|For Coulson's Life-Model Decoy, see Phil Coulson|
|For other hosts to the Spirit of Vengeance, see Ghost Rider|
|For Destroyed Earth version of Phil Coulson, see Phil Coulson|
|For the entity possessing Coulson's duplicate, see Sarge|
|For the Chronicom Life-Model Decoy, see Phil Coulson|
Phillip J. "Phil" Coulson was a former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., before that one of its best agents and Nick Fury's right-hand man for many important missions. He served as the primary operative in the Avengers Initiative following a Skrull Invasion on Earth in the 1990s, which led to the surfacing of Captain Marvel. Coulson also ran ground interference, surveillance and tactical operations in Puente Antiguo, New Mexico as part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s investigation surrounding the 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., a project which he had formerly presided over. To preserve his sanity after he was healed, all memories of these events were removed from his mind.
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 the truth about the events after his death. 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, attempting to stop John Garrett, winning the final battle 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 scratch.
To perform that task, Coulson led the remains of S.H.I.E.L.D. in many battles against HYDRA, crippling the terrorist organization. He even 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. Now accompanied by only a few loyal friends, Coulson started a battle 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. However, 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, and even Coulson paid an extreme price to achieve victory, having his left arm cut off. But even that loss did not stop him, and he started a new project that would ensure the safety of humanity.
The mission of recruiting Inhumans for the team became more difficult, as the Advanced Threat Containment Unit led by Rosalind Price, was dealing with the threat of the new Inhumans. However, Coulson had a relationship with Price while facing the threats of Ward's HYDRA, Lash and the Inhumans. After Ward killed Price, Coulson followed him to the planet Maveth and killed him to avenge all the people that he had murdered. As he thought 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 a host. With Malick's death, Coulson, with feelings of guilt for causing this threat, invested efforts to prevent Hive from accomplishing his plan to change all Humans to Inhumans and to control all of them. Once Lincoln Campbell had sacrificed himself to kill Hive and saved humanity, the directorship of S.H.I.E.L.D. passed to Jeffrey Mace, while Coulson and Alphonso Mackenzie conducted a pursuit after the former agent turned vigilante Daisy Johnson.
With the revelation of Lucy Bauer and her ambition to find the Darkhold, Coulson created an alliance with Johnson and Ghost Rider to find the book before the ghost did. He was caught in an explosion with Ghost Rider and Leo Fitz by Eli Morrow and almost sank into another dimension but managed to get out with help from Holden Radcliffe and Aida. Coulson then led the last fight against Morrow. Following the revelation that Mace was not actually an Inhuman, Coulson returned to the position of Director de facto while Mace remained de jure Director. Continuing fighting the Watchdogs led by Anton Ivanov who targeted him, Coulson was kidnapped by Holden Radcliffe, replaced by an LMD and put inside the Framework, where he lived as a history teacher. With the help of Johnson and Jemma Simmons, Coulson escaped the Framework, only to face against the threat of Aida to the real world.
After he killed her, by temporarily bonding with the Spirit of Vengeance, Coulson and the others were sent to the year 2091, when Earth had been destroyed and the surviving humans were enslaved by the Kree. He and the other agents eventually made it back 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, S.H.I.E.L.D. entered into a conflict with the Confederacy, but as he was trying to negotiate with them, Talbot turned to villainy. Coulson aided in defeating Talbot in the Battle of Chicago and stopped him from amassing the planet's Gravitonium, successfully averting the destruction of Earth. Coming to peace with the terms of 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 Coulson was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on July 8, 1964. As 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 being 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, batting with over a .400 average.
His father introduced him into car tinkering, and together they worked on a red Corvette that Phil kept for his whole life. Coulson lost his father at a very young age, and his mother is now deceased as well. After high school, while he was in college studying history and learning how S.H.I.E.L.D. shaped the times, he was recruited right away to S.H.I.E.L.D., where he studied at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy of Communications, eventually becoming a special agent and was taught by Nick 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 good friendship. During their time together, the two often spoke about being able to pick their own ops 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 90s, Coulson would also be partnered up with Katherine Shane during a few operations.
Coulson met with the LAPD security officer who made the call, who informed him of the woman's location, making a call at a nearby phone booth. Coulson was then tasked with inspecting the Blockbuster, searching for anything of interest that may found in the crash site. When he was done, he exited, discovering that everyone had left, unaware that a Skrull had taken his form and was driving with Fury. When he asked Fury over the phone why he had left him at the Blockbuster, he could only overhear the scuffle between Fury and the Skrull disguised as him and the crash as Fury caused an accident to kill the Skrull.
Coulson then regrouped with S.H.I.E.L.D. where he ran into Fury and handed him the police report from the recent incident. He then asked him if he needed a partner, wanting to learn from him; but Fury shut him down at that moment since Coulson's presence reminded him of the Skrull impostor that had tried to kill him earlier. Coulson then noticed Keller - who at this point was impersonated by Talos - struggling to get into his office, so he scanned his card to help him, unaware that the real Keller was knocked out.
Coulson was later a part of a team led by "Keller" to bring in Fury, who was working with the woman at Joint Dark Energy Mission Facility. As Coulson and Whitcher made their way through the facility, he was informed of the order to bring in Fury dead or alive, much to Coulson's concern. When Fury and Vers tried to escape, Coulson discovered them, holding them at gunpoint before going by his instinct to let them go, averting S.H.I.E.L.D.'s search for them by telling his team that they had gone a different direction.
When Fury returned from assisting in the fight between the Kree and Skrulls, having lost his left eye in the process, Coulson went to his office, supplying a variety of prosthetic eyes, as well as some files on Carol Danvers. He also expressed concern over where the Tesseract is, to which Fury insisted it will turn up, unbeknownst to Coulson that 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. He then wished Fury well on his recovery before leaving.
The Russian 0-8-4
Coulson was tasked from 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 try to enter on the site and retrieve the object. Coulson and May entered a deserted building where they found a locked safe. While Coulson intended to try to unlock it, May signaled the presence of four SVR agents, prompting them to switch roles: May would open the safe's door 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 Coulson that they had also been sent to retrieve the mysterious artifact from the mining facility. When May finally broke in the safe and stole the object, the SVR agents arrived and tried to find her, but she escaped with Coulson's SUV, leaving him behind. The SVR soldiers mocked Coulson for being abandoned by his partner and captured him, putting a hood on him and taking him in their van for interrogation.
However, it turned out that May had not abandoned Coulson at all. Indeed, she smashed Coulson's SUV into the SVR van. The SVR soldiers got down and tried to capture May as well, but she knocked them all out and released Coulson. The two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents then left the facility while flirting, taking the Russian 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 thus vowed vengeance against Coulson.
Coulson also recruited Akela Amador into S.H.I.E.L.D. Amador was not a team player and did not see the value of teamwork, but Coulson felt that he could nurture these qualities in her. In 2006, Amador led a raid into one of the gulags run by the notorious criminal Vanchat that had a disastrous outcome. Fearing the worst, Coulson sent a second team to verify the loss of Amador's team. While the second team found evidence of carnage, there was 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.
In 2008, Coulson and May joined a S.H.I.E.L.D. TAC team on a Index Asset Evaluation and Intake mission in Manama, Bahrain, in search of a potential "gifted" individual, Eva Belyakov, suspected to possess super strength. Coulson attempted to approach Belyakov peacefully but she soon turned hostile as she and a group of gangsters took O'Brien and a young girl hostage. Coulson tried calling O'Brien's phone to try to negotiate, only to hear O'Brien say, "Leave us alone." Hart subsequently led the TAC team to deal with the threat, but they all dropped from contact as soon as they entered the building. Coulson tried calling S.H.I.E.L.D. for reinforcements, only to be met with red tape.
With the Bahraini military approaching, Coulson was forced to send May in alone, while he stalled the Bahrainis by claiming there was a biological weapon inside. They later heard a gunshot, at which Coulson and the Bahrainis stormed the building to find Eva and the gangsters dead, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team unharmed, and May cradling the body of the little girl. Hart and his men had no memory of what happened and assumed May fought through thirty men to save them, nicknaming her "The Cavalry". Coulson comforted May over her failure to save the girl and encouraged her to let the girl go. The incident had traumatized May so greatly that she resigned from fieldwork to work in the administrative division of S.H.I.E.L.D.
When Nick Fury encountered Bruce Banner in a bar and saw his transformation into Hulk, he called a meeting for some of his S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives. Coulson tried to tell him that he and the others would be better prepared the next time Hulk attacks, but Fury said that Hulk was now just a secondary matter.
- "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]
After Tony Stark was kidnapped in Afghanistan by the Ten Rings, Coulson and Nick Fury feared that Stark, being just a wealthy civilian and not a trained soldier, could tell his kidnappers everything he knew about American national security since Stark was involved in making many weapons for the United States Armed Forces. Coulson immediately offered to go searching for Stark himself, but Fury stopped him, saying that S.H.I.E.L.D. was not authorized for foreign operations in Afghanistan. Instead, he sent him to Obadiah Stane, to see if Stark was a man who could 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's offered again to search for Stark but was denied the opportunity again.
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]
Coulson would go to the press conference, that Stark hosted. He came across Pepper Potts, saying 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, also advising him to try having the name of his organization shortened as it's too long to remember.
Months later, the agency's satellites detected something that looked like an unmanned aerial vehicle. When Fury and Coulson saw the footage of the "vehicle's" 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 working on the development of 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]
Later, Coulson finally met Tony Stark at the Third Annual Firefighters' Fund gala, informing him of his allegiance with S.H.I.E.L.D.. The arrogant 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 one 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 finally realized that he was wrong. He then ordered Coulson to check Obadiah Stane's activities with Stark's financials.
Coulson immediately went to Stark Industries Headquarters where he encountered Pepper Potts who informed him about Stane's involvement in Stark's kidnapping and attempted homicide. 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, Stane was defeated by Stark.
"I Am Iron Man"
A few minutes after Tony Stark's battle with Obadiah Stane, Stark and James Rhodes were taken to a secret base where they encountered Agent Coulson. Coulson told them that Stark's fight against Stane was good, but that he needed to learn how to become a real fighter, and that his colleagues would teach him.
The next morning, Coulson came to Stark Industries Headquarters where the journalists expected to hear from Stark about the incident that happened, and who the mysterious "Iron Man" really is. Coulson gave Stark a cover story for the incident, even procuring fifty people to all say that Stark was in Avalon. As Pepper Potts thanked him for all he did for them, he said they would hear from his agency again. When she tried to say the whole name of the agency, he interrupted her and spoke the acronym "S.H.I.E.L.D." instead.
When Coulson returned to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, both he and Nick Fury watched the press conference. When Coulson asked for Fury's opinion on Stark's possible future work with S.H.I.E.L.D., 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.
Right after Tony Stark revealed he was Iron Man, Nick Fury assigned Coulson to recruit Mr. Hendricks to S.H.I.E.L.D. Later, after Stark rejected the offer to join the Avengers Initiative, S.H.I.E.L.D. started to watch him. After watching how Stark saved a pilot from an enemy area without collateral damage, Coulson wondered if Stark finally figured how to play the role he may play at S.H.I.E.L.D. He asked Fury his thoughts on this, but Fury told him to not mistake Stark's actions as any kind of newfound maturity and that they will 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 a decaying alien corpse so they could drain it of its bodily fluids and turn them into powerful drugs. A drug called GH.325, which had the capability to repair the injured tissue and to cure deadly diseases, was developed.
Coulson then chose six agents who were dying of terminal illnesses. At first, the patients were doing fine, but soon started to speak gibberish and began writing strange symbols on anything, including their own bodies. Coulson, after seeing the extreme side effects on the test subjects, resigned from his position, recommending the project's shutdown and that the alien corpse should be destroyed. He also had the patients' memories erased and gave them new identities, giving them a chance of 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 was labeled as MIA after the World War II. They did not find Rogers, but they found one of the disabled flying bombs from the HYDRA's Valkyrie. The World Security Council eventually ordered S.H.I.E.L.D. to shut down the operation and focus on the Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. Despite the direct order, Fury decided to continue with his usual activities, and he told Coulson to do the same.
Watching Over Tony Stark
When Tony Stark got drunk and had a battle with James Rhodes at his own birthday party, Nick Fury put Coulson in charge of guarding Stark, making sure he did not leave his house. Later, when Coulson went down to Stark's workshop and found one of the early prototypes of Captain America's shield in Howard Stark's casket, Stark took the shield and used it to balance the Particle Accelerator he was building.
Later, Coulson informed Fury about the appearance of a wormhole over New Mexico, and Fury agreed to send an expedition led by Coulson himself. Coulson then contacted Natasha Romanoff and asked her to handle things in Stark's house for a time being.
- "Tell them those Tae-Bo tapes really paid off."
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
While going to New Mexico, Coulson stopped at a Roxxon Corporation service station to buy some snacks and fill his car with gas. While he was in the shop, two robbers threatened the clerk with shotguns. Coulson intervened, passing them his car keys, but showing them his gun. When he gave the gun to them, he quickly knocked both of them unconscious. He returned to the counter and bought two snacks, payed, told the clerk to keep the change and then left the scene.
Upon arriving in the deserts 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 have discovered the hammer before Coulson's team, no one was able to lift it or move it, not even with the help of their vehicles. Coulson and his men quickly set up a perimeter and a base of operations around the crater. Coulson also contacted Elliot Randolph, asking him for consultation since S.H.I.E.L.D. was able to determine the 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's next mission was to confiscate all of the research about the mysterious wormhole that Jane Foster and her scientific team had collected. They traveled to Puente Antiguo, and despite Foster's protests, Coulson and his agents took all of their equipment. The same night, an unknown man infiltrated Coulson's base and managed to single-highhandedly take out a dozen of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents with various fighting styles. Coulson observed from a distance but not before asking Clint Barton to prepare to take action 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 his training believing him to be a warrior of some type. However, the stranger refused to answer his questions. The interrogation was interrupted when Erik Selvig arrived and informed Coulson that the stranger is 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", only to secretly assign 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. When Coulson and a unit of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents went to investigate, they found a gigantic automaton of unknown origin. As the automaton slowly approached them, Sitwell asked Coulson if the automaton was one of Tony Stark's inventions, and Coulson replied that Stark does not tell him anything. Coulson then tried to speak with the automaton, but the iron giant attacked them.
Coulson managed to survive the attack from the automaton. 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 "Blake" is 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 returns all of Foster's research and material back to her. Coulson agreed to Thor's terms and requested that they were 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
When the World Security Council ordered S.H.I.E.L.D. to recruit Emil Blonsky for the Avengers Initiative, Coulson met with Jasper Sitwell in a cafe to discuss that order. The Council considered Blonsky a war hero, and that he destroyed half of Harlem just because he was attacked by Hulk. Now S.H.I.E.L.D. had to convince Thaddeus Ross to free Blonsky.
Both Coulson and Sitwell agreed that releasing Blonsky from the Army's custody would be foolish, and they decided to send a consultant to talk to Ross and convince him not to free Blonsky, someone so irritating and annoying that Ross would simply refuse to free Blonsky. Unwillingly, Coulson decided to send Tony Stark. A few days later, Coulson and Sitwell met at the same cafe. Their plan worked as they expected because Stark's annoying behavior made Ross so angry that he refused to free Blonsky.
Sometime later, when Natasha Romanoff was sent to Moscow to interrogate Mikhail Fjodorov, Coulson acted as a control for her mission. After Fjodorov was killed, Romanoff cut off her contact with S.H.I.E.L.D. and started chasing Sofia who wanted to eliminate her and become the new Black Widow.
Coulson then followed Chuzhoi and Rogusskii who were sent by Starodoub to kill Romanoff. Two of Coulson's agents were killed by Sofia, but Coulson came 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 them Gennady Markov's life.
When Coulson discovered that Sofia's employer was the billionaire Richard Frampton, Natasha infiltrated his headquarters in Vladivostok. She discovered that Frampton works for the Ten Rings terrorist organization and that he has made a Jericho missile that would explode near the border between Russia and North Korea, greatly destabilizing the world peace. When Romanoff destroyed the missile, Coulson led a team of agents to the launching 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.
A few minutes later, Coulson was called by Fury, who informed him that Steve Rogers was finally found. When Coulson arrived at the place of the discovery, 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.
When Fury asked for a report on the situation, Coulson was not able to tell him anything, not actually knowing what was happening. Fury then ordered an evacuation of the facility, along with the Phase 2 prototypes to be moved to a safe distance, which Coulson took charge of. When the Tesseract activated, it caused the facility to start collapsing, so Coulson ordered the agents to leave the prototypes and evacuate. They all then departed in a helicopter and flew away from the destroyed facility. Fury then ordered Coulson to get back to base as their mission was the 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 form the Avengers, a group of extraordinary people who could protect the planet better than he and his men. The first candidate was Bruce Banner, but they needed Natasha Romanoff to convince him to join them. Coulson called Romanoff on the phone, and when he told her that Clint Barton had gone rogue, she 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, however, he refused to answer his calls, forcing Coulson to overrun J.A.R.V.I.S. security protocols and even visiting Stark in person at the Stark Tower. Coulson interrupted Stark's party with Pepper Potts and informed Stark that he was appointed to join the Avengers Initiative. Stark was reluctant to join, however, Coulson then gave him all the available data about the Initiative and the Tesseract. Stark reluctantly agreed and Coulson then drove Potts to the LaGuardia Airport while they were talking about 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. Onboard the Quinjet, Coulson was more than happy to meet his all-time hero, who has joined the Avengers Initiative on Fury's invitation. When Coulson asked Rogers to sign his vintage Captain America Card Collection which he gathered in around two years, he revealed the fact that Rogers has always been a model for him.
Once onboard the Helicarrier, Coulson took up other duties. After the first mission of the team, Coulson said to Nick Fury that the team was not prepared to face the common menace and that they needed to be motivated in some way. When Stark managed to capture Loki in Stuttgart, Germany, Thor suddenly appeared, and tried to take Loki back to Asgard. However, the whole group assembled on the Helicarrier, where Thor informed them about Loki's plan to conquer the planet with the army of the Chitauri.
Later, Coulson met with Thor, informing him that Jane Foster was moved into a secure location when Loki returned and Erik Selvig was put under his control. Coulson is thanked by Thor for this action to protect Foster and discussed how he viewed Selvig as a good man, noting that Loki would have targeted him due to their friendship, with Coulson explaining that Selvig often spoke of his own encounter with Thor.
