Los Angeles and acted as a distraction so Coulson could board the Bus, where Skye and Ward were located. Unknown to Coulson, Deathlok was also on board. As the Bus ascended and Deathlok and Ward attacked, Coulson rescued Skye using Lola. They landed outside a hotel, where the team and Melinda May, who had returned, met to rest. Before he could rest, May gave Coulson the information he wanted: who had led Project T.A.H.I.T.I.. Surprisingly, it was Coulson himself who had led the project, before resigning and asking Nick Fury not to use it.
Hunt for John Garrett
The next morning, Coulson met with his team to make plans to stop John Garrett and retrieve the Bus. Coulson decided that he and Melinda May should go undercover as unemployed S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists seeking work atCybertek in order to obtain information on Deathlok, in the hopes it would lead them to Garrett. Coulson learned that John Garrett was "patient zero," the first Deathlok. Eventually, Coulson's team found the Barbershop Headquarters in Havana, Cuba Garrett was using. When they entered, they were surrounded by Centipede Soldiers and Kaminsky with the Berserker Staff.
Coulson and his team fought their way out, after Skye hacked the Barbershop Headquarters' computers. They decided to take the fight to John Garrett using a tracker Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons had planted on the Bus.
After landing at the Cybertek Manufacturing Facility in New Mexico, Coulson and Antoine Triplett created a diversion and stole a heavily armed armored Humvee and stormed the facility. Inside, Coulson confronted Garrett and Deathlok. After being thrown around by Garrett in a fight, Coulson was joined by Director Nick Fury, who gave him the Destroyer Armor Gun. Coulson and Fury took out the other Centipede Soldiers then confronted Garrett, as Deathlok targeted them. However, Deathlok turned on Garrett. Garrett tried to convince Coulson to call off Deathlok, but Coulson and Fury left the decision to Deathlok.
Coulson oversaw the taking of the Centipede soldiers and Grant Ward into custody by United States Armed Forces. However, Garrett survived and tried to use the Cybertek machines to heal himself. Coulson destroyed Garrett using the Peruvian 0-8-4.
Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The New Beginning
Onboard the Bus, Coulson and Melinda May spoke to Nick Fury about Project T.A.H.I.T.I.. They asked why he used it on Coulson after Coulson's recommendation to terminate the project. Fury told him that he wanted Coulson alive because he was one of his most trusted agents. Coulson was touched but asked why Fury would take that risk, since the project had been designed to resurrect an Avenger. Fury responded that Coulson, due to his great heroics and leadership capability, was considered an Avenger. After telling Coulson that, May believed he was okay and fit for duty. Fury named Coulson as director and gave him the Toolbox with the task of rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D., then Fury disappeared.
Within the box was a map that led Coulson and his team to the Playground, where Jemma Simmons was waiting for them. After they hugged, she assured them that Leo Fitz was alive, although she did not comment on his mental health. They were then greeted by the Playground's guardian, Billy Koenig, who looked exactly like his late brother, Eric Koenig. Koenig welcomed them and assured them that whatever resources they had at the base were Coulson's to use as he deemed fit. The team then prepared to begin Nick Fury's mission of rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D.. Later that night, Coulson awoke from bad dreams and began writing in a symbolic language.
Rebuilding the Agency
Despite all odds, Coulson began slowly rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D., with his old team serving as the core around which he assembled more agents. For three months, Coulson sat outside the cell of Grant Ward, but Ward refused to speak to him. Ward said he would only speak to Skye. Meanwhile Coulson recruited Isabelle Hartley, Idaho, and Lance Hunter. He gave Skye an assignment to study the Words of Creation, and he consulted with Andrew Garner about his urge to write in the cryptic symbol language. He didn't tell anyone about the meetings, not even Melinda May, Garner's ex-wife.  He sent two agents to infiltrate HYDRA, Jemma Simmons as a scientist for HYDRA, and Bobbi Morse to watch her back. To maintain her cover more easily, Coulson did not tell Simmons about Agent Morse or her mission. Morse eventually became the Head of Security at HYDRA Laboratories.
A month later, Coulson informed Melinda May that he was heading to London to recruit more former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into their organization. In reality he met with Sam Koenig in America to discuss Theta Protocol. Koenig informed Coulson that Jemma Simmons was doing well undercover at HYDRA and that Robert Gonzales had not been located and had likely been assassinated by HYDRA. Koenig asked Coulson how Leo Fitz was doing, and Coulson told him there had been some progress with his mental state. Koenig handed Coulson his new lanyard before looking over Theta Protocol, which was the repair and storing of Helicarrier No. 64 so that it could be ready to be used in case of a world-endangering emergency.
Upon returning to the Playground, Coulson sent a team consisting of Hartley and Hunter to buy an 0-8-4 from a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Roger Browning. The operation failed because Browning did not bring an 0-8-4 but instead brought a file on it. That file was stolen by an unknown assassin who killed Browning and escaped. Later, at the Playground, after receiving information about the assassin's identity, Coulson ordered Skye to talk to Grant Ward to get intelligence about the assassin. Coulson then sent Hartley, Skye, and Melinda May to kidnap Glenn Talbot so they could talk. Talbot refused to cooperate, so Coulson tricked him into relinquishing his fingerprints and codes to the Government Storage Warehouse holding the Obelisk, the first 0-8-4. All of Coulson's field agents went undercover to the storage facility. Hartley found the artifact, but, to defend herself against the Absorbing Man, she touched it. Coulson was called for instructions since Hartley was fatally injured. He ordered them to proceed. Only May knew that it was a two-pronged mission. The second part was to obtain a Quinjet with cloaking technology, since Leo Fitz's brain damage made him incapable of duplicating the technology for the Bus.
Tracking Carl Creel
May went after Carl Creel. Coulson ordered her not to engage, despite Creel having killed Hartley and Idaho. May felt guilty when Creel killed a waitress who accidentally touched his Obelisk-infected skin. She told Coulson that she should have stopped Creel as she planned. Coulson said May would have died also and claimed that Hartley's and Idaho's deaths were his responsibility, despite May's reassurance they weren't.
At the Playground, as Coulson and the field agents tried to find a way to stop Creel, the group was contacted by Raina. She revealed the Obelisk had a tracker installed in it. Lance Hunter then arrived, having seemingly escaped from General Glenn Talbot. At his debriefing, Coulson asked Hunter what Talbot had offered him to get him sell out S.H.I.E.L.D.. Hunter was initially furious that Coulson had not sent out a team to stop and kill Carl Creel. Eventually he confessed, telling Coulson that Talbot had offered him two million dollars and a proper burial for Hartley, but he assured Coulson that he had declined the offer.
When the team finally tracked down Creel, Coulson ordered Hunter to stay at the base, but after Hunter begged him, Coulson allowed him to accompany the others. As Skye, May, and Antoine Triplett got prepared, Coulson ordered the team to wait until Creel revealed his HYDRA contact before engaging. Hunter, however, wanting revenge, knocked out Skye, Triplett, and May with an I.C.E.R. and attempted to kill Creel himself. Fortunately Coulson arrived with the Overkill Device, which had been modified by Fitz and Alphonso Mackenzie. He stabbed Creel in the back, causing the Obelisk to turn his body to stone, incapacitating him.
Coulson gave Hartley a proper burial service, receiving Hunter's gratitude. Coulson then convinced Hunter to join S.H.I.E.L.D. full time. He said he needed agents to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Hunter agreed and Coulson ordered him to rat him out to Talbot. At the Playground, May berated Coulson for going into the field like he did and told him she knew that he was resisting his urges to write the Words of Creation. Coulson was tired of fighting the urge and began writing it while May recorded.
Later, Coulson met Talbot and dropped Creel off to him, telling him to lock him up more securely this time. He promised to drop off "gifts" like that from time to time, so Talbot could keep getting promoted. Coulson asked for a favor in return: for Talbot to give S.H.I.E.L.D. breathing room. Talbot openly refused, but before he could order his men to capture Coulson, the team arrived with the now cloaked Bus. They warned Talbot not to get any ideas. 
The Race Against Time
Coulson attempted to make contact with Agent 33, but discovered she had been kidnapped by HYDRA. Upon returning to the base, he informed Agent May about the situation. Coulson then went to have dinner with Jemma Simmons, his mole in HYDRA. As they ate, they discussed Donnie Gill and the fact that HYDRA had a file on him. When Simmons asked about Leo Fitz, Coulson told her that he was fine. Coulson took the intel Simmons gave and prepped his field agents for their mission without revealing Simmons' part.
When Gill revealed himself in Casablanca on the Maribel del Mar, Coulson accompanied the others in the cloaked Bus, desiring that Gill become an asset for S.H.I.E.L.D. When he learned that Gill was brainwashed into taking the Sandbox for HYDRA, Coulson ordered that no HYDRA agent was to communicate with him. This order caused Lance Hunter to almost kill Simmons, but she was saved by Melinda May, who was ordered to maintain Simmons' cover. After the mission in Morocco, Coulson confronted Fitz about torturing Ward. Coulson spoke about being director and the secrets he kept, including keeping Grant Ward in the basement.
Search for Creation
Later, Coulson and the team planned the retrieval of a painting which had mysteriously survived a fire unharmed and also had the Words of Creation carved on its back. Thanks to the assistance of Hunter and Skye, Coulson and May were able to infiltrate the party where the painting was the main attraction. During their mission the team discovered Glenn Talbot was also there and had taken the painting. Strangely, Talbot made a deal with them to examine the painting as long as they were in a secure location.
May, wanting to make sure Talbot was telling the truth, tailed him, only to be subdued by Agent 33 and Sunil Bakshi. Agent 33, disguised as May, took May's place and lied to Coulson, claiming Talbot was telling the truth. As Coulson and 33 arrived at the location, Coulson discovered her deception when he mentioned them going to get a cup of coffee, a drink May hated. As the real May battled Agent 33, Coulson pursued and knocked out Bakshi and retrieved the painting. Afterwards, Coulson told May that he wanted her to kill him if he were to go insane because of the GH.325.
Search for Skye's Father
Later, the team was contacted by Raina who wanted to meet up with Coulson. At a restaurant, Coulson met Raina while Hunter, May, and Skye watched from a distance. During the conversation, Raina admitted she knew Skye's father, and threatened to blow Simmons' cover if Coulson did not release Skye to her custody. Coulson, having a back-up plan, refused the deal. Turning the tables on Raina, Coulson got her to admit where Skye's father was and had her agree to draw out Daniel Whitehall in exchange for protection. Skye beat the team to the location and found it empty, except for two dead men who had been killed by her father. Skye, horrified, called her father a monster.
Back at the Playground, Hunter met his ex-wife, Bobbi Morse. Shocked and surprised to see her and her dyed hair, he asked Coulson what she was doing there. Coulson told Hunter to "play nice". In his office, Coulson tried to apologize to Skye. He revealed that he had been writing the Words of Creation under May's watch. Coulson was upset that the symbols were incomprehensible to him. Skye said that they were a map.
Cleaning S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Reputation
Coulson watched Senator Christian Ward, brother of Grant Ward, have a televised debate with Julien Beckers. Senator Ward denounced S.H.I.E.L.D. and proposed the eradication of the organization. Understanding the long term implications this would have on agents around the world, Coulson asked Skye to postpone researching the Words of Creation and talk to Grant about his brother. Coulson activated the Inertial Confinement Laser Barrier to interrupt their conversation when it strayed into discussing Skye's father.
Coulson went and talked to Senator Ward personally to ask him to recant his position. He agreed to do so if Grant was relinquished to him. Coulson then allowed Skye to learn all Grant knew about her mother and father before having him turned over. Senator Ward then kept his word. He publicly stated that S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA were separate organizations, one dedicated to law enforcement, the other bent on world domination.
Coulson learned that Marcus Scarlotti was seeking Beckers, so he told Walters' team to find and protect him. Coulson did not know that Beckers was a HYDRA agent. Consequently, Beckers and her team were slaughtered. When Melinda May called Coulson to inform him that the HYDRA agents were in custody, he was more concerned about the loss of his agents. Later, Coulson and a team of agents delivered Grant Ward to the FBI. Ward escaped shortly thereafter.
