Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Nothing Personal" Review: The Hard Truth

By Kaitlin Thomas

Apr 30, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E20: "Nothing Personal"

One of the highlights of the back half of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s freshman season has been the way the show has forsaken the long, drawn-out mysteries that hindered story advancement early on, and replaced them with quick set-ups and reveals. Ward's betrayal came out in Episode 17, we saw him work alongside Garrett in Episode 18, Skye discovered his secret in Episode 19, and the rest of the team found out in Episode 20. S.H.I.E.L.D. is wasting no time in unraveling Ward's carefully crafted cover, and that's the best thing that could've happened to the show. But unfortunately, just because the series' focus has shifted in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn't mean those other storylines have just gone away. 

Even if I'd like for the mystery of Coulson's resurrection to fade like a bad dream, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't going to let that happen. Logically speaking, I know that would be a major failure on the show's part to simply drop that particular plot thread, but is it wrong that part of me wishes the writers would take a page out of Glee's book and just forget about it? It's been hanging over our heads for a season, it's the reason we're here, but it's also the least interesting aspect of S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point. The reveal that Coulson himself was involved in Project T.A.H.I.T.I. and ordered it to be shut down because of the problems the test subjects developed isn't enough to make me care. Not when Skye is setting Ward up to be arrested or calling him a Nazi. Not when Fitz is grasping at straws trying to make sense of his world and asking Simmons to tell him she isn't Hydra because he needs her not to be. Not when Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill is back and kicking ass alongside Coulson. 

T.A.H.I.T.I. is the reason Coulson is alive, and it's important to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s overall mythology, but I can't seem to muster up the energy to care. It's why I've zoned out of most of the Coulson-and-May storylines up until now. I appreciate what the series is attempting to do with their relationship, but Ward's betrayal is far more interesting than May's alleged one, and it's lightyears more fun. 

If I have one quibble regarding Ward's storyline this week, it's this: Why did it take him so long to realize Skye was playing him? They say love is blind, but bro, come on. I know she makes you feel things in that black, twisted heart of yours, but really? Skye's always been good at fooling people, but she wasn't really trying that hard to cover up her obvious disdain in the aftermath of discovering Ward's true allegiance.

Tipping off the cops to their location and Ward's status as a wanted fugitive was pretty sneaky, though, and it felt a bit something orchestrated by the Skye we first met in the pilot. Plus, having Ward tell her he was just following orders supports what I've been saying all along: Ward is a pawn, a foot soldier who's not capable of being a Big Bad. And he's disposable, too. Ward feels that he owes his life to Garrett, which is why he follows him so blindly, but Garrett was ready to let him die this week just to get the information on Skye's encrypted hard drive. Deathlok stopped his heart assuming Skye wouldn't be able to let him die despite everything he'd done (or if you look at it another way, because she's not capable of murder), but what if she'd been too late, or what if they'd misgauged Skye's own feelings for Ward? Next week's episode is going to give us a glimpse into Ward's past and why he's loyal to Garrett, but I don't think their relationship is necessarily a two-way street. If something should happen to Ward, Garrett could find someone else to fill that role. It's not personal, it's just a harsh reality of war: When one man falls, there's always another to step up and take his place.

Ward's treachery is affecting everyone differently. Fitz's outrage is particularly notable, because it makes his unwavering faith in Coulson and the team harder to maintain. It also means the short-lived Fitz/Ward bromance is dead, which is all kinds of sad. It's obvious that Fitz has never had many friends—probably just Simmons, actually—and it was pretty rough for him to realize that one of the people he'd come to regard as a pal was a liar. Maria was pissed because she'd vetted Ward and didn't realize he was a traitor. And of course, for Skye it's more than personal. Ward was Skye's superior officer, he trained her to be an agent, and they had special mentor/mentee relationship going on in addition to whatever romantic feelings were perhaps starting to blossom. There's also the lingering knowledge that Garrett ordered Quinn to shoot Skye and that Ward could've played a role in it, or could still harm her. 

Unfortunately, Ward's attempt to explain that he had nothing to do with her shooting because he could never hurt her rang a bit hollow. Even though we know it to be true, I think the fact it didn't feel believable is actually a good thing. We know Skye is his one weakness—and S.H.I.E.L.D. is never going to let us forget that—but no one in Skye's position would ever believe those declarations, not after what she's just been through. Having feelings for someone doesn't automatically erase the horrible things that person has done, and Ward's betrayal is still fresh to Skye, so his insistence that his feelings are genuine means nothing to her at this point. In fact, it is probably only making things worse. But S.H.I.E.L.D.'s laser focus on Ward's feelings for Skye over the past few weeks makes it harder and harder to write off the possibility that those feelings won't eventually be used to put him on some path toward redemption. I continue to waver on whether I want Ward to go out a tragic hero or a villainous traitor, or whether I want the writers to put him on ice for a bit and bring him back later on in Season 2 as some sort of ally working toward gaining their trust. But those are the only options at this point.