When a brainwashed Clint Barton attacked the Helicarrier with the group of mercenaries, Loki managed 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 the Destroyer, which he didn't know what the weapon does, but he was aiming the weapon at an illusion; the real Loki snuck up behind Coulson and stabbed him in the back with the Scepter.
Severely wounded, Coulson could do nothing to prevent Thor's expulsion from the Helicarrier, but he managed to land a blow on Loki with his gun. Later, when the battle was over and lost, Fury reached out to his agent to let them know about Coulson was killed by Loki. This was just in time to hear him suggest that he used his death to motivate the divided Avengers into working together as a team.
- "Let me die, please. Please. Please, I'm begging you let me die. Please! Please, let me die!"
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
Days after his death, Nick Fury ordered extreme measures be taken to save Coulson. They took him to the Guest House where S.H.I.E.L.D. medical staff used an experimental drug to repair the wounded organs at a cellular level, as a part of the Project T.A.H.I.T.I. After at least seven operations, Fury's doctors were actually able to bring Coulson back to life days after he had been killed. The process was extremely, inhumanly agonizing for Coulson, who begged the doctors to let him die.
Not long after he was brought back to life, 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 they meant. Fearing that he could suffer a horrible death, the doctors chose to erase his memory.
Nick Fury and Streiten ordered that altered some of his memories with a robotic-assisted neural micro-surgery, to make him believe that he was revived in Tahiti, in order to cope with the pain he felt and to make him less suicidal, as he wanted to die due to the intense agony he was experiencing. Streiten maintained that the methods used to restore Coulson to life were unethical and felt that they should have let him die. Coulson also forgot everything about Project T.A.H.I.T.I., including the fact he was the leader of the project. The details of his revival are only available for agents with Clearance Level 10 or above.
Coulson had no memory of the time immediately following the incident. He was told that he was "dead" for only eight seconds, but Coulson knew that it was more than that. He remembered being somewhere else, in a beautiful afterlife.
The New Team
When Fitz and Simmons arrived, they were both nervous of meeting Coulson, walked in to Coulson's ofiice, he though that they were one person due to the name FitzSimmons. Coulson discussed what they have done, bring up their history, which he brought up the youngest to graduate, and an unauthorized biofuel experiment they conducted, which resulted in an explosion.
Coulson is impressed with the scientists, would have them on his team as S.H.I.E.L.D. operative group. This would cause Simmons to be excited by the idea, but Fitz was initially against going, being afraid to go into the field, but Simmons was able to convince him. Stationed on the Bus, the pair have designed specialized equipment and compounds on the fly in various emergency situations.
The First Mission
After his recovery, Coulson would reveal himself to Grant Ward that he was alive and they discussed their first mission to locate and assist Mike Peterson, a known enhanced individual. Coulson would meet with Maria Hill and discuss about his time in Tahiti where he got a little time off, but he is now more than happy to be back on the job. Coulson would leave for his mission and Hill and Dr. Streiten were reluctant to release him back into active duty given the horrific nature of his recovery and was astonished to realize that Coulson was unaware of the truth of his survival. Agent Maria Hill told Streiten that Coulson could never know the truth.
Coulson headed to the offices to visit Melinda May, who he worked with in the past. he asked her if she would join his team, which he promised her that he will be picking the ops and he will be making the calls. She was still haunted by her last mission with Coulson in Bahrain. May was genuinely reluctant to return to combat, but Coulson told her that she is only needed to "drive the Bus."
Coulson would arrive on the bus in his car called the Lola. As they explored the plane, Coulson revealed that the Bus used to be standard issue for new teams until the Helicarriers were created. May then appeared and explained that they had found the location of one of the Rising Tide's most prolific hackers, although 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 insisted that she was merely the pilot and was not there for combat missions.
During the new team's first mission together, they encountered the Rising Tide "hacktivist" known only as Skye, who was their only lead in the case of Michael Peterson. Having had some negative as well as violent encounters with Rising Tide after their release of classified data during ongoing operations, Coulson and Grant Ward would find a recording of a message in her van where she was arrested.
Both Coulson and Ward took charge of Skye's interrogation, where Coulson apologised for Ward, as he had history with the Rising Tide. Coulson asked Skye about Peterson's whereabouts, which she would play dumb, but Coulson discover that Skye was on the scene of when Peterson saved Debbie. During the interrogation, Coulson learned that Peterson's connection to an organization known as the Centipede Project. To gain Skye's trust and learn more about Centipede, Coulson and Ward came up with a plan to pretend to give Ward a truth serum and have him tell her some very low-level intel about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s activities.
Using the information given to them by Skye, Leo Fitz was able to use the Echo Chamber to recreate the CCTV footage of the explosion within the lab and determine the cause. Coulson confirmed that the explosion was clearly caused by a man who had overloaded on the Extremis that was in his body, spotting a Centipede Device that was locked onto his arm, which Jemma Simmons confirmed was highly similar to the Super Soldier Serum developed by Abraham Erskine during World War II. They then began working on their plan to subdue Peterson before he overloaded.
While Coulson's Team learned more about the situation, Michael Peterson kidnapped Skye and assaulted Melinda May. Before long, Skye managed to hack into the Bus' computers and informed them of her and Peterson's location, Coulson and Grant Ward arrived at Union Station, and Coulson tried to convince Peterson to surrender himself. Peterson punched the door off of Skye's Van and tried to escape with Skye and Ace Peterson into the building.
Coulson enters the building, searching for Peterson to try and calm him down before he explodes and kill Skye and other civilians. Coulson was able to find Ace, who was separated from his father, Coulson handed Ace to a police officer to take him outside, promise him that he would save his father. Coulson welcomed back May as a third party arrived to try to kill Peterson. Coulson ordered Ward to head to the second floor of the building and take aim at Peterson, as he would stay on the first floor and make sure he doesn't escape. Although Coulson insisted that he only fire if he had to, which Ward reluctantly agreed to.
Coulson would catch up to Peterson and tried to talk him down. Coulson placed his gun down on the ground as a show of peace, only for Peterson to note that Ward was upstairs and currently aiming his rifle ready to assassinate him. Coulson noted that he knew that the Centipede Serum was poisoning his entire body, reminding him that the previous Centipede User had overloaded and exploded, although Peterson still insisted he was not like that man. Peterson claimed that that organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D. were responsible for him losing his wife and job as well, furiously expressing his belief that the government was waiting to make an example of anyone who stood up against them, like he was doing. Coulson agreed that Peterson was a good man and he could still become a true hero and Coulson promised to help, when he was suddenly shot by Ward with the Night-Night Gun.
After stopping Mike Peterson and getting him the help he needed, Coulson accompanied Skye to take Ace Peterson to his aunt to stay. As they left, Coulson asked Skye if she had thought about joining the team. Which she was unsure, but Coulson assured her that they could do some good. After getting a call from Grant Ward about an 0-8-4, Coulson and Skye then flew them back to the Bus in Lola.
Finding an 0-8-4
Coulson return to the Bus, where he was confronted by Grant Ward on letting Skye on the team, complaining that she is not a trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Coulson agrees and explains that he is letting Skye come on as a consultant, and points out that S.H.I.E.L.D. does it all the time, using Tony Stark as an example. Coulson claims that with her on their side she could do a lot more, Coulson and his team gets down to business with Ward briefing that they have been called to Peru to investigate an 0-8-4, an unidentified object, at an archaeological site called Llactapata.
Coulson and his team arrive in Peru and while investigating, Coulson is told by Skye that they should have the civilians move, but Coulson, not wanting to start a panic, explains that they want to keep the situation contained and that Skye is only there to divert the attention away from them if word does get out, going against everything she believes in. The team is lead to the temple by an Archaeologist, who takes them to the 0-8-4.
Coulson is quickly contacted by Ward who, seeing the leader, introduces the team to Camilla Reyes, with whom he had worked years ago. Coulson and Reyes discuss how to settle Peru's national interests and claim to it. Though Coulson agrees, he explains that an 0-8-4 supercedes all national claims. The two then begin to talk personally, when the group was attacked by a group of rebels attacked the archaeological site, both Coulson's Team and Reyes' soldiers were able to escape to the Bus which began a route for a nearby S.H.I.E.L.D. base.
Coulson and Camilla Reyes would follow the team until everyone safely arrives on the plane, Coulson then gives orders to travel to a nearby S.H.I.E.L.D. facility to carry out a contingency protocol to contain and neutralize the artifact. Coulson checks on May and apologizes, telling her that he knows she did not want to see combat and he was sorry, but she remains silent. Coulson interrupts the team and says that they all have special talents and orders them to work it out. Coulson then gives Reyes a tour around the Bus.
Coulson made his way to his office, where he would show Reyes some of his collectibles. Which she would try and seduce him, but Coulson sees through the ruse reminding her that she wasn't this direct. When Coulson summarizes that Grant Ward should already know that Reyes' men will need to eliminate Melinda May from the controls to be successful. Before Coulson could reach May, he is forced to surrender to Reyes due to his team being held hostage and give her control of the plane.
Coulson is threaten to let her kill him, but Reyes points out how he gave up the plane for the life of Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, and tells him she will kill everybody by opening the cargo bay, in which the team is imprisoned. Coulson is told, that the 0-8-4 was made for the Peruvian government shortly after World War II by a group of former HYDRA scientists, so it could be used against the rebels, but it was lost during a battle because of its temporal instability, causing it to vanish and reappear within the stone the temple was built around.
Coulson begins to free himself and loosen his bonds. At the last second, he sees Fitz's drone flying through the cabin, and quickly tries to tie himself back in. Fitz causes the 0-8-4 to discharge, blasting a hole in the side of the plane. This causes the plane to rapidly depressurize, opening all of the sealed doors on the plane. It also causes Coulson, Reyes, and several soldiers to be sucked towards the hole. Coulson manages to pull himself out of harm's way, taking Reyes with him.
Meeting with Nick Fury
When it is revealed the Slingshot launches such objects into the sun, Skye asks what all the trouble was for if they were just going to destroy it. Coulson explains that this keeps people from seeking and abusing it.
Following his mission in Peru, Coulson would go and meet with Nick Fury, who was furious at him as the Bus was heavily damaged. Coulson is warned about Skye about she is a risk as she had previously been a member of the Rising Tide. Coulson is ordered by Fury not to let Simmons and Fitz install their fish tank onto the plane.
Coulson calls the team to the briefing room, he tells them the team that Franklin Hall, who was S.H.I.E.L.D. asset, had been kidnapped. Coulson is asked by Grant Ward about the attackers, only for Coulson to say they were invisible. The team investigated and Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons learned that the attack was caused by an element called Gravitonium, which could change the effects of gravity.
The team received a call that a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist named Dr. Franklin Hall had been kidnapped in an attack which involved an invisible substance picking up and throwing down trucks. The team investigated and Fitz and Simmons learned that the attack was caused by an element called Gravitonium, which could change the effects of gravity. Coulson and Ward investigated who had supplied the vehicles and equipment for the attack, leading them to Todd Chesterfield who had been paid in gold. When they learned where the gold had originated from, they learned that Hall was being kept by Ian Quinn.
With the help of Skye successfully infiltrating Quinn's Mansion, Coulson and Ward was able to infiltrate the compound, Coulson makes his way to Hall and tries to convince him to leave, but Hall claims that the Gravitonium is too dangerous to be in the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Quinn. Coulson learns Hall's plan is to sink the complex with the intention of destroying the Gravitonium and Quinn. Coulson realizes that if Hall succeeds, thousands of people will be killed. Coulson realize that there is no choice, shoots the glass beneath them, causing Hall to fall into the Gravitonium, apparently atomizing him.
Back at the Bus, Coulson instructs agent Tyler to put the Gravitonium in the Fridge, a S.H.I.E.L.D. detainment and storage facility and claims he wants nobody to know about its existence, honoring Hall's wishes. Ending the call, Coulson tried to remember how to load a gun. When Melinda May entered his office, saying that she doesn't enjoy these close encounters, which Coulson took that she still uncomfortable about field work, but she corrected him, saying that she's ready to return to the field. Coulson questioned her for combat or to watch his back, which she would tell him it means the same thing.
Searching for Akela Amador
Coulson would go and see Skye in a S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV, he wanted to see if she is familiar with several types of heists, telling her that he needs her to figure out how a recent thief has been exploiting security systems in a string of recent jewel robberies.
Coulson, Melinda May and Skye would go and investigate a robbery on a train, where a group of military officers, escorting some diamonds were taken down by one woman who did it with her eyes closed. They would learn from Skye that through social media, they soon learned that the assailant was Akela Amador, who was Coulson's old protégé. Coulson details how Amador was a former agent who supposedly went rogue after a bad mission and that he chose to investigate the current case based on the suspicion that it could be her, however, he chooses to hold off on informing HQ so that he can 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 claiming that Amador is an angel, as she had correctly sensed the woman had a tumor, making 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 be 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 its side, knocking it over.
Coulson and his team is revealed to be fine, but solidify Amador's position as an enemy. Skye was able to encrypt the broadcast where the team discovers that the source is coming from Amador's own right eye, which is a prosthetic eye. Watching the feed from her eye, they learnt that Amador is being controlled by an unknown person. Coulson remains adamant that the team, needs to help her on their own without reporting to HQ. Coulson realizes that they can determine Amador's position in they continue to monitor, the feed from her eye.
Coulson would find out that May is looking to bring Amador to HQ, as the two beginning there fight, Coulson arrives before Amador would kill May, by sedate Amador with the Night-Night Gun. Coulson waited Amador to wake up, where he reveals to Amador that they have rerouted her eye's signal to a pair of glasses being worn by Ward as he carries out the operator's directives with Skye, giving the rest of the team time to disable the failsafe. Knowing she is safe, Amador is able to reconcile with her former mentor, explaining to him that if she would have followed orders, she wouldn't be in the situation.
Coulson with May's assistance, track 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 kills him. With the case resolved for now, Coulson discusses the loose ends with Amador before saying his goodbyes and handing her over to S.H.I.E.L.D. authorities, promising her a fair trial, but Amador is simply happy to finally be free. As she leaves, Amador asks May what's happened to Coulson, noting a difference in him. May recounts how he almost died before the Battle of New York, but Amador mentions 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 introduces his team to Quan Chen, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Hong Kong district who tells them that meta-human Chan Ho Yin was kidnapped. Skye, surprised to find out there are other people with powers, is told by Coulson that Chan is on the Index, a short list of people with incredible abilities kept by S.H.I.E.L.D.
Skye claims that she is innocent, noting that she has been on the Bus with the team for the last two weeks, but Coulson claims this would give her the perfect opportunity to hack S.H.I.E.L.D. Backed by Grant Ward, Skye claims to prove her innocence by helping them find the hacker who sent the leak. In Texas, the team attempts to capture Miles Lydon, an experienced Rising Tide hacker, but he manages to escape them.
Coulson, Melinda May and Quan along with other agents infiltrate the lab while, on the Bus, Ward reveals that Lydon sold the information for money, thinking that the scientist were working on an actual centipede. Ward releases Skye when Coulson tells them they need her help to hack the facilities system. As the agents free Chan he quickly kills Quan, claiming that no matter who he goes with he'll never be able to use his gift. Chan begins to attack the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent present, despite his powers now causing him pain and burning his skin.
Coulson and May inject Chan with an extremely high dose of the Centipede serum, causing Chan's body to overheat and explode. However, with Lydon's help they manage to transfer the energy from the explosion out of the building and into the sky, saving the civilians. Coulson thanks Lydon before kicking him off the plane. Coulson then turns his attention to Skye and claims that ever since she got on the plane she's been hiding something and orders her to confess or he's done with her resulting in Skye revealing a chip that has 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 decides to let her stay, but in return she must wear a Tracking Bracelet that lets S.H.I.E.L.D. track her every move, and limits 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 is taking several physical tests which Simmons questions, claiming that he is not due for a physical for another three months. Coulson responds that it was his fault claiming that he got a call from his physical therapist and told her that he had been feeling "rusty".
Coulson and his team would head to the campsite, the team investigates the earlier incident as Fitz and Simmons discover mysterious electrostatic anomalies and examine a hole in Cross' head. As Simmons gets closer to examine Cross' corpse, static discharges from his body before falling to the ground. On the Bus, Skye researches Cross but claims that he is clean of any criminal record, but Ward claims that everyone looks clean on their first "go around". Coulson then tells Ward he's being too hard on Skye but Ward claims that if she wants their trust back she has to earn it, with Coulson claiming that what she had just done is a good start. Coulson comes down to the lab with Simmons, analyzing the victim's body while Fitz stays out of the lab, expressing a general apprehension and disgust for being around dead things. Simmons shows Coulson the brain of the victim which had been struck by 2,000 megajoules of electricity.
Coulson, May, and Ward quickly drive to the new location with Skye, pinpointing the event to a farmhouse not far away. Coulson then tells Skye to do a background check on the owner of the farm. The energy signature suddenly disappears with Ward, May, and Coulson arriving too late to save the owner, Frank Whalen. Coulson, Ward, and May travel to the local firehouse where Tony Diaz exhibits strange behavior before retreating to the kitchen. Diaz claims to hear a noise similar to the one heard by Cross earlier. Coulson claims that he hears nothing, before noticing a pan lifting in the air. Alarmed, Coulson holds Diaz at gunpoint. May contacts Coulson, reporting her discovery of a Chitauri Helmet.
Coulson asks how they got it, and Diaz claims its a souvenir from their clean up work in New York. He claims that he, Cross, and Whalen were only cleaning it, leading Simmons to realize that Diaz is infected and that the helmet must have had an alien virus on it. Diaz, realizing he is going to end up like his friends, slowly becomes erratic and frightened. Coulson tells Ward and May to evacuate everyone from the building. Coulson stays, and comforts Diaz during his last moments, sharing his experience from his own brief death, before leaving Diaz to his fate.
Coulson returns to the Bus and tells Simmons to begin developing a cure, Coulson is told by Simmons hat the infection spreads through electrostatic energy, as a shock. In the middle of her explanation, a lab tool hovers ominously behind Simmons. Coulson apologizes sincerely, and locks her in the lab, as he has realized Simmons is infected. Coulson reassures his team that Simmons will find a way to cure herself. Coulson contacts Felix Blake to find out more about the virus, but Blake tells them they have no record of it, but in order to save the rest of the team, they must put their infected agent down. Coulson tries 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 feels different because he is different.
