After giving us a peek behind the evil curtain last week, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pulled back just a bit in "The Only Light in the Darkness" so it could focus more on the emotions swirling around Coulson and his team in the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s dismantling, May's lies being exposed, and Hydra leaving the Fridge door open, so to speak. It should come as no surprise that the more interesting half of the episode dealt with Ward's ongoing treachery and his appearance at the secret bunker, but Coulson's trip to Portland to save Amy Acker's cellist from the villainous Blackout gave us a nice glimpse at how hard this life has become, not just for Coulson, but for his whole team.
The world is changing around these characters, and it's easy to focus on big shocking moments like Ward's betrayal, because they're the flashier developments, but that's not all that's going on here. Over the course of this first season Simmons has gradually evolved as a character, and ever since she saved Skye using the alien substance found in the Guest House, she's felt like a stronger, more confident character, even questioning Coulson's orders and going behind his back in the name of science. Once the Hydra bomb was dropped in "Turn, Turn, Turn", though, her eyes were opened to the harsh reality of the world outside her lab, and her faith in S.H.I.E.L.D.—an organization that's been a huge presence in her life—was shaken. She's not sure why she's still working with Coulson and the team. Even her relationship with Fitz, a person who's been her constant companion for years, begun to change as she questioned what she knew.
For most of the series Fitz and Simmons have been played like siblings, characters with a deep bond who care very strongly about each other, but it's become increasingly clear in in the wake of recent events that Fitz's feelings go beyond that. Watching Triplett close in on what he feels to be his territory (and being better at nearly everything, it seems) is unsettling him, and he spent a great deal of "The Only Light in the Darkness" thinking about his own light in this newer, darker version of the world. When Agent Koenig put the characters through the rigorous lie detector test, he asked each character what they'd want to be in a box if they were stranded on a desert island. No one yelled, "WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!" during that scene, which was a missed opportunity in my opinion, but Fitz's response was pretty good, even though some people might think it a bit rushed.
After saying it depended on how big the box was, he told Koenig without hesitation that he would want Simmons to be in that box. She's been by his side for a very long time now, and she's incredibly intelligent, so of course he wants Simmons to be in that box (Simmons, for what it's worth, chose the TARDIS proving once again that she's brilliant). In Fitz's opinion, Simmons is what's most important to his survival. It was sad that he couldn't tell her the truth about his feelings when she confronted him about his actions toward Tripplett, but considering it appears he's only now coming to terms with his feelings, maybe it's for the best that he keep them to himself for the time being. Plus, if Coulson couldn't tell the cellist that he was alive, it makes sense Fitz wouldn't see this as the right time to tell Simmons that he loves her. In the grand scheme of things, he was probably right, because although he doesn't know it yet, the shit has hit the fan.
Back at the bunker, Ward put on his sexiest shirt, managed to spin his mission to get Skye to decrypt the hard drive as a way to prove his loyalty to Koenig during the lie detector test, and then thanked the man by garroting him. Guys, forget what I said about liking this new, "interesting" Ward, because he's on my shit list now. You don't just stroll in and kill a man like Patton Oswalt! Throughout the entirety of that scene I just kept thinking, "Constable Bob wouldn't have gone down that easily!" But alas, this is not Justified, and Agent Koenig was not Constable Bob (although was a Howling Commando in the comics, it doesn't appear that carried over to the series). I am very bummed about losing a great comedic presence like Oswalt, but if S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to keep moving at the same accelerated pace that it's maintained for the last three weeks, and if the writers want there to be stakes, there also have to be casualties. And I was only joking before about disliking Ward, because his storyline continues to fuel the fire that powers the show.
Last week I could've made an argument as to how the series could still find rational ways to redeem Ward's character—it certainly wouldn't be the first time a series made excuses for keeping someone around—but the more bodies he drops, the more it looks like Brett Dalton's presence on this series is going to be a limited one. And considering that S.H.I.E.L.D. is already grooming B.J. Britt's Agent Triplett as Ward's replacement, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see him die. It would be a shame, because you all know how much I adore Ward's handsome face, but if he goes out in a blaze of traitor glory, it'll be an exciting end to a character I once hated so much that I wanted to shove his face in a George Foreman Grill. I'd be forced to bestow him the Most Changed award for the year.
That being said, Ward's love for Skye is still in play, and S.H.I.E.L.D. really doesn't want to let us forget it. He used it to fool Koenig, he projected his feelings for Skye onto Fitz when he suggested that Fitz not wait to tell Simmons how he felt because their world was falling apart around them, AND he had that brief moment with Skye during which he tried to tell her the truth about being a shitbag (Side note: I find it hilarious that Ward thinks Skye wouldn't like him if she knew the truth about him, because I didn't like him until I knew the truth about him).
The series is laying it on pretty thick with all the love mumbo-jumbo, and the scene in which Ward and May discussed the idea of following orders no matter the cost was very, very heavy-handed. Ward's entire storyline this episode was pretty heavy-handed, actually. This might mean that instead of going out as a traitor, he'll go out as a tragic, last-second hero who finally discovers just how truly evil the turtlenecks are and switches allegiances like he's Italy during a World War. It could also mean the series isn't ready to part with Ward and his traitorous scruff just yet. With only three episodes left in the season, the S.H.I.E.L.D. still has a lot of ground left to cover regarding his loyalty to Garrett, but since he kidnapped Skye not realizing she's discovered his secret, it looks like these last three episodes will be just as high-pressured as the last three.
– I get why the writers had Coulson chase after Blackout after discovering that he'd escaped from the Fridge—his feelings for Acker's character meant Coulson had a personal interest, it meant he knew where Blackout would be (unlike the rest of the escaped villains), and it meant the show could continue the storyline of Coulson's refusal to accept S.H.I.E.L.D.'s dismantling—but that storyline really could have waited until the show could give it proper screen time. As it stands, it felt pretty shaky at best.
– Skye's reaction to discovering that Ward was Hydra was handled very well. She freaked out, but then got her shit together, and even remembered to replace Ward's penny. He has no idea she's on to him, especially since she pretended to reciprocate his feelings after the fact. Do you think she was able to leave a message for Coulson and the rest of the team, though? Like, maybe a big, "HEY YOU GUYS WARD IS AN EVIL SON OF A BITCH. P.S. IT'S KIND OF HOT. P.P.S. COME SAVE ME. XOXO SKYE" in lipstick on the bathroom mirror? Or on the revolving images? I don't know, just throwing it out there.
– May left the team! She packed her bags because Coulson couldn't forgive her (although we now know now that he has to or is willing to), and called her mom for a ride. Come on, like you haven't ever broken up with someone while out in the middle of nowhere in Canada and had to suck it up and call your parents to come pick you up. Okay, she also had her mom find Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill because Mama May is awesome, but it's still totally the same thing.
– I honestly don't know how the series is going to wrap up Garrett and Ward with only three episodes left. I mean, sure, Coulson, Maria Hill, and Nick Fury could bust in and just blow Garrett's head off at the turtleneck, but where would that leave us with Ward? Do you think that if/when the series is renewed for Season 2, Brett Dalton will be back? Do you want Ward to return? Do you want to see him redeemed?