WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you've seen the S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, you already know what happened in the movie, but still: You've been warned.
There are two schools of thought regarding humanity. One believes that humans are good by nature, the other subscribes to the notion that humans are inherently evil. I'm generally pretty cynical when it comes to my fellow human beings, which is why my brain does this funny thing whenever I start to really like a TV character. It starts coming up with a list of reasons why that person is secretly a jerk or why they're going to die soon. That's why I've been wondering for weeks when the other shoe was going to drop regarding Bill Paxton's Agent Garrett. I liked him far too much. He was far too cool to be a good guy. I could hear this little voice whispering in my ear last week, telling me he probably wasn't all he appeared to be. When coupled with the knowledge that the Clairvoyant was an agent within S.H.I.E.L.D., my brain started going down the list of possible suspects.
Knowing that the Clairvoyant had to be someone we'd met already, I instantly ruled out Agent May because it was far too obvious she wasn't reporting to the Clairvoyant, and was a Fury plant whose job was to keep an eye on Coulson. Agent Hand (R.I.P.) was obviously a red herring, and a character I'm going to miss dearly. Titus Welliver's Agent Blake was out of commission after last week, otherwise I'd have seriously considered him; there's something about Welliver that just screams, "I MIGHT NOT BE TRUSTWORTHY!" I think it might be his face. And those times he played characters who weren't trustworthy. Anyway, continuing on down the list, I knew Agent Sitwell was shady—and his role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved I was right—but he's always had the air of a lousy lackey, not of a man in charge. I doubt he even had control of the radio station in his car. That left only Agents Garrett and Tripplett. We hardly knew Triplett, and he was too young to fit the profile I'd created in my mind (I've been watching a lot of Hannibal lately), which meant that, by process of elimination and my own distrusting nature, Agent Garrett was the only viable option.
Garrett being the Clairvoyant actually makes a lot of sense. His character was instantly likable, and looking back, it's clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. made an extra effort to make him appear that way. His cool, take-no-prisoners attitude purposefully threw us off the scent. The character also just fits the profile of the Clairvoyant. He has a history with Coulson, which would explain his interest in Coulson. He was "old guard" enough that he'd have not only the security clearance, but also the power to amass and influence followers. And he's been around long enough that he'd have been fully enveloped by the Hydra mentality. I suppose then, that if I was able to smell the traitorous stank on Garrett that I should have been able to follow it to Agent Ward—yes, I've finally decided he's interesting enough to be upgraded to his real name, although I make no promises about maintaining that. Agent Handsome still has a nice ring to it.
Someone threw out the idea that Ward was a traitor in the comments last week, and I can't remember who it was, but if it was you: Nice work! I remember seeing that comment and thinking, "Huh, that's an interesting theory!" And then I went about my day eating gummi bears or whatever. I didn't give it much thought at the time, and I suppose that's exactly what the writers had intended. From the beginning, they built Ward up to be a hero. He was prickly and didn't work well with others, but he jumped out of the plane to save Simmons. He went in the field with Fitz and came out with a bromance. He trained Skye as her superior officer (and he kissed her tonight, which I'll get to later). And he went so far as to carry on a sexual relationship with May. Ward managed to insert himself (heh) in to everyone's lives in a way that made you not only trust him, but like him, or at least like that he was on your side and not your enemy's.
Producers Jeph Loeb and Jeff Bell did a post-mortem interview with TV Guide about tonight's episode, and in it they confirmed they knew from the beginning this was going to be Ward's path. I stand by my previous criticisms of his character and Dalton's cardboard performance, though, because A) they're already out there on the internet, and B) looking at this in retrospect doesn't change the fact Ward really deserved that Agent Handsome nickname for most of the series. Loeb and Bell admitted Dalton didn't know right from the beginning that Ward would be revealed as a traitor, and I don't know when Dalton got the memo, but it doesn't change the fact the character—even if he's a skilled liar and manipulator—was about as boring as white paper for awhile. I think the writers would argue they purposefully kept Ward from fully developing as a character for awhile, because he was a big fat liar who lies, but I'm just too much of a cynic to believe that they'd had that mapped out, too.