Solving the Mystery
Coulson was once again drawing the symbols when Skye walked in and told him that despite all her leads, she could not find out where the supposed map led. Coulson told her that his compulsion to draw the symbols was increasing to the point where he could not stop. When Skye asked him what to do if they could not find the answer, Coulson changed the subject. He wondered about the progress Melinda May and the other agents were making on finding Grant Ward, so he contacted them. Agent Antoine Triplett informed Coulson about finding Ward at a Philadelphia bus station with a large number of explosives attached to him. Coulson told Triplett to continue following Ward but not to engage him.
Later, Skye told Coulson that a contact of hers, who was a "crime scene junkie", informed her of the murder of Janice Robbins, a woman who had the same mysterious symbols carved into her skin. When Coulson saw her picture he said Robbins was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. At the crime scene, Coulson and Skye found out that Robbins was putting the symbols in her artwork. Back at the Playground, Coulson noticed that her artwork had more symbols than Coulson's carvings.
Skye found out that Janice Robbins' original name was Rebecca Stevens. She had been a S.H.I.E.L.D. level 6 agent in the past and had worked at the Triskelion, but had contracted cancer and died five years ago. Wanting to find out how that was possible, Coulson had Alphonso Mackenzie and Leo Fitz retrieve Stevens' body. After the autopsy, Jemma Simmons revealed that Stevens had the same GH.325 serum in her as Coulson and Skye. Coulson blamed himself for Stevens' death as he was in charge of Project T.A.H.I.T.I. Wanting to save others like Stevens, Coulson went into the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine where he found out that Stevens and numerous others suffering from deadly diseases were administered the serum. As Coulson went as deep as he could, Skye contacted May and told her of Coulson's use of the machine. May ordered them to get him out of it.
After a struggle, Skye managed to snap Coulson back to reality by holding him at gunpoint. She told him that May said he should be locked up for awhile. Coulson agreed, and, as the two went down to Vault D, Coulson told her that Sebastian Derik was the murderer and he was going after Hank Thompson. Skye said she would send some agents to Thompson's location to protect him. Coulson said that would be unnecessary. He pushed Skye into the cell and trapped her, telling her he had to finish this on his own. Coulson arrived at Thompson's house and asked him at gunpoint if he was drawing the symbols in any shape or form. Thompson denied ever seeing them. He indirectly revealed that Derik had beat Coulson there. At that point, Derik knocked Coulson out.
Derik tied up Coulson and Thompson. He reveled that despite having his memories erased, the pain from carving the symbols into his skin helped him to retrieve those memories. He said he carved the symbols into the other patients to help them to remember, too. While Derik was threatening to carve the symbols into Coulson, Thompson, having remembered some of his S.H.I.E.L.D. training, managed to free himself and his family. Derik saw that he was free, and threw his knife at him. Thompson caught the knife and freed Coulson.
Coulson and Derik dueled and Coulson nearly choked Derik, trying to get him to look down at Thompson's workshop. Skye and Mackenzie arrived and made Coulson release Derik. Coulson eventually managed to show Mackenzie what he had discovered: Thompson's model train city, when viewed from above, looked just like the mysterious symbols. Derik was turned over to the authorities. Back at the Playground, Coulson asked Thompson to rejoin S.H.I.E.L.D., but he refused, choosing to live a simple life. After Thompson departed, Coulson revealed to the others that his compulsion to draw the symbols was gone, having finally discovered what they were. Coulson gave his senior agents a new mission: find the city that matched the Words of Creation before HYDRA did.
- "The satellite network we need to map the Earth and find the city is controlled by the U.S. Air Force facility at Kaena Point, Oahu, and it's too heavily guarded to infiltrate. Which is why we came to Australia instead. There's a small station here that comes online whenever Kaena Point's feed goes down."
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
Coulson took Skye, Antoine Triplett, and Leo Fitz with him to Hawaii, where he realized that the Kaena Point Air Force Base was too difficult for them to infiltrate. A satellite relay station in Laura Creek, Australia, would be an easier target. That station went online as a backup for the Hawaiian facility when it was down. Coulson ordered an EMP to be set up that would disable the Oahu station for six minutes. When Coulson's team entered the Australian facility, they were ambushed by HYDRA.
Pretending to be a captive, Calvin Zabo (Skye's father) offered to help save Triplett when he was shot. Coulson realized who he was, but he had to allow his escape in order to save Triplett. Coulson promised Zabo that they would finish their conversation. When Coulson arrived back at the Bus, he was clearly shaken by the experience. Before he and Fitz could tell Skye that they had seen her father, the satellites found the Kree City.
Locating the Kree City
- "Look around you. Vendors selling their wares, bringing home a modest income. Locals buying fresh vegetables for dinner tonight. Tourists on their one vacation a year."
"They are the point. They're the reason I'm here, the reason there's a S.H.I.E.L.D. There are three million people on this island, and I won't let HYDRA turn them into collateral damage."
- ―Phil Coulson and Bobbi Morse[src]
After having located the Kree city, Coulson and the others briefed the agents on the plan to stop HYDRA from using the Diviner to kill hundreds of people. The plan was to send a survey team into the city through an opening in San Juan, locate the temple, and then blow it up. Bobbi Morse asked about the Obelisk, since, even without the temple, the weapon was still dangerous. Coulson reassured her that when it got to that moment, they would deal with it.
Later, Sam and Billy Koenig saved Raina from being captured by Agent 33. Coulson learned from Billy that Agent 33 was still alive and that HYDRA was trying to capture Raina rather than kill her. Coulson told Billy he would be sending Melinda May with an extraction team to help them safely transport Raina. Coulson went to Skye and May as they watched news on the death of Senator Christian Ward and told them they would be splitting up the teams since HYDRA had finally located Raina. Coulson told Skye that she would be aiding in the interrogation of Raina, claiming that Raina would probably respond better to her. Coulson told May that he did not want Skye on the city mission because he did not want her to encounter her father and told May to keep an eye on her.
Coulson and Morse searched for the entrance to the Kree City in Puerto Rico. While they searched, Coulson reassured Morse that he had no intention of keeping the Diviner, as he was fighting for the lives of ordinary people. Morse met with her contact, who was unwilling to help them get down to the garrison, because he was scared of the legend that the place was haunted and that those who entered did not return.
Inside, Coulson watched as the D.W.A.R.F.s were sent down a hundred foot shaft leading to the hidden underground city. Then the drones lost their signal, though the tablet control still worked. Alphonso Mackenzie was sent down to investigate. When Coulson heard his screams, Mackenzie was hoisted back up. Mackenzie then slapped Coulson into a wall as his eyes turned red.
As the team attempted to subdue him, Morse ended up electrocuting him with her staves, causing Mackenzie to fall back down into the hole. Coulson ordered them to seal the shaft. Morse yelled that Mackenzie was still down there. Coulson told her that Mackenzie was no longer himself.
Melinda May went to San Juan to inform Coulson, Fitz, Morse and Simmons that Grant Ward had taken Skye and Raina. Coulson surmised that Ward was probably taking Skye to meet her father. Coulson told Bobbi Morse to make sure Diego did not reveal anything to HYDRA and told her that they would do everything they could to help Alphonso Mackenzie, but they had to stop HYDRA from entering the city first.
May blamed herself for letting Ward take Skye. Coulson assured her that Skye would be fine, since May had turned her into a capable agent who could handle herself. As the team prepared, Coulson told Sam Koenig to report back to the Playground. He said if things went south, he would need Sam and his brother to enact the Theta Protocol. Coulson received a call from Morse who told him that HYDRA forces were in Puerto Rico in the old abandoned Ponce de León Theater.
Coulson and May went to help Morse and Hunter stop HYDRA. Together all four stormed the theater. Coulson killed Daniel Whitehall as the latter was about to shoot Skye's father, Calvin Zabo. Angered that he lost his chance for vengeance, Zabo attacked Coulson and nearly beat him to death. He was stopped by Skye who held him at gunpoint and told him to leave. Skye apologized to Coulson and told him she was going destroy the Diviner and stop HYDRA's plan.
Chasing after her, Coulson met up with May again and had her lower him down into the city so he could save Skye. Inside, Coulson was attacked by Alphonso Mackenzie, whom he briefly managed to subdue. With Skye inside the chamber and no one else around, Coulson was again confronted by Mackenzie. Fortunately, Mackenzie returned to normal once the Diviner was activated. Helping Mackenzie to his feet, the two watched as the city began to crumble.
The Director's Duties
Coulson, not being able to sleep, observed Skye as she slept in quarantine. When she awakened, they talked about how the death of Antoine Triplett was affecting the other senior agents in the Playground. Coulson told Skye, who blamed herself, that HYDRA was going to pay for his death.
Coulson called a meeting of his senior agents to discuss with them his plans for Sunil Bakshi. During the conversation, Alphonso Mackenzie, who was still suffering from the effects of going down into the Kree Temple, challenged Coulson's authority, believing his plan unsound. An argument ensued among the agents until Coulson had enough and told everyone, especially Mackenzie, that Triplett had known his place and would not have hesitated to obey Coulson's orders. Coulson then dismissed everyone.
The next morning, Coulson made a deal with General Glenn Talbot to give him Sunil Bakshi, who had now recovered from his suicide attempt, in exchange for Talbot's assistance in handling any remaining HYDRA forces. Coulson and Melinda May were transferring Bakshi to the custody of General Talbot when the S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV he was in was hit by a truck filled with mercenaries. Coulson and May were seemingly both fatally shot in the ensuing gunfight and one of the mercenaries escaped with Bakshi after a firefight. This was a ruse to have Bakshi lead S.H.I.E.L.D. to the new leader of HYDRA, since Daniel Whitehall was dead.
Coulson's plan was successful and, using Bakshi as bait, they were able to trick HYDRA into assassinating three of their own leaders before recapturing Bakshi and delivering him to Talbot. Back at the Playground, Coulson listened as Mackenzie apologized and asked to work on Lola. Coulson asked if the miniature version that he had in his office could fly and Mackenzie told him that it could not. Coulson then left and returned the Howling Commando Gear to Mrs. Triplett and informed her of the death of her son Antoine. As she began to cry, Coulson hugged her and looked at a photograph of the Howling Commandos. Later, Coulson secretly sent Mike Peterson to search for Doctor List, one of the few remaining heads of HYDRA.
Coulson was having a conversation with Alphonso Mackenzie about him becoming a field agent when Melinda May informed them about a situation in Portugal. Once the team arrived in Faro, they found Lady Sif who did not recognize them and could not remember why was she on Earth. As they investigated, Skye found an online video of Sif fighting an unknown man. Back on the Bus, they discovered the stranger was wounded by Sif and that his "blood" was blue. At the site of the battle, Sif still could not remember anything but Coulson deduced that she was working undercover because she was wearing Earth clothes instead of her Asgardian armor.
Coulson spoke with one witness, Mr. Cardozo. He told Coulson that the stranger Sif had fought took helium from the balloons on the boardwalk. Bobbi Morse then called and informed Coulson about a possible lead in the local hospital. Morse and Skye were sent to investigate. There they were attacked by the stranger, who managed to knock down Morse and escape. Back on the Bus, when Skye mentioned that the stranger might be Kree, Sif realized that "Kava", which she was seeking, was not a person, but the Kree word for keys. They realized Kava was actually Chaves, the city in Portugal where the HYDRA leader Daniel Whitehall discovered the Obelisk in 1945. The agents then ambushed the Kree and captured him.
When Coulson and Sif interrogated the Kree, he introduced himself as Vin-Tak and said he would earn their trust. Back in the Playground, Vin-Tak took his Truncheon from Coulson and touched Sif with it, restoring her memories. Vin-Tak then told them about the Diviners and the Inhumans. When they asked Skye about what she saw in the Kree City beneath Puerto Rico, the building started shaking. Coulson asked Skye what was causing that, and she said it was her. Sif then wanted to take Skye to Asgard, but Coulson would not let her. As May told Skye to run, Coulson tried to stop Sif and Vin-Tak, but Vin-Tak attacked him and threw him across the room.
May then took Skye to Vault D where Sif soon found them. Coulson arrived just in time to see Skye shooting herself with an I.C.E.R., which finally convinced Sif she would sooner hurt herself than anyone else. Sif then took Vin-Tak, who had lost his memory after a fight with Bobbi Morse, back to his home planet. Before she departed, she warned Coulson that the incoming threats could be more than he could handle.
