Have you guys sorted the characters in Agents of Shield?
The way we play this game, your “primary” house is WHY you do things and your “secondary” house is HOW. For a broader overview of our system, please go here!
MCU Coulson, who believed so solidly in the cause, and who transformed himself just slightly for each movie and Avenger, was a Gryffindor primary/Slytherin secondary. Throughout Agents of SHIELD, however, so many people tell Coulson or others that his personality has changed. The split between the MCU movies and the AoS canon is of course a break between writing teams/focus of the story, but in more canonical terms– between Avengers and the Agents of SHIELD pilot, T.A.H.I.T.I happens. Coulson’s brain is literally rewritten and, like several concerned characters, we believe we get back a different Coulson than the one that died. MCU Coulson was a Gryffindor/Slytherin, but this new “team Dad” Coulson is a team-building Hufflepuff Primary with a straightforward and leadership-focused Gryffindor Secondary.
A lot of the internal struggle we’re seeing in him is of someone who is now a Hufflepuff/Gryffindor, but who used to genuinely be a Gryffindor/Slytherin. His original Primary and Secondary have been bumped to the status of being his models, and we see him use them with various levels of success– trying to put victory before people and trying to act with a shifty cunning that doesn’t quite sit right on him. Even his successes though, like keeping information from May with such effectiveness, do not serve him well in the long term. The place he built his relationships on and the way he built his team up in AOS is as a Huffledor– his strengths come from his abilities to build loyal teams and lead them.
Coulson and his Hufflepuff Primary believe not only in the importance but also the strength of the individual. He will buck like a mule to save innocent lives, to save his team. When he uses Slytherin Secondary model’s tools to further his goals, he actually ends up losing track of those goals. In especially the second season, his Gryffindor Primary model is stagnant, clinging onto his memory of Nick Fury and the way he ran SHIELD, and not trusting in himself and the Hufflepuff morality that he values or the open honesty and integrity of his Gryffindor Secondary. A Coulson who acted according to the principles of his Huffledor sorting would probably be a lot better not only at keeping allies, but also at running SHIELD.
His reduced ability to judge situations by his own moral system leads to decisions like the one that kicked off Season 2, risking what very few agents he had to recover some new materiel and losing Agent Hartley. He gets a lot of flack for this decision over the season, and it’s because it was a stereotypical but innaccurate Gryffindor/Slytherin decision: it was important to get the plane, so they would risk anything they had to to get it.
But that type of strategy puts all of your agents at risk, and while Fury might have been able to afford that call, Coulson didn’t have enough agents to risk them in that type of operation. He was acting on an outdated (and inflexible) sense of Gryffindor “right,” and not valuing his agents like the Hufflepuff we’ve seen him to be. An actual Gryffindor Primary would have likely been able to assess the situation and make a different call, but Coulson is no longer a Gryffindor and he’s working off only rememberings of “what would I have done, before? what would Fury have done?” He is not truly consulting the intuitive and confident gut of a certain Gryffindor Primary, and so his decisions often not only fail to ring true, but fail in general.
This type of wasteful ruthlessness is not indicative of an actual Gryffindor/Slytherin– Coulson is falling into it because he's pretending to be a Gryffindor/Slytherin. If you think of our two prominent MCU Gryffindor/Slytherins, Peggy Carter and Nick Fury, their stubborn, brave moralities are both more genuine and more based in reality. Think of Peggy crying over Colleen or Nick lowering his gun when Natasha was being held hostage; Peggy asking Jarvis “but is it worth it?” about her friends’ deaths and Nick “I recognize that the Council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid-ass decision I’ve elected to ignore it” Fury refusing to nuke New York to save the world.
Coulson’s model is a particularly heartless form of Gryffindor/Slytherin, and that’s why he gets quite so much flack; it wasn’t just that he risked the whole team, it was also his callous, unrepentant response to Hartley and Idaho’s deaths that upset people.He’s overcorrecting in his quest to be Gryffindor/Slytherin instead of Huffledor, and ends up undervaluing his people from both a moral and a strategic point of view. Even from a completely cold, calculating perspective, it’s still dubious whether giving up two good agents (and risking several more) was worth getting the Quinjet.