Coulson would meet Blake, as Blake tells Coulson that if he keeps pulling stunts like this, the "higher-ups" will 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
Coulson informs the rest of the team, but notes that the data is clearance level 8 and beyond their priorities. However, Skye questions this, alarmed at being shut out of the process so quickly and that the rest of the team isn't privy to the same information as Coulson. Ward counters that every agent can't have the same information, claiming that it would make the entire organization vulnerable.
At the Hub, Coulson is asked by Skye if she can research S.H.I.E.L.D.'s data for information about her parents, but Coulson tells her they have more important things to do, but that he will look into it for her. Jasper Sitwell greets the group and tells Coulson, May, and Ward to join him for the briefing, locking Skye out again as Leo Fitz and Simmons opt to check out the science labs. Coulson, May, and Ward are introduced to Victoria Hand, who informs them that the South Ossetian rebels have developed a weapon called the Overkill Device, a device they plan to use to declare their independence from Russia and Georgia. Hand explains that the device is designed to create sonic vibrations that are powerful enough to trigger and disable enemy weapons from a great distance, a technology that poses a wide-sweeping threat.
Before Ward goes onto his mission, Coulson tells Ward to take care of Fitz, who has next to no field experience. Coulson and Hand discuss his recovery, noting that not all agents get sent to Tahiti, with Coulson once again strangely responding that it's a magical place. Coulson reassures Hand that Ward and Fitz will complete the mission.
Coulson meets up with Skye in the hallways of the Hub. She tries to get answers from Coulson, but he coldly tells her to "trust the system". With no other ways to get answers, Skye decides to come up with a plan for her and Simmons to get the information they need. Coulson finds May alone aboard the Bus practicing Tai Chi. May remains silent as he confesses that he does not like hiding information from the team, but realizes that he must trust the system.
Coulson confronts Hand about hiding the fact that there was no extraction plan for his agents, claiming that as of being level 8, he had a right to know their safety was ensured. Hand points out that Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton never have an extraction plan, only for Coulson to retort that they are aware of it going into the field. Hand simply tells him to trust the system. Coulson meets up with his team as he wants to help Ward and Fitz, as the team go and help Ward and Fitz.
Coulson tells Skye that he found the file on her parents, and reveals that it was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who left her at the orphanage. Skye emotionally thanks him for the information. Coulson reveals to May in private that he only told her part of the truth, and ask, for May's help in the rest. Later, Coulson makes a phone call to gain information about his mysterious recovery, only for the agent to tell him that he doesn't have access to the file, despite his clearance level.
Coulson and his team is 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 clean up Greenwich University, which was affected by the battle, Coulson explains to Skye about the origins of Asgardians.
Coulson and his team come to investigate the death of Bjorn, Coulson talks to Neils as Simmons discovers that whatever was in the tree was not of earth origin, with Fitz confirming that the staff is Asgardian. Coulson tries to get more details from the Ranger only for Skye to call them as something is happening on the news, with violence breaking out in the streets of Oslo, resulting in twenty injured civilians. The news then reveals the riot was started by the same couple who have written a startling message on the streets: WE ARE GODS.
Coulson is asked by Skye to call Thor for help but Coulson tells her he did and that Nick Fury told him that Thor went "off the grid". Coulson then tells them that when Mjølnir landed in New Mexico they consulted an expert on Norse Mythology, Elliot Randolph. Coulson goes to meet with Randolph, which he tells them the story of an Asgardian warrior, part of an army campaign who fell in love with Earth and stayed behind, possessing a weapon called the Berserker Staff which grants the user incredible strength, yet driving him into an uncontrollable rage. Coulson is told to look into Baffin Island in Canada, Coulson and his team go to Baffin Island, when he checks in on Skye who only finds sly comments people have made after the battle in Greenwich. However, she does, however, hear particular chatter about going underground meaning the Paganists are searching for the next piece underground.
Coulson and Fitz follow behind, only to find the empty-handed Randolph. Coulson takes Randolph onto the Bus for questioning, Coulson tries to get answers out of Randolph but he claims he only wanted to study it. Coulson explains that from his past experiences with Asgardians, cases like this are personal to him, and tells Randolph to get comfortable.
Coulson is told by Ward that the Staff seems to be bringing up his worst memory, to which Coulson tells Ward that the fact that he is telling him this makes him feel like he can trust him, and suggests that Ward let some of his rage out on Randolph. Ward enters the room and attempts to get answers from Randolph. When he does not cooperate, Ward attempts to stab him only for Randolph to twist and bend the knife, confirming Coulson's theory that Randolph is the Asgardian warrior who stayed behind.
Coulson reveals to Randolph how he found out about his heritage, noting he is not the first Asgardian he had had in his custody and says that Asgardians do not panic when in captivity. Coulson also notes the professor's pen, claiming he would not be able to get it on his salary, and how he was not curious about learning how he has met other aliens. While the team is amazed by Randolph's presence, May locks the interrogation room on Coulson's orders.
The group arrives at the monastery, only for Nystrom to stab Randolph with the staff. Ward reluctantly grabs the piece and attacks Nystrom, who he manages to defeat. Meanwhile, Simmons is having trouble stopping Randolph's bleeding since she is unable to understand his anatomy. Coulson sticks his hand into Randolph's wound and tells them that since Asgardians heal faster, all they have to do is keep him alive long enough for his body to heal itself. Simmons tells him to look for his heart. Coulson finds Randolph's heart and manages to save him by stopping his bleeding.
The Truth Revealed
Coulson is tempted to touch the staff to figure out his resurrection, but Randolph convinces him against it. Later, Coulson wakes up on a massage table and asks his masseuse if he fell asleep. She replies that it meant he was relaxed; he says that is exactly how he feels, and that Tahiti is too good to be true. The masseuse says "It's a magical place." At that, Coulson wakes up in his bed from the nightmare.
Coulson and Skye discuss Hannah Hutchins who was the safety inspector at StatiCorp. People were suspecting her to be a telekinetic, as she appeared to be able to move objects with her mind. Skye asks Coulson about this, and he tells her telekinetic powers are unheard of on the Index. The team travels 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 are unable to calm the citizens, leading to May's having to sedate Hutchins.
In the interrogation room on the Bus, Coulson asks May to go in with him, both for protection, and to get Hutchins to trust them. Coulson and May enter the Cage, and Hutchins stirs awake and starts backing up into the wall, scared. Coulson tries to appear friendly, and gives her a bottle of water and introduces himself and May.
Coulson's gentle interrogation of Hutchins pulls 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 informs her that they believe she may have acquired some sort of telekinetic ability as a result of the accident. Hutchins breaks down as she realizes they thought it was her who was causing the freak accidents. Coulson tries to explain to her that all of the incidents had one thing in common her. Hutchins insists that they were not her doing, and Coulson asks who was causing it if it wasn't her. After hesitation, she admits to believing demons are haunting her because God does not protect her anymore.
Coulson and his team discuss Hutchins, Skye insists that Hutchins is "overly nice"; she took the job as safety manager because she actually cared about their lives, not to mention that she volunteers at a shelter and rescue puppies. Skye points out that person like Hutchins, who has lots of empathy would be completely devastated by the loss of life; she blames herself. Skye begs Coulson to let her talk to Hutchins as a friend, but Coulson denies her request, saying it was too dangerous.
In Coulson's office, Coulson sets 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 says that May was never the same after that incident. He describes her to be previously warm and mischievous, much like Skye.
Their talk is interrupted by Ford, who locks Skye and Coulson in the office. Coulson has to construct a makeshift bomb out of his collectible Walkie-Talkie Wristwatch, much to his own dismay. Later, May makes her way through the plane, then stops suddenly, with Ford sneaking up behind her. She quickly flees the scene and steals Hutchins away from the Bus and into an old barn.
Coulson praises Skye on her ability to read people and learn how their minds work. He says that was why he wanted her to pay attention to this mission because he knew that one day she would be very good at it. Maybe she would even get to rename it. Skye heads over to the cockpit, where May is preparing for takeoff. Skye asks if she could keep her company. May remains silent, which Skye takes as a yes, and watches in awe as the plane rises from the ground, using jets on the underside of the engines.
Later, Coulson, Skye, Ward, and Simmons play "Upwords" in the lounge. Fitz walking into the lounge, shaving cream covering his face and hand. The team bursts 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 recruits Mike Peterson to his team for super-soldier support, during which soldiers working for the Centipede Project spring Edison Po from prison following their perfection of the Centipede serum. Coulson's Team traces a Centipede-powered soldier Brian Hayward to an abandoned factory, and walk into an ambush by a squad of Centipede-powered soldiers. When Po and Raina see that Peterson still has his powers despite not having had an injection in quite some time, they realize he is the key to Stage 3 of their plan.
Coulson's team discover that the soldiers were subjected to the same eye procedure to which Akela Amador was subjected. Po tells Raina that he informed the Clairvoyant about her. She asks who the Clairvoyant was, to which he replies 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 one of the Centipede Soldiers who was identified in the CCTV, Brian Hayward. 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."
- ―Streiten and Phil Coulson[src]
When Peterson contacts his Ace Peterson, he learns that he has been kidnapped by Project Centipede, Coulson escorts Peterson to the prisoner exchange, Peterson reveals that Centipede wanted Coulson in exchange for Ace, not Peterson, but he feels that he cannot go through with this betrayal.
Arriving at the bridge ready to make the exchange, Coulson tells Peterson to follow his instructions and requested as he go with him so that he could be taken instead. Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons also gave Peterson a Tracking Scent on his hand which would not be picked up by machines, with Peterson insisting that they do not do anything that would endanger his son. Once at the meeting point, Peterson and Coulson spoke to Raina, who had arrived alongside her Centipede Soldiers for protection, and commented on how adorable his son was. With Coulson's Team standing back ready, it was quickly revealed that the exchange was for Coulson and not Peterson.
When the truth was revealed and the exchange started, Peterson had attempted to break off the deal by threatening Raina's own life but she assured him that her employer did not care if she lived or died, and that if she was killed then his son would die a horrific death as a direct result. With Ward unable to assist them from his vantage point, Coulson told Peterson it was okay, understanding that he had no other choice. Mortified by the decisions he was being forced to make, Peterson still insisted that he had offered himself and tried to question how he could ever look his son in the eye following this day, but Coulson continued to reassure him that it would be okay.
With Coulson agreeing to the transfer, Ace Peterson was finally freed from Centipede Project and ran back into his father's arms. With Ace in his arms, Peterson expressed his regret to Coulson once again, only for Coulson to accept that Peterson had made the only decision he could possibly have made in the situation. Peterson then ran back to Coulson's Team, ensuring his son was okay and getting him to safety by leaving him with Skye who he knew Ace would feel safe with. Peterson told him that he loved him and made his desperate attempt to redeem himself by going back to rescue Coulson.
Coulson is initially tortured by Edison Po, who tells 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 decides that Po's methods are ineffective, and kills him, after which Raina takes over Coulson's interrogation. She uses a scanning device to compel him to remember aspects of his being brought back to life. Coulson experiences flashbacks in which a reluctant Dr. Streiten and others operate on him. During the flashbacks, Coulson's skull cap is removed and his brain directly stimulated by a robotic apparatus, while Coulson begs to be allowed to die.
Coulson's team rescues him, after which he confronts Streiten, who tells 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.
Soon after, 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. Soon 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, making sure she would never be in one place for too long, before being murdered herself.
Coulson, tiring of secrets, revealed this to Skye but feared that learning of all of the lives lost on her behalf would shatter her spirit. However, in the end, Skye's resilience surprised him. She was grateful that S.H.I.E.L.D. had protected her all of these years and now considered them to be the family that she never had.
The Mysterious Weapon
After 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, Coulson had a video conversation with Garrett about the weapon and Garrett's former protege, Agent Ward.
Tracking the Clairvoyant
Upon finding records of Quinn making a ten-million dollar purchase from Cybertek, and Coulson's belief that Cybertek would deliver this purchase to Quinn personally, Coulson made arrangements for his team to go undercover.
Coulson made arrangements with the Italian authorities to allow S.H.I.E.L.D. to take over the investigations on Cybertek, and placed his team on the train 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 at a mansion on the Italian countryside, but not before Cybertek delivered Quinn's purchase, a prosthetic leg, 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", nor before Quinn shot 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 tries to contact Nick Fury for answers, which Jazuat returns about Skye condition which she say that Skye will only remain alive on life support. In grief, Coulson and his team return on the Bus which May begin to beat Quinn senseless until Coulson orders her out, and orders that they would now look for a way to save Skye's life, like the doctors did to him. Coulson explains to Ward, Fitz, and Simmons what actually happened in Tahiti.
Coulson greets John Garrett, Ward's former S.O, as he boarded the plane and asked for Quinn. Coulson explains to him the situation and convinces him to help them save Skye, but not before a fight breaks out between Ward and Garrett's new trainee Agent Antoine Triplett. Coulson and Garrett stop the fight, explaining that Garrett convinced HQ to let him interrogate Quinn on the Bus itself. Coulson and Garrett enter the box to interrogate Quinn, who explains that he isn't feeling very cooperative, Garrett shows he is not playing games by grabbing Quinn's tongue as he is speaking, and threatens to tear it out. They begin to question him regarding the Project Deathlok. Quinn tells them that the last person to ask about that program wounded up with "two in the stomach", to which Coulson almost punches him. Coulson asks if he shot Skye because she saw what they were delivering to him, and Quinn responds that he did it because the Clairvoyant told him to.
Coulson argues that the Clairvoyant must have had something pretty deep on Quinn to make him shoot an unarmed girl. Quinn explains several occurrences about Garrett's Team as proof of The Clairvoyant's powers. He says that The Clairvoyant saw everything, except how Coulson returned. It is revealed that The Clairvoyant planned all of it so that Coulson would dig deeper into his death and return in order to save Skye.
Coulson is told by May and Simmons that they are not sure that they should dig deeper, partly because Fitz and Simmons only partially understood the file. Coulson insists that they had to do everything possible, even if it means giving the Clairvoyant what he wants. May tells Coulson that she agrees they should do whatever it took to save Skye.
Coulson and the team prepare to enter the Guest House, which is not a S.H.I.E.L.D base, figuring that there might be hostiles. Agents Triplett and May are left aboard the Bus in case their skills are needed there. The field team reaches 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 repeat the same sentence three times), they decide they need to ask "pretty please" and broke into the hostile environment. Communications go down, and they continue in spite of it.
Coulson finds the operating room where he was resurrected, and experiences flashbacks of the horrific procedure. Garrett and Ward continue to look for the triggering device after figuring out that the timer was separate from the actual explosive. Coulson enters an area marked for radiation and refuses to put on a suit despite Fitz's warning because there is no time.
Coulson is found by Garrett, telling him not to let Skye take the drug. They barely make it back on the Bus, which takes off to a huge explosion. Coulson enters the medical pod yelling, for them to not administer the drug, but Simmons had already proceeded.
Coulson is confronted by May, congratulating him for doing the impossible in saving Skye, and asks why he is not happy about it. Coulson reminiscences 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 conceals this from May, saying that he only did not want Skye to suffer as he had. He leaves to sit with Skye as she recovers.
Working with Lady Sif
Coulson and his team investigate an energy reading in the desert, consistent with the imminent arrival of Asgardians. They encounter Sif, who had come to Earth seeking Lorelei. After reuniting with Sif, she would explain 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 prevents her from speaking.
Coulson and his team with Sif arrive at Rosie's Desert Oasis, where they encountered policemen who were already enthralled by Lorelei and 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. However, Lorelei enthralled Ward and the two escape.
When Coulson, Sif, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. team catch up with them, the two are nowhere to be found. The team realizes it's too late. Ward and Lorelei, planning to eliminate any threats to Lorelei's rule, have 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, learns of Simmons' location and frees her. Lorelei encounters May and claims that Ward revealed to her that despite their sexual relationship, his heart was with someone other than May.
The team defeat Lorelei, Coulson is thanked by Sif for the team's aid and says that she would bring Lorelei back to Asgard on Odin's orders, and would let Coulson be the one to tell Thor he was not deceased. Coulson approaches 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 remains optimistic, and Coulson swears that they would get answers, beginning by tracking down the Clairvoyant once and for all. He orders Skye to keep the origin of the drug a secret until Fury gives them the truth.
Coulson and his team came to an abandoned race track where they found Deathlok and Thomas Nash. Nash was later killed by Grant Ward who believed he was the Clairvoyant. Coulson got concerned because he believed that the case was solved too simply. When Skye found 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 Ward only for Ward to deny having any association with the Centipede Project. Skye quickly entered to tell Coulson that Melinda May had a secret phone line on the plane. Coulson now believing that May was working with the Clairvoyant, held her at gunpoint, when suddenly, Victoria Hand took over the Bus and ordered her men to kill everyone on board but to take Coulson 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. Knowing that Hand was leading them to the Hub to be killed but also 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 find and capture Hand.
Coulson argued with Garrett about whether they should kill Hand or capture her, only for Garrett to reveal that he was the Clairvoyant when he accidentally revealed that Raina and Coulson were both in the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine: something he did not include in his report. Coulson then realized that Garrett masterminded everything including his torture and Skye's being shot, all so he could lead Garrett to the Guest House. Then suddenly, a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents burst in, to whom Coulson ordered to arrest Garrett, identifying him as the true Clairvoyant. However, Garrett ordered the HYDRA sleeper agents in the team to execute the legitimate S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Angered, 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. As true S.H.I.E.L.D. agents took all HYDRA agents into custody, Hand told Coulson to stay in contact as, with Nick Fury dead, they were highest ranking agents that were not HYDRA or dead.
How to Survive
- "The world needs us! HYDRA is out there! We cannot let them win! We 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 quickly left the Hub with his team and Agent Antoine Triplett. Once in the air, Coulson, knowing that every government agency was going to be after them, had Skye collect everyone's badges and delete all of their information; before he could dispose of them, Coulson received some coordinates. Believing that only Nick Fury could have sent them, Coulson took a leap of faith and followed the coordinates to discover a secret base called Providence where Agent Eric Koenig revealed to Coulson that Fury was indeed still alive but threatened him not to inform the rest of his team as only he, Captain America, and Maria Hill were the few allowed to know of his status.