Coulson visited Skye in the interrogation cell on the Bus, where she was moved after the violent display of her powers. Coulson told her that they put her name on the Index. Later, Coulson had a conversation with Agent May and they decided to call May's ex-husband, Dr. Andrew Garner, a psychologist who specialized in working with gifted individuals from the Index.
Later, after welcoming Garner into the Playground, Coulson was called by Agent Royce who informed him about the break in at the Brynmore Psychiatric Facility. Coulson talked with Agent Morse about the break in and asked her about Agent Hunter's apparent disappearance. Morse replied that a permanent job in S.H.I.E.L.D. was not something Hunter would take. Once they arrived at the facility, Coulson and Morse discovered the attackers were led by Calvin Zabo. In the facility's secret sub-basement, Coulson and Morse were attacked by John Bruno, a former government assassin, but Morse easily overpowered him. The other individual they sought, David Angar, was missing. Back on their plane, Coulson used traffic cameras to search for the license plate on Zabo's RV.
Once he realized what Zabo was planning, Coulson and Morse went to Manitowoc, Coulson's home town. At the Manitowoc High School, Coulson and Morse discovered that Angar had rendered an entire field of students unconscious for Zabo to hold hostage. Coulson surrendered to Zabo, who declared that he was planning on exposing S.H.I.E.L.D. for their "barbaric" inhibitions of gifted individuals before it could do the same thing to his daughter. Coulson replied that it was to stop criminals, not cheerleaders.
Suddenly, Agent May turned up with a gun to Skye's head, threatening to kill her if Zabo did not surrender. Zabo called her bluff and admitted that no one in town was even listening to him; he passed the microphone to Angar so his voice would affect all of Manitowoc. Suddenly, a mysterious man appeared on the field and teleported Zabo away. Coulson, May, and Morse then quickly defeated the remaining members of the Slicing Talons, but Skye suddenly unintentionally generated an earthquake and fell unconscious. Later, in the Playground, Jemma Simmons told Coulson that whatever powers Skye and Raina had were already inside them, and not artificially created like the powers of Angar or Michael Peterson.
In his office, Coulson talked with Melinda May about what to do with Skye. Though May agreed with Andrew Garner's suggestion that Skye should be removed from active S.H.I.E.L.D. duty, Coulson hesitated.
He eventually decided to take Skye to Nick Fury's cabin, which was designed as a safe house for people with powers. He told her that he had to pull her from active duty. Before he departed, Coulson gave Skye the gloves Simmons had made to dampen her powers. He advised her to try to learn how to control her powers.
Back at the Playground, Leo Fitz asked Coulson where Skye was and he replied that that information was confidential, but that she was safe. In his office, Coulson and May had a video conversation with General Glenn Talbot who informed them that Agent 33 and Grant Ward had broken into his base to liberate Sunil Bakshi. After the conversation with Talbot, Coulson and May agreed that Alphonso Mackenzie was hiding something, and that they should find out what.
While Alphonso Mackenzie was looking under Lola's hood, Coulson confronted him about the extra component he put in the model of Lola in his office, revealing that he knew about Mack hiding something. When he asked him about his loyalty, Mack replied that he was only loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson then ordered three agents to point their guns at Mackenzie. Suddenly, an EMP burst through the base, shutting down all the electronic equipment and Mackenzie used the opportunity to escape. Coulson and his agents ran into Leo Fitz, who was immediately sent to turn the power back on.
Coulson and Melinda May continued the search for Mackenzie and Bobbi Morse, who had attacked May a few minutes earlier while claiming to work for "the real S.H.I.E.L.D." Jemma Simmons called Coulson and informed him about taking down Morse, then an unidentified gas began pumping through the Playground's vents, knocking out Coulson and all of his agents. When Coulson awakened, the base was controlled by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by Robert Gonzales. Coulson had not heard anything about Gonzales since the revelation of HYDRA's existence. Coulson and Gonzales then talked in Coulson's office about Coulson's and Nick Fury's abilities as director. Gonzales tried to convince Coulson his own way of leading S.H.I.E.L.D. as the right one. Coulson refused to open the Toolbox for Gonzales, who gave it to one of his agents to give to Anne Weaver.
Suddenly, Melinda May entered the office, knocking out Gonzales and two of his agents with an I.C.E.R. Coulson then escaped from the base via the secret elevator while May stayed behind and surrendered to Gonzales' agents. Later, Coulson came in contact with Lance Hunter, who had managed to escape from Gonzales' headquarters aboard the aircraft carrier Iliad. Hunter accepted Coulson's offer to be a full-time S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and Coulson told him that he planned to retake S.H.I.E.L.D. from Gonzales.
Stealing a Jeep from Honest Eddie's Car Dealership, Coulson and Lance Hunter went to the Retreat, where they found video footage of Skye using her powers to cause a massive shockwave, throwing back two of Gonzales' agents. During that time, Hunter offered Coulson a drink, taking out two glasses, one for himself and the other for "the person keeping me warm". He jokingly stated that he would make an exception in Coulson's case. Coulson told him that he needed to keep his head clear.
While Hunter slept, Coulson made a decision to contact Mike Peterson before alerting Robert Gonzales about their location. The next morning Gonzales' S.H.I.E.L.D. agents arrived to arrest them both. Over Hunter's protests, Coulson told Gonzales that his plan was to steal one of their Quinjets. Coulson used his 21st Century Howling Commando Gear to create a hologram illusion, tricking the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, before stealing their uniforms. Before Coulson and Hunter could escape, however, they were caught by another team of Gonzales' agents and arrested. They were rescued by Mike Peterson, who attacked the guards and took out the agents.
With the Quinjet now under their control, Hunter asked Coulson why he had not informed him that backup was a super-powered cyborg. Coulson told him that he wanted to see the look on Hunter's face. Coulson told Hunter that he had been using Peterson to track down HYDRA scientist, Dr. List. Coulson explained that his next step would be to find the only man who had a connection between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA: Grant Ward. Leo Fitz opened the Toolbox and contacted Coulson; Coulson and Lance Hunter decided to retrieve him.
Alliance with Grant Ward
- "You're resourceful. Bet you know a guy who knows a guy."
"You know, last time I suggested we work together, you called me a deluded son of a bitch."
"Things change. I'm offering you a deal. Help me, and I'll let you walk away, free and clear. No more looking over your shoulder."
- ―Phil Coulson and Grant Ward[src]
Coulson, Lance Hunter, and Deathlok took the Quinjet to retrieve Leo Fitz, then flew to find Grant Ward. Coulson confronted Agent 33 in a Tijuana diner, and used her phone to call Ward, telling Ward to meet him in the diner. When Ward arrived, Deathlok sent him to a booth where Coulson waited. Coulson offered Ward a deal. If Ward helped them, he could go through the Project T.A.H.I.T.I. protocol, getting his bad memories wiped. Ward eventually accepted the deal and left to get his things with Agent 33 and Deathlok.
Ward explained he would use the recently brainwashed Sunil Bakshi to infiltrate HYDRA and gain a meeting with Dr. List who could bring them into contact with Baron Strucker. While in flight, Coulson and Hunter were forced to restrain Fitz when Ward unintentionally provoked him. Fitz voiced his discontent with allying with Ward, believing he and Bakshi would betray them. Coulson assured him that he was sending in Deathlok as Bakshi's bodyguard so they could watch through his implant. Though Ward reminded Coulson that List only wanted Bakshi, Coulson was confident that Bakshi could talk his way out of trouble.
As the meeting got underway, Bakshi went off-script and offered Deathlok to List for experimentation. Ward admitted that it was the only way to get close to Strucker, resulting in a standoff on the Quinjet. When Fitz noticed that Deathlok was preparing to kill all HYDRA agents present, both parties lowered their weapons so Fitz could tell Deathlok to play along. Coulson's party then followed List's jet on its way to Strucker, but the HYDRA scientist made a stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through Deathlok's Backscatter X-Ray Eye Implant, they learned that List was tracking down occurrences of quantum entanglements across the planet. Fitz realized they were trying to track the teleporter who took Skye. Coulson lied to Ward and Agent 33, saying he didn't know what HYDRA wanted with Skye.
Coulson's Quinjet then landed on the roof of a building where Bakshi was searching for the Enhanced. Through Deathlok's implant, they were able to confirm that Skye was in the building, though Coulson warned Ward against making contact with her. Coulson then took everyone but Fitz to confront HYDRA. As he and Ward went on ahead, they ran into Deathlok, who had a tussle with an unidentified Enhanced who possessed electrical powers. Deathlok suspected that the young man was protecting Skye and pointed Coulson in her direction.
Before he could reunite with Skye, the teleporter appeared and took her, accidentally taking Calvin Zabo along with them. Agent 33 and the wounded Hunter rejoined them, and Ward asked Coulson what they should do next as both S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA were coming. Ward ordered the others to escape while he stayed behind. Bobbi Morse and Alphonso Mackenzie soon arrived at the scene and Coulson surrendered himself to them.
Bringing the Team Back Together
- "We have a chance to hit HYDRA hard. They're operating on powered people. We can shut that down and save lives."
"Perhaps, but I'm gonna ask again – why should I trust you?"
"Because we all have our secrets. You have one sitting in the cargo hold of your ship, but I'm still willing to work with you."
- ―Phil Coulson and Robert Gonzales[src]
Coulson was brought to the Bus, where he eventually conferred with Robert Gonzales. When Gonzales asked why he had surrendered, Coulson revealed that he needed Gonzales' help to rescue Mike Peterson and the other enhanced individuals being held by HYDRA. Gonzales asked why he should trust him and Coulson said it was because they both had secrets. Coulson had learned from the Toolbox that Gonzales had a secret hidden in his cargo hold. The two agreed that Coulson and his original team would infiltrate the Arctic HYDRA Research Facility to free Deathlok and Lincoln Campbell. In return, Coulson promised he would open the Toolbox for Gonzales.
With the deal made, Coulson called for Grant Ward to fly the Quinjet onto the Playground. When he arrived, it was agreed that Ward would have armed guards with him at all times. Coulson, Gonzales and the others watched the feed from Deathlok's eyepiece which showed the HYDRA scientists removing his eye. In discussing the best plan of attack, Gonzales suggested that they simply bomb the base, but Coulson insisted he would not risk the lives of the enhanced prisoners. Coulson's plan was to take a small team to attack the base with Sunil Bakshi's help. Gonzales put the matter to a vote. Anne Weaver and Oliver voted against the idea, but Gonzales and Bobbi Morse voted to move forward. To Coulson's surprise, everyone turned to Melinda May for the tiebreaking vote. She asked to speak with Coulson in private before making her decision.
When they were alone in Coulson's office, Coulson confronted May for joining Gonzales. May defended her actions, stating that she had to watch over the Playground in his absence and she did it to protect him. Coulson insisted that he was fine on his own, and May angrily replied that solo was how he operated best. She then demanded he tell the truth about his overseas trips, as Gonzales' people suspected that Coulson was not trying to recruit new agents. She also demanded to know what Theta Protocol was. Coulson refused to answer, stating it was not because he did not trust her, but because she was not Director. May retorted that Coulson was no longer Director as far as anyone was concerned, and admitted that she had personal reasons for her actions. Coulson deduced that she had learned about his secret meetings with Andrew Garner and explained that he only went to him for counseling on his alien writing compulsions. May insisted that he should have told her. Coulson promised to apologize later at length and asked that they focus on the mission at hand.
As Coulson prepared for the mission he was approached by Jemma Simmons who insisted on joining them on the mission. She explained that they would need someone familiar with Mike Peterson's medical history and cybernetic enhancements to treat his injuries. When the team arrived on the Bus they heard a loud thud. They immediately turned their guns on Ward, believing him to have sabotaged the Bus, but it was soon discovered that Skye had been teleported aboard to assist them in the mission.
En route to the HYDRA base, Coulson asked Ward to brief them on the upcoming mission. Ward began to explain Sunil Bakshi's role in the plan but then tried to explain and apologize for his actions since being revealed to be an undercover HYDRA agent. He claimed that his greatest regret was that his actions had destroyed the team. Skye, however, made it clear that she was still happy she shot him. As the team neared the HYDRA base, the Bus was targeted by HYDRA's defense systems. Coulson and the team escaped to the Quinjet just as the Bus was destroyed. Landing the Quinjet, they made their way to the base.