Coulson also screws himself over by mimicking Fury’s leadership style, not just his morality. Fury deliberately makes himself imposing and bigger than life; the directer of SHIELD wasn’t wearing full-length black leather coats because they were on sale. To some extent this works better for Fury because he’s dealing with a much larger organization—there’s no end to the list of people ready to question him, so the imposing persona cuts down on the amount of irrelevant crap he has to deal with.
It also works better because Fury knows when to set aside his mysterious, all-knowing, flaws-what-flaws persona; in CA:TWS he listens to Steve’s criticism even though he disagrees with it. Coulson, on the other hand, does his utmost to shut down the conversation when faced with criticism. It’s like how large dogs are usually pretty chill when guests come over, while little dogs tend to yap ferociously.
The other reason it works better for Fury than for Coulson is competence levels. Fury really is every bit as badass as he pretends to be. Coulson, on the other hand, has large, glaring weaknesses as director; if he were honest about his uncertainties and weaknesses, and shared information with his team, then his team could help compensate for his weaknesses and point out his blindspots.
Melinda May is also a Hufflepuff Primary, but she “burned” because of what happened in Bahrain. After that trauma and those hard calls, Melinda’s faith in herself and her ability to help the world falters hard. She removed herself from the field and secluded herself in paperwork. Brave, gleeful prankster Melinda tries to stop caring, and pretends to herself that she had succeeded. This actual burning seems to have been accompanied by depression if not PTSD, and while she seems to have not entirely recovered, she is functional in current canon. While she remains “burned” in many ways, Melinda’s interactions with the Bus team and especially Skye, who in many ways is a younger, more hopeful version of May, have been grounding for her.
Melinda’s secondary, like Coulson’s, is Gryffindor. She values bluntness and honesty, and she feels betrayal from both Ward and Coulson sharply and reacts strongly. With Coulson, it was the lying even more than whether or not she disagreed with his plans that upset her. This betrayal was especially damning because burned Puff Melinda had in many ways hung her morality and degrees of her ethical agency on Coulson’s tailcoats– she trusts Coulson, when it comes to morality, often more than herself.
She also seems to have built herself a Hufflepuff Secondary model, working consistently on her fitness and emotional health, meditating regularly, and generally building herself a foundation that will help keep her functional despite her still coping with trauma (as we see in season one, when she’s able to hold the Berserker Staff without losing herself). This investment into skills of reliability, routine, and foundational strength seem to be one of the main coping mechanisms she’s built up to keep herself functional. This is perhaps particularly significant when you compare it to the intuitive, reactive strengths of the improvisational Gryffindor Secondary we saw in stories and flashbacks of a younger May.
Skye houseshares with both Coulson and May (the writing staff appears to love Hufflepuffs), and through the seasons (especially 2) we see her Hufflepuff Primary start to burn. Her role in the Rising Tide was absolutely the work of an unburned Hufflepuff, possibly even with a Gryffindor Primary model (though that might just be her Secondary showing through). She believes in fairness, evenhandness of information, and goes after those goals with the charismatic and bullheaded charge of a Gryffindor Secondary.
While the morality system with which Skye enters the show seems hinged around the fairness of Hufflepuff, she remains a Puff highly devoted to people– and moreover highly invested in finding a home and family to burrow into. However, family has been denied to this foster care bouncing ball for most of her life, and the focus on freedom of information, and her own stubborn search for her blood family, seem to have been what have kept her going, unburned, until the pilot.
On the Bus, she finds that family in Coulson’s team and in SHIELD at large– this is why getting the badge is so meaningful for her and also why Ward’s betrayal hits so hard. It is Ward and the failure of SHIELD, not her lonely childhood or rejection from foster families, which finally causes Skye to begin to burn.
She does not burn entirely, however, as we see in her growing willingness to accept and love her father (a dyed-in-the-wool Slytherin Primary), and to invest in her second family of the Inhumans. Skye in season two is more jaded. Though still willing to love her friends and to give new people some chances, she’s also satisfied with mindwiping her father and shooting Ward and other threats in cold blood.