Grant Ward soon arrived to Providence where he told the group that HYDRA had raided the Fridge, took all of the weapons S.H.I.E.L.D. had recovered, and released the entire criminal population, including Marcus Daniels, a man Coulson put away after he began stalking his former lover Audrey Nathan. Coulson took a team out which consisted of Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons, and Antoine Triplett. 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. Realizing that Daniels would not stop until he got Audrey, the team convinced a reluctant Coulson to use her to draw him 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, realizing that he would not be able to accept forgiveness from Audrey for hiding from her unless he was willing to do the same. However, when the team returned to Providence, they found the base empty with May, Eric Koenig, Skye, and Grant Ward gone.
The Shield That Protects
As the others who went to Portland tried to get their bearings, Coulson continuously watched Providence's camera footage in hopes of learning what happened to his missing teammates. When Jemma Simmons found Eric Koenig's body and Leo Fitz found a message from Skye saying "Ward is HYDRA," he 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 which contained Skye and Ward. Unknown to Coulson, Deathlok was also on board. As the Bus ascended and Deathlok and Ward attacked, Coulson retrieved Skye by using Lola and landing outside a hotel where the team, and Melinda May who returned, met to rest.
Before he could rest though, Coulson was given by May the information he wanted: who led Project T.A.H.I.T.I.. Ironically, it was Coulson himself who had resigned from the project and asked 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. Since Cybertek linked most of his team's missions, Coulson decided that he and Melinda May should go undercover as unemployed S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists seeking work with them to obtain information on Deathlok to 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. Proceeding inside, they were surrounded by Centipede Soldiers and Kaminsky with the Berserker Staff.
Coulson and his team then fought their way out after Skye hacked the Barbershop Headquarters' computers. Coulson and his team then decided to take the fight to John Garrett using a tracker Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons were able to plant 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. Coulson then 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 then took out the other Centipede Soldiers. Coulson and Fury confronted Garrett as Deathlok targeted them. However, Deathlok turned on Garrett. Garrett then tried to convince Coulson to call off Deathlok, but Coulson and Fury decided to leave it up 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. and why he used it on him after Coulson's recommendation to terminate the project. Fury told him that he wanted to keep Coulson since he's one of his most trusted agents. While touched, Coulson still asked why Fury would take that risk, since the project had been designed to resurrect an Avenger; Fury responded by expressing his belief that Coulson, due to his great heroics and leadership in leading his team, was considered an Avenger. After telling Coulson that May believes him to be 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. before disappearing.
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, the twin brother of the late Eric Koenig. Koenig welcomed them to the base and assured them that whatever resources they had were Coulson's to use as he deemed fit, the team then prepared to begin the mission Nick Fury left them 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 the odds against him, 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, wanting only to speak to Skye. Meanwhile he recruited Isabelle Hartley, Idaho, and Lance Hunter. He also gave Skye an assignment to study the Words of Creation, but also he consulted with Andrew Garner about his urge to write the same drawings, and he didn't tell anyone about those meetings, even not to Melinda May, Garner's ex-wife.  He sent two agents to infiltrate HYDRA, Jemma Simmons to become a scientist for HYDRA, and Bobbi Morse to watch Simmons' back. However, to maintain her cover more easily, Coulson did not tell Simmons about Agent Morse and 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, but in reality he met with Sam Koenig in America to discuss Theta Protocol. The pair discussed recent events and Koenig informed Coulson that Jemma Simmons was doing well undercover at HYDRA and that Robert Gonzales had unfortunately 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. However, the operation failed because Browning did not bring an 0-8-4 but a file on it, and 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 him.
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, but 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
As May went after Carl Creel, Coulson ordered her not to engage despite May pointing out he killed Hartley and Idaho. May, feeling guilty when Creel killed a waitress who accidentally touched his Obelisk-infected skin, told Coulson that she should have stopped Creel as she planned. Coulson explained that she would have died also and decided that Hartley's and Idaho's deaths were on him despite May's reassurance it wasn't.
At the Playground, as Coulson and the field agents tried to find a solution for Creel's powers, the group was contacted by Raina who revealed the Obelisk had a tracker installed in it. Lance Hunter then arrived, having seemingly escaped from General Glenn Talbot. Coulson ordered him to come for a debrief and asked what Talbot offered him to sell him out. Hunter was initially furious that Coulson had not sent out a team to stop and kill Carl Creel, but in the end was honest, telling him 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 Creel down 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 and stabbed Creel in the back causing the Obelisk to fully take over his body, incapacitating him.
Coulson gave Hartley a proper burial service, receiving Hunter's gratitude. Coulson then convinced him to join S.H.I.E.L.D. full time, claiming 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 tired of fighting it 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 "gifts" like that from time to time so Talbot could get new promotions and then 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, warning him to not get any ideas. Secretly, Coulson told them to hurry up before their artillery ran out of fuel.
The Race Against Time
As Coulson attempted to make contact with Agent 33, he discovered that she was kidnapped by HYDRA. 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 has 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 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.
Search for Creation
Later, Coulson and the team investigated 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. The former took May's place and lied to Coulson, claiming Talbot was telling the truth. As the two arrived at the location, Coulson discovered 33's 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.
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 there only to find the location empty with two dead bodies, having been killed by her father. Skye horrified called him a monster. Back at the Playground, Hunter met his ex-wife again Bobbi Morse. Shocked and surprised to see her and her dyed hair, he asked Coulson what she was doing here. Coulson told Hunter to "play nice".
In Coulson's office, Coulson tried to apologize to Skye. He revealed that he is writing the Words of Creation and that May was monitoring him. Coulson was upset that the symbols are incomprehensible to him. Skye said that it is a map.
Cleaning S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Reputation
Daniel Whitehall hired Marcus Scarlotti and his mercenaries to pose as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and to attack the United Nations as Glenn Talbot gave a speech there. Director Coulson sent Bobbi Morse, Lance Hunter, and Melinda May to Japan to follow a lead on Scarlotti's weapon while he had Agent Noelle Walters put her team on standby until he learned more information.
He watched Senator Christian Ward, brother of Grant Ward, have a televised debate with Julien Beckers, where the Senator 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 to talk to Grant about his brother. He was forced to activate the Inertial Confinement Laser Barrier to interrupt their conversation when it strayed into discussing her father.
Coulson went and talked to the Senator 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 exported. Senator Ward then kept his word and told the world that S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA were separate organizations, one dedicated to law enforcement, the other towards world domination.
Coulson learned that Scarlotti was seeking Beckers, so he told Walters' team to find and protect him. Coulson did not know that Beckers was a HYDRA agent; she and her team were slaughtered. When 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. However, Ward escaped shortly after.
Solving the Mystery
Coulson was once again writing the symbols when Skye walked in and told him that despite all her leads, she could still not find out where the supposed map led. Coulson replied that his urges to write it were increasing more and more to the point that he could not stop. When Skye asked him what to do if they could not find the answer, Coulson said nothing and instead changed the subject to Melinda May's and the other agents' progress on finding Grant Ward and contacted them. When Agent Antoine Triplett informed Coulson about finding Ward at a Philadelphia bus station with a large number of explosives attached to him, Coulson told him 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 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 writing the symbols in her artwork. Back at the Playground, Coulson noticed that her artwork had more pieces than Coulson's carvings.
Skye then found out that Coulson was right. Janice Robbins' original name was Rebecca Stevens, a level 6 agent who worked at the Triskelion but contracted cancer and apparently died from it. 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 by holding him at gunpoint and told 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. However, Coulson said that would be unnecessary and 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 and indirectly revealed that Derik had beat him there, who then knocked Coulson out.
Tying him up, Derik revealed to Coulson that despite having his memories erased, he managed to remember because of the pain the carvings on his skin caused and he only killed the other patients to help them remember. He soon began doing the same thing to Coulson when he revealed to him that he was trying to find out what the writing meant too. Meanwhile, Thompson, having remembered some of his S.H.I.E.L.D. training, managed to free himself and his family. Derik witnessed this and threw his knife at him only for Thompson to catch it and free Coulson.
Coulson and Derik dueled which ended with Coulson nearly choking Derik trying to show him the answer to the symbols. Skye and Mackenzie arrived and threatened Coulson to release Derik. Coulson eventually managed to show Mackenzie the answer to everything they had sought with Thompson's train model, revealing that the symbols were not a map but a city. Derik was then turned over to the authorities. At the Playground, Coulson asked Thompson to rejoin S.H.I.E.L.D., but he refused, choosing to live a simple life. When Thompson departed, Coulson revealed to the others that his urge to write the drawings was gone, having finally discovered what they were. Coulson gave his senior agents a new mission: find the city that matches the Words of Creation before HYDRA does.
The Hunt for Grant Ward
He put Melinda May in charge of the Playground while he took Skye, Antoine Triplett, and Leo Fitz with him to Hawaii. May told him that Christian Ward wanted his people to find Grant, so Coulson allowed it.
- "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]
In Oahu, Coulson gave orders to his away team that seemed weird, but Triplett and the others trusted that he had a plan. They soon traveled to Australia. Coulson explained that the Kaena Point Air Force Base was too difficult for them to infiltrate, but, at Laura Creek was a satellite relaying station that was easier. The station went online as a backup for the Hawaiian one when it was down; Coulson's weird orders set up an EMP that would disable it for six minutes. When Coulson's away team went inside, they were ambushed by HYDRA.
Originally pretending to be a captive, Calvin Zabo offered to help save Triplett when he was fatally shot. However, Coulson realized who he was, but he had to allow his escape in order to save the wounded agent. Coulson promised that they would finish their conversation. Coulson arrived back at the Bus, 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 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: a survey team would enter the city through an opening in San Juan, test the integrity of it, locate the temple, and then they would 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, when Sam and Billy Koenig saved Raina from being captured by Agent 33, Coulson talked to Billy who revealed to him that Agent 33 was still alive and that HYDRA was trying to catch Raina rather than kill her; Coulson told him 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 revealed to 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 on keeping the Diviner as he was fighting for the lives of innocent 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. Leo Fitz told him when 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 him to fall back down into the hole. Coulson ordered them to seal the shaft, much to the others' dismay. 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 and Coulson talked about what happened with May blaming herself for letting Ward take Skye; Coulson assured her that Skye would be fine as 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 claiming that if things went south, he would need him and his brother to enact the Theta Protocol much to Koenig's dismay. Coulson received a call from Morse who told him that HYDRA was in Puerto Rico in force based in the old abandoned Ponce de León Theater.
Coulson quickly figured out that they were based over the chamber. Coulson and May then left to help Morse and Hunter stop HYDRA. Together all four stormed the theater. May and Coulson then split. 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 only to be 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 much to his dismay.
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 confronted by Alphonso Mackenzie whom he briefly managed to subdue. With Skye inside the chamber and no one else around, Coulson was confronted by Mackenzie again. Fortunately, the latter was cured thanks to the Diviner being 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 knew his place and would not hesitate 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 take 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; Mackenzie told him that it could not. The S.H.I.E.L.D. leader 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 Dr. 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 to Faro, they found the amnesiac Lady Sif who did not recognize them and could not tell them 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. On the site of the battle, Sif still could not remember anything but Coulson deduced that she was working undercover because she was not wearing her Asgardian armor but clothes from Earth.
As Coulson spoke with one witness, Mr. Cardozo, they discovered the stranger took the helium from the balloons. Bobbi Morse then called and informed Coulson about the possible lead in the local hospital. Morse and Skye 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 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 moved after the violent display of her powers. Coulson told her that they put her name on the Index, with which she was okay, because she managed to have some control over her powers. 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 into the Brynmore Psychiatric Facility. Coulson talked with Agent Morse about the break into the facility 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 in 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 Cal 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 Cal 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 Cal 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 Cal 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 have 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 to do anything. However, he eventually decided to move her into an isolated cabin which Nick Fury once used to house superpowered individuals. Jemma Simmons then brought him special gloves for Skye to wear, telling him the gloves would minimize the effect of Skye's powers.
Coulson then took Skye to Nick Fury's cabin, actually 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 made, and advised her to try to learn how to control her powers. Back in 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 about Agent 33 and Grant Ward breaking 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 then encountered 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." Just after Jemma Simmons called Coulson and informed him about taking down Morse, 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, a high ranking agent about whom Coulson had not heard anything 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, and Gonzales tried to convince him about his 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 managed to escape from Gonzales' headquarters, 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 plans to retake S.H.I.E.L.D. from Gonzales.
Stealing a car 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 him 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 they 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 simply 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 a recruit, the only man who had a connection between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA: Grant Ward.
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; Coulson told 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 he helped them, he would 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, gaining a meeting with Dr. List who could bring them into contact with Baron Wolfgang von 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, who had been brainwashed to serve Ward, 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 that List wanted only Bakshi, Coulson was confident that Bakshi could talk his way out of trouble.
As the meeting went underway, Bakshi went off-script and offered Deathlok to List for experimentation. Ward admitted that it was the only way to get close to Wolfgang von 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, only for the HYDRA scientist to stop over 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, which Fitz realized was referring to the teleporter who took Skye. However, Coulson claimed ignorance over what HYDRA wanted with Skye to Ward and Agent 33.
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 take on 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.
But before he could reunite with Skye, without warning, the teleporter appeared to take her, accidentally taking Calvin Zabo along with them. Agent 33 and the wounded Hunter regrouped with them, and Ward asked Coulson what they should do next as both S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA were incoming, Ward ordered the others to escape while he stayed behind. Bobbi Morse and Alphonso Mackenzie soon arrived at the scene some time later, 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 the situation where he needed Gonzales' help to rescue Mike Peterson and the other enhanced individuals being held hostage by HYDRA. Gonzales asked why he should trust him and Coulson said it was because they both had secrets, saying he knew that Gonzales had a secret hidden in his cargo hold, which he had learned from the Toolbox. The two came to a deal where 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; once 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. They began discussing how to attack the base; Gonzales suggested that they simply bomb the base, but Coulson insisted he would not risk the lives of the enhanced prisoners. Coulson developed a plan in which he would take a small team to attack the base with Sunil Bakshi's help. Gonzales put the matter to a vote, with both Anne Weaver and Oliver voting 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. However, she asked to speak with Coulson in private before makes her decision.
As soon as 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, to which May retorted that solo is how he operated best. She then confronted him for the truth behind his overseas trips, as Gonzales' people suspected that he was not trying to recruit new agents and demanded to know what Theta Protocol was. Coulson refused to answer, 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; Coulson was unsure but Simmons explained that they would need someone to treat Mike Peterson's injuries who was also aware of his medical history and cybernetic enhancements. The team arrived on the Bus and immediately heard a loud thud. The team immediately turned their guns on Ward, believing him to have sabotaged the Bus, but it was soon revealed that Skye had been teleported aboard to assist them in the mission.
With the team 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 quickly decided to use the time to try to explain and apologize for his previous actions since being revealed to be an undercover HYDRA agent. He claimed that his greatest regret was the fact 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; as 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 ready for Robert Gonzales' men to destroy it. While May defended Fitz as he began the hack, Coulson sneaked away to download HYDRA files containing information about the location of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and the Scepter. The team regrouped with Skye and Simmons, who had rescued Peterson and Lincoln Campbell; although Ward and List escaped and Bakshi lost his life during the mission, they evacuated just as 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 Agent 33 did deserve forgiveness as she was a victim of Daniel Whitehall's experiments, and so he was leaving her 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 Wolfgang von 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]
As the Avengers successfully defeated both Wolfgang von Strucker and later Ultron, Theta Protocol was activated and Nick Fury and Maria Hill assisted in the Battle of Sokovia, using the Helicarrier No. 64 to save thousands of innocent lives. After the battle, Coulson was on the Iliad, where he had a meeting with Robert Gonzales and his council to discuss the recent events, revealing the true history of Theta Protocol. Coulson then proposed that he and Gonzales join forces to build one 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 were found to have broken onboard, seemingly searching for what was in the cargo hold. Coulson and Gonzales sent their agents to find them but the pair escaped before managing to destroy the Monolith they were looking for. At a debrief, Gonzales revealed that the stone was indeed alien and had been found on Earth over one hundred years ago, Coulson explained that the only information on the Toolbox about it was that HYDRA was looking for it.
The New Threat
At the Playground, after Gonzales' people successfully found the Inhuman's home, Gonzales called for them to prepare for an attack. Coulson convinced him that instead 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 had known anything about the stone, but 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 revealed to 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 again, who insisted they do not go searching for the Inhuman's home, Coulson insisted; however, that they needed to assess how many people they were dealing with so they could be put on the Index. Skye insisted that he let her and Campbell go first, before revealing that Jiaying was her mother.
Coulson later found May in the aircraft hanger and they commented on how much they missed the Bus. Coulson informed May that Jiaying was Skye's mother, but May did not seem to react. Coulson tried to apologise to May for lying to her about Theta Protocol, but May did not seem to want to listen. May then revealed that the little girl who died in Bahrain was not killed in the crossfire, but was instead shot by May before she 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. When they spoke about the Index, Campbell compared S.H.I.E.L.D. to HYDRA, but Coulson insisted that he could trust them.
As Coulson briefed the team on the plan for visiting the Inhumans' home, Gonzales informed him that he should not be the one 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.
As the team left the base on the Quinjets, Coulson was visited in his office by Alphonso Mackenzie. Mackenzie informed him that he intended to leave as he did not wish to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. under Coulson's leadership; although Coulson tried to convince him to stay, he soon accepted Mackenzie's choice and let him go. As the mission went ahead, Coulson watched the mission unfold from his office alongside Lance Hunter and Leo Fitz. Although Hunter and Fitz remained skeptical of the idea of Gonzales taking over the mission, 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 made the comment that they had maybe 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 informed Coulson that they had lost communication with Bobbi Morse, sensing something was wrong, Coulson sent Lance Hunter to investigate. They were interrupted by Jemma Simmons, who informed them that Jiaying had been shot, allegedly by Robert Gonzales. Not believing that that would be Gonzales' move, Coulson sent the team to learn more to ensure a war was not started.
