Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Do We Define a "Tie-In"?

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In talking about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its connections with other media (particularly the movies), it has occurred to me that I use the words “tie-in” and “crossover” without really defining them.  And considering how frequently we talk about “tie-ins” and “crossovers” between Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the movies, it’s a pretty good bet that I’m not the only one who uses them in a number of different ways.  This can be confusing!

So partly to help myself out—and partly to help everyone else out—let’s take some time to define some terms when it comes to “tie-ins” and “crossovers.”  Next week I will apply these terms in talking about possible tie-ins/crossovers with the movies coming out during season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:  Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Before we get started, remember that these are the definitions I’m using; I’m not saying this is what we have to use.  Though you’re welcome to adopt them for yourself!


In my usage, a “Tie-in” is any connection which “ties” two different properties together.  So, for example, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a “tie-in” with Thor: The Dark World in the episode following Thor: The Dark World’s release—meaning that there is something in that episode which connects with the movie.

There are a number of different types of tie-ins:

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Direct Tie-In

A “Direct Tie-In” means that the plot and events of the one property are specifically mentioned by, or have an explicit impact on, the second property.  The most obvious example of this would come in the Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when the events of the movie effectively demolished the organization on which the TV show was based.  During the episode following the Winter Soldier premiere, the events of the movie were referred to explicitly as happening concurrent with the events of the episode, and actual clips from the movie were shown as news footage.

Another example is the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode “The Well” (1x08), which provided a Direct Tie-In to Thor: The Dark World by showing the S.H.I.E.L.D. team cleaning up the wreckage left behind by the movie’s climactic battle.  Avengers: Age of Ultron also has a Direct Tie-In in the episodes “The Dirty Half Dozen” (2x19) and “Scars” (2x20), the first of which shows the S.H.I.E.L.D. team recovering the intelligence that sends the Avengers into Sokovia (directly affecting the movie), and the second of which reveals that Fury’s helicarrier was actually refurbished by Coulson off the books.

Indirect Tie-In

An “Indirect Tie-In” means that while there is a connection between the two media, it is not explicitly connected to the one medium’s plot.  This is a little harder to nail down because it’s not the most obvious of tie-ins.  However, there are at least two examples that come to mind.

The first is in the previously-mentioned “The Well” (1x08), following the Direct Tie-In mentioned above.  The rest of the episode focuses on the revelation of an Asgardian warrior who stayed behind on “Midgard” (Earth) after the Jotunheim War mentioned in Thor and hid his Berserker Staff in pieces around Europe.  This is not directly connected to the plot of either Thor or Thor: The Dark World (though there’s a greater connection with Thor), but rather builds off of minor details and races from those movies.

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The second is in “Who You Really Are” (2x12), which offers an Indirect Tie-In to Guardians of the Galaxy by introducing a Kree scientist.  The Kree actually appear or are mentioned several times on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., starting with “T.A.H.I.T.I.” (1x14), which shows a blue alien later identified as Kree.  Because none of these Kree appearances have anything to do with the plot of Guardians of the Galaxy, they are not a Direct Tie-In with that movie.  Instead, they build off of what we know about the Kree from that movie and expand the lore of the Kree in the MCU through reference to “Ancient Wars” (we know this from the comics to be a reference to the MCU version of the Kree/Skrull War) and the “Tale of Terrigenesis.”

An Indirect Tie-In actually offers an excellent opportunity for expanding and deepening the lore associated with ancillary elements of the movies.

Thematic Tie-In

“Thematic Tie-In” is a term that I am applying in a broader sense to any Tie-In which expands on themes and power sources which are first introduced in the movies before appearing on the small screen.

A good example of a “Thematic Tie-In” on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the focus on Hydra throughout the final quarter of season 1 and all of season 2.  The themes of betrayal and loyalty are extremely important parts of these S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes.  This also helps to deepen the “lore” of Hydra and specifically the Hydra infiltration of and rising up against S.H.I.E.L.D., concepts which were only alluded to briefly in the movie.

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Up until now I used “Crossover” and “Tie-In” largely interchangeably.  However, in thinking about the term more, I’ve come to realize that a “Crossover” is actually a much more specific form of “Tie-In.”  Specifically, a “Crossover” is when a character from one medium “crosses over” to another one, continuing his or her story on that other medium.  As such, a TV show doesn’t really “crossover” with a movie unless its entire cast appears in the movie (or vice versa).  Instead, the most common example is a character “crossing over” between movies and TV shows as a background/secondary character in one or both.

There are numerous examples of this, particularly in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1.  The most obvious examples are Maria Hill and Nick Fury, both of whom “Cross Over” from The Avengers to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before appearing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and then returning to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before appearing again in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  They are not focal characters on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but their appearances on the show offer a continuation of their character arcs from the movies.

Another good example of a Crossover is Lady Sif, who “crosses over” with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2 episodes, “Yes Men” (1x15) and “Who You Really Are” (2x12).  Both of these episodes give some additional insight into Sif’s character and background, as well as the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World on Asgard.

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Major/Minor Spectrum

In thinking about degrees of Tie-Ins and Crossovers, I realized that there really isn’t a way to determine what makes a “Major Tie-In” and what makes a “Minor Tie-In” beyond a few general observations.  As such, I am now thinking of these things as being on something of a “spectrum.”

The most “Minor” Tie-In possible is a simple Easter egg:  a quick, passing reference to the events of another medium, something which has very little effect on what’s actually happening on either medium.  The passing mention of Ant-Man in “Laws of Nature” (3x01) on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be a good example of this.

Moving up the spectrum, “Minor” Tie-Ins generally have very little lasting impact on either medium being “Tied” together.  This can be something like S.H.I.E.L.D. cleaning up the wreckage in London after Thor: The Dark World, or it can be the use of technologies on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which were first used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Fury’s cutting tool which Fitz revealed that he originally designed and the mask which Romanoff used in the movie and which then was bonded to Kara’s face in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2).  The distinguishing factor is that the connection is either not very important or does not have a lasting impact.

A “Major” Tie-In is one which does have a significant, lasting impact on the second medium.  The perfect example of this is the Tie-In between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in which the movie effectively destroyed the organization on which the TV show was based.  This event was the single greatest defining moment in the show’s first season—and the argument can be made that it’s the greatest defining moment of the show to-date.

To give an example, here’s how I would rank the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tie-Ins from Major to Minor:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with “End of the Beginning” (1x16) through “Beginning of the End” (1x22)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron, with “The Dirty Half Dozen” (2x19) and “Scars” (2x20)
  • Thor: The Dark World (and perhaps Thor: Ragnarok), with “Yes Men” (1x15)—the Sif Crossover bumps this one up more
  • Captain America: Civil War, with “Emancipation” (3x20)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World, with “Who You Really Are” (2x12)
  • Thor: The Dark World, with “The Well” (1x08)
  • Ant-Man, with “Laws of Nature” (3x01)

This is all kind of subjective, and I left out a lot of “Minor, Indirect Tie-Ins,” so let me know if you would rate things differently.


I hope that this guide is helpful in understanding different types of Tie-Ins that are possible between movies and TV shows.  For the most part I focused on Tie-Ins by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Marvel movies, but the same categories also work when talking about Tie-Ins between movies and between TV shows.  If you have other examples of Tie-Ins or different categories of Tie-Ins that should be included, be sure to put them in the comments!

What is your favorite movie Tie-In from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  How do you want to see it Tie-In with the upcoming movies?  Let me know in the comments!

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