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Potential spoiler ahead for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2, episode 15, “One Door Closes.” Oh, and there are also a couple shockers from the comics in the next paragraph. You've been warned.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about comic books, it’s that death is never permanent. There aren’t many characters in the comics who haven’t experienced this at least once: Captain America, Beucky Barnes, Iron Man, Thor… Even characters whose deaths were emotionally significant (such as Gwen Stacy) are not immune to being resurrected when the plot demands it—Gwen Stacy was “resurrected” last year as “Spider Gwen,” an alternate-reality Spider Man. We’ve discovered that the same holds true in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I only bring this up because Lucy Lawless is set to guest star in this week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “One Door Closes” (2x15). You should remember that she played S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Isabelle Hartley in “Shadows” (2x01). However, I think I speak for everyone when I say that I thought the way that episode ended left very little opportunity for her to come back. Remember: she picked up the Diviner and her hand started turning black and dying almost immediately. She didn’t change right away, so Hunter and Idaho rushed her to the SUV and left to bring her to a hospital. En route, Hartley convinced Hunter to amputate her arm, which he seemed to have succeeded in doing; however, their SUV was flipped over when Absorbing Man attacked them and turned himself into a man-sized speed bump. At the beginning of the next episode, “Heavy is the Head,” Hunter checked on Hartley and Idaho and found that they were both dead with their eyes open and glassed over. That episode ended with Hunter and Coulson attending Hartley’s funeral. In other words, she’s pretty much as dead as anyone can be in the comics. So how can she be appearing in “One Door Closes”?
This got me thinking: what other characters have “died” and then returned to the MCU? Surprisingly, almost every movie has at least one character who “returns” from the “dead.”
Iron Man – Tony is presumed dead at the beginning of the movie. I don’t know whether we should really consider Tony being presumed dead as an example of a character “returning from the dead,” since the audience knew all along that he was alive.
The Incredible Hulk – There really isn’t anyone who dies and comes back to life in The Incredible Hulk… unless you count Stan Lee drinking a soda contaminated with Hulk-blood and collapsing, only to come back in Thor (or Iron Man 2, whichever cameos comes first!). Oh yeah, and there’s also the alternate opening that includes Bruce trying to commit suicide and Hulking out for his troubles (an event referenced in The Avengers). Does that count? I don’t think it counts, but you could count it if you want.
Iron Man 2 – The closest thing to dying and coming back to life that I can remember (I haven’t seen Iron Man 2 in a while) is Tony curing himself from chronic ARC reactor poisoning toward the end of the movie.
Thor – Does it count that Thor both dies and is resurrected within about 30 seconds at the end of the movie when the Destroyer slaps him and breaks his neck? On the one hand, it seems clear to me that he actually died when the Destroyer snapped his neck and crushed his windpipe—that’s the event that demonstrates his worthiness. On the other hand, he’s really only dead about as long as it takes for Odin to say “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” So his death is probably the shortest actual death in the MCU. Of course, then there’s also Loki falling off the crumbling remains of the Bifrost to his “death.” But how many people believed that Loki was really gone when he let go of the staff? I can’t remember—was it before or after Thor came out that Marvel announced that Loki would be the main villain for The Avengers? Because if it was before, then I really don’t know how anyone could have thought he died at the end of Thor—even without him showing up in the post-credits scene!
Captain America: The First Avenger – About halfway through the movie, Bucky fell to his “death” in the Alps. Then at the end of the movie, Captain America got frozen in ice. And then after a quick montage of V-E Day celebration he woke up again in a crude mock-up of post-war Brooklyn. Admittedly, both of these “deaths” really weren’t all that surprising for comic book fans; I don’t think anyone in the know really bought that Bucky was dead; after all, Sebastian Stan has a longer deal with Marvel than Chris Evans! And as far as Captain America dying in his solo film that leads up to The Avengers… if he had actually died it would have made for a pretty wild twist!
The Avengers – Loki returned from the “dead” even before the movie had really begun. Then about halfway through the movie Coulson died when Loki stabbed him through the chest with the scepter. I remember being completely shocked in the theater when Coulson died, and then seeing dozens of fan theories of ways he could really be alive (I think my favorite was that he might turn out to have been the Vision all along). But in the context of the movie, his death helped to unite Captain America and Iron Man to avenge his death and defeat Loki.