Melinda May was returned to the Quinjet unconscious after a fight with Skye, they continued their discussions about the events and debated if Robert Gonzales was really responsible. 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 and suggested that Calvin Zabo may know the answers. When Zabo arrived on the base, Coulson demanded to know why he was there, but Zabo insisted he was a gift from his family. Coulson sent Zabo into a cell before Jemma Simmons revealed that Zabo had seemingly 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, and had likely been responsible for Robert Gonzales' murder, resulting in every Inhuman believing S.H.I.E.L.D. attacked their home. Lance Hunter and Leo Fitz then 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, as he did not wish to start a war and risk the life of Agent Skye. Oliver, however, argued that leaving Skye with the Inhumans could risk her exposing all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s weaknesses. Coulson then spoke to Alphonso Mackenzie, who had joined the discussion, Mackenzie 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 then requested time to speak to Calvin Zabo and gain valuable information, Weaver agreed and gave him three hours.
Dealing with Calvin Zabo
Coulson visited Calvin Zabo in his cell, where Zabo was complaining about suffering from the intense cold. When Coulson asked Zabo why he had surrendered, Zabo responded by telling Coulson that because he did not have children, he would never understand what a father would do for his child. When Coulson began asking how Zabo had slaughtered an entire village, Zabo simply told him he had done it with style.
Taking a break from the questioning, Coulson went to speak to Jemma Simmons about what drugs had been detected in Calvin Zabo's Formula; she revealed she had found traces of anabolic steroids, methamphetamine, and liver inhibitors, as well as less conventional ingredients such as gorilla testosterone and peppermint, which was likely Zabo's ill-conceived attempt at enhanced strength. 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 went back to question Calvin Zabo, who was now suffering from intense heat and kept requesting more water. Coulson revealed that Jiaying had assassinated Robert Gonzales with the intention of starting a war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans, but 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, and he had taken it under 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, as he claimed only Skye's family should use her real name. Coulson attempted to reason with Zabo, pointing out that everything he had done, including wiping out the village and taking the vials of his formula, was all on Jiaying's behalf, but Zabo refused to believe he was being manipulated by his wife, claiming that she was not a monster like him. As he grew more and more angry at Coulson 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 was forced to inject Zabo with a shot of adrenaline, which caused him to have a seizure and fall off the table. When he reappeared, he had undergone a repulsive physical change and become a seeming monster with incredible strength. Coulson attempted to lock Zabo in the medical pod, but he broke out with little effort before being shot by I.C.E.R.s with still no effect. Coulson ordered Fitz and Simmons to flee while he tried and failed to reason with Zabo.
With Calvin Zabo running through the Playground destroying everything he came across, Coulson set up a plan to trick Zabo and pin him against a wall with a van and a battering ram. The plan was a success and Zabo was trapped as Coulson attempted to reason with the mad man. Coulson tried to convince Zabo that they both wanted the same thing, which was to protect Skye, and 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 was never 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 sacrificed an entire village to revive his wife, but that Jiaying no longer cared for human life, so Zabo tried to find Skye in the vain hope that it would restore his wife's humanity. Coulson then questioned if he 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. Seemingly angered by his words, Zabo managed to free himself, as Coulson declared that Skye was as close to family to him and vowed to save her no matter the cost. Instead of harming Coulson; however, Zabo swore to help him defeat Jiaying and save his daughter.
Zabo was put under armed guard while Jemma Simmons helped counteract the effects of his Formula, resulting in the reverse of his physical changes. 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 gone 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 single 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, which Coulson knew was a message from Skye warning them they were going 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 to trap 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, employing 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 in charge of all alien dealings before Coulson teased Garner about getting back together with Melinda May. Garner then handed Coulson a file of his recommendation for Coulson's new program.
Coulson put the order in for Calvin Zabo to go 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 before asking Skye about 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 began 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 organization called the Advanced Threat Containment Unit appeared.
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 the others 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 were finding the newly-powered before them 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. When Coulson asked Hunter to see Bobbi Morse with the technology they had procured from a ATCU soldier, 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 him, 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 since Morse noted her routine throughout Washington, D.C.
In the Washington, D.C. subway, Coulson and Hunter confronted Price, thinking they had tracked her; ATCU soldiers soon surrounded the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents since it was Price who had set the trap. Both leaders exchanged quips, acknowledging the past of the other. 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 then 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 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 was in the process of putting on another prosthetic hand when he had to run into the previously sealed room that contained the Monolith; Leo Fitz had broken the seal and the other senior agents were inside also pulling him out. Coulson berated Fitz for his emotional breakdown, citing that 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, the senior agents had a meeting where Fitz showed them that the sample of sand found on him predated the Earth by a billion years, proving that the Monolith was a portal and Simmons was somewhere consistent with that sand. Coulson watched as they all decided that Simmons had to be returned from there; though Coulson stated that, with so many months having passed since Simmons' disappearance, she could be dead, 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 noted that she was already helping him since she covered for him when he went to Morocco to get a scroll. Coulson ordered Lance Hunter to continue on their pre-discussed mission for him. Coulson then got his file on Elliot Randolph.
As everyone 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 was charged with being drunk and disorderly. Randolph originally refused to go with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents because he felt that being an alien was dangerous at the time as well as the jail having a good reading selection and good meals. 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 did it.
Randolph looked at the Monolith, telling them that he would escape them 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 received the scroll Fitz had gotten and read it; he, with permission from Coulson, 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 portal and 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". Her first act upon gaining consciousness was to correct Coulson of her name change; Morse noted that Coulson was having difficulty in accepting the change. Fitz realized that the room was a sound amplifier and sound opened the portal; Johnson understood what Fitz was saying and decided that she could open the portal with her powers.
As Morse prepared a probe to send into the void, Johnson used her power to activate it; 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 and stop the voyage. 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 was Johnson, he told him that she was an Inhuman, something that Randolph had not heard for some time.
Coulson had Alphonso Mackenzie put a tracker on Lincoln Campbell. When Daisy Johnson came to him frantic about Campbell being chased by the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, he was not worried; he revealed that he had been tracking Campbell since he had left the hospital. He watched as Johnson called Campbell asking him to accept help from S.H.I.E.L.D.; Campbell did not, 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 had something hidden 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 was left alone.
Working with the ATCU
Coulson was in a Quinjet with the original Alisha Whitley as her clone, Alphonso Mackenzie, and Daisy Johnson sought to recruit Shane and Lori Henson to the Caterpillars program. Coulson was getting real time information from Alisha about how the recruitment was going when suddenly the monstrous man appeared, attacked and killed the Hensons. Coulson ordered Johnson and Mackenzie to assist the clone as she fought the monster; Alisha lost control of her powers as her clone 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 forensics on the scene of the assassination and the samples were brought 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 that Lance Hunter had recruited her to assist him in his desire to get revenge on Grant Ward. Coulson wanted to know if his friend 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 he was needed, 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 tail 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 initial interrogation of Frye, Frye started to act unruly so Coulson used his prosthetic hand to hold the man, threatening that he had a finger which could emit a laser. Price wondered if it was true, but Coulson would not verify.
He then abruptly left and returned to the Playground, but he permitted Johnson and Mackenzie to accompany Frye to the ATCU Facility to discover what will happen there to Frye. At the Playground, Coulson had Fitz prepare the Zephyr One to carry him and a support team to the location of Hunter and May to assist 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 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; she could not believe that Garner was alive and wanted full disclosure on how he survived. Garner thanked Coulson for saving his life and told them a tale of how he escaped.
Deciding to allow medics to examine Garner, Coulson left the room to see May and Lance Hunter arguing. Coulson told Hunter that he was relieved of duty from the hunt for Grant Ward and made May the new officer-in-charge of that mission, as May declared that she was now back with S.H.I.E.L.D..
Coulson went to his office and listened to Daisy Johnson's disappointment in 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, Price introduced him to Officer Stuart, who asked if he could search her place to see if anything was missing. Price told Coulson that he could not, but he looked around 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 from him and delay him from seeing the facility. Angered by his accusations, Price tossed the food into a wastebasket and told Coulson to ride with her.
Price took Coulson to Endotex Labs where they watched as an Inhuman was brought in to be locked away while in an induced coma. Price tried to justified this action. She told him that they were working on a cure and they will keep them in a coma until they will find it. Coulson realized that Price had lost a person. She said that it was her husband who died from a cancer and explained that she wanted to help save these people pain like she wished she could have done for her husband. She then confessed to wanting Coulson to like her as he had predicted.
As Coulson and Daisy Johnson were arguing Rosalind Price and the Advanced Threat Containment Unit intention to cure the Inhumans, he explained that he would meet with president Matthew Ellis about the Inhuman threat. He asked Johnson to talk with Price while they would head to the meeting on the Zephyr One. Andrew Garner went to do Joey Gutierrez's evaluation in the Cocoon. On Zephyr One, Price came on board and he told her that Johnson will show her around.
Coulson received a call, which informed him that Melinda May and Garner were missing. Price then helped him tie his tie, while he told her why he had a robotic hand. Suddenly, Johnson entered the room and informed him that Lincoln Campbell and Alphonso Mackenzie had docked on board. Campbell explained why he thinks Garner might be Lash, as he was the only person possessed Jiaying's book in which all the names Lash had killed. Coulson ordered to change direction to find him and May. Campbell also told them that Garner was in a change process becoming Lash forever.
They located them in an abandoned building in Culver University. With the help of the ATCU, they entered the building and readied the Containment Module. Coulson found the two and saw May tied up. He said to Garner that he didn't want to fight against him, but Garner defended his action and everything he had done against the Inhumans he had killed. Campbell then attacked him and Garner transformed into Lash and attacked him back. He gave May a key to release herself and went after them. He saved Mackenzie from Lash and the ATCU soldiers shot him. Lash threw Price from a great high, and as Coulson screamed, Johnson used her powers to save her. May calmed Lash down and as he transformed back to Garner, May shot him to kill him, but he just felt into the Containment Module and passed out.
After the fight, Coulson offered Campbell a position in S.H.I.E.L.D.. Garner was taken by the ATCU to find for him a cure and Price spoke to Coulson and offered to buy him a drink, which 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 overlooked Lash's Containment Module being loaded onto a van ready to be transported to Endotex Labs. Coulson questioned if they were truly doing the right thing but Price insisted that they were as it meant Garner had a chance of being cured and remaining human, promising they would continue working on a cure. Coulson suggested that she visit the Playground to continue discussing the work. Later, Coulson was asked by Alphonso Mackenzie if he and Price were sleeping together, but 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 them Operation Spotlight, an infiltration mission to the base of the Advanced Threat Containment Unit and to uncover its secrets. Then he gave each team member his task in this mission. After the briefing, he asked Mackenzie if he had answered his concerns, but he 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 virus. Coulson realized that Price had brought her normal phone only and they continued to flirt and tease one another. The information in the phone was delivered to the team in Zephyr One.
While being shown through the base's science lab, Coulson told Price about their team's breakthroughs in alien biology as well as robotics and prosthetics. As Price received a call, informing her that the Containment Module caused a security breach in the ATCU base, Coulson was asked by her if this was true, which Coulson revealed that it would indeed scan all networks it was near. She informed him that they would shut it down and Coulson said her that the two had to find other ways the flirt.
Coulson continued his tour in his office and he showed her his collectible items he had acquired over the years. However, he was informed by Bobbi Morse, that the ATCU did not try to find a cure for the Inhumans, but they tried to make many Inhumans as they could. Coulson led Price to the containment room and as they entered the room, he locked them up inside it. At first believing it to be a flirtatious move, Price teased him, but Coulson remained serious and explained she would now have to convince him that she was not HYDRA, revealing that his team had infiltrated her base. Coulson tried over and over to get from her the truth, as she continued to reject his questions and accuse him for wanting to have with her meaningless sex only to get closer to her.
Price confirmed that Andrew Garner was not being kept at Endotex Labs and Coulson revealed that he believed she was lying as only a HYDRA agent could know about T.A.H.I.T.I. and demanded she reveal her source. Price confessed she had fallen for him but claimed he was no longer human after being stabbed through the heart. When Coulson informed her his agents had learned the ATCU was not working on a cure, she questioned it, but Coulson did not listen to her, until she suddenly mentioned that Gideon Malick gave her all the updates from the science division, including the T.A.H.I.T.I. information, revealing that he was HYDRA. After Coulson understand his agents were in dangerous, he let Price ordered Luther Banks to evacuate Coulson's agents.
Once the agents had been returned to the Playground, they gathered together and Price revealed how she had met Malick in 2001 and he had advised her in many key factors, starting when she was working for NASA. Having done further research into the subject, Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz revealed that they had discovered that a division of NASA was connected to an ancient HYDRA order obsessed with studying the Monolith for unknown reasons, showing them the HYDRA logo in ancient symbols.
Coulson and Rosalind Price had dinner together at her apartment. Coulson lighted candles while Price brought in their meal: takeout burgers. The two sat down and began to eat, with Price 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 as she felt confident in the ATCU and would not be suspected.
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 with shock 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; however, 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 agents 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 and went to his office without saying anything more. Standing in the room, he looked down at his bloodstained shirt before tearing it off and throwing items around his office. Eventually, he calmed down and returned to his team, proceeding to interrogate each member of his original team in an attempt to find anything about Grant Ward he could use against him. Talking to each of the remaining agents, Coulson pieced together 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 made Mackenzie the Acting Director until he returned from his mission.
Finding Lance Hunter with Bobbi Morse, Coulson ignored Hunter's condolences, grabbing him by the throat and pushing him against the wall. While Morse asked him 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 into the wall and continued his mission. Entering the jewelry store, Coulson and Hunter successfully retrieved Thomas, and returned to the Quinjet. Coulson called Ward and informed him that he had Thomas, showing him a video feed of Hunter holding a gun to Thomas' head. Once Ward had seen his brother, Coulson terminated the call, trying to make Ward dependent on him. Coulson realized that he needed time to track Ward's location, and Thomas offered to talk to his brother long enough to trace the location. Within minutes, Ward called back and Coulson let him talk to Thomas until Morse retrieved 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; though Morse tried to talk him out of jumping, Coulson ignored her and leapt from the Quinjet, falling straight through the opened portal and through to 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, allowing him to accept that he was a part of a grand plan where as he had previously 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, saving Fitz, but in doing so gave Ward the opportunity to free himself and attack Coulson. However, since Ward was wounded and weak, Coulson overpowered him and beat him, reminding Ward of all the lives he had taken. As Coulson fought, Fitz warned him that the portal home 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 just 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, successfully 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 were reunited with each other and celebrated their victory over HYDRA, Coulson embraced Melinda May while sharing a look with Fitz, knowing Fitz had watched him murder Ward in cold blood and leave his body to rot on the planet.
Hunting Gideon Malick
Meeting the President
President Matthew Ellis wanted to meet Coulson. Coulson, not willing to reveal the location of the Playground, set the meeting in Rosalind Price's home. Coulson was accompanied by Melinda May in the meeting. Ellis then entered the apartment and the two started to talk on the Inhumans issue. Ellis thanked Coulson for his actions to solve that problem. Coulson asked if he legalized S.H.I.E.L.D., and Ellis responded that they would continue their work while the Advanced Threat Containment Unit would serve as their public face. Ellis promised to appoint a new head for the ATCU, that would answer to Coulson. Before Ellis exited, Coulson asked him about Gideon Malick, but Ellis said he could not help him to catch, because Malick was too powerful. May then said to him that she was sorry that Ellis had given him nothing, but Coulson said that he might had.
Sometimes later, Coulson asked Leo Fitz about his opinion on Lincoln Campbell, to which Fitz responded that he was helpful to them understanding the Inhumans' biology. Coulson then ordered him to turn on the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine. At first, Fitz refused, but Coulson said that he would not use it, but Werner von Strucker, who was still in a coma. Von Strucker was put in the machine and Coulson asked him about Malick, but he only said "just kill me". He asked Campbell to use his powers and draw him out from his memories. After he did that, Coulson asked him again about Malick, and von Strucker gave him the information on how to communicate with him.
Coulson went to a remote location, when he managed to get in a make a call to Malick. He had May to trace everywhere the line connected. 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 remained confident, however, and assured him that his influence was stronger than Coulson understood. Afterward, Coulson tried on the new robotic hand, which looked human, that Fitz had built for him. May comforted him about what had happened in Maveth. Coulson then said that Malick still collected Inhumans for unknown reason. Later, Ellis called Coulson, informing him that he appointed Glenn Talbot to the new head of the ATCU. Coulson was not thrilled about the idea.
Working With Glenn Talbot
Coulson tried to call Glenn Talbot, but he didn't return his calls. So he 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 told him that they should prepare for the Symposium on Alien Contagion about the Inhumans. On their way to Talbot's car, Coulson revealed that 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, Melinda May and Lincoln Campbell warned him that someone was coming to their direction. Coulson saw that it was Carl Creel. May and Campbell defeated him and but he almost killed him. Coulson ordered him to stop using his powers. Talbot then got out of his car and said that Creel was his bodyguard.
At Coulson office, Talbot demanded Creel would be joined to 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 welcomed to the symposium, and they couldn't bring weapons. On the Zephyr One, Coulson explained to 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 an expert on Inhumans. Using his prosthetic hand, he shook the delegates hands to copy their fingerprints for May, Hunter and Morse. Talbot suspected everyone for 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 make themselves 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 her and called the guards in, announcing that there was a traitor in the room, accusing Coulson and showing the room how Coulson had been spying on them all and was not Sean Lundwall as he claimed to be. Malick then entered the room and accused Coulson of being the Director of HYDRA. Coulson then realized that Talbot was the traitor. Malick used images of Lash's victims to accuse Coulson of 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 and the latest begged that his son would return to him. Coulson cursed Malick for his extortion so the guards punched him in the stomach. However, Malick refused to complete the deal on his end and instead locked Talbot in a cage beside Coulson, handcuffing them to each other. When Coulson questioned his motives for what he was doing, Malick explained that he was building an army. Coulson said that another army would face against him and Malick left the room, ordering his men to execute the pair of them.
While waiting for their deaths, Talbot joked that he prefer Coulson die first so he could be left in peace at last, but 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, explaining 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 released them and Coulson ordered Morse and Hunter to get on Malick's plane to truck his location. May then told him that she found Talbot's son. Coulson, Talbot and Creel entered the truck which Talbot's son was inside.