"Nothing Personal" saw everyone kept trying to rationalize betraying friendships by saying it's nothing personal, that they were just following orders. But that doesn't make it hurt less, and it certainly doesn't mean all the stuff they've done up until that point is suddenly okay because they were just doing what they were told. I wish the Coulson/May dynamic regarding T.A.H.I.T.I. was more interesting, because it'd be a nice complement to Ward's actual betrayal. And I'm very excited to finally be getting a glimpse into Ward's backstory next week—I've been waiting for this since our first glimpse in "The Well" back in November—so maybe we can finally understand why he's so blind to the fact that Garrett's a giant douche. I'm still not sure how S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to be able to pull off a satisfying conclusion in only two episodes, but the show has managed to keep things moving at an exciting pace for weeks now, so I have hope.


– In a way, Skye's insistence that Mike Peterson is still a good guy is in direct opposition to how she feels about Ward's betrayal. Granted, it's not the same situation—like, at all—but the reason she's so willing to forgive the things Mike's done as Deathlok is that she knows he started out as a good guy, and that he's only been following orders because his kill switch will be engaged if he doesn't. Ward doesn't have a kill switch and has done everything willingly, which makes this an interesting juxtaposition, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the fact Skye is still willing to see the good in Mike, but not Ward. And I think the writers purposefully set things up like that. Of course, Ward killed Koenig and that wound is still fresh. DAMN YOU, WARD.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is setting up a very interesting guest appearance for Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the finale, eh? Coulson has always stood behind Fury, but now that he knows Fury not only didn't shut down T.A.H.I.T.I., but actually used it to bring Coulson back, it's just another item on a long list of things that paint Fury in a bad light. If there's one thing I'm looking forward to coming out of this storyline, it's their confrontation.

– I really, really, really want Cobie Smulders to join the series as a regular in Season 2, assuming there is one (and there will be, especially after the strength of these recent episodes). Maybe it's because I need to see her as Maria to get the foul taste of the How I Met Your Mother finale out of my mouth, or maybe it's because I just genuinely love Maria as a character, but someone make this happen! I know she's working for Tony now, but she'd make a fun addition to the show.

S.H.I.E.L.D. missed the perfect opportunity to bring up Skye's van. Way to go, show.

– The flying car scene went on far too long.

– The show is really under-utilizing Adrian Pasdar, no?

– For future reference, Fitz, I don't think Simmons would have told you if she were Hydra, so that probably wasn't the best way of trying to figure that out, even if it led to a sweet moment.

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  • WildPict May 08, 2014

    I finally got to see the first half of this episode...yay me!!

    I really wish I hadn't watched the 2nd half before the 1st, since now what happened in Ragtag make sense with how Fitz reacted to Skye's message. She was so clever with how she made sure Ward didn't see it, and then she covered up her revulsion, though not as well as she should have. But Ward's overconfidence and his feelings for her blinded him.

    Maria Hill is a complete pragmatist, and is so cool in how she talks about all of the spy agencies as adults, but then compares Congress to kindergarteners. That was so dead on. And watching May and her interact was fascinating. I'd love to watch those two interact a lot more often.

    I loved Skye's reaction to Ward, it was so real...visceral even. And she called him on the whole Nazi thing. Garret's twisted Ward so much, he really doesn't get why him being part of Hydra means that he's following Hitler's jack-booted thugs.

    I so hope Mike gets a chance to save his son and escape Hydra, you can tell how much he really hates what he's doing, except when he nearly killed Ward. I think he really enjoyed that. ;D

  • Sproxar May 05, 2014

    "The flying car scene went on far too long."

    No it didn't. I was waiting for the theme from "Heavy Metal" to start playing from the moment the ramp on the bus started to drop. And for the parking attendant to say "Nice landing man!" But instead he just asked them for 20 bucks. The hair was a good touch though, not to mention the looks on their faces.