Once they arrived inside the base, they regrouped with Sunil Bakshi and prepared for the mission. Skye, Grant Ward, Jemma Simmons and Bakshi were sent to rescue Mike Peterson and the other enhanced individuals. Coulson, Melinda May and Leo Fitz went to take down the base's defense systems so that Robert Gonzales' men could destroy it. While May defended Fitz as he began to hack the defense system, Coulson sneaked away to download HYDRA files containing information about the location of Baron Strucker and the Scepter. The team regrouped with Skye and Simmons, who had rescued Peterson and Lincoln Campbell. Ward and List escaped and Bakshi lost his life during the mission. The team evacuated just before Gonzales' men destroyed the base.
Back at the Playground, Peterson and Campbell were treated for their injuries. Shortly after arriving, Coulson received a phone call from Grant Ward, informing him that he preferred the idea of escaping rather than being arrested or having his mind wiped. Ward explained that he knew the team would never forgive him but he believed Agent 33 deserved forgiveness as she was a victim of Daniel Whitehall's experiments. Ward said he was leaving Agent 33 at S.H.I.E.L.D. to rebuild her life as an agent. Coulson promised Ward that he would take care of her and treat her well. Coulson then spoke to Robert Gonzales and Bobbi Morse who were discussing the idea of having enhanced individuals in the base. Coulson honored their agreement and opened the Toolbox before casually mentioning the fact that Nick Fury was still alive.
Calling in the Avengers
Coulson received a phone call from Maria Hill wanting an update on the recent events. Coulson explained that he was keeping Gonzales in the dark about certain details as he felt his method of votes was ineffective. Coulson revealed the location of the Scepter to Hill, who then asked if Theta Protocol was ready. He confirmed that it was ready and ordered her to send in the Avengers to bring down the HYDRA base and capture it and Baron Strucker.
Reunification of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- "I tried to do it all alone. That was a mistake. Even Fury had a World Council watching over him, providing guidance."
"What are you suggesting?"
"One S.H.I.E.L.D., where I operate as director, under your advisement. This way, we'll have a cool underground base and a boat."
- ―Phil Coulson and Robert Gonzales[src]
After the Avengers successfully defeated both Baron Strucker and later Ultron, Theta Protocol was activated. Both Nick Fury and Maria Hill assisted in the Battle of Sokovia, using the Helicarrier No. 64 to save thousands of civilian lives. After the battle, Coulson was on the Iliad, where he had a meeting with Robert Gonzales and his council. They discussed the recent events and revealed the true history of Theta Protocol. Coulson proposed that he and Gonzales join forces and reunify S.H.I.E.L.D., with Coulson as director and Gonzales and his council as his advisors.
Shortly after this discussion, the alarms on the ship were triggered when the Teleporter and Raina teleported onto the Iliad. They appeared to be searching for what was in the cargo hold. Coulson and Gonzales sent their agents to find them. Gordon and Raina escaped, having failed to destroy the Monolith. At a debriefing, Gonzales revealed that the monolith was alien and had been found on Earth over a hundred years ago. Coulson explained that the only information in the Toolbox about it was the fact that HYDRA was looking for it.
The New Threat
After Gonzales' people located the Inhumans' home, Gonzales ordered them to prepare for an attack. Coulson convinced him that they should have a meeting with the Inhuman leader, Jiaying, and try and resolve the matter peacefully.
Coulson met with Skye to see if she knew anything about the Monolith. She assured him that neither she nor Lincoln Campbell knew anything about it. Coulson asked Skye about her connections with the Inhumans and her changing loyalties. Skye suggested that if the Monolith was a weapon, then maybe the Inhumans were just afraid of what Gonzales might do with it. Skye told Melinda May that she had heard the story of what had happened to her in Bahrain and revealed that the two people killed were in fact Inhumans. Coulson later spoke to Skye and she insisted that S.H.I.E.L.D. not go searching for the Inhumans' home.
Coulson said they needed to assess how many Inhumans they were dealing and put them on the Index. Skye persuaded Coulson to let her and Campbell go in first, then she informed him that Jiaying was her mother. Coulson later found May in the aircraft hanger and they commented on how much they missed the Bus. Coulson told May that Jiaying was Skye's mother, but May had no reaction. Coulson tried to apologize to May for lying to her about Theta Protocol. May did not want to listen. She told Coulson that the little girl who died in Bahrain had not been killed in the crossfire, but that May had shot her before the girl could kill everyone. They discussed their history and how Coulson had lost control when he began carving the Words of Creation on the walls. May told him that Skye was living proof that he had lost control.
When Skye and Lincoln Campbell prepared to leave the Playground, Coulson spoke to the pair. They discussed the Index and Campbell compared S.H.I.E.L.D. to HYDRA. Coulson insisted that Campbell could trust them. Coulson briefed the team on the plan for visiting the Inhumans' home. Gonzales objected to Coulson going in, as he had too many personal connections to the people involved. When Coulson tried to argue his case, Gonzales used Tony Stark creating Ultron as an example of what happens when one man was allowed to go unquestioned. The matter was put to a vote and it was decided that Gonzales should be the one to go. Coulson agreed, as he did not wish to ignore the views of his council.
The team left the base on the Quinjets and Coulson was visited in his office by Alphonso Mackenzie. Mack informed him that he was quitting because he did not wish to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. under Coulson's leadership. Coulson tried to convince him to stay, but soon accepted Mackenzie's choice and let him go. Coulson watched the mission unfold from his office alongside Lance Hunter and Leo Fitz. Hunter and Fitz remained skeptical of Gonzales leading the mission, but Coulson insisted that he had to put his faith in the council, otherwise S.H.I.E.L.D. would fall apart again. As Hunter and Fitz made some casual comments about the dangers of enhanced people, Coulson said maybe they had been spending too much time together. He was later contacted by Melinda May, who informed him that Jiaying had handed over Calvin Zabo.
Melinda May told Coulson that they had lost communication with Bobbi Morse. Coulson sent Lance Hunter to investigate. Jemma Simmons entered and told them that Jiaying had been shot, allegedly by Robert Gonzales. Coulson didn't believe that Gonzales would have done that, so he sent the team to learn more and try to prevent the Inhumans from starting a war.
Melinda May was carried unconscious to the Quinjet after a fight with Skye. The council debated whether Robert Gonzales was really responsible for shooting Jiaying. Anne Weaver defended her former Director and revealed that he had gone to great lengths to secure a peace offering for Jiaying. Coulson agreed but still refused to begin a war with the Inhumans. He sent Weaver back to the Iliad to take command, before speaking to Melinda May and Jemma Simmons about Skye's seeming betrayal. He suggested that Calvin Zabo may know the answers. When Zabo arrived on the base, Coulson demanded to know why he was there. Zabo insisted he was a gift from his family. Coulson sent Zabo into a cell before Jemma Simmons revealed that Zabo had taken some kind of drug before arriving.
Coulson later learned through video footage that Jiaying had sent Gordon to take control of their Quinjet to fire upon their city, resulting in the Inhumans believing S.H.I.E.L.D. had attacked their home. He suspected Jaiying of murdering Robert Gonzales. Lance Hunter and Leo Fitz stormed in, having learned that Bobbi Morse had been kidnapped by Agent 33. Hunter and Melinda May were sent to locate and rescue Morse and kill 33 and Grant Ward. During a video conference with Anne Weaver and Oliver, Coulson once again expressed his desire not to attack the Inhumans. He did not wish to start a war and risk the life of Agent Skye. Oliver argued that leaving Skye with the Inhumans could risk her exposing all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s weaknesses. Alphonso Mackenzie joined the discussion and explained that although he wished to leave S.H.I.E.L.D., with Robert Gonzales dead, he needed to see the matter resolved. Coulson requested time to speak to Calvin Zabo to try to gain information. Weaver agreed and gave him three hours.
Dealing with Calvin Zabo
Coulson visited Calvin Zabo in his cell. Zabo complained he was suffering from the intense cold. When Coulson asked Zabo why he had surrendered, Zabo responded that because Coulson did not have children, he would never understand what a father would do for his child. Coulson asked Zabo how he had slaughtered an entire village. Zabo told him he had done it with style. Taking a break from the questioning, Coulson went to Jemma Simmons to learn what substances had been detected in Calvin Zabo's Formula. Simmons revealed she had found traces of anabolic steroids, methamphetamine, and liver inhibitors, as well as less conventional ingredients such as gorilla testosterone and peppermint. When Coulson asked if the mixture would kill him, she informed him that a single vial should kill a normal man, and that Zabo had taken three.
Coulson returned to question Calvin Zabo, who was now suffering from intense heat and kept requesting more water. Coulson told him that Jiaying had assassinated Robert Gonzales with the intention of starting a war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans. Zabo refused to believe him. Coulson asked if Jiaying had forced Zabo to inject himself with his Formula as part of the distraction. Zabo divulged to Coulson that it was a formula of his own invention, designed to enhance his strength in order to protect his family. He had taken it of his own free will with the intention of killing as many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as he could.
When Coulson casually referred to Skye as Daisy, Zabo's rage intensified. He claimed that only Skye's family should use her real name. Coulson attempted to reason with Zabo. He pointed out that everything he had done, including wiping out the village and injecting the vials of his formula, was on Jiaying's behalf. Zabo refused to believe he was being manipulated by his wife, claiming that she was not a monster like himself. As he grew more and more angry at Coulson's accusations, his heart gave out and Zabo went into cardiac arrest and collapsed.
Coulson had Zabo rushed to the emergency room and ordered Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz to try and save him. Simmons injected Zabo with adrenaline, which caused him to have a seizure and fall off the table. When he reappeared, he had undergone a transformation. His appearance was monstous and he had incredible strength. Coulson locked Zabo in the medical pod, but he escaped with little effort. Coulson and Fitz-Simmons shot him with I.C.E.R.s, to no effect. Coulson ordered Fitz and Simmons to flee while he tried but failed to reason with Zabo. Calvin Zabo ran amuck through the Playground, destroying everything he came across. Coulson tricked Zabo and pinned him against a wall with a van and a battering ram.
Once Zabo was trapped, Coulson again attempted to reason with the him. Coulson told Zabo that they both wanted the same thing, which was to protect Skye. He said he believed Zabo was a good man who was being manipulated by Jiaying. Zabo told Coulson that he had reassembled his wife when Daniel Whitehall had murdered her, but she had never been the same. He explained that Jiaying's power was to take lives to heal and that in the past, an Inhuman elder would sacrifice their own life so she could live on and pass on tradition. Zabo admitted to having slaughtered an entire village to revive his wife and that Jiaying no longer valued human life. Zabo had tried to find Skye in the hope that it would restore his wife's humanity.
Coulson asked if Zabo was willing to protect his daughter from his wife, pointing out that Jiaying was out for blood and there was no way Skye would go along with her plan. Coulson declared that Skye was like family to him and vowed to save her no matter the cost. Seemingly angered by Coulson's words, Zabo managed to free himself, but Instead of harming Coulson, Zabo swore to help him defeat Jiaying and save his daughter.Zabo was held under armed guard. Jemma Simmons helped counteract the effects of his Formula and restored his appearance. Leo Fitz then informed Coulson that while they had been fighting Zabo, Jiaying and an army of Inhumans had taken over the Iliad.
Coulson ordered Fitz to contact Lance Hunter and Melinda May, but Fitz told him they had already left on their mission to rescue Bobbi Morse from Grant Ward and Agent 33. Fitz later told him that he had invented a device to trap Gordon in a room. As Coulson discussed with Fitz and Simmons whether or not Calvin Zabo was prepared to join them on the mission, they were interrupted by the arrival of Lance Hunter and Melinda May bringing in the wounded Bobbi Morse.
Retaking the Iliad
Once Morse was safe, Coulson, May and Zabo flew to the Iliad with the intention of fighting back against the Inhumans. May expressed her disapproval of Zabo's presence, but Coulson insisted his knowledge of the Inhumans would be beneficial and if need be, he could be a powerful weapon for S.H.I.E.L.D. to use. Fitz recognized a code being included in the distress beacon. Coulson knew it was a message from Skye, warning them they were heading into a trap. Coulson ordered the other Quinjets to fall back while his own continued on.
