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