Jemma and Fitz both have Ravenclaw Secondaries, but where Jemma is also a Ravenclaw Primary, Fitz is a Slytherin Primary. Especially early on, neither of them seem aware in the differences in their sortings. They bond over a shared and delighted Ravenclaw Secondary and seem to have never encountered a place where they conflicted. Jemma was the one who signed up for SHIELD fieldwork, because it was something that mattered; and Fitz followed, because Jemma matters.
In S1, Fitz clings harder and differently than Jemma. He loves their whole team (see: loyal, as-of-yet-untraumatized Fitz being the last willing to condemn Ward), and he loves Jemma most. While Jemma jumps off the plane in FZZT because it’s the right and responsible thing to do, and she’s decided to be right and responsible, Fitz sacrifices himself in the finale to save Jemma. These are things with the same moral weight to each of them. Fitz’s prioritization of Jemma makes her uncomfortable and is a factor in why she flees; Fitz expects Jemma to share his person-based Slytherin values and systems as much as she expects him to share her Ravenclaw ones, something that drives them both to confusion and Fitz to an even deeper disappointment when she doesn’t stay for him in S2.
The importance Jemma places on doing things to make Fitz feel appreciated, like making him his favorite sandwich, show that even though she isn’t a Slytherin herself, she has learned something of how to make a Slytherin (or at least Fitz) feel loved, at least in peacetime. She knows it will be effective in a way that other things wouldn’t be, which is why she calls on it to gain his trust at the end of season 2. She uses a kindly Hufflepuff performance to do this, and S1 Fitz believed the tools she was using without understanding that her priorities were different than his– because up until S2 their primaries had never been in a situation that forced them to make hard calls. By the end of S2, they both have a better and stronger respect for each other’s primaries. After that period of disillusionment and betrayal, they may be able to construct a mutual understanding between themselves.
This was also complicated by how Jemma’s Ravenclaw system changed mid-season 2. After Tripp dies, Jemma falls. Where once her dedication to curiosity, knowledge, and progress would have enchanted and driven her to study rather than eradicate the alien city and the Inhumans themselves, now she weighs that curiosity against the risk of failure and finds it wanting. She had promised herself that she would keep people safe and she failed. Tripp is dead. The science of the alien city is too dangerous, she decides– so just flood the whole place. We don’t need to learn about the aliens, we just need to protect ourselves from them.
Jemma abandons not her curiosity but her belief that she should follow her curiosity. Her system goes from prioritizing science to prioritizing safety. With the same decisive uncompromising idealist drive she’s always had now set against aliens, and with some new ruthlessness attached, she becomes a threat to Skye. The only thing stopping her from killing Skye toward the end of the second season was a firm (but fragile) denial that Skye was dangerous. It wasn’t a matter of Skye being an important person and friend and therefore worth of mercy and protection (this was Fitz’s Slytherin rationale)– it was just a matter of Jemma trying stubbornly to add a loophole into her system so she didn’t have to kill her friend. But if that denial ever fell apart, there’s no guarantee that she wouldn't kill Skye– not unless she figures out a way to more permanently edit her system so that she doesn’t have to.
Jemma also adds a formidable Slytherin Secondary model between the first and second seasons (potentially mirroring the one Skye entered the pilot with and has slowly put aside in favor of Gryffindor’s directness). Jemma wields her new secondary model with a skill that impresses and rivals even Slytherin/Slytherin Bobbi Morse. It’s what kept Jemma alive through her double agent days, which is where she built it, and it’s apparent in scenes like her easily tricking Bobbi during the taking of SHIELD’s base. It is a striking contrast to the freaked out Ravenclaw Secondary Jemma who compiled and anxiously spat out a whole complicated back-up backstory to Coulson on the train job episode in the first season.