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 fixed the situation. They briefly discussed their partnership and when Coulson casually called him General, Talbot told him to call him Glenn, although he noted this would only be occasionally. Coulson then 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]
Coulson asked Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter if they were listening, but they said they couldn't speak, since they were inside Gideon Malick's plane. Coulson followed Morse and Hunter to Russia, overseeing their actions from Zephyr One. On 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. However, to do so, Morse killed Androvich and was captured along with Hunter, forcing Coulson to find a plan 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 them 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 left 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 check the scene. As he accompanied Daisy Johnson and Leo Fitz to Zephyr One, Lincoln Campbell returned from his evaluation at the Cocoon. Coulson told them that he had received Campbell's evaluation and had decided not to take him on Johnson's mission, despite Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter now having left the team, but did not explain why. Johnson then called Coulson and informed him that the Watchdogs used Nitramene to collapse the building. Coulson remembered that the 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 that he was going on a mission to find Blake, Coulson explained that he knew where Blake's safe-houses were and he wanted Campbell to join him on the mission to find him. At first Campbell was pleased that Coulson was inviting him on missions but Coulson explained that he was not happy with Campbell's evaluation but wanted to watch him first hand.
As they rode in the Quinjet to Blake's possible location, Campbell asked Coulson about his evaluation and was told how it read that Campbell was there for Johnson not the cause and how he had trouble with control and taking orders, which had been proved in his battles with Lash and Carl Creel and therefore was not a part of their team. Campbell argued that it was not easy as he felt he was being constantly tested but Coulson insisted that he was the only team member who still needed to be fully checked over.
They eventually arrived at Blake's safe-house which they found to be in darkness, so they began exploring with their weapons drawn ready for a fight. Coulson received from Johnson Blake's location, so he ordered her not to attack. Surprisingly, they soon found Blake in the basement, who drew a gun on the pair as Coulson noted how well he had recovered since his encounter with Deathlok. As Coulson told Blake how 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. caused the Battle of New York while the Avengers created Ultron. Coulson ordered Campbell to kill Blake, although he tried to argue against the idea, but Coulson insisted it was an order. Campbell fired a blast of electricity at Blake only to learn it was merely a hologram, just as Coulson suspected. Coulson said he was impressed by how Campbell had handled the situation so effectively and they later learned that the Watchdogs were coming after Johnson and Mackenzie.
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]
While riding in Zephyr One a call came through in which Edwin Abbott desperately called for Daisy Johnson's help. Coulson and his team went to investigate as Abbott desperately tried to explain that he had seen these events already happening in a vision of his own death given to him by Charles Hinton. They were suddenly attacked by HYDRA who killed Abbott and used the Extraction Claw to kidnap Hinton just as he gave Johnson her own vision.
The team returned to the Playground where Johnson explained her vision, telling that 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 ensure that Johnson would not leave the Playground in order to change the course of the future. Instead, Coulson suggested Melinda May would go to save Hinton.
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, when Campbell admitted never having seen the original film Coulson joked that he was fired. Campbell suggested that Hinton's visions were a part of his design as all Inhumans' powers were created to fill a 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 ensure Melinda May would undergo her mission as fast as possible 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 said to Coulson they had found the building where Hinton was held. Coulson said he heard before on Transia Corporation, so 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 asked her to go back safe and accidentally called her "Skye".
In Coulson's office, he, Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons and Lincoln Campbell watched as they managed to hack into the Transia Corporation's CCTV feed. As they spotted Giyera on the feed Coulson and Campbell discussed his higher purpose theories, but stopped suddenly when the video seemed to show Grant Ward in the building, while Fitz claimed it was likely to be Hive.
They hurried to the building to help Daisy Johnson and find Ward. Coulson saved Johnson by shooting a one-way mirror at a HYDRA guard. He ordered her to go to the roof to rescue Charles Hinton from there. As she asked him what he was going to do, Coulson replied that he would find Ward, to Johnson's surprise. Campbell found Coulson and he ordered him to find Ward while he went to Gideon Malick. Coulson entered an office and Campbell said he saw Ward. Coulson, watching in horror at charred skeletons, ordered Campbell not attacking him.
Coulson stared furiously at a screenshot of Hive as Melinda May entered his office and asked him what was Hive, so Coulson replied that the lab was working to find an answer. He gave his condolences on Andrew Garner, but May said she did not want to talk about it. She reminded him he did not have a lot of kills like in Grant Ward's case, especially those he enjoyed. Coulson said he had a feeling S.H.I.E.L.D. was fixing problems they had created. The team then had a meeting in Coulson's office. They discussed how the being they had encountered was not Ward, and set up a plan to defeat Hive. They planned to go to GT Agrochemical facility which had been raided by HYDRA. Coulson asked what was their advantage, so Alphonso Mackenzie answered that they were not afraid.
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 been used to reanimate dead flesh. Coulson looked at her shocked so Simmons explained she could not believe Hive was on Earth. Mackenzie approached Coulson and showed him a screenshot of Giyera in the facility. Coulson explained to the team that they needed to take Giyera with them, even though Giyera was also dangerous without his powers.
Coulson, May and Mackenzie entered the facility and went to the research room. They noticed that the equipment had been taken and the rest had been destroyed. Coulson examined a dead bug and Mackenzie told him that the data of the facility had been moved. 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 him that the facility's data had been moved to an oil field in Schoonebeek. Coulson noticed that some objects were flying, so he hurried the agents to get out from the Module before he closed it. Coulson asked Simmons for the reason Hive had destroyed the researches in the facility, so Simmons said either he wanted to use them, or he was afraid of them. Coulson then asked what was Hive, so Simmons said she was thinking the little organisms were Hive itself. Coulson realized Hive was a parasite which possessed the memories of its hosts.
Coulson was upset and remembered how he had killed Ward. Fitz asked him if he was fine, so Coulson realized he bent a pipeline with his robotic hand. Coulson explained that in contrast to the justified act against Hive Fitz had done on Maveth, he should not have killed Ward. Fitz tried to comfort him by saying Ward had to die, but Coulson said that now he Ward was basically after him. Giyera then escaped the Module and Coulson tried to stop him. Giyera, however, used his power to block Coulson's robotic hand and knocked him out. Giyera then 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 the 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 assaulting 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 the 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 about the fact that Hive could sway Inhumans so that he could gain total control over them. Therefore, the Secret Warriors, who had infiltrated the HYDRA base, could have been exposed to his infection. Coulson had a hard time believing him but still grew distrust towards the S.H.I.E.L.D. Inhumans and ordered the Playground to be locked in. He then gathered Mackenzie, Fitz and Simmons to discuss their strategy and ordered the Inhumans to be monitored without them noticing while Fitz and Simmons searched for a potential cure.
Coulson resumed Malick's questioning, and the HYDRA leader described the assassination of his daughter, to which Coulson replied that Malick could get revenge on Hive by telling S.H.I.E.L.D. what they needed to know. Malick reluctantly agreed and told Coulson all the intel he knew. When Fitz and Simmons discovered Hive's parasites into Lucio's brain, confirming Malick's answers, Coulson was informed but before they could design a course of action, power was shut at 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 before ordering the Secret Warriors to gather in the common room because he suspected at least one of them could be under Hive's influence. However, they refused and locked themselves in a room.
While the Secret Warriors were arguing about who could be infected, Coulson ordered to search 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 tried to fight back, stating 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. However, it soon turned out that Johnson was the one infected by Hive. She escaped by causing an earthquake, damaging the Playground, and Coulson was unable to stop her before she left.
Looking for Daisy Johnson
After being hurt during Daisy Johnson's escape, Coulson learned from Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons about Holden Radcliffe, a scientist who could help them find a cure for Hive's infection, and sent them to Romania in order 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 confronted Coulson about what would happen if Johnson or Hive showed up. However, the interview with Whitley went wrong since Whitley had already been swayed by Hive. After taking down Whitley's clones, Coulson put Campbell aside since he had crossed the boundaries and threatened to kill a clone. He also discussed Johnson's fate with May, saying that Johnson was like a daughter to him. Soon after, they received word of an unnatural seismic activity in South Dakota and flew the Zephyr One to this new destination.
Arriving on site, Coulson discovered the remnants of JT James's Terrigenesis husk and that something buried near his house had been unearthed. Thanks to his newly acquired Energy Shield, Coulson and May barely escaped an explosion set up by Hive and his followers. Immediately after, Coulson received a phone call from General Glenn Talbot, who had used Gideon Malick's intel to set up a wide military operation against HYDRA. Coulson gave the green light to the operation and witnessed the destruction of HYDRA with May. However, Coulson had a hard time celebrating the event since Johnson was still missing and Fitz's and Simmons' mission to retrieve Radcliffe had failed.
Coulson kept tracking down Johnson and finally located her in Union City in which Hive had gathered all his followers. Despite his concerns about a possible trap, Coulson sent May and Alphonso Mackenzie to rescue her and kill Hive. Later, Coulson had to deal with an argument between Simmons and Campbell, as the latter wanted to test an antitoxin which could destroy Hive's parasites but also be fatal to Campbell himself. Given the high risks, Coulson refused to sanction the experiment and ordered Simmons and Fitz to work on another less lethal solution. He later returned on the Zephyr One and monitored the operation against Hive. When the Kree Reapers arrived, lured by the Kree Orb's signal, Coulson ordered his men to stand down and monitor the situation. Though his men managed to escape Union City, they failed to rescue Johnson, who had hurt Mackenzie, and 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 about the Sokovia Accords and the Avengers Civil War, Coulson had an interview with General Glenn Talbot and agreed to take him to the Playground despite his reluctance to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. into the light, especially regarding the Inhumans that 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 reveals Lash's existence to Talbot, much to the General's dismay. Talbot then revealed that he knew about Daisy Johnson's rebellion against S.H.I.E.L.D.
Coulson told Talbot about Hive and his plans of creating a whole army of Inhumans. Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz then informed him that Hive could replicate the Kree experiment using Johnson's blood and thus create a virus to be spread on Earth in order to turn all humans into Inhumans. When Talbot decided a military strike on Hive, Coulson advised him otherwise. Their discussion was interrupted when they learned about Campbell's attempted escape. However, 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 revealed that Hive had stolen a warhead from an ATCU facility, which he could use to turn 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]
Following Daisy Johnson's return and the threat of Hive's virus, Coulson sanctioned an operation in order to stop 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 also had Fitz dismantling the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine and provide the equipment to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to be used on Hive, so that the memories of his numerous hosts would erratically 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 and stated that she was not worthy of his trust or his 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, danger was still present, since 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 the others managed to save Fitz and another agent. Coulson then witnessed the Primitives freeing Hive and the Inhuman leader boarding the Zephyr One to use it as his new warhead.
With several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents turned into Primitives, Coulson had to deal with the siege of the Playground and gave instructions to his subordinates to ensure their protection, taking Lincoln Campbell and Holden Radcliffe to the servers room. However, it was already taken by the Primitives. Reuniting with Alphonso Mackenzie and a wounded Elena Rodriguez, they locked themselves in a room. When everybody began to argue, Coulson told them to focus and help Rodriguez instead.
Coulson and the others then figured out that Jemma Simmons had increased the heating in order to blind the Primitives. Therefore, they could go through the base without being seen by their enemies. They escaped and went to Coulson's office where they found Simmons. Coulson then used his prosthetic hand to remotely call a Quinjet and ordered his subordinates to stay behind while he would take on Hive since he was the one who brought him on Earth.
- "I'm just a distraction. I said I was willing to die, sure, but I certainly don't want to. I picked up this little move from my misguided buddy Blake. Figured I could get an egomaniac who'd been alone for 1,000 years to chat. Plus, I always wanted to do this. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only..."
- ―Phil Coulson to Hive[src]
However, they refused to do so and came with him. Coulson then used a hologram to play for time, distracting Hive upon arriving on the Zephyr One while he and his teammates infiltrated the plane.
Coulson gathered his troops in the cargo hold and told them about his plan: sending the Quinjet into outer space after loading in the warhead containing the Absolution Virus. However, this meant that someone had to commit sacrifice, and it turned out that Johnson had resolved to do so. Immediately after, Primitives led by Hive arrived, forcing Coulson and his men to fight them. By the time they defeated the Primitives, the Quinjet had left with the warhead, Hive and Campbell, who had forced Johnson out of the Quinjet. Just like the others, Coulson had no choice but to witness Campbell's sacrifice, telling a crying Johnson that they could not bring him back and that Campbell was paying for all of their mistakes.
A New S.H.I.E.L.D.
Following Hive's death, S.H.I.E.L.D. had to change and Coulson had to resign in order to make sure that the agency could live on and that his friends could remain within it. He was replaced by Jeffrey Mace and returned being a simple S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, teaming up with Alphonso Mackenzie for long missions with the Zephyr One.
Alongside with his official missions, Coulson led endeavors to find Daisy Johnson, who had gone rogue after Lincoln Campbell's sacrifice and death and was acting as a vigilante dubbed Quake, in order to bring her back to S.H.I.E.L.D.. After several days of stakeout with Alphonso Mackenzie, Coulson found Johnson as she was discussing with Polly Hinton and Robin Hinton. He led a team in an attempt to catch her, but she managed to escape.
Sometime later, Coulson was returning from a six weeks mission with Mackenzie when they were called back to the Playground though they were not told the reason for this unexpected change of schedule. They were greeted by Melinda May who informed them that they were off their mission of finding Johnson as they had repeatedly failed to catch her. However, May told them that Quake had been spotted in Los Angeles, giving them some time to try to find her before S.H.I.E.L.D. went on an official mission to capture her. Before leaving, Coulson and Mackenzie went to find Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz to the labs, where Coulson was provided with a new version of his prosthetic hand.
Coulson and Mackenzie left the Playground looking for a missing member of the Aryan Brotherhood and a truck stolen by his organization. They found the truck and discovered several slaughtered bodies with jackets featuring the logo of the Cosmogenic company. Thus, Coulson decided to investigate a Cosmogenic facility and attended the arrival of the Chinatown Crew coming to reclaim some mysterious equipment. After they opened the box they had come for, the mobsters were made insane by a strange mist and began killing each other. Before Coulson and Mackenzie could intervene, May's Team appeared and Coulson monitored their mission in the building. Several members of the Chinatown Crew, who turned out to be affiliated with the Watchdogs, were captured and taken aboard the Zephyr One. Afterwards, Coulson returned to the Playground.
A Ghostly Disease
- "When it comes to May and Daisy, you can't be objective. And to that, I take exception. So, you focus on being the best agent we got, and I'll focus on being the best Director I can."
"But what... What treatment are you implementing? How long will..."
"Hey. I'm sorry. That's classified."
- ―Jeffrey Mace and Phil Coulson[src]
Following his return to the Playground, after a two hours wait, Coulson had an interview with Jeffrey Mace who voiced concerns about Daisy Johnson acting as a rogue vigilante while they were on the verge of publicly revealing the existence of the agency. Mace then asked Coulson to walk some United States congressmen through the Playground, to which Coulson reluctantly agreed. The group was later joined by Jemma Simmons, who had witnessed Chen's access to madness due to Lucy Bauer's touch. Coulson immediately figured out that something was wrong and took the congressmen to the Quinjet bay instead of going to the Containment Chambers.
After he was told by Simmons to check on Melinda May, Coulson found her in the lockers room, nervously emptying lockers and bags and looking for a trace of an infiltration. Coulson managed to temporarily calm her down but it finally turned out that May was infected as well and she immediately fought Coulson and all the other agents. Fortunately, she was stopped by Mace, who revealed his Inhuman nature and knocked May down. Afterwards, Mace informed Coulson that he would deal with May and Johnson's situations but could not enlist Coulson's help on these matters as he was not objective.
Coulson witnessed Chen's death due to his infection by Lucy Bauer, making him fear that the same could happen to Melinda May. While Jemma Simmons went to find Holden Radcliffe to enlist his help, Coulson could not go with her as Jeffrey Mace ordered him to go to Miami, which had been attacked by the so-called Inhuman Resistance who also caused a series of other blackouts in cities across America. Coulson teamed up with Alphonso Mackenzie and Leo Fitz and went to Miami in order to investigate. On the way, they watched a TV interview of Senator Ellen Nadeer, calling on war against the Inhumans.
Coulson and his colleagues arrived in Miami, where they intended to pick up Yo-Yo Rodriguez. However, their car suddenly stopped as the attackers were using a perpetual EMP device which disabled all their electronic equipment, including Coulson's prosthetic hand, as soon as they entered into the blackout zone, meaning they had to find the EMP source using the old way.
Coulson, Fitz, and Mackenzie arrived at the hotel which had been stormed by the Watchdogs hunting Rodriguez. They managed to knock the Watchdogs out and proceeded to interrogate them. Thus, Coulson learned that the Watchdogs had staged the blackouts to blame the Inhumans and hunt them down, using a mole in the Inhumans Registration Index. Meanwhile, Fitz managed to pinpoint the location of the EMP source and led Coulson, Mackenzie, and Rodriguez to it. Coulson and the others managed to turn off the EMP source and arrested the Watchdogs before reporting their success to Mace.
Coulson later returned to the Playground and convinced Mace to publicly reveal S.H.I.E.L.D.'s existence earlier than expected. He then watched the announcement on television and received a phone call from May, indicating that she had recovered from her infection.
Capture of Ghost Rider
After learning that Eli Morrow was linked with Lucy Bauer and an incident at a Momentum Labs facility, Coulson went to visit him at the South Ridge Penitentiary. He offered to help to get Morrow out of his cell in exchange for his help in fighting his former colleagues who were turned into ghosts. However, Morrow refused to collaborate and asked Coulson to leave. Upon leaving, Alphonso Mackenzie recognized Robbie Reyes in his Hell Charger and told Coulson that he was the Ghost Rider, so Coulson and Mackenzie chased him with Lola. After a hot pursuit, the Hell Charger violently hit a cloaked Quinjet, knocking out Ghost Rider who was taken in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s custody and locked into the Zephyr One's Containment Module.
With Ghost Rider finally awake, Coulson interrogated him and confronted him about his nature. Coulson figured out that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider were after the same people and decided to set Reyes free in order to get his assistance, much to Reyes' surprise. Coulson wanted to have Reyes speak with Morrow, his uncle, about Bauer and her colleagues and let S.H.I.E.L.D. hear the conversation. Ghost Rider agreed and Coulson learned about the Bauers' project of building a Quantum Particle Generator using the knowledge within an ancient book. However, before S.H.I.E.L.D. could investigate further, they received an alert about Hellfire, who was allegedly targeted by the Watchdogs.
