Monday, April 14, 2014

Agents of SHIELD's Heartbreaking Ward Problem

Haven't seen episode 117? Spoilers ahead.

I'm not much of a crier when it comes to TV. I was misty-eyed when Tasha Yar died on Star Trek: The Next Generation (I was also 7). Tears openly spilled down my cheeks during the excellent finale for LOST. Ditto for the divisive (yet quite good) end to BSG. Probably the most tears have been for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series ender. Jake losing his dad--and the realization that he was never coming back--was a TV slice that cut deep. Other than that... not too many TV tears upon which to report.

The Dynamic (Hydra) Duo

Thus I truly was surprised that the reveal of Agent Ward in Agents of SHIELD's "Turn, Turn, Turn" made the old eyes a little moist. What the show presented was not just a sort of in-house betrayal (ala Melinda May spying on Coulson for Fury--that's a case of watching your boss because your boss'
boss said so); to my mind, Ward shooting Hand (and her helpers) represents a completely corrupted character.

That that's a problem for the series--because there are no good options.

Ultimately, either Ward is a goodie or a baddie. Here are the reasonable options for the rest of the season:
  • Ward is part of Hydra, he pays for his crimes, and he's off the show
  • Same as above, but he's still on the show
  • Ward is still working for SHIELD, but he's done a bad thing and he's off the show
  • Ward shot Hand et al but everything is fine and he's still on the show
Based on the evidence thus far, i.e. the ending of "Turn, Turn, Turn," we have a rather ominous story trajectory. Ward, having been secretly bad, and outed as a bad guy, is headed for death or prison and a Whedonesque exit from the show. That, obviously, is depressing because it would mean the exit of the wonderful Brett Dalton from the series!

For the second option, Ward is still bad but... Dalton remains on the series somehow. A recurring villain? Bad-but-needed, ala Skye at the start of the season? Both options let the severity of his actions hold their full weight, but allow the Yale-educated mountain of a man continue to act on the show. Perhaps this is the best option, emotionally... especially in light of less-than-palitable options ahead.

"Blood bullets! That solves it!"
Now you're probably saying at this point, "Hey, no worries! The show will let me have my good-Ward cake and eat it too!" Therein lies the biggest problem of all: the show is a drama. It relies on actions that matter. To paraphrase writer/producer Jane Esponson, "If a show allows anything to be possible, then we stop caring because nothing really matters."

Agents of SHIELD socked us in the gut with Ward's betrayal. Any combination (that I can think of, anyway) of "what we saw ended up not mattering" will be fundamentally cheating the audience. If Hand and her pals reveal they were shot with fakey fakerton blood capsules... then all the show did was toy with our emotions. If Ward shot them under orders from Hand to sacrifice three agents in
order to dismantle Hydra... then we've been fundamentally been sold a wrong bill of goods about Ward as a heroic archetype. If Ward had a temporary failure of judgement... then that would be two episodes in a row, and he's hardly elite SHIELD material anymore.

Now, I'll be fair: I did have the caveat that these are the scenarios I can think of. Maurissa Tancheroen, Jed Whedon, Jefferey Bell and the whole writing staff are clearly pros. The point is that this "Ward Problem" is one that upped the ante of the show. The solutions seem either poised to take away a beloved character or, worse, to undercut the fundamental drama of the show.

What do you think will be Ward's fate? Take our poll and/or comment below!


  1. Ah! I have to go back and read this more after I watch tonight's episode. But I just wanted to say, the Deep Space Nine finale was on of the greatest drama series finales, I have ever watched!

  2. Hmm. Ward seems to have some high loyalty to Garret. I think he really is part of Hydra, but not out of pure Hydra is coolness but because he feels a debt to Garret. However, I would also not be surprised if there is a last minute Head/Heel/Head again turn.