Tuesday night, Agents of SHIELD capped off the best half-season of its run so far with a gripping midseason finale that layered the tension on before releasing it all in a burst of twists in the final act.
Today’s discussion centers around the evolution of one of the show’s principal characters, Grant Ward, who has been instrumental in the series’ improvement and after the events of the midseason finale, will be crucial in the immediate future. So if you aren’t yet caught up or are toying with the idea of catching up, you might want to save this post for another day.
You’ve been warned, spoilers ahoy.
Remember when the comments on any Agents of SHIELD recap were dominated by folks making up funny, punny Agent names that sometimes had to do with the episode being recapped?
A favorite of mine (because I wrote it) was Agent Suddenly Buxom after we discovered Simmons was a real live woman under all those layers of sweaters following her infiltration of HYDRA. A popular target for these comment diversions was actor Brett Dalton and his portrayal of Agent Grant Ward. His mock agent names generally centered around his face and his acting choices onscreen (Agent Strongjaw McWoodenacting).
In the dark days of that first half season, Ward’s character earned every potshot at his chin and his comparisons to a sheet of plywood. The biggest problem was that Ward’s combat expert type character was one stern character too many in group that already featured Agents Coulson and May, because there aren’t many actors on TV that are going to out-stoic Clark Gregg and Ming Na Wen. Flash forward to the present where Hunter and early Ward are pretty much the same hitter type character, except that the show let Hunter be a charming goofball with an accent. You pair Hunter with Adrianne Palicki in a tank top and you have what Marvel believes is the foundation of an entire series.
Fortunately for everyone, Ward took a heel turn at the end of Season 1. It was the best thing that happened to both the character and the show.
Ward became interesting and Dalton was given more room to flesh out the character (which his has taken to the hilt). The writers gave Ward a backstory filled with childhood trauma and sociopathic tendencies (RIP Buddy the lab) that were honed to a spear point by HYDRA agents embedded in the old SHIELD. Once unleashed in his true amoral form, the show’s creative team has made it clear that Ward in an unrepentant killer with no hopes of future redemption. He’s a villain, through and through.
Ward’s betrayal has been a lynchpin to SHIELD’s upswing in quality because this portrayal was personal. Other shows in this genre get a personal boost because they are tied to a particular city (Star, Central, National, etc.) which gives the heroes’ actions an ingrained personal weight. How many times has a character on The Flash had a showdown with a bad guy in what appears to be Central City’s only coffee shop?
SHIELD’s mission is global in nature. The agents are bending the rules of time and space by crossing oceans and continents in the same time it takes an average person to get from their house to the grocery store. Most people haven’t been to Peru or Cuba or Austria, so SHIELD saving the day in those locations doesn’t ring home with the audience in the same way as when Ollie breaks up yet another shootout in Det. Lance’s precinct on Arrow.
Ward switching sides allowed the show to take a break from only chasing down arcane objects. No matter what else might have been going on in the SHIELD world, Ward has always been on the edges either acting as a thorn in the side of the team or pulling the last pieces of a fractured HYDRA together. In essence, Ward’s turn helped SHIELD stop telling stories only about things and start telling more stories about people.
Lately, Ward has been front and center as SHIELD’s No. 1 enemy for attempting to kill May’s estranged husband and then personally killing Coulson’s new lady love.
The last development sent Coulson from simmer to full boil and he literally crossed the universe in his quest for revenge on Ward. We got our dramatic showdown this week and what we thought was the end of Ward’s story thanks to the Crushing Robot Hand of Doom (patent pending).
Thanks to a cold, soulless stare shot Fitz’s way, the show let us twist for all of a commercial break that Coulson may have returned from Planet Bluetooine with a dark passenger. That still may be the case, but any dark paths Coulson takes are totally his own thanks to what was revealed in the stinger.
Ward was dead for all of two minutes the wormy evil entity that took over Astronaut Will on the alien planet found its way to a new host (Ward) and through the interstellar portal.
Now this ultimate evil is on Earth and possesses intimate knowledge of the very members of the organization tasked with hunting him down. Most importantly this evil already has a jawline fans already love to hate.
The second half of Agents of SHIELD picks back up in March.