Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned a corner when it revealed Agent Ward's true allegiances in "Turn, Turn, Turn." And ever since that development, there's been an ongoing discussion in the comments sections of our weekly reviews about the character's similarities to Whedonverse villains like Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Angel/Angelus and Spike, as well as a debate over whether Ward can be redeemed after everything he's done.
Basically, there appear to be two schools of thought regarding Ward's arc as it relates to the world of Buffy, and I'm not sure one is any more correct than the other. But the gist is that on Buffy and eventually Angel, both Angel and Spike served as heroes and villains at different parts in the story. Each character had an interesting arc over the course of the two shows, and viewers saw their good and bad traits. Ultimately, both characters were redeemed in their own way, and the end of Angel left them in viewers' good graces. Of course, whether or not Ward is more similar to Angel or Spike depends on how you view each character, and whether or not you think Ward is redeemable at all, but there are enough parallels between Ward and both Angel and Spike that I do believe Ward's chances of redemption are looking decent in the long run. Let's take a look at the the two arguments, shall we?
Case #1: Ward = Angel/Angelus
Some S.H.I.E.L.D. fans believe that Ward mirrors the Angel/Angelus story because the Agent Grant Ward persona is a lie that conceals his true villainous nature. Of course, that comparison only works if you believe that Angelus was the "real" character, with Angel being the "cover," and that's not a view that all Buffy fans share.
A little backstory for the uninitiated (and shame on you, uninitiated! Buffy's the best!): Angel/Angelus was a vampire who was introduced in Buffy's first season. Angelus was a soulless asshole who was actually cursed with a soul by a gypsy tribe; the soul transformed him into Angel, who was portrayed as hero who suffered from the guilt he felt over all the murdering and terrorizing he'd done as Angelus. That guilt eventually made him want to be a better man, and it put him on the path to redemption. After falling in love with Buffy, he became an ally in her fight against the world's evil forces—until he experienced a moment of true happiness with her (in one of the series' many metaphors, this meant the two had sex). As a result of Angel's newfound happiness, he lost his soul and reverted to Angelus's jerkface nature. Angelus then became the Big Bad of Season 2, and he set about tyrannizing his former friends. Sure, his soul was eventually restored and everyone's pet goldfish were safe once again, but the character's villainous turn reminded viewers (and Angel) that having a soul was a form of punishment him. Angel's complicated nature is why some fans struggled to decide which version of the character—Angel or Angelus—was "true."
For the sake of this argument, I believe Angel was the real man because we knew him as a hero for most of the two show's runs. His soul made him feel human (it did not, however, make him the man he was when he was human—that guy was kind of a lousy tool). Angelus might be his true vampiric form, but the soul kept it in check.
So, how's this relate to Ward? Well there's one glaring problem in comparing Ward to Angel, and that's the question of how souls change people and their actions. It's not really an issue in a world that doesn't involve gypsy curses and vampires. So all we've really got to go on is Ward's own conscience, and even that still isn't entirely applicable. Ward also doesn't care about destroying the world, and there's no way he's Big Bad material, so I'm not sure an Angelus comparison is accurate. He's just a guy who follows Garrett's orders and occasionally feels conflicted because he has feelings for Skye.
Case #2: Ward = Spike
The other faction of fans believes that Ward is more similar to Spike—another soulless vampire—who was first introduced as a villain who was capable of love (or at least a sick, obsessive version of what he believed to be love). While Spike eventually became a sort of ally to the Scoobies, it happened through circumstances he couldn't control, and his allegiance was actually only to himself—he would've joined whichever side would give him the best chance of achieving his desired results.
Spike eventually also fell in love with Buffy, and fought by her side as a result of this love (and because he'd had a chip implanted in his brain that kept him from harming innocent human beings). He eventually went so far as to complete a series of challenges that resulted in having his own soul restored in an effort to prove to Buffy that he was a good man who was worthy of her love. It took several seasons for Spike to make the transition from a villain to the man who eventually sacrificed himself to close the Hellmouth (long story), but Spike was eventually redeemed in the eyes of many fans, and it was ultimately his love for Buffy that made that possible.
In contrast to our early encounters with Spike, Ward was introduced as a hero; it was only later that he was revealed to be a double agent working for Garrett—and by association Hydra. But that means he's always been a villain, which actually puts him closer to Spike than to Angel. The good acts that Ward committed were part of his cover, whereas the acts that Angel committed prior to losing his soul weren't a lie. Angel really was playing for the good guys, even if his only reason for doing so was that he felt guilty for all the bad stuff he'd done as Angelus.
So: Is Ward redeemable, or is his villainy more of a permanent thing?
In short, yes, I think Ward is redeemable. While there's always the question of whether he'll even survive long enough to make this entire discussion valid, if he does, I suspect that once Garrett is taken care of, we might find that Ward is closer to the Spike we knew in Buffy Season 4—a somewhat harmless individual who couldn't hurt innocent people because the U.S. government had planted a chip in his head. Buffy and the Scoobies didn't trust that Spike, but he was useful to them, so they kept him around.
On S.H.I.E.L.D., Ward's love for Skye and his desire to be seen as a good guy in her eyes could perhaps serve the same function as Spike's brain chip or Angel's soul. And by that logic, there's still hope for him. While S.H.I.E.L.D.'s characters and fans won't soon forget the people Ward killed, or the fact he betrayed the trust of Coulson's team (it's not as if fans forgot every heinous act Angel and Spike ever committed), Ward doesn't have to be written out of the series and he doesn't have to remain a villain. He's a ruthless killer, but so were Angel/Angelus and Spike, and both characters eventually found redemption.
In the end, both Angel and Spike were big damn heroes in their own way, eventually slaying dragons and demons and monsters from hell as the Angel series finale cut to black. But their characters' complicated natures were what made them so interesting, adding layers to them as people, so why should Ward be any different? Is Ward only a villain? Sure, it's a possibility, but the road behind him on S.H.I.E.L.D. is littered with references to his feelings for Skye, and if we're going to look toward Angel and Spike as his predecessors, I'd say Ward's love could indeed redeem him, or at least set him on the path to wanting to be redeemed. He's still got a lot of life left in him. There's more to the guy than just his pretty face and his ties to Garrett. But of course, that's only my opinion based on how I've interpreted both Angel and Spike's character arcs, and what hints they might provide with regard to where Ward's headed. What do YOU think?