What does the team do now, when they are put against a megacorporation and Hydra, and they only have each other to rely on? Why exactly does Grant Ward feel that he owes everything to John Garrett? These are the question posed in the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but do the answers amp up the show’s momentum in time for the season finale?
Nothing describes the state of the formerly S.H.I.E.L.D. team better than “Ragtag,” which is fittingly this episode’s title. As very much a continuation of last week’s episode, we get to see how the team operates without the endless resources of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the results are pretty entertaining. Besides being the perfect excuse to bring in Trip’s grandfather’s old Howling Commando gear, the team is forced to rely on their skill, with no safety net, as they go up against the mysterious Cybertek, which seems to have links to just about everything we’ve encountered throughout the season.
One of the other main features of this episode, though, is discovering just how Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) came to be. Although we’ve gotten bits and pieces, and we aren’t sure how much of that was even true, we truly get to see what Grant Ward’s past was like, through a series of flashbacks. As a recently incarcerated juvenile, he’s hit rock bottom when Garrett shows up and recruits him into his “organization.” We soon find that Garrett plans on testing him, leaving him out in the wilderness for months to survive on his own, with nothing but his bag of clothes, and a dog named Buddy. Garrett returns much later, and resumes breaking down everything that Grant Ward was, even forcing him to kill his trusty, loyal dog. For me, this wasn’t enough to explain the relationship that Grant has with John, as his devotion seems to go far beyond someone who basically forced him to be something better on his own. Aside from that, it was great to see Grant’s character develop even further, and it becomes easier to understand his position as a double agent.
John Garrett (Bill Paxton), who we see playing a huge role in this episode through flashbacks, is revealed to have been the first Deathlok, and his entire story arc begins to make sense. His quest to find what GH-325 is becomes clearer, as we can see that his primary goal isn’t to make the perfect soldier, but to save himself. In the aforementioned flashbacks, we see how he forced Grant’s transformation into what he is today, but it doesn’t ever become clear as to why Grant is so loyal to him. The problem with Garrett is, while I feel sorry for a lot of the Marvel villains, Garrett is too much of a cookie cutter, evil bad guy character. The only semblance of tragedy I could see for him is when S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t save him, so he swears against them, but isn’t that sort of expected? He got fatally wounded on a dangerous operation, and now he’s just full-blown evil? I would have liked to seen something more human from him, in Grant’s flashbacks, to make me feel something for John Garrett, but that didn’t happen. To make matters worse—definitely for the team, possibly for his character—he’s injected with the GH-325, which seems to have taken his evil-villain-ness to another level.
Another interesting thought introduced in this episode is that, similarly to Akela Amador and Mike Peterson, could it be that Grant Ward is being controlled? Fitz maintains this stance throughout, refusing to believe that his friend would turn his back on them simply at his own will. While we still are unsure of whether or not this is the case, it really seems that Grant has genuine compassion for Garrett’s life, something that wouldn’t happen with someone being forced into murdering at the threat of death.
Raina (Ruth Negga) makes her return, and stays very much in her cryptic, metaphorical character throughout the episode. Interestingly enough, as we all wait in anticipation to find out what makes Skye (Chloe Bennet) so special, she says that she believes she has something in common with her, saying “I’m waiting for what’s inside to be revealed.” Once she realizes Garrett’s goal, however, she decides that Skye’s lineage may not interest him anymore, but tells Ward anyway, revealing her genetic ties to the legend of a baby of monsters. I’m not sure off the top of my head what this could possibly mean, I’m eager to see if we find out in the finale just what Skye’s deal is. Does she have super powers? Will these monsters come looking for her once again?
Despite showing signs of wear, nearly coming apart at the seams these past few episodes, Coulson (Clark Gregg)seems to be back to his old self here. Relying on his friend Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen)once again, he’s able to go undercover into Cybertek. We also see the rest of the team has grown closer together through the tough times, with Fitz (Iain De Caestecker)and Trip (B.J. Britt) getting along and bonding over gadgets, and Skye and May’s relationship growing even stronger over their betrayal at the hands of Ward. Although they gathered information and progressed quite a bit in this episode, a lot of what they revealed in their mission was centric on the enemy. In the final moments of the episode, we see FitzSimmons, half of which still believes that Ward is a good man, being dropped from the plane and into the ocean. Clearly, they have only a short time to be saved, but I’m betting Trip’s granddad’s quarter tracker is going to come in handy here.
All in all, this was one of the weaker episodes since the series went on its streak of awesomeness. It had its moments—we definitely understand Garrett and Ward quite a bit more than we had before—and seeing the team function on it’s own was definitely something we needed to see, with S.H.I.E.L.D. disbanded for a few episodes already and supplies dwindling. The team is struggling and separated, while the enemy is growing stronger and meeting with authorities to build an empire of super soldiers. With next week’s episode being the finale, it’s hard to see where they plan on taking it from here, but I’m hoping that it’s back to what made these last few episodes so great.