Presenting OTP Tuesday! Each Tuesday I will introduce you to a new One True Pairing! Tune in each week to find out which fictional couple you need to agonize/squee over next. I finally finished Agents of SHIELD, so sorry, not sorry I’m going to be gushing about it for awhile. Today we can finally talk Philinda!
Who Are Philinda?
Philinda is the ship name given to Phil Coulson and Melinda May from Agents of SHIELD.
Phil Coulson is one of the pillars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though he may not seem like it. Coulson first appeared as a secondary character in Iron Man and had a presence through most of Phase 1. He was an agent of SHIELD and trusted ally of Nick Fury, working together to form the Avengers. Coulson was originally intended to be a throwaway character but proved popular with fans, so he stuck around.
In The Avengers, Joss Whedon killed off Coulson, whose death was used as a catalyst to unite the Avengers. However, fan uproar was such that Whedon reluctantly not only brought Coulson back to life but gave him his own property: Agents of SHIELD. The first season of AoS showed Coulson getting back on his feet after the battle of New York and forming his own team.
When SHIELD fell to Hydra, Coulson and his team rebooted SHIELD. Coulson was named the new director by Fury. It was not smooth sailing, however. Coulson was suffering some psychosis as the result of his resurrection, which was accomplished using Kree biology. With the help of his team, who were quickly becoming family, Coulson managed.
Coulson has remained the backbone of SHIELD. In the “Real SHIELD” arc, Coulson faced backlash for his unilateral assumption of power. However, his team remained fiercely loyal to him. Coulson agreed to work with the rival SHIELD group, but when their leader died, he took control of SHIELD once again.
In the Ghost Rider/Framework arcs, Coulson made a deal with the Rider to defeat AIDA. Unfortunately, this destroyed the regenerative properties of the Kree biology. Coulson was dying, again. Though his team fought fiercely to save him, Coulson made the call to die in peace, and retired from SHIELD.
Melinda May first appeared in Agents of SHIELD. She was an agent working in administration, who Coulson recruited for his team. From the start, May was an interesting and mysterious character. She refused combat work but was definitely skilled. Conversations hinted at a dark past. Her nickname was the Cavalry — and she hated it.
Over time, we learned more about Agent May. She was the former partner of Coulson and a highly skilled specialist before a job went wrong. In Bahrain, May was forced to make a tough call when an Inhuman controlled SHIELD agents. May was appalled to learn that the Inhuman was actually a little girl. She made the tough call to kill the little girl and saved the day.
Bahrain haunted May for years, though. She left the field, instead of doing administrative work. Her marriage dissolved as she could not move past her guilt. She left her partnership with Coulson. However, when Fury approached her to keep an eye on Coulson, May couldn’t refuse.
May formed the SHIELD team to manage Coulson but ended up bonding with her unexpected family. She was also able to work through the lingering trauma of Bahrain with the help of Coulson and their team. Although May never returned to the more carefree person she was, she was able to regain some happiness in her life.
Of course, that life remained difficult. In her time with SHIELD, May suffered a lot. She was the first person to put into the Framework, kidnapped by Dr. Radcliffe. After escaping the Framework, May suffered a great injury in the transportation to the Lighthouse. She was later captured by the Kree and forced to fight, gladiator-style. Perhaps it is no surprise that May chose to retire with Coulson — SHIELD had taken enough of her life.
Why is Philinda OTP?
Oh, man. I have been waiting a long time for this one. Philinda is probably second only to FitzSimmons (stay tuned) in terms of my undying love for this relationship. And after waiting a long time, it finally happened!
Philinda may not be as showy as some of the other relationships seen in Agents of SHIELD, but it is by no means less compelling. These two characters truly know and love each other, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
Look, I love a good whirlwind romance as much as the next person. I mean, I ship QuakeRider, and they appeared in a grand total of nine episodes together. Fast and furious probably isn’t a good recipe for a relationship in real life, but in fiction, it’s a ton of fun to watch. But there’s something truly delightful about a good slow burn.
A slow burn makes you work for it. You have to be really dedicated to not give up on a ship after several seasons of tantalizing hints but no action. Slow burns try your patience, so they better be worth the wait. In the end, a slow burn is only as good as the tension built and the payoff granted.
Philinda is worth the wait. It’s been a long wait for fans. From the start, Philinda has seemed like providence. There’s a genuine connection between Coulson and May that is touching. They mesh together so well, so it’s natural that fans want to see them come together. Plus, if anyone deserves happiness, it’s Coulson and May.