Coulson and Leo Fitz found Alphonso Mackenzie protecting the Terrigen Crystals from Gordon, and joined him in the fight. Using Fitz's Quantum Field Disruptors, they trapped Gordon in the room. The team continued to fight Gordon, until the teleporter made a fatal mistake and teleported behind Fitz, causing the iron pole Fitz was holding to be embedded in his chest. As Gordon fell dying, he dropped the Terrigen Crystal he was holding. Knowing that if the crystal broke, it would kill everyone onboard the ship, Coulson dove to catch it. However, the moment he touched it, it began turning his arm to stone. Just as Coulson accepted his fate, Mackenzie used his axe to cut off Coulson's arm, saving his life.
- "We have to do this. We don't have a choice. It may feel like things have cooled down right now, but this... this is my permanent reminder that we'll always be paying the price, that we'll never get ahead of the consequences that I, that you, that S.H.I.E.L.D. have set in motion."
- ―Phil Coulson to Skye[src]
With the Inhuman threat eliminated, Coulson returned to work and began planning out new ways of dealing with threats against the earth. He put his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into new positions which best supported their views. He brought Andrew Garner back to assess his team and judge their readiness to continue working in the field. They discussed having Alphonso Mackenzie back on the team and in charge of all alien dealings. Coulson teased Garner about getting back together with Melinda May, then Garner handed him a file of his recommendations for Coulson's new program.
Coulson ordered Calvin Zabo be put through the T.A.H.I.T.I. program, allowing him to begin a new, peaceful life as a veterinarian named Dr. Winslow. Coulson joined Skye as she went to visit Zabo at his new office. Afterward, Coulson asked for her thoughts on leading a new team for people with powers, where they could use their abilities to help protect the world. Skye insisted that if they did this, the team should be kept a secret so the people involved could still live their own private lives. Coulson agreed, noting that his missing arm would be his personal reminder of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s past mistakes.
A New Organization
- "I haven't killed anyone. We've had some vanish before we could secure them."
"Then how do you explain the carcasses we've recovered? Blasted with some sort of energy weapon."
"That's not us."
"It's not us, either."
"Wait, is this still cagey banter, or are we being honest all of a sudden?"
- ―Phil Coulson and Rosalind Price[src]
As new Inhumans started to emerge, Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. began the task of trying to find them. However, the first four who emerged disappeared, just as a new U.S. government organization, the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, was created. When a fifth Inhuman named Joey Gutierrez gained his abilities in Seattle, Washington, Coulson sent Daisy Johnson, Lance Hunter, and Alphonso Mackenzie to get to him before the ATCU could. While they collected Gutierrez and transported him to the Zephyr One, Coulson stood with the crowd of onlookers. When Rosalind Price arrived and spoke to her subordinate, Coulson took her picture.
Later, Coulson talked to Johnson about how Gutierrez was adjusting to having powers and knowing that he was an Inhuman. During their conversation, Johnson noted how much Coulson loved the new vehicle. The two were concerned about how the ATCU was finding the newly-powered Inhumans before S.H.I.E.L.D. and causing them to disappear. Coulson met with Mackenzie and Hunter in his office at the Playground. They discussed Price and how she had past relationships with MI6 and the CIA. Coulson asked Hunter to see Bobbi Morse with the technology they had procured from an ATCU soldier, but Hunter refused. Coulson went to the lab and saw Morse himself. Once there, he asked her about the whereabouts of Leo Fitz. Morse covered for Fitz, but both knew that he was chasing leads on how to free Jemma Simmons from the Monolith. Coulson and Morse devised a plan to talk to Price without her entourage present, since Morse had figured out her routine throughout Washington, D.C..
In the Washington, D.C. subway, Coulson and Hunter confronted Price, thinking they had tracked her, but Price had set a trap. ATCU soldiers soon surrounded the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Both leaders exchanged quips. After a few minutes of talking, each leader realized that neither organization was killing newly-transformed Inhumans. When Price's phone rang, Coulson's did as well. Both knew that a new Inhuman had emerged. As Price went to take the call, Coulson and Hunter escaped the subway. Returning to the Playground, Coulson confronted Fitz on his obsession to save Simmons. Coulson compared Fitz's loss to his own loss of Melinda May, who had never returned from vacation months ago. Coulson left to watch President Matthew Ellis have a press conference, officially announcing the creation of the ATCU. Coulson noted that the President said the same catch phrase that Price said to him about the "laws of nature" changing.
Rescuing Jemma Simmons
- "I don't have to remind you that I saved your life, though I did just mention it in case you forgot. But I'd still have no problems contacting those task forces you mentioned. I bet they'd go bonkers to have a real-life Asgardian to dissect in their labs. I don't know how comfy you'd be there."
"Why, Agent Coulson, are you threatening me?"
"I wouldn't call it a... Well, yeah, I guess I am. That's absolutely a threat."
- ―Phil Coulson and Elliot Randolph[src]
Coulson called Andrew Garner and asked him to assess Joey Gutierrez, to see if he was fit for the Caterpillars program. Coulson was in the process of putting on his prosthetic hand when he had to run into the room that contained the Monolith. Leo Fitz had broken the seal to the chamber, and the other senior agents were inside trying pulling him out. Coulson berated Fitz for his emotional breakdown, saying he could not afford to lose him to the Kree stone, as he had already lost Jemma Simmons. Suddenly, Fitz ran from the room.
In Coulson's office, Fitz showed the the senior agents that the sample of sand found on him predated the Earth by a billion years. He said that proved the Monolith was a portal and that Simmons was somewhere consistent with that sand. Coulson watched as his agents decided that Simmons had to be rescued. He pointed out that Simmons could be dead, as it had been months since she had disappeared into the monolith. Fitz was not to be dissuaded. Coulson told Daisy Johnson and Alphonso Mackenzie to stay at the Playground to meet Garner when he arrived. Bobbi Morse volunteered to help Fitz with his search. Coulson observed that she was already helping him, since she had covered for him when he went to Morocco to acquire the scroll. Coulson ordered Lance Hunter to continue on the mission they had previously discussed. Coulson then got his file on Elliot Randolph.
As the others departed on their assignments, Coulson gave Morse the file on Randolph and told her that since he was an alien who had been on Earth for centuries, he might have insight into the Monolith. After Morse kissed Hunter farewell and asked him not to get killed, Coulson told Hunter to assure that Grant Ward did. Fitz, Coulson, and Morse took a Quinjet to Norway where they found Randolph in prison. He had been charged with being drunk and disorderly. Randolph originally refused to go with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, stating that being an alien was dangerous at the time, and that the jail had a good reading selection and good food. Coulson threatened Randolph, telling him that the Advanced Threat Containment Unit would love to dissect a member of the Asgardians. Randolph noted that Coulson had changed and asked about his hand. Coulson said that he adapted to the changing times. When Randolph used his strength to escape his cell, he told the guards that Coulson had done it.
They brought Randolph to look at the Monolith. He told them that he would escape in order to stay away from the portal, but he had no idea what "Amazon Woman" and "Robot Hand", as he called Morse and Coulson respectively, would do. He then read the scroll Fitz had acquired. With Coulson's permission, he told them to board the plane and take him to England. In an English castle, Coulson found a secret doorway that lead to a room specially made for the Monolith. He then called Mackenzie and told him to pilot the Zephyr One to bring them the stone. Johnson came with Mackenzie when he brought the monolith. She told the others how Garner had evaluated them in their present mental and physical conditions. Activating the Monolith, they saw a portal open, but there was not enough light for Fitz to see to the other side, so Coulson gave Fitz a flare gun which he fired into the void. When the machine sustaining the portal fell apart, Coulson saw Johnson faint. Trying to awaken her, Coulson called Johnson "Skye". Upon regaining consciousness, she corrected Coulson and said her name was Daisy.
Morse noted that Coulson was having difficulty in accepting her name change. Fitz realized that the room acted as a sound amplifier and sound opened the portal. Johnson understood what Fitz was saying and believed that she could open the portal with her powers. As Morse prepared a probe to send into the void, Johnson used her power to open the portal. Fitz, tied to a life line, entered instead. Watching Johnson straining and the life line falling apart, Coulson ordered the others to bring Fitz back immediately. Ultimately, Fitz returned, with Simmons. Taking Simmons to a Medical Pod, Coulson and Morse determined through tests that she was not contagious and that she was normal after her experience. When Randolph asked Coulson what Johnson was, he told him that she was an Inhuman, a word Randolph had not heard for some time.
Coulson had Alphonso Mackenzie put a tracker on Lincoln Campbell. When Daisy Johnson came to Coulson, frantic about Campbell being chased by the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, Coulson was not worried. He explained that he had been tracking Campbell since Campbell left the hospital. He watched as Johnson called Campbell asking him to accept help from S.H.I.E.L.D.. Campbell refused, found his tracker, and destroyed it. Coulson grew tired of "good guys" fighting one another instead of their common foes, so he ordered Mackenzie to get the phone number of Rosalind Price so they could talk. Coulson accessed the line that Price used to talk to the President of the United States and requested a meeting.
At the meeting place, Coulson admired Price's car. Price teased Coulson about his prosthetic hand. Coulson told Price that he knew that she was under pressure from the President to have results, but declaring Campbell an alien fugitive on national news reports was not a good idea. Coulson also knew that Price was hiding something or she would not have met him with such confidence. Price revealed that she knew that Johnson had powers, and, when the time was right, she would have her arrested. Coulson decided to strike a deal with Price. He would work with the ATCU as a consultant if Johnson were left alone. Coulson returned to the Playground and told Mackenzie and Johnson about his compromise to protect Daisy. The phone rang. It was Price calling to verify Coulson's number.
Working with the ATCU
Coulson was in a Quinjet with Alisha Whitley, while elsewhere her duplicate, Alphonso Mackenzie, and Daisy Johnson sought to recruit Shane and Lori Henson to the Caterpillars program. Coulson was getting real time information from Alisha, when suddenly the monstrous man appeared and attacked and killed the Hensons. Coulson ordered Johnson and Mackenzie to assist the duplicate as she fought the monster. Alisha lost control of her powers when her duplicate was killed.
Coulson called Rosalind Price and the Advanced Threat Containment Unit to support his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as they pursued Lash. When the two groups ran into each other from opposite directions, Coulson was with the ATCU. Johnson asked Coulson why he was with them and he reminded her that they agreed to work together and share information. Johnson was angry, but Coulson had other concerns. He had called Leo Fitz and Bobbi Morse to do a forensic investigation at the scene of the Hensons' murder. They gathered samples and brought them to the Playground. There Andrew Garner was evaluating Jemma Simmons and Alisha. After the interviews, Garner accused Coulson of hiding Inhumans from him to fast-track the "Secret Warriors" project. As they talked, Melinda May entered the facility.
May and Coulson met and discussed Lance Hunter having recruited her to assist him in seeking revenge on Grant Ward. Coulson wanted to know if May had left S.H.I.E.L.D. because he was working with Garner. May was more concerned that Hunter was involved in an uncontrollable situation. Coulson assured May that when the time came, he would have a support team ready to assist her and Hunter. On a lighter note, May asked Coulson why he was not wearing a tie. He showed her his prosthetic hand and told her that he was still learning. Coulson sent an agent to follow Garner as added protection against Ward.
Johnson had found that an e-mail virus was sent to the Hensons from Dwight Frye, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland. So Coulson called Price and the ATCU to meet him, Johnson, and Mackenzie at Frye's residence. During the interrogation, Frye became unruly, so Coulson used his prosthetic hand to hold the man, telling him that he had a finger which could emit a laser. Price wondered if it was true, but Coulson would not verify. Coulson abruptly left and returned to the Playground. He permitted Johnson and Mackenzie to accompany Frye to the ATCU Facility, to discover what they would do with Frye there. At the Playground, Coulson had Fitz prepare Zephyr One to carry him and a support team to assist Hunter and May in their Attack on Grant Ward. When May asked for an estimated time of arrival, Coulson told her that he was twenty minutes away and suggested that they retreat. En route, a local convenience store exploded and Coulson had the plane diverted to that location.
Visiting the Facility
- "I'll see what I can get on Lash's identity."
"And whatever you dig into, try to keep it off Rosalind's radar. I need her to trust me today."
"You're not having a hard time working her, are you? Not getting too attached?"
"You do this long enough, you learn to cut yourself off from all that. Makes it easier to do the job."
