Marvel Television Canonicity, and Two Distinct MCU Realities

Marvel Studios has never (or at least, not for years), neither in or out of universe, really acknowledged Marvel Television content (that is, the Infinity Saga era shows before Disney+) as part of its canon. For all intents and purposes, Marvel Television content is (at least with the exception of Daredevil) not canon to the "MCU proper".

The reverse, however, is not true. The Infinity Saga is completely canon to the Agents of SHIELD, with loads of references and crossovers, even if the movies did not reciprocate these connections. Events and elements from the films were also referenced in the Defenders Saga. And while Inhumans, Cloak & Dagger, and Runaways shared no connection with the films, they did share connections with the greater Marvel Television universe. Even Helstrom would've linked back to Agents of SHIELD through the cancelled Ghost Rider show (a cancellation that still devastates me).

So in short, while the Marvel Television side may not be canon to the Marvel Studios side, the Marvel Studios side (or the Infinity Saga, at any rate) is canon to the Marvel Television side.

And it is this latter canon that I adhere to. The Marvel Television shows will always be canon in my heart, even if they are by and large disregarded by Marvel Studios.

Agents of SHIELD in particular holds a special place in both my heart and my idea of the Infinity-era MCU as a whole. (Really, I think of the Marvel Television shows as the Infinity Saga shows, and the Disney+ shows as the Multiverse Saga shows.) In fact, in my view, while the Avengers saga is the face of the Infinity Saga, Agents of SHIELD is its secret heart.

But as more and more elements from Marvel Television are rebooted for the MCU proper, and more and more concepts are introduced and reintroduced without necessarily any regard for earlier Marvel Television canon, the potential for contradiction can only grow. I fear one must ask, how long until the Multiverse Saga renders the Marvel Television continuity irreconcilably incompatible with the MCU proper?

Some inconsistencies already exist that require fan-inferred explanations to reconcile:

  • A redesigned Darkhold: is there more than one copy on the Sacred Timeline? Or can the magic book change its shape?

  • How can Agents of SHIELD and Runaways' alternate futures exist if the TVA prunes everything but the Sacred Timeline? Perhaps the TVA sometimes allows alternate timelines to exist, for as long as they are necessary for time-travel arcs that occur on the Sacred Timeline – and as soon as characters travel back to the Sacred Timeline from these alternate futures, those timelines are pruned?

  • How come no one in Agents of SHIELD season 6 and 7, Runaways season 3.B, or Helstrom ever mentions the Snap or remarks on its consequences? (Granted, this break in continuity predates the Multiverse Saga.) Now of course it's possible characters spoke of it off-screen, but the real reason is that Marvel Studios kept the plot of Endgame (and the end of Infinity War) secret from even Marvel Television, due to the two effectively operating as separate entities at the time. It's sometimes cited as the moment the Marvel Television side stopped being canon. Is it simply a matter of accepting that we aren't shown every conversation, remark, or revelation on-screen? We'd also of course have to assume that not a single character in the latters arcs of Agents or Runaways got snapped.

It's certainly possible, even probable, that more inconsistencies will pile up, further widening the gap between Marvel Television canon and that of Marvel Studios.

There is one way I've thought of a lot, that could reconcile the two sides of the universe for good: assume that the Infinity Saga (+ Marvel Television) and the Multiverse Saga (+ the Infinity Saga) are in two distinct parallel realities, and the crossover point is the Time Heist during Endgame.

Of course, it's easier to assume that the Infinity Saga that's part of Marvel Television canon has always been a seperate reality to the Infinity Saga that leads into the Multiverse Saga, but I perfer the hypothesis of a divergence in the timeline.

I've posted before about the difference in the Multiverse before and after Endgame and Loki (which spins off from Endgame outside of time and therefore happens instantaneously from the perspective of the timelines). Up to Endgame's Time Heist, everything we've seen in the MCU is on the Sacred Timeline, but when Loki gets away with the Tesseract the continuity changes, and when the Avengers appear back in the present they are no longer on the "Sacred Timeline", but on a new branch called "Universe 616" (or "Earth Dimension-616"), which are in this interpretation two seperate, but parallel realities (though I didn't name them accordingly in the post).

Now, this change entailed not just a divergence in the timeline, but a change in the entire Multiverse throughout time: a transition from one Sacred Timeline, to an infinite Multiverse Tree. This could perhaps hypothetically have produced linear changes on the existing timeline as well:

  • A Kang variant is banished to the Quantum Realm, where he meets Janet van Dyne – it could be that, on the Sacred Timeline, Janet never met such a thing as a Kang, which tracks with there being no Kang variants but He Who Remains at the time.

  • Another Kang variant ends up in the 1800's as a child, and grows up to become Victor Timely (unless Victor Timely actually did become He Who Remains on the Sacred Timeline, though that contradicts his 31st Century origin).

And perhaps, the events and elements of the Marvel Television continuity are also reset to mostly not have happened, or existed in different ways. The same characters may even now have different stories and even faces (actors), in this new reality. I don't want to invoke such a reset to explain contradictions, but I am willing to if the contradictions become too extreme.

So perhaps, the MCU has really already experienced a soft reboot of sorts.

That's just how I choose to look at it all, completely subjectively, without pretending that my views have any factual basis. And I will keep this headcanon (or whichever version fits best with the continuity unfolding before us).

And just to be clear, I'm not here to argue.



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