Iron Man 3 – Near the beginning of Iron Man 3, Tony is presumed dead (again) when the Mandarin attacks and destroys his house. Of course the only one who ever thinks he’s really dead is Pepper (which is becoming a theme here); the audience sees JARVIS save him with the Mark XLII suit. Oh yeah, and then there was that whole Pepper falling out of a room suspended from a crane into a massive fireball, only to turn up alive about 5 minutes later to save Tony’s bacon.
Thor: The Dark World – Near the end of the movie, Loki is killed by Kurse, the big bad elf dude. Of course, they don’t leave us in the dark for too long; shortly after Thor and Jane leave, an Asgardian soldier is seen walking away from the place where Loki’s body had been left. Then by the end of the movie Loki is revealed to be alive and sitting on Odin’s throne in disguise.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Fury did not have a good time of it during Captain America: The Winter Soldier. First he gets attacked by a group of mercenaries disguised as police officers, then the Winter Soldier attacks him in the middle of the street and flips his SUV end over end, and finally he gets blown away by the Winter Soldier shooting through an apartment wall that must’ve been made of paper. He gets rushed to the hospital where he dies in surgery. And then about a day later Hill brings Cap, Black Widow, and Falcon to his secret underground bunker where he is revealed to have faked his own death with a drug that slows the heart rate to a ridiculously-low level. Oh yeah, and the “Winter Soldier” from the title? That’s actually Bucky Barnes. Whoa! (Said no one who knows the first thing about Captain America)
Guardians of the Galaxy – At the end of the movie, Groot got blown into firewood!—oh, wait, never mind. Rocket just planted a twig. We’re good now.
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Bonus: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Coulson is revealed to be alive in the Pilot episode when he scares Ward out of his chair. In the second half of the season he discovers that he was revived by the blood of a blue alien (whom we now know to be Kree). And that’s just the most obvious case of a character “dying” and coming back to life. Dr. Hall falls into a blob of gravitonium in “The Asset” (1x03), but is revealed to still be sort-of alive (though they haven’t really capitalized on that particular plot point yet). Mike Peterson is presumed dead in the explosion at the end of “The Bridge” (1x10). Skye got shot and practically died in “T.R.A.C.K.S.” (1x13), though they saved her. Eric Koenig was killed in “The Only Light in the Darkness” (1x19), only for Patton Oswalt to show up a couple episodes later as Billy (and Sam).
Bonus #2: Agent Carter- The undead twins, a couple of Leviathan operatives who were reported as killed during the Massacre of Finow, show up to tangle with Peggy in the first couple episodes. Then there was that little matter of Dottie falling out a second-story window to her death and landing sprawled out on a plane wing, only to shake it off and walk away under her own power.
These are only the characters who were presumed dead and then were shown to have either been brought back to life or have faked their own deaths. If we were to add in all the characters who have died but could be resurrected, the list would grow considerably longer (Ronan is just the first example that comes to mind). Long story short, death is not the end of the story.
So how could they be planning to bring Hartley back? The simplest option is that she’ll be appearing in a flashback from when Hartley, Bobbi, and Mack all accepted the assignment to infiltrate Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. However, there are other options. She could somehow have faked her death to go undercover within S.H.I.E.L.D. (or Hydra). She could be a member of an immortal species that cannot be killed. Related to that option, she could be the product of Super Soldier experimentation which gives her a healing factor. Considering how slowly the Diviner infected her compared to everyone else it killed, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that there really is something special about her. Even if she doesn’t have the Inhuman gene, there could be something else at work. Maybe she’s working for Maria Hill (and by extension Tony Stark), and will show up with a brand-new Stark Tech cybernetic arm complete with weapon attachments!
Of all the options listed, I think the best guess would be the first one: Hartley will appear in a flashback that fleshes out this “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” subplot. However, I think the most exciting option would be for her to be revealed as some sort of “gifted individual,” or to have been rescued and given an enhanced cybernetic arm. That would be pretty cool!
So what do you think? How do you think that Hartley will appear in this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Do you think that Marvel uses the “person ‘dies’ and comes back to life” thing a little too much?
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