Ward as a very, very Burned Hufflepuff Primary was a pretty immediate intuitive call for us, but it took longer for us to check it with the evidence because at first glance he seems almost equally likely if not more likely to be a Petrified Slytherin. He was abused from a young age and was then adopted by someone who continued to abuse him, but in a way where he was specifically taught to kill the people he cared about to make himself stronger. Making him kill his dog as a final test is a poignant example of the headspace Ward was both forced into and chose to embrace.
For the most part, he did a good job keeping in line with that headspace, feeling legitimately no guilt for betraying the Bus, and not having any issue with sleeping with May under false pretenses of his intentions and allegiances. His temporary bonding to the group and claims toward continued affection for them could just as easily be Hufflepuff as they are a Slytherin who likes them but doesn’t feel any loyalty to them. His pointed focus on Skye in particular seems especially Slytherin.
The place we found evidence to distinguish between the two loyalist Primary houses was when he started bonding to people again. His attachment to Agent 33 is based in a kind of fellow feeling and sympathy that suggests Hufflepuff more than Slytherin– the world had hurt her, like it had hurt him, and he wants to offer her a chance for revenge. More conclusive was his longing to be back not on good terms with individuals on the Bus but to be a part of the community again. He wants to be part of the family, and while he has a special focus on Skye it is more because she was a particular source of kindness and one of the best doorways into the family. Skye is the heart of the Bus in many ways, and winning her would mean winning a place back in the family.
His ease for subterfuge suggests a Slytherin Secondary– Ward rolls with the punches and cycles through presentations easily. He doesn’t prep in advance like a Ravenclaw Primary, or charge like a Gryffindor, or invest in reputation, reliability, or hard work the way a Hufflepuff Secondary might. He reacts and he moves and he takes opportunities when he can get him. In S2, with Agent 33 and with beginning a new HYDRA at the end, he seems to be trying to construct himself a Hufflepuff Secondary with which to build his own team to invest in.
Melinda May, Coulson, and Skye are all Hufflepuff Primaries/Gryffindor Secondaries. Coulson, however, thinks he should be a Gryffindor/Slytherin and often acts accordingly. Melinda May “burned” in Bahrain, now disillusioned with the viability of Hufflepuff’s warmth and dedication to people; after Ward and SHIELD’s fall, Skye is considering following Melinda into that burning disillusionment, but is buoyed up by the new promise of the Inhumans.
Ward, too, is a Hufflepuff Primary, like all of the original Bus members except Fitzsimmons. (There is a reason this team snapped to family so fast, despite some general philosophical differences.) Ward’s Hufflepuff is conflicted and twisted by his past, however, leading to his obsession with Skye, his ability to sacrifice Fitz and Simmons (almost because they were his, rather than despite that), and his unflagging loyalty to Garrett, who was one of his abusers. (The destruction of his original abusers, his parents and family, is possibly what allowed him to then bond more solidly and Puff-like to Agent 33). His ease with manipulation and consistent, capable misinformation suggest a Slytherin Secondary.
Fitz and Simmons share Ravenclaw Secondaries, which was likely one of the joyous bases of their friendship. Simmons, however, is a Ravenclaw Primary where Fitz is a Slytherin. This caused them no problems in their school days, likely because Fitz’s devoted Slytherin was comfortable simply following where Jemma’s Primary led her– onto the Bus and out of the lab, into conflict. However, once placed in a position where Jemma had to realize Fitz valued her above all else, and where Fitz had to realize that Jemma did not share his same prioritization, their easy relationship shattered in the beginning of S2. They have a chance to rebuild if they accept and respect each other’s priorities.
Ah, yes— Sharon and Jemma, each married to their work, who both find nothing so romantic as pressing their sides together as they both pour over tactical surveys and spectrometer readings, scientific journals and field reports brought to bed.
Before Jemma leaves to go undercover, she spends three days wrapped up with Sharon. Sharon gives her tips on being a double-agent and makes her breakfast in bed. Jemma had promised Coulson she would come home, but she doesn’t promise Sharon. They don’t believe in lying about possibilities, not to each other.
When Jemma sits down to interview with the enemy, her spine is straight and her shoulders are calm. She will be as brave as Fitz alone in his lab, as brave as Skye boarding a plane of agents and turning them to friends, as brave as Sharon kissing her on the forehead and letting her go.