Yet the writers made us wait for five. whole. seasons. There were moments, of course, where it seemed like we were close. I mean, we did get a kiss halfway through season 4… with a fake May. AoS is great at shutting down their ships, so it makes sense that we had to wait so long for Philinda. But seeing them come together is all the sweeter for the wait.
And if we think our wait is bad, think about the characters! Coulson and May had been partners for some thirtyish years. It took them that long to get their acts together. A lifelong partnership is a fantastic foundation for a relationship. If they took awhile, well, it’s worth it.
Mom and Dad
Another reason that Philinda works is that of the family dynamic in AoS. They started out as a team of disparate individuals but became a family over the course of the show. And the foundations of that family are mom and dad… Coulson and May.
Coulson is the obvious dad of the family. He’s taken on that role in fandom perception since day one. He’s the dorky dad, with the convertible, weird collections, and awkward persona. It’s even made very clear how Coulson considers himself a father to Daisy Johnson, at least. His relationship with the other “bus kids” — Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz — is also paternal, if not explicitly stated as such. I mean, Coulson walks Fitz down the aisle at his wedding.
May’s role as team mom was more subtle. May’s heartbreak in Bahrain is made all the greater because she was working on starting a family. After being forced to kill a child, she gives up on that dream. How could she possibly be a mom, after what she did? Add in that her marriage dissolved, and it’s easy to see why May is later astonished to hear someone consider her a mom.
But Coulson’s warmth and the bus kids’ enthusiasm slowly wears May down. Daisy makes the biggest break. May agrees to be Daisy’s superior officer as she becomes an agent, and they form a relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and some caring. Over time, May becomes as much Daisy’s mom as Coulson is her dad.
“Mom” and “dad” Philinda is one of the best things about the ship. The team as a family is one of the most compelling parts of AoS. These people have been through so much together, and have managed to survive by sticking together, thanks to Mom and Dad.
What’s Next for Philinda?
Again, so much is up in the air. We have almost no information about season 6 of Agents of SHIELD. We don’t even know which cast members are returning, so it’s hard to tell. As it is, things aren’t looking great for Philinda.
Halfway through season 5, it’s revealed that Coulson is dying (again). His previous resurrection through Kree biology was undone by his deal with the Ghost Rider. Now, he is dying all over again — slowly, this time — from his wound from the battle of New York. Although his team argues that they should save him, Coulson argues that he deserves to be allowed to die in peace.
So, at the end of season 5, that’s where we are. The team came up with a way to save him, but he turned them down. He chooses to end his life on his terms. He “retires,” going to Tahiti to live out the last days or weeks of his life. Thankfully, May is by his side. So, at the end of season 5, they are at least together. It just remains to be seen how long they will be together.
Season 6 will bring a lot of reveals: how the team dealt with Thanos’ snap, if they found frozen Fitz, if Deke still exists, etc. It will also reveal if Coulson is still alive. Given the uproar the last time they killed him, I have some hope. If he does survive, one thing is for sure: May will be with him, all the way.
Is Philinda Canon?
Yes! After years of a slow burn, Coulson and May finally get their act together. Partly, this is a natural progression. While May is not aware, having been replaced by a lifelike android decoy, “she” and Coulson had taken some steps forward in season 4. They had mutually agreed to address the unspoken thing between them and see where it went. They had even shared a kiss, right before “May” was revealed to be an android.
Of course, that wasn’t actually May, so those steps forward don’t really count. She has no memory of those things happening, and Coulson isn’t about to tell her he kissed a fake robot version of her. Things take a step back in season 5. However, when Coulson reveals he is dying, May cannot stay quiet any longer. She tells Coulson she loves him, in a fit of anger, of course. It takes Coulson some time to respond, but he later kisses May, in battle, of course.
While they never (on screen, at least) have a long conversation about their relationship, the end of the season sees them (metaphorically) ride off into the sunset together. Maybe words aren’t needed after nearly a lifetime at each others’ sides. But they are finally — after that nearly a lifetime together — taking that next step forward as a couple.
Hopefully, season 6 gives us more Philinda goodness. We’ve invested a lot in this relationship, so we deserve to see some sort of happy ending. If Coulson dies off camera, fans may riot. So, fingers crossed that season 6 gives us everything we want — especially Philinda.