However, it soon turned out that Hellfire, despite being an Inhuman himself, had betrayed his own kind and worked with the Watchdogs to kill every Inhuman. Coulson, Mackenzie, and Ghost Rider flew to Primed and Ready Fireworks and defeated the Watchdogs, capturing Hellfire and rescuing Quake and Jemma Simmons in the process. Later, Coulson went to see Quake and Coulson and demanded their help in order to find the Darkhold, saying that neither HYDRA nor Nick Fury could locate it and that Bauer was after it. Their first lead was Joseph Bauer, who had got out of a coma. Before that, Coulson went to the Radcliffe Residence to pick Melinda May, who could finally come back into service after her infection by the ghostly virus.
Looking for the Darkhold
Coulson and Alphonso Mackenzie visited Joseph Bauer in his hospital room as he had come out of his coma due to his wife Lucy Bauer. However, Joseph died from the ghostly infection after telling Coulson and Mackenzie that his wife had probably retrieved the Darkhold. Coulson returned on the Zephyr One to devise a plan of action and they decided to go back to the South Ridge Penitentiary to enlist Eli Morrow's assistance. Coulson and Melinda May got an interview with the prison's director, but it soon turned out that Bauer and her former coworkers were ahead of them, infecting the prison's staff and making them believe that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were demons.
Coulson and May were rescued by a S.H.I.E.L.D. team led by Quake and tried to join Mackenzie and Ghost Rider, who were on their own mission of finding Morrow. They barely managed to escape prisoners who had been released by Bauer, but Quake decided to remain behind in order to stop the criminals while Coulson and May moved forward. Therefore, Coulson had Leo Fitz find them another itinerary to rescue Quake. Coulson and the others got out of the penitentiary, but only to find out that Bauer had kidnapped Morrow.
Search for Eli Morrow
- "Personally, I always felt that Admiral Ackbar was the unsung hero – a strategic military man who led combat ops against the Empire."
"Is that how you see it, Phil? S.H.I.E.L.D. is the Empire, and your ragtag group is the Rebels?"
"I've devoted everything to S.H.I.E.L.D. I gave my life for it, literally."
- ―Phil Coulson and Jeffrey Mace[src]
On the Zephyr One, Coulson monitored a S.H.I.E.L.D. intervention at Momentum Labs, only to find out that Lucy Bauer had reclaimed some pieces of equipment in order to replicate the experiment that had turned her into a ghost so that she could revert the process. They later had to deal with Jeffrey Mace, who had come to arrest Quake and Ghost Rider after the mayhem at the South Ridge Penitentiary. Coulson ordered Quake, Ghost Rider an Gabe Reyes hidden in the plane's Containment Module. Mace told Coulson that Ghost Rider had murdered Santino Noguera and demanded him to be delivered to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Mace finally understood where Quake and Ghost Rider were hiding and found them. Coulson was ordered to go back to the Playground, although he tried to advise Mace against it. He then watched in surprise as Ghost Rider forced his way out of the Containment Module and fought against Mace. Coulson tried to stop him but it was eventually Gabe who managed to calm down his brother. After a discussion with Mace, Coulson managed to form a team heading to an old Roxxon Corporation where Bauer and Eli Morrow were supposed to be. Coulson teamed up with Ghost Rider and Melinda May to rescue Morrow. They encountered Bauer and Ghost Rider decided to stay behind. Coulson and May eventually found the Darkhold along with all the equipment ready to perform an experiment. Coulson trusted May with the Book of Spells and ordered her to bring it back to the Zephyr One while he remained in the facility.
Coulson was soon confronted by Morrow, only to find that Morrow wanted to use the Quantum Batteries to gain an absolute power of matter synthesis and was at the origin of all the story. Coulson was unable to stop him and a violent outburst shook the entire facility, making Coulson simply vanish.
Trapped Between Dimensions
Following the outburst, Coulson was trapped between the dimensions of Hell and the Earthly Plane, although he was unaware of his situation at first. He was found by Leo Fitz and the two of them saw the arrival of Melinda May and Alphonso Mackenzie. It soon turned out that May and Mackenzie could not see or hear neither Coulson nor Fitz, much to their dismay. Following their colleagues, Coulson and Fitz found Ghost Rider lamenting over the deaths of several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents killed by Eli Morrow. The three of them returned on the Zephyr One, where they heard their colleagues' conversation about their fate. Fitz hypothesized that they were experiencing the same thing than Lucy Bauer, but to a greater extent.
Coulson joined May, who struggled to accept Coulson's fate. When she considered using the Darkhold to find them, Coulson tried to advise her against it, but May could not hear him. Fortunately, Mackenzie came as well and stopped May. As they were discussing, Coulson heard Ghost Rider screaming as the Spirit of Vengeance forced his way to leave his body in an attempt to escape from Hell. The demonic entity took possession of Mackenzie's body and left the plane, chased by Quake and Robbie Reyes, right under Coulson's eyes.
Coulson and Fitz returned to the Playground, where Holden Radcliffe had been summoned by Jeffrey Mace to help them bring back their missing coworkers. May told Radcliffe and his assistant Aida that Coulson's disappearance was linked to the Darkhold and gave him the book. However, Radcliffe refused to read the book after having only a glimpse of its content. Coulson recognized that it was a smart move, given the dangers of the Darkhold, but Fitz disagreed. Immediately after, Fitz tried to tell Aida to read the Darkhold and revealed to Coulson that Radcliffe's assistant was an android. While Aida red the book, Fitz and Coulson argued about Aida's creation and the fact that Coulson resigned from S.H.I.E.L.D. directorship, which Fitz saw as a failure which endangered the life of Jemma Simmons.
Nevertheless, Coulson and Fitz quickly overcame their disagreement and watched as Aida acquired the necessary knowledge to bring them back. Using the knowledge of the Darkhold, Aida had Laser-Coupling Gloves designed and used them to build an Inter-Dimensional Gate. They were out of time as Coulson and Fitz were dragged deeper into Hell, with Coulson nearly completely sucked into the dark dimension. The Gate opened and Fitz managed to pull Coulson out of Hell's grip and the two of them finally escaped to safety. Later, Coulson and May discussed what had been necessary to bring Coulson back and they decided to open a bottle of Haig offered by Nick Fury. They were later informed by Quake that the Spirit of Vengeance had left Mackenzie's body and returned with Reyes.
Defeating Eli Morrow
- "You know matter can't be created or destroyed."
"Except I've proven it's not true. I'm rewriting the laws of nature."
"Yeah, but you're drunk on power or drinking your own Kool-Aid or drunk on Powerade... I don't know. The point is, you're not creating energy, Eli – you're stealing it."
- ―Phil Coulson and Eli Morrow[src]
While Eli Morrow and the Chinatown Crew were causing mayhem in Los Angeles, Coulson convinced Director Jeffrey Mace to send a S.H.I.E.L.D. team with Quake and Ghost Rider, as well as Aida, although Coulson had to admit that Holden Radcliffe's assistant was an android. Later, Coulson voiced his concerns about Mace to Melinda May and finally boarded the Zephyr One to Los Angeles. On-site, Coulson gave a body camera to Ghost Rider and had him enter the Chinatown Crew Headquarters, monitoring his progression. He then discovered the giant Quantum Battery built by Morrow, containing a Demon Core.
As Ghost Rider was trapped inside the Battery by Morrow, Quake decided to go and help him, but Coulson ordered her not to. They returned to the Zephyr One, where Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz explained that Morrow was able to trigger a nuclear explosion if someone tried to stop him. They were joined by Mace, Radcliffe, and Aida. Coulson and Mace argued about what to do and Coulson's actions and secrets, as well as Mace's secret collaboration with Ellen Nadeer, though Mace told them that he was blackmailed by the Senator and that he had to protect S.H.I.E.L.D. They decided to put aside their disagreements and to work together to stop Morrow, following Fitz's plan.
Coulson went unarmed to the Chinatown Crew Headquarters and confronted Morrow while his colleagues were getting ready for the battle and for stopping Morrow. Coulson explained to Morrow that he was not creating matter out of nothing but was harvesting it from another dimension, causing earthquakes around Los Angeles. However, Morrow dismissed Coulson's theory and threatened to trigger the bomb. Therefore, S.H.I.E.L.D. had to intervene. With the assistance of Elena Rodriguez, Alphonso Mackenzie, May and Mace, Coulson defeated the Chinatown Crew. Finally, Ghost Rider used his powers to prevent Morrow from escaping, sacrificing himself so that the Quantum Battery would be transferred through an Inter-Dimensional Gate, saving Los Angeles.
Everyone returned to the Playground, where Coulson and Quake discussed the fate of Ghost Rider and Quake's personal crusade. Coulson admitted that he had considered trusting Daisy Johnson with the directorship of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then they joined their friends and watched the T.V. news about the S.H.I.E.L.D. victory in Los Angeles. Later, Coulson opened Nick Fury's bottle of Haig with May, unaware that his friend had been replaced by a Life-Model Decoy.
Coulson attended a meeting in Jeffrey Mace's office in order to discuss the ways of disposing of the Darkhold. Coulson told the others that the book would be trusted with another agent and that Aida's memory would be erased. However, Coulson heard about Aida's rebellion at the Radcliffe Residence and the fact that she killed Nathan B. Nathanson. Coulson tried to locate Aida, but to no avail. When Holden Radcliffe and Leo Fitz returned to the Playground, they hypothesized that reading the Darkhold could have altered Aida's programming. Radcliffe told Coulson what he thought was Aida's objective: turning into a living thing.
While Coulson and the others struggled to locate Aida, the android suddenly made contact with S.H.I.E.L.D. and demanded the Darkhold. When Coulson refused, Aida shut down the Playground's systems. Coulson gave his orders to his team and went with Melinda May to try to stop Aida. They were soon confronted by the android, who quickly overpowered them and locked them in a storage room. Coulson disabled the camera and waited for Fitz and Radcliffe to power the base again. While waiting, he and May discussed about chat to do and Coulson revealed that he hid the Darkhold inside Mace's office, unaware that Aida was monitoring their conversation using May's LMD's eye camera.
Coulson eventually escaped the room and found Aida, who had seized the Darkhold and tried to escape the Playground before being destroyed by Alphonso Mackenzie. Coulson reclaimed the Darkhold with the intent of quickly disposing of it. After a conversation with Mace, he also learned that Senator Ellen Nadeer was the one behind the dangerous Watchdogs.
Jeffrey Mace's Lie
While Jeffrey Mace gave a speech in order to formally acknowledge that Quake had worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. all along, Coulson and Alphonso Mackenzie ensured the safety of the crowd. However, Coulson noticed that one S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was missing on a roof. Immediately after, the Watchdogs attacked in an attempt to assassinate Mace. Coulson and Mackenzie took Mace and Burrows to a nearby Quinjet in order to evacuate the Director. However, while discussing the assault, the Quinjet was also attacked and crashed in Freyer National Park, killing Burrows and McCafferty and leaving Coulson, Mace and Mackenzie with no opportunity to call for backup. Coulson suggested to try to get some signal, but Mace insisted on finding Burrows' body first.
While searching for Burrows, Coulson and the others heard the sound of an engine, quickly spotting a radio truck hijacking their communications. Coulson and Mackenzie wanted to stop and destroy the truck, but Mace was keen on finding Burrows and especially the briefcase he was carrying. They quickly stumbled on a Watchdogs squad who had seized Burrows and the briefcase. Coulson and Mackenzie assaulted the Watchdogs, but Mace, instead of doing the same, just reclaimed the briefcase and ran away before being shot and nearly killed by a Watchdog. It soon turned out that Mace was not an Inhuman after all, but was rather using a super-serum to gain his super strength, all according to General Glenn Talbot's plan.
Mace's lie drastically changed their situation as there were more Watchdogs to fight. The three S.H.I.E.L.D. agents took refuge in a wooden cabin, where Coulson ordered Mace to put on his suit so that he would carry on as the Patriot since the Watchdogs were unaware of Mace's true nature. When gunshot erupted, Coulson protected Mace with his Energy Shield and he and Mackenzie took down the radio truck and more Watchdogs. Quake and Melinda May arrived as reinforcements and helped them defeat the last soldiers.
Coulson returned to the Playground and confronted Talbot about lying to everybody about Mace's nature. However, Talbot showed no remorse and angrily left the room, leaving Coulson with Mace. Mace told Coulson the truth about what happened to him in Vienna. He also offered to resign and to officially make Coulson Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. again. However, Coulson refused: Mace would remain as the face of S.H.I.E.L.D. and official Director while Coulson would be the one calling the shots regarding S.H.I.E.L.D. operations.
Director Coulson Again
Investigating Ellen Nadeer
Coulson's suspicions towards Senator Ellen Nadeer kept growing. Therefore, Coulson devised plan in order to be able to watch her: Daisy Johnson would go to the Capitol to sign the Sokovia Accords and during the audience, to which Nadeer would attend, Yo-Yo Rodriguez would plant a camera in her office. Despite General Glenn Talbot's initial protest, the plan was sanctioned by Jeffrey Mace. Before departing, Coulson and Talbot argued about their mutual behaviors. At the Capitol, Coulson and Rodriguez infiltrated Nadeer's office, but the Senator had expected their operation and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were arrested by the Capitol's security.
Since the security seemed to know that Rodriguez would be on the mission, Coulson and Johnson suspected the presence of a mole within S.H.I.E.L.D. Enraged, Talbot confronted Coulson about the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. would be under full investigation and that relegitimizing the organization could have been a mistake. Coulson and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents returned to the Playground. There, Leo Fitz revealed what he had discovered by studying Aida's severed head: Holden Radcliffe was responsible for Aida's rebellion. Thus, Coulson led a S.H.I.E.L.D. squad to the Radcliffe Residence to arrest the scientist.
A Fake Melinda May
Sam Koenig alerted S.H.I.E.L.D. that Billy Koenig had been abducted by the Watchdogs, prompting Phil Coulson to set up a rescue. Coulson quickly deduced that Holden Radcliffe, who had let one of his Life-Model Decoys get arrested in his place, was behind Billy's rapt, as Coulson had entrusted him with the Darkhold. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were soon joined by Sam, who told them he had lost track on the kidnappers. Coulson then tasked Daisy Johnson and Sam to investigate.
After Johnson reported Leo Babikov's name to Coulson, Sam revealed that he knew about the Darkhold and its hiding: he, along with Billy and their sister LT Koenig, had assisted in the operation. Thus, Coulson led his men to find LT, who they brought aboard the Zephyr One as well as the last Koenig sibling, Thurston. LT told S.H.I.E.L.D. that Billy had hidden the Darkhold within the Labyrinth. In the same time, Johnson told Coulson that she suspected Anton Ivanov to be responsible for Billy's abducting. Fearing that the Watchdogs could get their hands on the Darkhold, Coulson took his men to the Labyrinth to fetch the Book of Spells and secure it.
While Sam went to find the Darkhold, Coulson and May had a conversation which ended in a kiss. Immediately after, LT warned them that the Watchdogs were coming. Sam retrieved the Darkhold and gave it to May, but when Coulson told May to give him the book, May suddenly pulled out her gun and aimed at Coulson. Though he was puzzled, Coulson realized that the real Melinda May had been swapped with an LMD for several days and that the LMD was programmed with retrieving the Darkhold for Radcliffe. Quake arrived in time to take down May's LMD, but in the meantime, the Watchdogs had arrived, keeping Billy as a hostage. A fight erupted, and although no one was killed on the S.H.I.E.L.D.'s side, Radcliffe managed to take the Darkhold away.
Coulson returned to the Playground, where he attended the destruction of Aida's head and Radcliffe's LMD. However, Coulson could not order the destruction of May's LMD, who had been incapacitated.
Encountering Agnes Kitsworth
- "I felt the same way when I started working with the Avengers. It's not easy to find your place when you're working with heroes and gods."
"So what did you do?"
"I did my best to protect the team. Turns out I had a role to play. You'll make the right decision at the right time. Or you'll get an Asgardian staff through the chest."
- ―Phil Coulson and Jeffrey Mace[src]
After investigating, Coulson learned about Agnes Kitsworth, Holden Radcliffe's former girlfriend. Suspecting that she could lead S.H.I.E.L.D. to Melinda May, Coulson and Alphonso Mackenzie flied to Caldes de Montbui to find Kitsworth. Coulson approached Kitsworth while she was drawing and hinted that he knew about her history with Radcliffe. Kitsworth rebuffed him, but Coulson and Mackenzie insisted and showed Kitsworth a picture of Aida, which was an exact replica of Kitsworth. Kitsworth reluctantly told them about her relationship with Radcliffe and that the scientist left him because he could not cure her from a brain tumor. Kitsworth then left, insensitive to Coulson's arguments.
Coulson found Kitsworth's address and intended to arrest her, but Mackenzie advised him against it and refused to be part of it. Coulson went to Kitsworth's apartment, but instead of threatening and arresting her, he chose to apologize for his behavior and told him about May being kidnapped by Radcliffe and replaced by a Life-Model Decoy. Touched, Kitsworth agreed to cooperate with S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson had Kitsworth contacting Radcliffe and lure him into Caldes de Montbui to arrest him. Radcliffe, along with some Watchdogs did come, but he managed to persuade Kitsworth to follow him and escaped before Coulson and Mackenzie could arrest him. However, by eavesdropping on the conversation between Kitsworth and Radcliffe, Coulson got the confirmation that May was still alive.
Assault on the Superior's Base
- "I was sent to retrieve an object. If I'm being honest, I don't even remember what it was. As far as I'm concerned, you're just another red shirt like so many others who tried unsuccessfully to stop me from saving the world. 'Cause that's what I do. So... cool origin story, bro, but this means nothing to me."
- ―Phil Coulson to Superior[src]
Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons demonstrated a Framework simulation for Coulson so that S.H.I.E.L.D. would comprehend what kind of prison Melinda May was kept in. At the same time, Agent James Davis informed Coulson that the suit of Jeffrey Mace, who had been kidnapped by the Watchdogs, had been located in Nome, Alaska. Therefore, Coulson and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents flied with the Zephyr One to the location.
There, Coulson discovered the suit and a wall covered with newspaper articles and photographs all related to one single person: himself. Daisy Johnson then informed him that the Russian mining facility shown on one picture belonged to the Superior. Coulson recalled his mission with May in this facility several years ago and decided to return there to find answers.
