It’s the penultimate episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and we’re getting more insight on Garrett’s (Bill Paxton) plans and motivations.
Let’s bitch it out…
The second last episode of the season finds S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s attention divided between its titular agents and those working for Hydra. SHIELD (let’s just agree to continue calling them that for the sake of continuity) are playing catch-up in the wake of last week’s Bus-hijacking, desperately looking for an opportunity to access a Hydra computer to activate Skye’s (Chloe Bennett) trojan horse program. It continues the idea that Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team are the underdogs, reduced to using Agent Triplett’s (BJ Britt) grandfather’s outdated Howling Commanders spy-gear. In one of the more amusing bits in the episode, Coulson and May (Ming-Na Wen) impersonate SHIELD scientists to access the DoD’s mainframe, only to discover that the organization is so old-fashioned and paranoid that all of their records are on hard copy. No problem: that’ll be one filing cabinet to go, out a fourth story window (never mind that that sucker should have exploded all over the place).
Inside the files, the team discovers that Garrett was Patient Zero for the Deathlok program, which rejigs the narrative slightly. This means that Garrett isn’t interested in an army of super soldiers. As Raina (Ruth Negga) dismissively states, he’s only afraid of death – the super soldiers are just a bonus economic windfall (which is why it’s naturally being negotiated by David Conrad’s corrupt businessman, Ian Quinn, in Washington). While this doesn’t change the fact that Coulson and co. need to track Garrett down and stop him, it does make Garrett’s actions much more personal.
The revelation that this is a personal quest for Garrett makes sense in an episode that dedicates a substantial amount of time to his back story with Ward (Brett Dalton). In recurring flashbacks we see their relationship unfold: from the initial meeting in juvie after Ward tried to kill his older brother by burning down the family home to Ward’s upbringing in the woods where he learned to stop “blaming other people” for his weakness and rely on himself. In reality what Ward was doing was transferring his family issues onto Garrett, who became a defacto father figure. Unfortunately, as we anticipated from recent episodes, Garrett is manipulative and abusive; in flashbacks we see him leave Ward to fend for himself in the woods for years on end. He only eventually collects Ward so that he can join SHIELD in order to further Garrett’s agenda.
In one of the more controversial scenes, Garrett orders Ward to kill his beloved dog, Buddy. Initially it seems as though Ward won’t follow through – he shoots the dog to scare it off. Clearly we’re meant to believe that Ward isn’t all bad, that underneath the killer Garrett created, Ward can still form attachments. In the end, however, the writers pull a bait-and-switch on us by having Ward turn around and actually kill Buddy.
This scene exists solely to comment on Fitz’s (Iain De Caestecker) refusal to believe that Ward is bad. He stubbornly tells Skye and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) that Ward isn’t evil; he’s just being controlled like Deathlok (J. August Richards). Everyone thinks that Fitz is in denial, even May (she explains that it’s the only way Fitz can process), but the truth is that Fitz is partially correct. The flashbacks confirm that Ward was an impressionable young boy when Garrett moulded him into the order-following soldier he is today. But Fitz is also wrong. Ward may not be evil, but he’s still a bad guy, who will do bad things when ordered to because he can only see attachments as weaknesses. That is the take-away message from Buddy’s death: the writers are telling us point-blank that we need to stop expecting Ward to be redeemed. We may spend the episode judging Fitz for being foolish, but Buddy’s death reveals that we have been just like Fitz all along. We keep expecting Ward to come back, but in reality he’s already dumped us out of the plane and into the ocean.
- Raina has become the most interesting character on the show for me. She’s intelligent and quick on the uptake, but also strangely quirky. Initially I thought her fascination with “special” people was just a gimmick to lure in Centipede candidates, but it appears she has a genuine interest in the unconventional (hence her disappointment with Garrett). I was genuinely surprised that she saved Garrett’s life with the reformulated green “Jesus Juice” serum; I could have just as easily seen her allowing Garrett to die and take control of the mission.
- While some stuff is mallet-over-the-head obvious (what the dog symbolizes), I found Mike Petersen’s conversation with Raina really unexpected. His confrontation about her motivations felt genuine, and her response – that she is just following orders – echos both Ward’s dilemma and ties into the Nazi-history of Hydra that Skye raised last week, wherein scientists claimed they were forced to follow orders when they were committing atrocities against innocent people.
- Not sure what to take away from Skye’s revised origin story that Raina tells Ward (ie: Skye’s parents were the monsters who destroyed the town). We already knew most of this, so it’s not exactly new. What concerns me is the use of the word “monsters”, which threatens to take this story into far more fantastical places than we’ve been. Plus I just don’t know that I care enough about Skye’s mysterious 0-8-4 status.
- Finally, kudos for the ABC marketing team for keeping Fitz and Simmons out of the preview for the season finale. I have no doubts that the two lab geeks will be saved, but at least it’s not the network’s own marketing team that spoils the fact.
- May (after Fitz sets the curtains on finger): “Watch out Hydra. Here we come.”
- May (to Coulson, about their disguises): “Does your sweater itch?”
What did you think of the penultimate episode of the season? Did you expect Buddy to die? Have you – like Fitz – been holding onto the idea that Ward will be redeemed? Would you want to be on the receiving end of May “hate-fu”? Were you adorably smitten by Coulson and May’s geek impersonations on the mission? And should Raina became the ultimate Hydra villain? Sound off below.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs its season finale next Wednesday at 8pm EST on ABC.