  • Pnascimento May 04, 2014

    Is it me or this whole Ward arc has Joss Whedon written all over? I mean, he is the master of redemption stories. Just look at what he's done with Angel, he took Angelus out of Buffy, the vampire slayer and built a whole redemption saga around him. Which makes me believe that Ward will have a long life in Agents of Shield. The hour-long flashback that will tell Ward's origins in the next episode will be the beginning of his redemption, specially given Fitz's desperate attempt to stop him from doing something to the bus. That tells me the team (at least Fitz, considering his reaction to discover the treason) are not ready to give up on him just yet. Of course, this will create some controversy between them and Skye, clearly she thinks Ward has evil imprinted in his genes.
    Talking about Skye the closing of "Nothing Personal" made me think of what will happen to her, given that Coulson (surprisingly the person behind T.A.H.I.T.I) recommended Fury not to use the project's techniques and/or the drugs (originally designed to heal mortally wounded Avengers) on anyone and Simmons used the drug on Skye. Her memories were not altered in any way, so what the drug is going to do to her? Specially given that she is an 0-8-4. What effects will T.A.H.I.T.I have on her?
    In the "wonder what will happen" section I wonder what will happen to Mike "Deathlok" Peterson until the season finale. It is clear that the only way to save his life is to bring Garrett down as it is more than clear the he will be one of his biggest guns in his fight against Coulson. The fact is Garrett made clear that ward is expendable by using him as bait to make Skye crack the HD's encryption, Peterson won't be any different.
    Another important question: is it me or the whole SHIELD/Hydra plot line were reduced to some minor and still misterious plan? I know that the show is just a fragment of a bigger universe, but I can't help feeling that the connection is once again lost. And honestly, this whole mistery around Centipede and Garrett's endgame is getting on my last nerve! I hope I'm not the only one with this feeling. I will be very frustrated if it ends up being just Garrett's delusion, totally disconnected from Hydra.
    Anyway, it's time to Coulson and Garrett to have a little chat. With SHIELD dead and Hydra still alive this season final can't be reduced to a simple matter of Coulson vs Garrett.

  • JasonMelvil May 04, 2014

    As for what's left of the season -
    This show is nothing but cliches so I'm going to take the safe bet that it will end with them as the signs keep popping up.

    Skye's insistance on telling Ward that he is a Nazi makes it even more likely that Garret will have some super cliched mustache twirling plan of world domination or devestaion or whatever and Ward will have to draw the line at that point because he has no idea what he is involved with.

    Ward thinks he and Garret are the closest ever and obviously Garret doesn't think the same (or he wouldn't tell Mike to tase him) so most likely Garret will turn on him and then Ward will drop him.

    Ward will go through redemption, that much is given, the only question is whether he will just die or join the team and go through redemption next season (assuming there is one). Of course in real life he would have been executed on the spot for treason or at the very least spend the rest of his life in jail for being a mass murderer but as this is modern day hollywood where mass murderers and rapists can be considered "good members of society" so long as they say "I'm sorry" and say they are in love with someone then we can count on it on this show too.

    Personally, I doubt Ward will die as let's face it he was called "Agen Handsome" for a reason and this show isn't all that bulked up on its male sex appeal. They could of course bring someone knew, but in most cases they actually bring the new guy first to see if people react to them well before making the switch.

    As for the fate of Mike, why are you assuming it will be resolved by the finale? Considering there are only 2 episodes left and the next one seems to be more of a flashback, it's possible they'll drag it on for next season (again, assuming there is one).

    Obviously they have to stop Garret to a certain point and restore Shield (otherwise the name of the show makes no sense) but Garret might still be around to be next season's villain. Or more likely be a fodder that will be killed by next season's villain (Again, going by the Buffy analogy, he's the annoited one)

  • JasonMelvil May 04, 2014

    Redemption are hardly anything really original of Whedon as almost every single show in existence does them.
    Also, the examples you gave aren't redemption at all. Neither Angel nor Spike ever went through redemption. I realize you aren't the first or the last person to give that example (including the actual reviewer above) but it's simply wrong to use that term.

    Redemption is going through the motions of attempting to seek forgivness or acceptance of your past sins. Neither Angel nor Spike were ever in control of themselves at the time and never really went through it. They didn't try to make amends or come to terms. The reason they started doing good things is because they got their souls back and knew right from wrong. Redemption had nothing to do with it.

    If we're going to stick to those shows, then the one who actually went through redemption was Faith. She did horrible things, she realized she was wrong, she felt sorry, she tried to make amends and get others to forgive her.
    That is an actual redemption arc.

    Willow did the same, although most her journey was off screen between seasons.

    Spike and Angel were simply bad guys turning good.