At the abandoned facility, Coulson and his team found several skeletons, and one of them had a mobile phone in his skull. When the phone rang, Coulson finally had a word with the Superior, who told him that the skeletons belonged to the soldiers guarding the facility at the time of Coulson's mission. The Superior threatened to kill both Mace and May, prompting Coulson to set up a rescue after his agents pinpointed the Watchdogs' location at Krasnoyarsk Krai. Coulson and his men stormed the Superior's base and Coulson soon confronted the Superior himself.
The Superior blamed Coulson for being responsible for all the alien related events back to the Chitauri invasion. However, Coulson dismissed the Superior's accusations, saying that the only thing he cared about was his friends. The conversation was interrupted by Quake, who came to battle the Superior. Coulson and Alphonso Mackenzie found a weakened Mace and proceeded to rescue him. However, the three of them were captured by Aida, replaced with Life-Model Decoys and plugged into the Framework.
A Simple Teacher
Upon being plugged into the Framework, Coulson's greatest regret was fixed - the fact he had ever joined S.H.I.E.L.D., robbing him of a normal life. When Nick Fury approached Coulson with an offer to join S.H.I.E.L.D., he rejected the offer, feeling too daunted. As a result, he became an ordinary history teacher, with a particular interest in the Cold War. However, this also robbed him of his courage, meaning he was too afraid to stand up when HYDRA rose to power and so parroted their propaganda in his classes. Whenever HYDRA goons entered to arrest one of his students, among these Chris Adler, he did not react.
Something always seemed off, however, since his previous experience with memory alteration prevented his real memories from being fully suppressed. Coulson believed the Cambridge Incident - the catalyst for HYDRA's American dictatorship - had been deliberately engineered by a HYDRA sleeper agent, as it made no sense for the clearly mentally unstable Katya Belyakov to be enrolled at the school she attacked. He inexplicably attributed his off-feeling to HYDRA enriching soap with mind-controlling chemicals, and so created his own soap; at the same time, he collected trinkets and drew things related to the real world, including a leaflet for Tahiti.
One day, a young woman calling herself Jemma Simmons who knew Coulson by name entered the classroom after class, claiming that the world was a digital prison, and in reality, Coulson was a high-ranking agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., much to his disbelief. Simmons could not convince him before he called HYDRA to report her as a subversive, but managed to partially trigger his memories by reminding him of the phrase "It's a magical place" - the phrase programmed into him to prevent the negative side-effects of Project T.A.H.I.T.I. from emerging. Later, Coulson looked at the reminders of his real life in bewilderment.
Later, another young woman who knew him by name broke into his car, begging him to remember her. Coulson insisted that he did not know her, but when she claimed that he was the closest thing she had to family, he finally realized that he did: the woman was Daisy Johnson, who he had become a father figure to in the real world.
The Truth Revealed
After Coulson remembered her, Daisy Johnson assisted him in coping with the news that he was trapped inside the Framework. Coulson and Johnson then had to leave Alexander Pierce High School when Grant Ward warned his girlfriend that HYDRA intended to arrest Coulson. Johnson took Coulson to her apartment, where they were reunited with Jemma Simmons. When Johnson and Simmons mentioned Holden Radcliffe, Coulson produced a newspaper article about the scientist, prompting Johnson to try to locate him while Coulson and Simmons went to a meeting with the resistance.
Coulson and Simmons met a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who took them to the Playground, where they met the leader of the resistance: the Patriot, much to Coulson's excitement. Mace told Coulson and Simmons about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s history before Ward also came to the Playground and informed them that HYDRA had Johnson could not join them. Ward gave them Radcliffe's location. Coulson, Simmons and Ward thus decided to fly a Quinjet to the island of Ogygia. During the flight, Coulson voiced his concerns about not being in his place, but Simmons comforted him.
The party finally arrived on Ogygia and quickly found Radcliffe. They confronted the scientist and intended to take him back to the Playground. However, before they could interrogate him further about his deeds that had led them there, a HYDRA squad led by Madame Hydra and The Doctor arrived with the Zephyr One, hunting down the subversives. Coulson, Simmons and Ward hid in the bush and attended the confrontation between HYDRA and Radcliffe. When The Doctor shot Agnes Kitsworth, who had been captured by the HYDRA soldiers, Simmons screamed in horror, revealing their presence. A gunfight erupted and Coulson and Ward managed to resist HYDRA's assaults before escaping Ogygia.
Back to the Playground, Mace confronted the party about what happened on Ogygia. Simmons broke down and left the room, but Coulson told Mace and Ward to go easy on her. Shortly after, agent Burrows brought Alphonso Mackenzie, who wanted to join S.H.I.E.L.D.
Losing a Leader
Coulson helped the Patriot faking a car accident in order to stop a HYDRA bus supposedly carrying prisoners. Waiting for the bus, Coulson told Mace that he trusted Jemma Simmons even if her story about a brainwashed Leo Fitz seemed unbelievable. After taking down the HYDRA team, both men discovered that the bus was actually filled with corpses, and neither Daisy Johnson nor Antoine Triplett, who the Patriot was looking for, were in the vehicle. Coulson returned to the Playground and assisted some refugees until Simmons came to him. Simmons suggested to disclose the truth about the Framework to Mace, but Coulson advised her against it.
Coulson later volunteered to join a mission to the HYDRA Enlightenment Cultivation Center. Before departing, he and Simmons met Alphonso Mackenzie and his daughter Hope. Mace later summoned Coulson and provided him with the alias of Jamie Flugelman, a HYDRA agent. Coulson used this alias to drive the recently stolen HYDRA bus to the Center, smuggling the Patriot and agent Burrows inside. Coulson and Mace made their way through the Center and released the prisoners, among which Triplett. Before leaving the Center, Coulson spotted one of his former students, Chris Adler, being taken to another building. Coulson decided to save him and entered the building, discovering a room full of children and teenagers being forcefully indoctrinated with HYDRA propaganda through the Faustus method. Coulson and Triplett released the children, but in the meantime, a HYDRA squad led by Melinda May had arrived.
When the HYDRA Quinjet fired at the building, the ceiling collapsed, endangering the prisoners, especially Chris, who was trapped beneath rubble with Mace, who tried and managed to save him despite May's arrival. Unfortunately, Mace could not escape and told Coulson and the others to go while he kept the building standing as long as he could. Coulson and the others fled and attended the building's collapse before returning to the Playground.
The New Face of the Rebellion
Following the death of the Patriot, Coulson mourned him like the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but he also feared that his death dealt a crippling blow to the rebellion and could eventually lead to its end. Coulson later watched the news report about Daisy Johnson's escape from the Triskelion, which prompted Grant Ward to ask for his help as he planned to go out and help his girlfriend. However, Coulson advised him against it and recalled the time when he turned down an opportunity to join S.H.I.E.L.D. In return, Ward also told Coulson about the time when Victoria Hand recruited him.
Coulson remained at the Playground until Agent Burrows told him and Alphonso Mackenzie that they had possibly located Johnson. Coulson, Burrows and Mackenzie therefore decided to assist her and arrived in time to save her and Melinda May from the HYDRA agents chasing them. All of them then returned to the Playground, where May displayed the footage of the body cam she carried during the Infiltration into the HYDRA Enlightenment Cultivation Center and suggested to show it to the public to reveal HYDRA's atrocities. However, Johnson was keen on finding the backdoor Holden Radcliffe had told her about and not waste their time in the Framework. Coulson replied that helping S.H.I.E.L.D. to broadcast the footage could actually help them to escape the Framework as it would weaken HYDRA and thus make the backdoor more accessible.
To that end, Coulson joined a team led by Ward to assault the HYDRA Broadcasting Center. After taking Sunil Bakshi and his team into hostages, they recorded and broadcasted a subversive message featuring Coulson himself and calling for an open revolution. Leaving only Ward and Burrows defending the place, Coulson and the others began to make their way to the backdoor mentioned by Radcliffe.
Leaving the Framework
Back to the Playground, Coulson talked with Melinda May about the incoming rebellion against HYDRA and tried to convince her about the whole fallacy of the Framework, but May did not believe him and demanded evidence that Coulson did not have at the time. Later, Coulson noticed that everyone at the Playground was staring at him and May explained that he had become the new face of the rebellion following the Siege of the HYDRA Broadcasting Center. All of them had to prepare to leave the Framework, but unfortunately, May told Coulson and Daisy Johnson that Jemma Simmons had left to meet Alistair Fitz.
Once Simmons back, the team flied to the coordinated indicated by Holden Radcliffe and arrived to a steel mill where the back door was supposed to be. Coulson located it, but it turned out to be in a pool of molten steel. However, because they could proceed further, Alphonso Mackenzie, who had not been told about the Framework and thought he was in a real world, voiced his protest, as well as May who still had trouble believing the whole story.
The situation went even worse when a HYDRA squad stormed the facility and assaulted the team. When Johnson revealed the portal, Coulson tried to go through it but was shot by a HYDRA agent. Heavily wounded, Coulson was joined by May and told her to to throw him through the portal, which she did. Therefore, Coulson successfully woke up in the real world, back to Anton Ivanov's base. Seconds later, May woke up as well. Spotting Aida plugged to the Framework, Coulson proceeded to destroy her body by cutting its head. Coulson and May were later joined by Leo Fitz, who was traumatized by his actions as The Doctor in the Framework. However, before they could help Fitz, Aida appeared with the living body she had craved for all along, and teleported with Fitz.
Back to the Real World
Coulson and Melinda May had little time to process the fact that Aida had gained Inhuman powers before they were confronted by Anton Ivanov who assaulted them with one of his synthetic bodies. Coulson got rid of the android thanks to his Energy Shield but upon discovering that the base was filled with Ivanov's bodies, Coulson and May locked themselves inside the room and tried to figure out a solution. Coulson used this time to tell May of all the events she had missed since she had been plugged to the Framework. Two copies of Ivanov eventually breached through the door, forcing Coulson and May to destroy them. Unfortunately, Ivanov left the base after ordering the destruction of the base by flooding it.
Coulson brought May to the surface, just in time to see reinforcements come with the Zephyr One. However, Alphonso Mackenzie was still trapped within the base which was on the verge of complete collapse. Fortunately, he was saved by Aida and Leo Fitz, enabling Coulson and the others to safely board the Zephyr One and return to the Playground, although the place had been destroyed during the Siege of the Playground. After Aida and Fitz were locked inside a Containment Chamber, Coulson and the others tried to figure out their next plan of action.
While Aida went crazy after Fitz rejected her love, Glenn Talbot and his men stormed the Playground to arrest Coulson and all the remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. However, Coulson explained the full story to Talbot and he and Daisy Johnson persuaded the General to let them go with the Zephyr One before Aida could kill them all.
Destruction of Aida
Aboard the Zephyr One, Coulson discovered that Yo-Yo Rodriguez had plugged herself into the Framework to bring back Alphonso Mackenzie but that in the same time, Aida had launched the destruction of the alternate reality, endangering the lives of both Rodriguez and Mackenzie. Later, Coulson was contacted by Glenn Talbot on his way to a international inquiry committee and told him that no one from S.H.I.E.L.D. could attend the meeting. Upon hanging up, Coulson learned from Daisy Johnson that Ghost Rider had resurfaced. The Rider was brought to the Zephyr One, where he told Coulson and the others that he was drawn by Aida as she was made from dark matter and that he could help S.H.I.E.L.D. in defeating her.
After Talbot was shot by a Daisy Johnson's Life-Model Decoy, Coulson led his team to save the General and reclaim the Darkhold. After Johnson and Reyes dispatched the Life-Model Decoys and made Aida flee once more, Coulson and the others discussed what Aida's plan was and concluded that she intended to rally people together in their fear of Inhumans so she could create the fascist world she ruled over in the Framework. Coulson asked Reyes if the Spirit of Vengeance residing within him was as desperate to destroy Aida as they were, which he stated it was. Coulson then claimed he had a plan that may solve the team's problems. They returned to the remains of the Playground, intending to use the Darkhold as a bait to lure Aida into a trap and to destroy her while also refueling the Zephyr One to continue powering the Framework to ensure Rodriguez's and Mackenzie's survival.
As Coulson powered up an Inter-Dimensional Gate to send the Darkhold back to Hell, he was confronted by Aida, who told him that the only person who could stop her was Ghost Rider but he was not present. Coulson told Aida she should value teamwork and suddenly Jemma Simmons opened fire on Aida with a submachine gun. When Aida then moved to kill Simmons, Coulson stood in her way and Aida gloated over the fact Coulson could not kill her. Coulson told Aida that the Spirit of Vengeance could and immediately transformed into Ghost Rider to Aida's horror, revealing that he had struck a bargain with the demonic entity. Aida tried to escape but Coulson used Ghost Rider's Chain to trap her and eventually killed her once and for all with the powers of the Spirit of Vengeance.
The Spirit of Vengeance then went back into Reyes' body and Coulson trusted him with the Darkhold. After Reyes returned to Hell, Rodriguez and Mackenzie, having finally exited the Framework, warning that the authorities were on the way to arrest them. When Leo Fitz offered to take the blame for the team, Coulson joined the others in telling him that they needed to remain together. Coulson took his team to Rae's Restaurant where they, with the exception of Fitz, were captured by Enoch.
The Dark and Deep Future
Into the Lighthouse
- "That plasma gun wasn't man-made, and I don't think they could've built this place without some outside help. Got some serious miles on it. Decades by the look of it. Means this program would've had to have been started back in the, what, '80s with Howard Stark? That doesn't feel right."
- ―Phil Coulson[src]
Through the use of the White Monolith, Coulson was transported into what appeared to be a space station, where time was still as a window was destroyed but nothing moved. However, time soom resumed its course, causing Coulson to resist being sucked into space. Coulson asked two other men who were there about his situation, but they were interrupted by a gruesome scream. Shortly after, one of the men was taken away by a creature while Coulson and the other man locked themselves into safety.
The man introduced himself as Virgil, a True Believer in S.H.I.E.L.D.. However, before Coulson could know more, Virgil was knocked out by Alphonso Mackenzie who thought Virgil was threatening Coulson. Coulson and Mackenzie took the unconscious Virgil with them and were reunited with Yo-Yo Rodriguez and Jemma Simmons. Together, they discussed their new situation about being in space, waiting for Virgil to regain consciousness and give further explanations. Coulson told his friends that he never heard anything about a space station inhabited by Humans which could correspond to the place they were.
Virgil eventually awakened and revealed that he knew all their names. He also told Coulson and the others that Leo Fitz was not here with them and that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been sent to save Humanity. Before Virgil could develop, however, he was killed by a Vrellnexian, forcing Coulson and his friends to flee. The creature caught up with them, but they were rescued by Quake, who destroyed the Vrellnexian with her powers.
Coulson and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents still struggled to understand their current situation, with Coulson telling that this had nothing to do with his deal with Ghost Rider. They kept exploring the facility, figuring out that this had been designed for Human survival, but also that some of the equipment featured extraterrestrial warnings. However, before they could further investigate, they were violently arrested by two Kree guards who locked them up in a cell.
While Mackenzie and Rodriguez were taken away to be interrogated, Coulson, Simmons and Johnson were released thanks to Deke Shaw, accompanied by a wounded Melinda May. They tried to get more answers from Shaw, but he was really reluctant to help them further upon learning of Virgil's death. This prompted May to pin Shaw against a wall with his Gravity Puck, leaving Coulson to interrogate Shaw about their situation. Although Coulson had a hard time to believe it, the conversation with Shaw made him understand the unexpected truth: S.H.I.E.L.D. had been sent into the future, where Earth had been destroyed.
Learning the Truth
Coulson was present when Melinda May and Jemma Simmons returned from their journey with the Trawler, and discussed the recent reveal that they had been sent into the future. Coulson and the others were then approached by Tess, another inhabitant of the Lighthouse who was told about Virgil's death. Although Tess was doubtful that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents actually came from the past, she eventually believed it upon noticing that Coulson had no sign of having ever worn a Metric on his wrist.
Coulson accompanied the rest of the group to the Exchange, a part of the Lighthouse where the humans traded things, and learned that the Humans were ruled by the Kree with no possibility of rebelling due to the lack of weapons or technology. He then requested to Tess to see Virgil's room in order to find clue regarding the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the future. While doing so, he learned how few Tess knew about the life on the now destroyed Earth, as she mixed up actual and fictional things. Coulson eventually found a notebook hidden by Virgil, and decided to keep it.
Coulson and Tess then returned to the Exchange, and learned that Simmons had been taken by the Kree Watch. They shared the news with Daisy Johnson, Yo-Yo Rodriguez and Alphonso Mackenzie, and Coulson agreed to let Johnson follow Deke Shaw to have information about Simmons' whereabouts, while the rest of the group would try to steal a Kree tablet. Coulson thus removed a pipe, releasing an abundant flow of steam which distracted the Kree guards, enabling Rodriguez to steal the tablet.
As a Renewal was held in the Lighthouse, Coulson knew that they would be in trouble since they had no Metrics implanted on their wrist. Coulson thus went to Grill, the manager of the Salvage he had previously encountered with Tess, and offered to trade the tablet in exchange of the installation of the Metrics. This was not enough to Grill, who demanded that Coulson, Rodriguez and Mackenzie worked for him, which Coulson agreed. Coulson thus had his Metric implanted, but they soon realized that Grill had rigged the devices so he could pin them on the wall, as he intended to let Holt kill them.
Coulson was saved from such a fate by May and Tess, who eventually killed Holt to make sure that a life was paid to the Kree. When the Kree Watch arrived, Coulson showed them his Metric, but the guard noticed that it had not been conventionally formated. However, Coulson was left out of trouble as Grill promised the guards that Coulson and his friends worked for him. From this moment, Coulson was forced to work in the Salvage with Mackenzie and Rodriguez.
A Mysterious Signal
Now forced to work for Grill, Coulson saw Alphonso Mackenzie trying to forcefully enter their boss's office. Although he failed, Coulson learned that Grill was keeping the Kree tablet they had previously given him along with a gun in a closet, and decided that Yo-Yo Rodriguez should try and steal it. Inspired by this recon mission, Coulson asked Tess and Melinda May to take him with them on their next journey with the Trawler. Tess agreed, causing Coulson and Mackenzie to be enlisted in the next run.