Instead of kicking ourselves for missing what was apparently right in front of us all along, our time would be better spent looking at how something like this—Garrett, Ward, Hydra—could happen. If you didn't see Captain America: The Winter Soldier prior to this episode, you were probably a bit OMGWTFBBQ at the reveal that Hydra not only exists, but that it's been thriving in S.H.I.E.L.D. for the last 70 years. It's a curious battle about right and wrong, because, and I'll try to be brief here, Hydra truthfully thought they were doing the right thing by eliminating would-be criminals before they had the chance to commit those crimes. They were pulling a Minority Report, but as Cap pointed out, they weren't ruling in the name of freedom, they were ruling with fear. It's easy to see how people would be swayed toward Hydra's way of thinking, though, and it's even easier to see how someone like Ward—someone with a horrible family life, someone who needed a father figure—would be susceptible to what Garrett was spinning when he was under his command.
Is Ward really a "bad guy" though? He definitely shot three people in what appeared to be an attempt to save Garrett, but the final scene in which Garrett's talking and Ward zones out is an interesting development. Could it mean he's no longer listening to the bullsh*t Garrett's feeding him? Some might wonder if he's playing Garrett, and while I think that's always a possibility, I think it's going to be less about good versus bad as it will be Coulson versus Garrett. I could be wrong—I'm wrong a lot—but I have a feeling this will be a rich storyline for Dalton, and we're going to see a side of Ward we maybe haven't seen before. Just as we had to question whether Bucky Barnes was actually evil in Captain America and not just a weapon used by the enemy, I think we might eventually find ourselves in a similar situation with Ward. He was led to believe certain things by a man he looked up to for a long time. Has his time on Coulson's team changed him? Did he really have feelings for Skye?
It appears we now know why Ward really shot Brad Dourif's character last week, and it wasn't because Nash threatened Skye—although, I kind of wish it was, because that at least makes it more interesting than what it was, which was to just make Coulson believe the Clairvoyant was dead. I'm not one for shipping, especially on this show (unless we're talking Ward and his stubble from next week's promos, because that should stay forever), but part of me hopes he wasn't lying about his feelings for her. That being said, if it's those feelings that somehow pull him back to the good side, I will vomit all over that development, because this ain't The Vampire Diaries (I kid! Sort of). But I think those feelings can be an asset to the story if used properly.
I talked a lot about how feelings make us human last week, and how it was those supposed feelings Ward acted on last week that made his character more interesting. Even though we have to look back at everything Ward's said and done with a different lens now, I stand by that statement, too. If his feelings for Skye are real, that's more interesting than if he was playing her. And I don't subscribe to the notion that just because someone is revealed to be working for the opposing team that everything they've ever done or said up to that point is a lie. I'm sure some of it was, but all of it? Nah, that would be hella boring. And right now, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is anything but boring. My only question is this: When will the rest of the team find out about Ward's apparent double-cross? Because as far as they know, nothing is wrong.
– The next person who makes Fitz cry is getting my foot up their a$$. Also, Fitz shot someone! Go Fitz! Team Fitz!
– May confirmed what we all already knew, which is that she
loves Coulson was placed on the team to monitor Coulson and report back. But what we didn't know was that she basically assembled the team by telling Director Fury what kind of team Coulson would need, which pushed him in the direction of Fitz, Simmons, and Ward. Sneaky!
– As far as the characters know, Fury is still dead. But as we know, that was a fake-out and Samuel L. Jackson will be appearing in the season finale. What do you think that means?
– Has S.H.I.E.L.D. always used suggested hashtags and I've just been blocking them out until now?
– Ward still has the hard drive with all the plane's files, right? Skye handed it to him, but I don't recall him giving it back. I'm sure that won't turn into anything!
– "But I'm getting better at it." (The look on Simmons' face when she said was kind of chilling.)
– How effing cool was that Hydra logo at the end where the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo used to be?
AIRED ON 5/13/2014
Season 1 : Episode 22