Marvel's 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' will return from the "Shadows" for a second season tonight, the first of which to not have a major Marvel movie hanging over its head, absorbing plot from its small-screen brethren. The 'Avengers'-adjacent drama came with some lofty expectations in its inaugural season, but with lessons learned, we took a comprehensive look at the pitfalls, the possibilities, the perils and the promise of Marvel's 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' season 2.

New Recruits

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Lucy Lawless
Marvel / ABC

Any new season of TV is bound to bring about some unfamiliar faces, and ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 2 is no exception. On the good guy side, we have ‘Xena’ herself, Lucy Lawless, in the role of former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Isabelle Hartley, whom a few fans of the comic have connected to a relationship with the late Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows). Whether or not Marvel and ABC’s incarnation intends to follow that thread remains to be seen, but we do know that Isabelle will arrive as one of Coulson’s most trusted to help lead the new S.H.I.E.L.D. Oh, and did we mention the giant knife she carries around everywhere?

Additionally, we’ve also got Nick Blood as S.T.R.I.K.E. comic book character Lance Hunter (not to be confused with the "STRIKE" team of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’), who appears to be taking up a semi-permanent residence on Coulson’s new team. Intel suggests that ‘Agents’' Hunter operates more as a mercenary for the highest bidder, so we wouldn’t be surprised if a bit of conflicted loyalty comes into play down the line.

A bit later on in the season, we’ll have ‘Friday Night Lights’ (and ‘Wonder Woman!’) star Adrianne Palicki as Barbara “Bobbi” Morse, better known as Marvel’s West Coast ‘Avenger,’ Mockingbird. We don’t yet know how she’ll figure into the team, or if she'll maintains her comic book connection to Hawkeye, but consider this a step up from last season’s “Deathlok” inclusion.

Oh, and then there’s Mac, played by Henry Simmons. He’s a mechanic.

More Marvel-ous Villains

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Villains
Marvel / ABC

Right off the bat, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will deliver our MCU incarnation of ‘Hulk’ and ‘Thor’ villain Carl “Crusher” Creel (Brian Patrick Wade), better known as the Absorbing Man. Creel will menace the team (as well as Adrian Pasdar’s Glenn Talbot) for at least a few episodes, but how impressively his powers will be realized on a TV budget remains to be seen. If nothing else, consider the character a sign that season 2 will have more willingness to delve into Marvel’s name villains, or at least those currently going unused by the ‘Hulk’ franchise.

Of course, we're still holdin’ out for Ty Burrell's return as Doc Sampson, and Tim Blake Nelson as the Leader! Or, hey, how about some more ‘Iron Man’ villains, now that a fourth installment is out of the question?

 A Little Less Mystery, Please

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Mystery
Marvel / ABC

For as much as fans wanted to know the truth behind why #CoulsonLives, few would argue that the mystery aspects behind ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 1 dragged on a bit too long. Sure, producers threw a curve to avoid the Life Model Decoy or clone theories, but thus far the explanation of Phil’s alien revival hasn’t amounted to very much, nor has Skye’s background as an “0-8-4.” Now that we know ‘Twin Peaks’ star Kyle MacLachlan (Agent Cooper, reporting for duty!) has come on board as Skye’s mysteriously gooey father, we’re expecting the answers to come a bit earlier on in season 2.

Not to mention, with no major movie upsets to the Marvel universe due until ‘Avengers 2,’ ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ won’t have any secret Hydra revelations choking the life out of its narrative. On that note…

Less Movie Crossover

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Crossover
Marvel / ABC

The secret twists and turns of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ not withstanding, it was difficult not to feel as if ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ played waiting games until ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and Cap’s big-screen outing brought some much-needed excitement. The former’s case only saw Coulson and his team literally picking up the pieces, despite a few Asgardian stories (and characters) popping up across the season.

Only having ‘Age of Ultron’ on the horizon may seem like a lost opportunity for the ABC series, but allow us to suggest that the ‘Agents’ needn’t necessarily tiptoe around any movies or deny themselves plot until the ‘Avengers’ have had their fill. At the very least, it might even make prospects for an ‘Avenger’ appearance more plausible, should Marvel want to build anticipation or utilize some of the actors in their off time.

Maybe. Mayyyyyyybbbbbeeeee.

 'Agent Carter' Setup

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Carter
Marvel / ABC

Right out of the gate, the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 2 premiere, “Shadows,” will treat us to a flashback of Peggy’s days with the Howling Commandos, dovetailing with Coulson’s efforts to rebuild the fractured intelligence agency. We wouldn’t expect many more glimpses into Agent Carter’s past, what with her own series landing on ABC during the midseason hiatus, but ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ season 2 would do well to look introspectively into the organization’s history, given how often its future seems under cinematic lock and key.

If nothing else, season 2 will give us some great insight into how Peggy Carter will topline her own series, which itself may have slim pickins’ when it comes to incorporating any major Marvel names.

 The Unguarded Galaxy

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Aliens
Marvel / ABC

The writing is literally on the wall. ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ didn’t out and out say that Coulson’s blue benefactor was a Kree, the Marvel alien race prominently featured in this summer’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (note the symbol on his chest matches Ronan's armor), but now that both Coulson and Skye have been shot up with formula-writing alien super-juice, there’s no way season 2 will ignore the extraterrestrial around them.

We’ve no idea what brought the original corpse to Earth, but between Coulson’s best blue buddy and the fact that we know Yondu and his alien cohorts to have visited Earth as early as 1988, we have to imagine ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ to incorporate at least one alien encounter before the season is out. Besides, with all the otherworldly fervor for ‘Guardians’ the summer wrought, wouldn’t Marvel be wise to capitalize on a bit of tie-in, however small?

 Returning Characters

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Deathlok
Marvel / ABC

Say what you will about the minor Marvels of the first season, but ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ at least established a number of characters in its inaugural run we’re sure to see return before long. Dylan Minnette’s return as cryokinetic Donnie Gill (better known to comic fans as the villainous Blizzard) has already been confirmed for episode 3, while an eventual reappearance of J. August Richards’ Deathlok seems all but inevitable. Not to mention, there exists a number of other season 1 characters we’d be glad to see again, both villainous and otherwise. Budgets might get a little tight, but why not check in on Ian Hart’s Franklin Hall, see what he’s up to in his little ball of Gravitons and graveolis?

 Major Movie Cameos

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Preview Expectations Cameos

Ah, the holy grail. Excellent appearances from Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury aside, the first season taught us to temper our expectations for major movie characters popping in to say hello. That said, the intervening year gave us three movies’ worth of major Marvel characters who’d fit right into an ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode, and all of whom otherwise wouldn’t be afforded screen time until May 2015, at the earliest.

Let’s forget about the actual ‘Avengers’ for the time being, and think smaller. Might it finally be time to let Pepper Potts in on Coulson’s revival, or perhaps check in with ABC alum Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier? How about current ABC stars Karen Gillan and Emily VanCamp, for a peak at Nebula and Sharon Carter’s new gigs? Can we meet Thomas Kretschmann’s Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker once more before the ‘Age of Ultron’? Will somebody, for the love of Thanos, please check on the Galaga guy?

All in all, 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' may have lowered expectations for its second season run, but it still has plenty to prove without any major Marvel movies cramping its style. We've seen tonight's premiere, and wound up pleasantly surprised by how strongly "Shadows" carried momentum from the latter half of season 1, but what say you? Get caught up on the first season below, check out the latest trailer again above, and tell us what you want to see from Marvel's 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' season 2, premiering tonight on ABC in its new 9:00 p.m. timeslot!