If "Ragtag" were anything but the penultimate episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s freshman season, I think it would have worked better than it ultimately did. Don't get me wrong, the episode was fun, it had its moments, and it nicely set us up for an action-packed season finale by leaving every single one of our heroes' lives in the balance, but after a string of exciting, adrenaline-pumping episodes like the ones we've had since "Turn, Turn, Turn," I can't help but feel a bit let down by "Ragtag." The discovery that Garrett was Patient 0 for the Deathlok program was a cool surprise because it connected two different storylines, and the flashbacks to various points throughout Ward's relationship with Garrett were necessary for us to understand Ward's current motivations, but the result of the flashbacks was a slowdown of the action in the present. They also didn't offer us any real insight; they just confirmed what we already suspected/knew. On a certain level it's forgivable to meter the show's momentum a bit—this is the calm before the storm—but holy sh*t, Ward's backstory was stupid, guys.
Ward has held the title of "S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most interesting character" for the last four episodes, and that's why the flashbacks were so frustrating to me. They didn't enhance this new side of the character, they simply masqueraded as an explanation for his loyalty to Garrett. Flashbacks are supposed to help us understand what's happening in the present, but I didn't see a single thing that I couldn't have figured out on my own, or that made me better comprehend his motivations. The way Ward was talking a few episodes ago, it sounded like there was a specific incident that made him feel indebted to Garrett—so much so that he'd become a ruthless killer. And there was an incident, but it didn't feel all that life-or-death, to be honest.
Fifteen years ago, Ward attempted to burn down his childhood home while his jerk of a brother was still inside it, and Garrett broke him out of juvie with the promise of a new life. And then Garrett pretended to bond with Ward before dropping him off in the middle of nowhere to fend for himself for six months. This was Garrett's misguided attempt to teach Ward survival skills, but at some point you have to look at the situation logically. If a relative stranger promised to show you the world and then abandoned you in the middle of nowhere and told you they'd be back in a few months to check on you, would you actually stay there? No, you would not. You would curse the heavens and hike back to civilization because you're a sane human being.
We're asked to suspend disbelief quite often on TV, but I draw the line at characters acting like idiots. It's true, plenty of people do stupid things in real life, but Ward has proven that he's not stupid. And he wasn't stupid when Garrett found him, either. His troubled and complicated upbringing didn't necessarily give him the luxury of viewing the world the same way many of us do, but knowing that he lived in the woods for six months because some random guy in a turtleneck told him to makes me want to slap him in the face. He was desperate for a father figure, but someone who abandons you, mocks you, and treats you like crap should not be that father figure, even if he seems better than your real father. Garrett is the reason Ward joined S.H.I.E.L.D., but by that point Garrett was already affiliated with Hydra. The only thing Garrett did for Ward was take a troubled kid and warp his mind into an even more jumbled mess. Ward doesn't understand what it's like to be a normal human being. His time in the woods taught him how to survive—he stole from nearby cabins and taught himself how to hunt and fish—but when Garrett returned after six months with the promise of tacos, Ward was like, "I am still mad at you, but I also love tacos." Guys, there were no tacos. Garrett lied about having brought tacos, and not only is lying about tacos punishable by death in at least 36 countries, it's basically a metaphor for their entire relationship.
Garrett promised to make Ward's life better, but the last time I checked, being a murderer is a step down from being an almost murderer. He didn't care if Ward lived or died out there in those woods, and he didn't care if Ward died last week when he ordered Deathlok to stop Ward's heart to persuade Skye to decrypt the hard drive. Ward was pissed off about that this week, but he still rushed to Garrett's side to fix his mechanical bits—which were necessary because S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't rescue him a bunch of years ago after he was injured on a mission. Garrett basically joined Hydra because S.H.I.E.L.D. left him to die. I get that, but it also feels like a flimsy excuse.
However, it does explain why Garrett doesn't really give a damn about Hydra or its mission. His priority has always been himself, and he'll lie and cheat and do whatever he has to do to get what he wants, and Ward can't seem to see that. Ward still thinks showing emotions and having friends is a sign of weakness, because it's what Garrett told him 15 years ago. He was hesitant when Garrett gave the order to kill Fitz and Simmons this week, and he admitted he cared for them, but he still dropped their airtight container into the ocean because he didn't want to appear weak. But the fact that he can't see having friends as a good thing—especially a friend like Fitz, who's so trusting and willing to believe Ward can be saved—means he is weak, just not for the reasons he thinks. He's got a weakness for Garrett and for Skye and I'd bet all the tacos in the world that both of those are going to come into play next week in the finale.
I should be concerned for Fitz and Simmson' safety—and I guess I am—but I'm also fairly certain Tripplet will use his grandfather's quarter walkie-talkie whatever to find them. It was flashed about in the scene when Fitz used the EMP that fried Garrett's mechanical bits, so you better believe it's coming back. Do we think either of them will actually die? Because my money is on no. (Am I in denial?)
On that same note, I should be concerned about Coulson, May, Skye, and Tripplet facing off against some super soldiers, but I'm... not? I guess I'm not a fan of these types of cliffhangers because they don't really pack a punch. It's just a "sit on your hands a wait" kind of situation.
I'm much more interested in the fact that Garrett now has the same miracle goo inside him that saved both Coulson and Skye. To be honest, I thought Raina was a sneaky liar and the serum was going to kill him—that woman is not trustworthy (and I love it)—but I suppose that would have been the wimpiest ending to a villain ever. "I was slowly dying but now I'm dying much faster." So it should be exciting to see what this will do to him and what kind of Garrett we will see in the finale. I'm also fond of the growing threat of super soldiers, though without the serum, I worry the writers are going to pull a "Skye's blood is the answer!" storyline—though I might just be watching too much of The Vampire Diaries.
And speaking of Skye, what, if anything, will we'll learn about her monstrous parents next week? S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't done much with the mystery of Skye's origins since she was shot, which was probably for the best, but the finale feels like the perfect time to bring that storyline back.
I know it might sound like I disliked "Ragtag," but I didn't. At least not as a whole. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit for what it was, which was a set-up episode for the season finale. I just feel like S.H.I.E.L.D. could have A) come up with a better backstory for Ward and his actions, or B) left it out all together. The penultimate episode feels like the perfect time to explain the villain's reasons for being bad, but only when they're, you know, interesting.
– Everything is connected to Cybertek and I understand the show had a reason for the mission that took up a bit of the episode, but it still felt a bit out of place for some reason. It's not because it wasn't fun—it totally was—but it just felt... disconnected?
– Ward may or may not have killed a dog. I'm very concerned about this, because ANIMAL LOVER AND ALL, but during that entire scene, all I could think about was this week's Veep, where Dan told Selina he killed a dog. And now in my head Dan and Ward are the same person. Actually, Reid Scott would make a good brother for Brett Dalton. ABC casting, please send my check to email@example.com.
– I kind of hope May kicks Ward in the balls in the finale. She's earned it, right? (That was a nice scene between May and Skye, too.)
– I work for a secret organization inside a secret organization. By the way, have you heard of it? IT WOULDN'T BE A VERY GOOD SECRET ORGANIZATION IF HE HAD, GARRETT.
– "Looks like the joke's on you!" Good one, Fitz.
– "I'm waiting for what's inside to be revealed."