Agent Coulson and Tragic Irony

Joss Whedon’s comments on the difficulty of bringing Agent Coulson back from the dead for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but not having him appear in The Avengers: Age of Ultron have been big news in the geekosphere for the past few days.

We could talk for hours about the difficulties with continuity in an ever-expanding shared universe the size of the MCU, not to mention the fact that Whedon himself was involved in the decision to bring Coulson back and now seems to regret it, but what really interests me is this: is it really such a bad thing?

Here’s what Whedon had to say:

“As far as I’m concerned, in this movie, Coulson’s dead. If you come back in the sequel and say Coulson’s alive, it’s like putting f***ing John Gielgud in the sequel to ‘Arthur.’ It mattered that he’s gone. It’s a different world now. And you have to run with that.”

I get what he’s saying.  It makes sense.  The whole point of killing off Coulson, who had been a vital character throughout all of the Phase One MCU movies, was to unite the Avengers.  His death motivated them to put aside their differences and work as a team to solve the problems of the day.  Bringing him back from the dead creates problems within the world and outside of it.  In-world, the Avengers discovering that Coulson’s death was faked undermines team spirit that the event helped create.  And from an external, story-teller’s perspective, suddenly bringing him back to life cheapens his sacrifice for the audience.

But given that this bell has been rung, why not see if we can’t make the best of the situation.  The idea that Coulson’s death was faked does work, given the established nature of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. as a whole–they’re spooks.  They manipulate people to get what they want.  Staging a tragedy just to get a bunch of superhumans to band together and save the earth is just what Nick Fury would do if he had to.  So it makes sense for the universe.

But I feel cheated, you say.  They told me he was dead.  They made my transparent aluminum nerd eyes shine with misty feels.  I feel betrayed that it was all a sham.  They will suffer.  Whedon must suffer.  I will blog the shit out of my discontent.

Isn’t just as tragic, albeit in a different way, if Coulson did live, but all of the heroes he helped create remain unaware of it?  Whedon’s obviously put the kibosh on revealing Coulson’s survival to the Avengers, at least in Age of Ultron.  So Thor, Iron Man, Cap and friends aren’t going to see their buddy Phil again anytime soon.  As far as they know, he died with Loki’s scepter through his chest just before the Battle of New York.  How much more nagging is that sense of loss for the viewer if they know the whole time, having watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that Phil’s hale and hearty and going about business as usual?

How does that feel for Coulson?  He’s not as cynical as Fury; he’s Captain America, not Tony Stark.  How heartbreaking would it be to know that a group of people that by this point you’d have to consider friends think you’re dead, and that your death hit them so hard they put aside some pretty ingrained differences to avenge your ass?  Wouldn’t you, as the viewer, feel both sides of that loss?  Wouldn’t the Avengers’ ignorance, and Coulson’s regret, come off as kind of a twisted, tragic joke?

I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s an angle that I haven’t seen anyone else consider as of yet.  What do you think?  Does this make sense, or am I grasping at straws?