- ―Daisy Johnson and Phil Coulson[src]
Coulson retrieved Andrew Garner from an assassination attempt at a local convenience store and brought him to the Playground, where Garner was examined by a medic. Melinda May returned to the facility simultaneously after her Attack on Grant Ward. May was relieved that Garner was alive and wanted to know how he survived. Garner thanked Coulson for saving his life and told them a lie about how he had escaped. Allowing medics to examine Garner, Coulson left the room and saw May and Lance Hunter arguing. Coulson removed Hunter from the mission to find Grant Ward and put May in charge, since May declared that she was now back with S.H.I.E.L.D..
In Coulson's office, Daisy Johnson expressed her disappointment at not seeing the ATCU Facility and her theory that Lash was a member of the ATCU. Coulson advised her to keep her research into Lash off the radar of Rosalind Price, because he wanted her trust so he could see the facility. Johnson asked him if he and Price were getting close, but Coulson dismissed the idea. To keep the Playground secret, Coulson had Price pick him up from a street corner. Suddenly, Price received a phone call stating that there was a break-in at her residence. She asked Coulson to allow her to attend to it without him, but he refused to leave her car, telling her that she was lying and trying to delay his visit to the facility. Price allowed him to accompany her.
At her residence, they met Officer Stuart, who asked Price if he could search her place to see if anything was missing. Price told Coulson not to look around, but he did anyway, noting that she owned many biographies of Margaret Thatcher. He found that Price had expensive paintings and a baseball bat with many iconic autographs, but no evidence of theft. Price then brought in food from one of Coulson's favorite fast food restaurants. Coulson accused her of staging a break-in to garner sympathy and delay him from seeing the facility. Angered by his accusations, Price tossed the food into a wastebasket and told Coulson to come with her.
Price took Coulson to Endotex Labs, where they watched an Inhuman in an induced coma get locked away in a containment pod . Price tried to justified this action. She told him that they were working on a cure for the Inhumans and would keep them in a coma until they found it. Coulson realized that Price had lost someone. She said that it was her husband who died from cancer. She explained that she wanted to spare these people pain, as she wished she had been able to do for her husband. She then confessed she wanted Coulson to like her, as he had suspected.
Coulson and Daisy Johnson argued about the intention of Rosalind Price and the Advanced Threat Containment Unit to cure the Inhumans of their abilities. Coulson said that he was meeting with president Matthew Ellis about the Inhuman threat. He asked Johnson to talk with Price while they headed to the meeting on Zephyr One. Meanwhile, Andrew Garner went to evaluate Joey Gutierrez in the Cocoon. Price came on board Zephyr One and Coulson told her that Johnson would show her around.
Coulson received a call informing him that Melinda May and Garner were missing. Price then helped Coulson tie his tie and he told her why he had a robotic hand. Johnson entered the room and informed him that Lincoln Campbell and Alphonso Mackenzie had boarded. Campbell came and explained that he believed Garner was Lash. Garner was the only person who had access to Jiaying's ledger which contained all the names of the inhumans from Afterlife. Coulson ordered the plane redirected so they could search for Garner and May. Campbell warned them that Garner could be in the process of becoming Lash permanently.
They soon located May and Garner in an abandoned building at Culver University. With the help of the ATCU, they entered the building and readied the Containment Module. Coulson found the two and saw that May was chained up. He said to Garner that he didn't want to fight against him, but Garner defended his actions and everything he had done against the Inhumans he had killed. Campbell unexpectedly attacked Garner and Garner transformed into Lash and struck back. Coulson gave May a key to release herself and went after them. Coulson saved Mackenzie from Lash and the ATCU soldiers shot Lash. Then Lash threw Price from a great height, and as Coulson yelled, Johnson used her powers to save Price. May calmed Lash down and he transformed back to Garner. May shot him multiple times in the chest, causing Garner to fall into the Containment Module and pass out. Coulson asked May how she knew she wasn't going to kill him. May replied she didn't.
After the fight, Coulson offered Campbell a position with S.H.I.E.L.D.. Garner was taken by the ATCU to be put in stasis while they searched for a cure. Price spoke to Coulson and offered to buy him a drink. Coulson happily accepted. The next day, Coulson was in Price's home and she suggested that they go out and eat. Coulson agreed and the two kissed.
Coulson's team and Rosalind Price watched as Lash's Containment Module was loaded onto a van headed for Endotex Labs. Coulson questioned if they were doing the right thing. Price insisted they were, since it meant Garner had a chance at remaining human. She promised the ATCU would continue working on a cure. Coulson suggested that she visit the Playground to continue discussing the work of the ATCU. Later, Coulson was asked by Alphonso Mackenzie if he and Price were sleeping together. Coulson refused to answer and told him that he wanted to trust her while the rest of them had to go behind her back.
Coulson then summoned his agents and explained that Operation Spotlight was a mission to infiltrate the Advanced Threat Containment Unit base and to uncover its secrets. He assigned each team member a task. After the briefing, he asked Mackenzie if he had answered his concerns, but Mack replied that it had only raised new ones. After that, Coulson welcomed Price to the base and requested that they be able to scan her phone for any viruses. Coulson realized that Price had brought only her normal phone. They continued flirting and teasing one another. The scan sent the information in her phone to the team in Zephyr One.
In the base's science lab, Coulson told Price about his team's breakthroughs in alien biology as well as robotics and prosthetics. Price received a call, informing her that the Containment Module had caused a security breach in the ATCU base. She asked Coulson if that were true. Coulson said the Containment Module would indeed scan all networks it was near. She informed him that they would shut it down and Coulson told her they needed to find other ways the flirt.
Coulson led Price to his office and he showed her the collectables he had acquired over the years. He was informed by Bobbi Morse that the ATCU was not trying to find a cure for the Inhumans, but was trying to create as many Inhumans as they could. Coulson led Price into the containment room and locked the door. At first, Price thought it was a flirtatious move. She teased Coulson, but he remained serious. He told Price she would now have to convince him that she was not HYDRA and revealed that his team had infiltrated the ATCU base. Coulson tried repeatedly to get the truth from her. She stonewalled and accused him of seducing her to get information.
Price confirmed that Andrew Garner was not being kept at Endotex Labs. Coulson replied that he believed she was lying, as only a HYDRA agent could know about T.A.H.I.T.I. and he demanded she reveal her source. Price confessed she had fallen for him but accused him of no longer being human, after having been stabbed through the heart. When Coulson informed her that his agents had learned the ATCU was not working on a cure, she didn't believe him. She mentioned that Gideon Malick gave her all the updates from the science division, including the T.A.H.I.T.I. information, thus revealing that Malick was HYDRA. Coulson understood his agents were in danger. He allowed Price to order Luther Banks to evacuate his agents.
After returning to the Playground, the agents gathered with Coulson and Price. Price revealed how she had met Malick in 2001 and he had advised her on many key missions, starting when she worked for NASA. After some research, Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz informed them that they had discovered a division of NASA connected to an ancient HYDRA order obsessed with studying the Monolith. Fitz-Simmons showed them the HYDRA logo in ancient symbols which they had found.
Hunting Grant Ward
Losing Rosalind Price
Coulson and Rosalind Price had dinner together at her apartment. Coulson lighted candles while Price brought in their meal: Coulson's favorite takeout burgers. As they ate, Price began telling Coulson about her plans for the next day, including returning to her job in the Advanced Threat Containment Unit. Coulson asked if that was the best idea, and Price reassured him that she would be fine.
Coulson heard a sharp sound and looked over to Price's window, which had been broken by a bullet. Looking back at Price, Coulson saw that blood was seeping from a wound in her neck. Coulson dragged Price from her chair and laid her on the ground, begging her to stay with him. Price lost too much blood and died, leaving Coulson shocked and broken. As he struggled to grasp what had happened, a phone rang. Coulson picked up to hear Grant Ward mocking him for experiencing what Ward himself had felt when Kara Palemas was shot.
Ward warned Coulson that he had sent men to kill him and hung up. Coulson had just enough time to call for extraction and hide behind a wall when two men entered the apartment. Coulson shot the two and quickly rigged an explosive to serve as a distraction. The distraction worked and Coulson brought down three more agents, leaving the apartment and jumping out a window. Evading more men outside, Coulson found shelter and exchanged gunfire with the men until Alphonso Mackenzie arrived and extracted him. On the return to the Playground, Mackenzie asked Coulson about Price, but Coulson told Mackenzie to just drive.
At the Playground, Coulson told Alphonso Mackenzie to ready the interrogation room, then went to his office without saying anything more. In his office, he looked down at his bloodstained shirt before tearing it off then throwing things around the room. Eventually, he calmed down and returned to his team. He interrogated each member of his original team to see if he could find anything he could use against Grant Ward. Coulson learned that Ward loved his younger brother, Thomas, and that it could be a weak spot to exploit.
Coulson returned to his office and began collecting files. Mackenzie asked him what he was going to do, and Coulson replied that he was about to cross lines the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. should not cross. Coulson then appointed Mackenzie the Acting Director until he returned from his mission. Finding Lance Hunter with Bobbi Morse, Coulson ignored Hunter's condolences. He grabbed Hunter by the throat and pushed him against the wall. Morse asked Coulson to calm down. Coulson blasted Hunter for not killing Ward when he had the chance. When Hunter apologized and swore he would do anything to try again, Coulson released him and informed him that he and Morse would be joining his mission.
On the Quinjet, Coulson told Hunter and Morse that their target was Ward's younger brother Thomas. Hunter came up with a plan to rob the jewelry store where Thomas worked and kidnap him. As they flew, Coulson received a call from Mackenzie informing him that HYDRA had kidnapped Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons. Coulson threw the phone against the wall but continued his mission. At the jewelry store, Coulson and Hunter grabbed Thomas and returned to the Quinjet. Coulson called Ward and informed him that he had Thomas and showed him a video feed of Hunter holding a gun to Thomas' head. Once Ward had seen his brother, Coulson terminated the call. Coulson realized he needed to locate Ward, and Thomas offered to keep his brother on the phone long enough to trace the call. Within minutes, Ward called back and Coulson let him talk to Thomas until Morse traced his location.
Coulson warned Ward that they were coming and hung up. Dropping off Thomas, the Quinjet continued on to the HYDRA base. Once over the castle, Coulson watched the thermal scans of everyone in the base, noting that HYDRA had opened the portal and that Ward was one of the people entering it. Coulson began putting on a parachute. Morse tried to talk him out of jumping, but Coulson ignored her and leapt from the Quinjet, falling straight through the open portal and landing on the alien planet.
Upon impact with the planet, Coulson was knocked unconscious. While he lay there, he dreamed of Rosalind Price, who told him to wake up as his team still needed him. Coulson awoke and began his trek in search of Grant Ward and Leo Fitz. Eventually Coulson spotted tracks and followed them until he found Ward and two guards. Killing the two guards, Coulson wounded Ward and handcuffed him, with Ward warning that he was the only one who knew where to return home, and that Fitz was also on the planet. Coulson continued to the exit portal with the prisoner Ward as guide. As they walked, Ward confided that being on the planet had helped him find his true purpose, accepting that he was a part of a grand plan whereas previously he had looked for father figures in HYDRA and John Garrett.
Coulson listened with distaste as Ward told him that he had realized his obsessions over revenge were insignificant, and that he was a part of something bigger. In response, Coulson wounded Ward again, telling him that he had no idea what he meant and the pair of them continued on through the desert. The two reached the exit point, where Coulson saw Fitz being attacked by Hive. Coulson shot at the man and saved Fitz, but in doing so gave Ward the opportunity to free himself and attack Coulson. Ward was wounded and weak and Coulson overpowered and beat him, reminding Ward of all the lives he had taken. As Coulson fought, Fitz warned him that the portal was closing. Still thinking of all the people Ward had murdered, including Rosalind Price, Coulson made the decision to kill Ward and slowly crushed his ribcage until he stopped breathing. Immediately horrified by what he had done, Coulson removed his robotic hand and left it next to Ward's corpse. Leaving the body, Coulson returned home through the portal.
Coulson and Fitz barely made it through the portal before it collapsed, reaching the Containment Module before the HYDRA Castle was destroyed. They returned to Zephyr One with Alphonso Mackenzie and Daisy Johnson and were greeted with joy. While the group celebrated their victory over HYDRA, Coulson embraced Melinda May, while sharing a look with Fitz, knowing Fitz had watched him murder Ward and leave his body to rot on the alien planet.