  • AnoukvdZee May 03, 2014

    I was ready to give up on SHIELD when it turned itself around on the back of the movie. These last episodes have been fast paced and exciting, even though I am unsure if this can be kept up throughout a possible season 2. I can't say it's my favourite show, but I did watch the last three eps in an adrenaline rush and I'm certainly ready for the last two. I like how the group dynamics shifted radically during a crisis (multiple, to be exact), and I would love to see that happen more. I agree that May and Coulson could be a lot more intense than it is now, but I do get them having to make way for Skye and Ward during these eps. I thought the whole Ward showing his emotions for Skye was a bit rushed and manic for my taste, although explainable considering he was a lot less stuck up when he was with Garrett than as his cover at SHIELD. So overall conclusion; great on the action and character spins, but still not up to parr on the emotional depth. With the sidenote that Skye silently freaking out in the bathroom about Ward being Hydra was awesomely done.

  • JasonMelvil May 04, 2014

    I don't get why people say that Ward's feelings for Skye are rushed... It was clear they'll be a couple since episode 1.

    Heck, Loreli even told May that he has feelings but they weren't for her...

  • GhostRider53 May 03, 2014

    I loved the scene where Skye was beating up Ward, he taught her well.
    Coulson being behind T.A.H.I.T.I was surprising and his reaction was great!
    Also, I think the writers are trying to make us think Simmons is HYDRA, but with only two episodes left I doubt she is, and she better not be for Fitz's sake. I have no idea how they are going to end this in two episodes but I'm sooo excited for the next one!! We finally get to find out what's up with Ward, I've been waiting for this since 'The Well' when they supposedly explained his childhood to us but it just left me more confused. I hope it's something really, really good that makes him somehow redeemable because he's going to be hard to forgive with the amount of people he killed and lied to. But I don't want to see him killed off.
    Do you guys know if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is going to get a season 2?

  • JasonMelvil May 04, 2014

    So far there is no official word on whether it gets a second season or not.
    The majority of people are guessing it's likely to be renewed.

    It's possible they are holding on announcing it because of the movie tie in for some reason and might do so after Avengers 2 comes out.

  • GhostRider53 May 05, 2014

    Yeah I hope it's renewed, there are so many things they still need to answer which they can't in only two episodes.
    I can't wait for Avengers 2! It's still like a year until it comes out though...

  • TheFza May 03, 2014

    I wish this show was great, but I really don't know why I watch it aside from the Nerd-tastic aspects of it - Comics, Joss & S.H.I.E.L.D. (which is a badass organization but lets face it, it should have been made into a series in the 70's so we could have seen a swinging Nick Fury running around blowing things up)

    Every time I watch an ep I think, this one will be great, but all I really feel while watching it is: I hope Fitz doesn't blow it with Simmons cause she's awesome, I'm glad Clark Gregg has a job I liked him on West Wing & I really hope they bring back SGU because Ming-Na Wen was way more interesting as Camile (though she was not wearing as sexy an outfit by far) -huff-

    At least it has some pull behind it so it might not get canceled before it does get better... which I believe it could very as it has a lot going for it.

  • JasonMelvil May 04, 2014

    I almost agree with every single word you said, except for me there is absolutely 0 anticipation that there would be anything of intrest on this show.
    It's mostly that I started watching it so I might as well finish it off.

    Coulson is the only one who knows how to act. Ming Na, as you pointed out, is great when she does diplomatic roles like in SGU or Eureaka, but as fighting tough chick? She's terrible. And Ward is the absolute worst. He was terrible as a good guy and terrible as a bad guy. The rest are mediocre at best.

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB May 03, 2014

    Another great episode and I wanna take a ride in Lola

  • eneshi29 May 02, 2014

    ust a thought... since shield no longer exist... next season the new title would be agents of stark... since they would all be working for him if coulson does accept maria's idea... ^^

  • h27kim May 03, 2014

    Agents of Privatized World Security....or something that makes for catchier acronym? :P

  • eneshi29 May 02, 2014

    i'm sorry but cobie smulders will forever be robin for me... it just feels weird for her to be the right hand man of fury in shield...

    saw the preview and does it look like ward will be going good again... please no... him being bad ass was one of the highlights of this season..

  • angelpix24 May 02, 2014

    I don't know but wouldn't it be crazy if Simmons was Hydra? lol

  • stofeu May 04, 2014

    rmember the episode when we learned about Ward, all along Simmons was acting really cryptic, she wasn't the character we usually see & then Ward was revealed to be Hydra & she returned to her normal behaviour, What if there was not one but two Hydra agents in Coulson's team???? the fact that she doesnt't look too affected by Ward's betrayal or even by Fitz's question also raises questions....

  • JasonMelvil May 04, 2014

    She cried... It's hardly said that she wasn't affected.

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