But how about we talk Natasha/Skye a little bit? Because doctorcakeray brought up that pairing to me and wow.
Because Natasha just stood high in a doomed building and set every secret SHIELD ever had free, and in her bunk in a lost plane there is a girl who is only now learning to go cold. Skye entered our story bright-eyed— this was about truth, this was about what the people deserved—to know their own story—and this is what about she deserved to know. And Skye is forgetting that— wrapped up in new friends and new dangers, all of Ward’s shit, her father’s loving, terrifying hands.
But Natasha stood high in the Triskelion and made the call Skye had stepped onto the Bus believing in.
Between lessons with May, between watching Jemma watch Fitz, Skye will read through everything Natasha released, classified memo after classified field report. After being in the dark so long, Skye wants to know what’s going on. It’s a practicality, at first; sensibility, even cynicism. But secrets have always been sacred to Skye and making them known has been sacrosanct. Reading through old buried truths will feel like a duty and she will parse through the masses of it, catalogue them and send out synopses to affected families.
And somewhere in there, Skye will remember that where there is a truth there is a truth-teller. Skye humanizes the Bus in so many ways, but this is one: that she puts a face, a heart, a name to everything they do. She will browse the articles that condemn and glorify the Black Widow but mostly condemn. She will read every released file (and some hidden old KGB ones) on Natalia Romanova and to Skye they will not be the story of a killer, but of a young girl with every choice taken from her, who served as best she could and jumped ship as soon as she knew better, on the run now from the very world. Every major government body in the world is keeping an eye out for Black Widow, but none of them are Skye.
The first time a cover Nat thought was burned works for her, Natasha will be suspicious. When the FBI bust a cartel that had a price on her head, she will feel pleased and paranoid.
Skye will kill someone for the first time, at a distance, hands unshaking, and when she gets back to the Bus she will call up the spilled files because she needs to remember there is a reason they do this. She will alert the local authorities to a HYDRA cell that’s narrowing in on Natasha (in Quito, now) and she will try to sleep through the night.
When automated video cameras turn away from her and a newly forged passport shows up in the mail, Natasha will go dark and yank the mysterious identity of her secret admirer out of every contact she still trusts (which is how Skye gets to meet Captain America— but that’s another story).
Coulson’s team is on a mission in the Black Forest when Natasha kidnaps Skye off the back of a SHIELD van, takes her out for coffee and pretzels, and says nothing that sounds like thank you. Skye puts too much sugar in her cup and texts May that she’s breathing, and doesn’t say anything the sounds like you’re my new hero, so that’s probably fair.
Natasha feels inhuman in her waking moments—she is chameleon, she is a mirror, she is a porcelain ballerina, turn-key riveted into her spine. And Skye is the girl who thought she was nothing but a sharp brain and good hair—both of these things that she trained, things she works for. Even her name she chose herself. Skye is constructed, this smiling, desperate ping-pong ball of the foster system, and she is constructed into what she wants to be, where Natasha constructs herself into whatever other people need from her.
But when it comes down to it, Natasha is more human than Skye will ever get to be, and they could both bring each other back to earth. Skye still has a chance for bright eyes, big grins and fearlessness that Natasha will never get back, and that is a precious thing— the way Skye will trust Nat before she should, even after Ward, even after everything.
They both wanted to give truth to people, to fight for others, to be brave. Natasha smirks and sidles, but she saves lives. Skye grins, teases, falls for every victim they meet–but at the end of the day Skye believes she is allowed to fight for herself, too. Natasha might have something to learn from her.
It is years—years of mutual kidnappings and quiet favors, accidentally saving the world and dealing with new powers thrumming in Skye’s veins, shooting lessons and Skye convincing Nat that Coulson would, really, like to see her again—before Natasha asks her, “What do you want me to be?” And when she does, Skye laughs.
“How the hell am I supposed to know?” Skye is remembering how to smile like she means it, and a big part of that is remembering that happiness happens, even after everything. Skye asks, “What do you want to be?”