Hunting Gideon Malick
Meeting the President
President Matthew Ellis wanted to meet with Coulson, but Coulson was unwilling to reveal the location of the Playground, so he set the meeting at Rosalind Price's home and brought Melinda May. When Ellis arrived, the two started to talk about the Inhumans issue. Ellis thanked Coulson for his actions to solve that problem. Coulson asked if Ellis had legalized S.H.I.E.L.D., and Ellis responded that S.H.I.E.L.D. would continue to operate in the shadows with the Advanced Threat Containment Unit serving as their public face. Ellis promised to appoint a new head for the ATCU, who would answer to Coulson. Before Ellis left, Coulson asked him about Gideon Malick. Ellis said he could not help Coulson catch Malick, because Malick was too powerful. May said that she was sorry that Ellis hadn't given Coulson anything, but Coulson said that he might have.
Sometime later, Coulson asked Leo Fitz his opinion on Lincoln Campbell. Fitz replied that Lincoln was helping them understand the Inhumans' biology. Coulson then ordered Fitz to turn on the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine. Fitz refused, but Coulson said it was not for himself, but Werner von Strucker, who was still in a coma. Von Strucker was put in the machine and Coulson asked him about Malick. Von Strucker said, "just kill me". Coulson asked Campbell to use his powers to draw out von Strucker's memories. He did and Coulson asked again about Malick. This time von Strucker gave him the information on how to communicate with Malick.
Coulson went to a remote location and called Malick. He had May trace Malick's location. Malick answered and Coulson mocked him, noting that since the Attack on the HYDRA Castle, Malick had lost his Inhumans and had been forced into hiding. Malick assured him that his influence was stronger than Coulson understood. Afterward, Coulson tried on the new robotic hand that Fitz had built. It looked human. May comforted Coulson about what had happened in Maveth. Coulson then said that Malick was still collecting Inhumans for an unknown purpose. Later, Ellis called and told Coulson that he had appointed Glenn Talbot as the new head of the ATCU. Coulson was not thrilled with that choice.
Working With Glenn Talbot
Glenn Talbot would not return Coulson's calls, so Coulson met Talbot in the airport after his wife had left. Coulson said that he preferred they would work as partners, but Talbot rejected the idea. Coulson said they should prepare for the Symposium on Alien Contagion about the Inhumans. On their way to Talbot's car, Coulson said he would try to find out which country possessed Inhumans during the symposium. He also wanted to know which one of the delegates was working for Gideon Malick. In the parking garage, Melinda May and Lincoln Campbell warned Coulson that someone was approaching. Coulson saw that it was Carl Creel. May and Campbell fought Creel and Lincoln came close to killing him. Coulson ordered Lincoln to stop using his powers. Talbot then got out of his car and said that Creel was his bodyguard.
In Coulson's office, Talbot demanded Creel join the mission. Coulson's agents refused, claiming he couldn't be trusted. Coulson knew the head of the ATCU must be present at the symposium, so he agreed to Talbot's demand. He then explained that Inhumans weren't welcome at the symposium, and they couldn't bring weapons. On Zephyr One, Coulson told May, Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse that their mission was to enter the delegates' rooms, find clues of foreign Inhumans and uncover Malick's inside man.
During the symposium reception, Coulson introduced himself as Sean Lundwall, an expert on Inhumans. Using his prosthetic hand, he shook each delegate's hands to copy their fingerprints for May, Hunter and Morse to use to gain entry to the delegates' rooms. Talbot suspected everyone of working with Malick. Coulson, Talbot and the delegates gathered in the meeting room and Talbot gave a brief opening statement. The conversation quickly turned to Inhumans, with Coulson attempting to convince the group that they were only seeking peace. While Haruto Yakimura remained skeptical, Anton Petrov suggested that Russia was willing to become a sanctuary state for the Inhumans. Nathi Zuma agreed with Petrov and called for a vote. Talbot and Coulson briefly discussed what their options were.
Moments before Chen called for the vote, Talbot interrupted and called in the guards. He accused Coulson of being a traitor and showed how Coulson had been spying on them all and was not Sean Lundwall as he had claimed. Malick then entered and accused Coulson of being the Director of HYDRA. Coulson realized that Talbot was the traitor. Malick used images of Lash's victims as proof of Coulson wanting to exterminate Inhumans. The guards took Coulson while he asked Talbot what Malick had done to him.
Coulson was brought to the basement and the guards removed his robotic hand. Malick and Talbot entered with Talbot begging that his son be returned to him. Coulson cursed Malick for extorting Talbot and the guards punched him in the stomach. Malick refused to honor his deal with Talbot and locked him in a cell with Coulson, handcuffing them together. When Coulson questioned Malick's motives, Malick explained that he was building an army. Coulson said that Malick would soon be facing a different army, and Malick left the room, ordering his men to execute the pair.
While waiting for their deaths, Talbot joked that he preferred Coulson die first so he could be left in peace at last. When Coulson questioned why he remained confident, Talbot explained that he had a man on the inside. At that moment Creel burst into the room and defeated the guards, saying that he and Hunter had found Talbot's son. When another guard burst in, Talbot and Coulson were forced to run while still handcuffed, with Talbot grabbing Coulson's prosthetic hand on the way. Creel then uncuffed them and Coulson ordered Morse and Hunter to get on Malick's plane to track his location. May told them that Talbot's son was on a truck and Coulson, Talbot and Creel ran to the truck to retrieve him. Back on Zephyr One, Talbot sat beside his sleeping son as he slowly recovered from his ordeal. Coulson stood by and commented on how happy his wife would be now that he had gotten his son back. They briefly discussed their partnership and when Coulson casually called him General, Talbot told him to call him Glenn, but noted this would only be occasionally. Coulson expressed his concerns to May, that perhaps Malick was reporting to someone or something else.
Mission in Russia
- "I would like to thank you both for your bravery and for the sacrifice you made, giving up your vacation. Whether anyone will ever admit it or not, you saved the Prime Minister's life, and, doubly fortunate for him, managed to wipe out his entire opposition. They're all dead now, so well done."
- ―Phil Coulson to Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter[src]
Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter were hidden inside Gideon Malick's plane. Coulson followed them to Russia, observing their actions from Zephyr One. Coulson listened in as Malick held a meeting with Russian leaders, discussing the Inhumans and the proposed sanctuary. Coulson and the team learned that the Russian minister of defense, General Androvich, was an Inhuman, and Coulson realized that Malick planned to use the minister to stage a coup and kill the prime minister of Russia, who did not support the sanctuary. Coulson ordered his team on the ground to rescue the prime minister before he was killed. In doing so, Morse killed Androvich and was captured along with Hunter.
Coulson had to try to rescue them from prison, knowing that if Russia knew S.H.I.E.L.D. still existed and was working with the United States of America, it could be viewed as an act of war. Coulson, along with President Matthew Ellis, visited the prison where Morse and Hunter were being held. Posing as an advisor to the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, Coulson was granted permission to speak with Morse and Hunter. Shorting out the prison's video system, Coulson told the two that he would set off an EMP allowing the pair to escape. However, Morse and Hunter refused to run, stating that to protect S.H.I.E.L.D. and the United States, they would allow themselves to be disowned. Though deeply saddened, Coulson allowed Morse and Hunter to make the choice and he eft the room, negotiating their release in return for them never being agents again.
Later, Coulson, along with Daisy Johnson, Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons, Melinda May, and Alphonso Mackenzie all visited a bar where Morse and Hunter were. Without directly contacting them, Coulson and the others all ordered shots for the two, saying goodbye in the only way they could. Coulson was the last to leave, and took one last look at the pair before departing.
Testing Lincoln Campbell
- "This is a chance for me to see for myself how you handle things."
"Same thing, different words–"
"Don't interrupt me! You got it? You haven't earned that right yet. I don't know you. I vetted every member of this team except you, measured their commitment to this ideal, including two good agents who just gave it all up to protect that ideal. I think you could be a good agent, but I need to know if you think that."
- ―Phil Coulson and Lincoln Campbell[src]
Following the Attack on the ATCU Storage Facility by the Watchdogs, Coulson called Alphonso Mackenzie and ordered him to inspect the site. Mack left with Daisy Johnson and Leo Fitz for Zephyr One, as Lincoln Campbell returned from his evaluation at the Cocoon. Coulson told them that he had received Campbell's evaluation and had decided not to assign him to Johnson's mission without explaining why, despite Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter having left S.H.I.E.L.D. Later, Johnson called Coulson and informed him that the Watchdogs used Nitramene to implode the building. Coulson remembered that former agent, Felix Blake, had always wanted to improve its formula.
Campbell later found Coulson walking around the Playground looking for him. Coulson told Campbell he wanted to bring him on a mission. He needed to locate Blake and he knew where Blake's safe-houses were. At first Campbell was pleased that Coulson was inviting him on missions but Coulson explained that he was not happy with Campbell's evaluation and wanted to watch him first hand. Campbell asked Coulson about his evaluation as they rode in the Quinjet to Blake's possible location. Coulson said the evaluation suggested that Campbell was only there for Johnson, not the cause. The evaluation also said Campbell had trouble controlling himself and taking orders, which had been proven in his battles with Lash and Carl Creel . Campbell said he felt as though he were constantly being tested. Coulson insisted that was being tested because he still needed to be vetted.
They arrived at Blake's safe-house and found it to be in total darkness, so they began exploring with their weapons drawn ready for a fight. Johnson told Coulson she had found Blake's location and he ordered her not to attack. Coulson was surprised when they found Blake in the basement, since Johnson had said he was somewhere else. Blake drew a gun on the pair and Coulson noted how well he had recovered since his encounter with Deathlok. Coulson told Blake he was working for the ATCU now. Blake began ranting about how there had never been a S.H.I.E.L.D., just HYDRA and how S.H.I.E.L.D. was now working with Inhumans, whom he called freaks.
Coulson suspected that Blake was not actually there. Blake commented on how S.H.I.E.L.D. had caused the Battle of New York while the Avengers created Ultron. Coulson ordered Campbell to kill Blake, and Campbell argued against the idea, but Coulson insisted it was an order. Campbell fired a blast of electricity at Blake and discovered it was merely a hologram, just as Coulson suspected. Coulson said he was impressed by how Campbell had handled the situation so effectively. Later, they learned that the Watchdogs were coming after Johnson and Mackenzie. Johnson informed Coulson that Gideon Malick supported the Watchdogs with weaponry.
Preparing for the Future
- "Got to admit – this time stuff's always been a little over my head. Like in Terminator, if John Connor's alive and able to send his friend back in time to save his mom to make sure he's born, doesn't that mean he doesn't have to?"
"I, uh, I never saw the original Terminator."
"You're off the team."
- ―Phil Coulson and Lincoln Campbell[src]
On Zephyr One, Daisy Johnson received a call from Edwin Abbott, who desperately wanted her help. Coulson and his team went to investigate. A shaken Abbott tried to explain that he had already seen these events happen in a vision of his own death given to him by Charles Hinton. Suddenly, the team was attacked by HYDRA, who killed Abbott and used the Extraction Claw to kidnap Hinton, just as he touched Johnson, giving her a vision of her own.
The team returned to the Playground where Johnson explained her vision, saying she had seen Coulson shooting her. They began discussing how they could try and get ahead of the vision and change the future, but Leo Fitz insisted that it was a fixed point in time which could not be altered no matter what they did. Coulson suggested that they keep Johnson from leaving the Playground in hopes of changing the course of the future. Coulson suggested Melinda May should go to save Hinton instead of Daisy.
Coulson discussed the matter with Lincoln Campbell inside his office, where Coulson used the example of The Terminator as a confusing depiction of time-travel. Campbell admitted he had never seen the movie and Coulson joked that he was fired. Campbell suggested that Hinton's visions were a part of a design, as all Inhumans' powers were created to fill an need, using the example of how Raina's vision allowed Johnson to stop Jiaying. They soon found Hinton's family and Campbell threatened that he would kill Coulson if he harmed Johnson.
Coulson then joined the team as they were training May to accomplish her mission as quickly as possible, based on what Johnson saw in her vision, in order to change the vision's outcome. After the first round, Coulson said he wished they could practice for every battle like that. May eventually managed to beat the time limit. Agent Anderson entered the room and told Coulson they had found the building where Hinton was being held by Hydra. Coulson said he heard of Transia Corporation before and Fitz said he had used its technology for his prosthetic hand. Coulson gave May his orders for the mission when, suddenly, the alarms in the base went off, telling them that there was an intruder. Andrew Garner was brought into the base and explained that Lash was taking over and he wanted to say goodbye to May.
Coulson urged May to stay with Garner ,since she would not see him again. May disagreed, claiming Garner was a killer, so Johnson said she would go. At first, Coulson disagreed, but Johnson explained she was their best agent who could save Hilton, and Coulson could stay in the base to change the outcome. Coulson agreed and accompanied her to a Quinjet. He urged her to be safe, accidentally calling her "Skye".
In Coulson's office, he, Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons and Lincoln Campbell watched the hacked Transia Corporation's CCTV feed. As they spotted R. Giyera on the feed, they discussed Campbell's "higher purpose" theories of Inhumans' powers. They stopped suddenly when the video seemed to show Grant Ward in the building. Fitz theorized that it was Hive using Ward's body.
They hurried to the building to help Daisy Johnson and look for Ward. Coulson saved Johnson by shooting through a two-way mirror at a HYDRA guard. He then ordered her to the roof to rescue Charles Hinton. Daisy asked Coulson what he was going to do and, to her surprise, he replied that he would find Ward. Campbell found Coulson and Coulson ordered him to locate Ward, while he went to find Gideon Malick. Coulson entered an office and Campbell said he saw Ward. In the office, Coulson discovered charred human skeletons, and he ordered Campbell not to engage with Ward.
Coulson was staring at a screenshot of Hive when Melinda May entered his office. She asked him what Hive was and Coulson replied that the lab was working to figure that out. He gave May his condolences in regards to Andrew Garner, but May said she did not want to talk about it. They talked about Coulson having killed Grant Ward. Coulson said he had a feeling S.H.I.E.L.D. was fixing problems they had created. The team had a meeting in Coulson's office to discuss a plan to defeat Hive. They decided to go to GT Agrochemical, a facility which had recently been raided by HYDRA.
On Zephyr One, Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz explained to Coulson that Hive had created small organisms which had consumed the victims' flesh. Simmons theorized that the organisms could also have been used to reanimate dead flesh. Simmons said she could not believe Hive was on Earth. Mackenzie approached Coulson and showed him a screenshot of R. Giyera in the GT facility. Coulson said that they needed to take Giyera with them, even though Giyera was dangerous even without his powers.
Coulson, May and Mackenzie entered the facility and went to the research room. They saw that the equipment had been taken and everything else had been destroyed. Coulson examined a dead bug and Mackenzie told him that all the data had been removed from the facility. An agent informed Coulson that Giyera was on the move. Coulson shot two HYDRA agents before Giyera noticed him. Coulson ran to an empty room and got out, with Giyera trapped inside it with May. May managed to knock him out and they put him in the Containment Module in Zephyr One. Fitz told Coulson that the facility's data had been moved to an oil field in Schoonebeek. Coulson noticed that objects were flying around, so he hurried the agents out from the Module before closing it. Coulson asked Simmons why Hive would have destroyed the research from the facility.
Simmons replied that Hive either wanted to use it, or he was afraid of it. Coulson asked what Hive was and Simmons said she thought Hive was just a collection of the small organisms that comprised it. Coulson realized Hive was a parasite which possessed the memories of its hosts. Coulson was upset remembering how he had killed Ward. Fitz asked Coulson if he was OK, and Coulson realized he had unconsciously bent a pipeline with his robotic hand. Coulson said that in contrast to Fitz's justified action against Hive on Maveth, Coulson could not justify having killed Ward. Fitz tried to comfort him by saying Ward had to die, but Coulson said that Ward was now after him. Giyera then escaped the Module and Coulson tried to stop him. Giyera used his power to block Coulson's robotic hand and knocked him out. Giyera landed Zephyr One in the oil field.
- "I know you want revenge, but we have to be better. We have to do what's best for the team. It's times like this when there's no clear path that... I understand why people pray."
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
Coulson managed to escape Zephyr One with Alphonso Mackenzie, Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons and a wounded Melinda May. They locked themselves in a storage room at the Schoonebeek Oil Field in order to prepare a counter strike. Fitz managed to repel the HYDRA agents who were attacking the room and they were all saved by Elena Rodriguez and Daisy Johnson, who had gathered the Secret Warriors and captured Gideon Malick. The whole team then got back on Zephyr One and returned to the Playground.
With Malick in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s custody, Coulson interrogated him, seeking answers about Hive's true nature. Malick revealed that Hive was like a god to Inhumans and that he had killed his daughter Stephanie. He also told Coulson that Hive could sway Inhumans and gain total control over them. Therefore, the Secret Warriors, who had infiltrated the HYDRA base, could have been infected. Coulson had difficulty believing Malick, but to be safe, he ordered the Playground be locked down. He then gathered Mackenzie, Fitz and Simmons to discuss their strategy and ordered the Inhumans be monitored without them noticing, while Fitz and Simmons searched for a cure. Coulson resumed questioning Malick, and the HYDRA leader described the assassination of his daughter.
Coulson said that Malick could get revenge on Hive by telling S.H.I.E.L.D. what they needed to know. Malick reluctantly agreed and gave Coulson all the intel he had. Fitz and Simmons discovered Hive parasites in Lucio's brain, thus confirming what Malick had said. Coulson was informed but before they could plan a course of action, power was shut off to the Playground. During the blackout, Malick was killed and a grenade beside his body exploded, hurting Fitz and Simmons. Coulson found them and was told about Malick's death. He asked Fitz and Simmons to get some rest. He then ordered the Secret Warriors to gather in the common room because he suspected at least one of them could be under Hive's influence. They refused and locked themselves in a room.
While the Secret Warriors were arguing about who could be infected, Coulson ordered a search of their lockers. With Johnson's help, Coulson lured the other Secret Warriors into a Containment Chamber and revealed that the Kree Orb had been found in Lincoln Campbell's locker. Coulson confronted Campbell about being infected by Hive. Campbell stated he was innocent, before being knocked out by Johnson. Afterwards, the Secret Warriors were all locked in separated Containment Chambers. Coulson visited Johnson and told her that he had to disband her team to avoid further infections. He then went to the Playground's cafeteria with May. It was soon revealed that Johnson was the one infected by Hive. She escaped by causing an earthquake which damaged the Playground. Coulson was unable to stop her and she left.
Looking for Daisy Johnson
After Daisy Johnson's escape, Coulson learned from Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons about Holden Radcliffe, a scientist who could potentially help them find a cure for Hive's infection. Coulson sent the pair to Romania to find him. He also took Melinda May and Lincoln Campbell to reach Alisha Whitley, but not before ordering Campbell to wear a Nanothermite Vest in case Hive infected him. Upon arriving, May asked Coulson what would happen if Johnson or Hive showed up. The interview with Whitley went awry, because Whitley had already been infected by Hive. They managed to defeat Whitley's clones, but Coulson was upset that Campbell had crossed the line and threatened to kill one of the clones. He discussed Johnson's fate with May, saying that Johnson was like a daughter to him. Soon after, they received word of unnatural seismic activity in South Dakota and rerouted Zephyr One there.
Arriving at the site in South Dakota, Coulson discovered the remnants of JT James's Terrigenesis husk and realized that something buried near his house had been unearthed. Thanks to his newly acquired Energy Shield, Coulson and May escaped an explosion rigged by Hive and the Inhumans under his influence. Immediately after, Coulson received a phone call from General Glenn Talbot, who had used Gideon Malick's intel to arrange a broad military operation against HYDRA. Coulson green-lighted the operation and witnessed the destruction of HYDRA with May. However, Coulson had a hard time celebrating the achievement, since Johnson was still missing and Fitz's and Simmons' mission to retrieve Radcliffe had failed.
Coulson kept searching for Johnson and eventually located her in Union City, where Hive had gathered all his followers. Despite his concerns about a possible trap, Coulson sent May and Alphonso Mackenzie to rescue Johnson and kill Hive. Later, Coulson had to mediate an argument between Simmons and Campbell. Campbell wanted to test an antitoxin on himself which could destroy Hive's parasites but might prove fatal. Given the high risks, Coulson refused to sanction the experiment and ordered Simmons and Fitz to find a less lethal solution. He later returned on Zephyr One and monitored the operation against Hive. When the Kree Reapers arrived, lured by the Kree Orb's signal, Coulson ordered his agents to stand down and monitor the situation. The team managed to escape Union City, but they failed to rescue Johnson, who had injured Mackenzie, and they also failed to kill Hive.
- "It's time for S.H.I.E.L.D. to come in from the cold, relegitimize."
"In exchange for revealing and registering any Inhumans we may have? Not gonna happen."
"Why are you so pigheaded? It's good enough for the Avengers."
"Not all of them. And the Avengers operate in the spotlight. We work in the shadows."
- ―Glenn Talbot and Phil Coulson[src]
While watching a TV news report about the Sokovia Accords and the Avengers Civil War, Coulson had an interview with General Glenn Talbot. He agreed to take Talbot to the Playground, despite his reluctance to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. into the light, especially regarding the Inhumans, which Talbot wanted to put on a list. Coulson brought Talbot to the Containment Chamber where Lincoln Campbell was locked up. After Campbell agreed to register, Coulson revealed Lash's existence to Talbot. Talbot then said that he knew about Daisy Johnson's rebellion against S.H.I.E.L.D..
Coulson told Talbot about Hive and its plan to create an army of Inhumans. Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz informed Coulson that Hive could replicate the Kree experiment using Johnson's blood, thus creating a virus that turn all humans into Inhumans. When Talbot decided to launch a military strike against Hive, Coulson advised him against it. Their discussion was interrupted when they learned about Campbell's attempted escape. Coulson soon revealed that it was a ruse in order to send Lash to Hive so that he would help them to rescue Johnson. Though Lash was killed by Hellfire, Johnson returned to the Playground, freed from Hive's influence. Shortly after, Talbot told them that Hive had stolen a warhead from an ATCU facility, which he could use to spread the virus, turning all humans into Primitives.
Capture of Hive
- "I want to feel this pain until I find Hive."
"And get revenge? I can't imagine what you've been through, but that carving? I know something about that. You think vengeance is the missing piece of the puzzle, that it will make you whole again, but all it does is break you further."
- ―Daisy Johnson and Phil Coulson[src]
In the wake of Daisy Johnson's return and the impending threat of Hive's virus, Coulson sanctioned an operation aimed at stopping the ancient Inhuman. Thanks to Leo Fitz and Glenn Talbot, Coulson got a government kill code that he managed to transmit in time and S.H.I.E.L.D. was able to prevent Hive from launching his warhead.
Prior to the mission, Coulson had Fitz dismantle the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine and provide the equipment to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to be used on Hive, in the hopes that the memories of his numerous hosts would come to surface and incapacitate him. Coulson later visited Johnson in her Containment Chamber and tried to comfort her, saying that what had happened was not her fault, but Johnson rebuked him, stating she was not worthy of his trust or friendship. Facing her anger, Coulson refused to abandon her.
The operation was successful and Hive was captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. and brought to the Playground in a Gel Matrix Chamber. Although Hive was in custody, S.H.I.E.L.D. still needed to recover the warhead. Coulson ordered Holden Radcliffe to work with Fitz and Jemma Simmons in order to design a cure for Hive's infection. He also ordered the Playground to be locked down. However, it soon turned out that Hive's followers had smuggled material into the Playground in order to turn the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into Primitives. Though several agents fell under Hive's sway, Coulson and others managed to save Fitz and another agent. Coulson then watched as the Primitives freed Hive and it boarded Zephyr One to use it to transport the warhead.
With several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents turned into Primitives, the Playground was under siege. Coulson gave instructions to his subordinates to ensure their protection, leading Lincoln Campbell and Holden Radcliffe to the server room, but the Primitives had already taken control of it. Reuniting with Alphonso Mackenzie and a wounded Elena Rodriguez, they all locked themselves in a room. When everybody began to argue, Coulson told them to focus and help Rodriguez instead.
Coulson and the others soon figured out that Jemma Simmons had turned up the heat in order to blind the Primitives, thereby allowing them to move through the base without being seen by their enemies. The team escaped and made their way to Coulson's office, where they found Simmons. Coulson then used his prosthetic hand to remotely call a Quinjet. He ordered the others to stay behind so he could take on Hive alone, since he felt responsible for bringing it to Earth.