Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1 Ep21: Ragtag

There's no school like the old school

This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … Coulson and May resort to old-school spycraft. In flashback, we discover how Garrett recruited a young Ward into HYDRA. In the present day, Ward shows his true colours.

This week’s mission

The team infiltrate Cybertek to gather intelligence on Garrett’s plans.

Coulson and May uncover Garrett's secret (Image: ABC)

Coulson and May uncover Garrett’s secret (Image: ABC)

Ward’s past …

This episode shows us how a teenage Ward first met John Garrett 15 years previously. Facing charges of attempted murder for burning down his house with his brother inside it, Garrett springs him out of juvie hall and promptly abandons him in the wilds for six months with only his dog Buddy for company.

Garrett is later injured by an IED behind enemy lines in Sarajevo, but the medical evacuation he calls for from S.H.I.E.L.D. never comes. He vows revenge, tells Ward about HYDRA and informs him he has been accepted by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s operational division. He tells Ward it would be weakness to allow himself to become attached to anyone and orders him to shoot Buddy. Ward instead fires his gun into the air, allowing Buddy to run off.

… Ward’s present

In the present day, Garrett chastises Ward for being soft over Skye but then collapses. Despite his biomechanical impants, his organs are failing – he has no more than a month or so to live despite being pumped full of Centipede serum. Having captured Fitz and Simmons, he’s jolted by Fitz’s EMP, frying his cyborg circuitry.

Dying, he tells Ward to cross off Fitz and Simmons. When Ward corners them in a capsule, he shows none of the mercy he showed Buddy and jettisons them into the sea. In the meantime, Raina injects Garrett with the single dose of GH325 she has managed to synthesise to save him.

I think we can safely say that Ward is an out-and-out bad guy now. He has killed people on several occasions, and his final act here of ejecting his former colleagues to drown in the middle of the ocean with no chance of it being an elaborate set-up confirms that he is not acting as a triple agent. In truth, we were already way past the point where this was possible without a major suspension of disbelief. I also find it hard to believe that he could undergo a redemption arc next season, as some have suggested, given the extent of what he has already done.

Old school spycraft

The rest of the episode focuses on the rest of the team’s efforts to infiltrate the Palo Alto office of Cybertek, which links everything related to HYDRA, Garrett, Ward, Raina, Deathlok, Ian Quinn and Project Centipede. With the aid of old Howling Commando tech from Antoine Triplett’s grandfather, Coulson and May pretend to be former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists interesting in crossing over to the private sector, with the aim of uploading a Trojan virus created by Skye.

They locate a secure area, but discover that there are no computers at all in the building – only row upon row of filing cabinets. However, they eventually find files that reveal Project Deathlok dates back to 1990 and that Garrett was the original prototype.

Following Fitz’s direction, they head for Havana, but find Garrett’s base of operations cleared out except for a group of Centipede super-soldiers. Oops.

This half of the story plays like an up-to-date reworking of a classic Mission Impossible story, stripping down the technology to its basics and focussing on character and action. It’s much the better for it, and perhaps gives us an indication of where the writers are moving the show for season two.

Setting up the finale and next season

Other story elements set us up nicely for both next week’s finale and next season.

The episode ends with Quinn in Washington proposing to sell a thousand super-soldiers to the military. This is clearly not HYDRA’s endgame. But what is?

Having originally made the joke of Fitz and Simmons being effectively two halves of the same person, we’ve seen the pair become subtly differentiated in recent episodes. Simmons is the more composed and rational of the two, which has been demonstrated by their differing reactions to Ward’s betrayal. Simmons accepts the evidence and moves on, but Fitz cannot process the truth, coming up with all manner of explanations and excuses for Ward until he finally sees it with his own eyes as his ‘friend’ coldly sends him and Simmons to their death. Should both survive, I expect we will see more of the differences between the two brought out gradually over time next season to establish them as distinct characters.

Finally, Raina has discovered something about Skye. She tells Ward her DNA matches someone she knew a long time ago, hinting it is one of Skye’s parents, who she refers to as ‘monsters’. This looks like it is resetting the mystery of Skye’s origin to be a key arc for season two. We already know she is an 0-8-4, an object of unknown origin. But what is she really?

Best line

Speak up, son. I’m not a mind-reader.

Past-Garrett foreshadows his alter ego, The Clairvoyant.

Rating: 8/10

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reviews

Preview: Can Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work without Avengers?

1.1 Pilot

1.2 0-8-4

1.3 The Asset

1.4 Eye-Spy

1.5 Girl in the Flower Dress

1.6 FZZT

1.7 The Hub

1.8 The Well

1.9 Repairs

1.10 The Bridge

1.11 The Magical Place

1.12 Seeds

1.13 T.R.A.C.K.S.

1.14 T.A.H.I.T.I.

1.15 Yes Men

1.16 End of the Beginning

1.17 Turn, Turn, Turn

1.18 Providence

1.19 The Only Light in the Darkness

1.20 Nothing Personal

2 Comments on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1 Ep21: Ragtag

  1. It looks like you enjoyed this one more than me. It was OK but the Ward flashbacks felt like filler. Yes, I now also agree that Ward can’t be a triple but I don’t think Fitz and Simmons will die (if one had been jettisoned, maybe). Things were set up very nicely for the finale though, which I’m very much looking forward to! My review is in the usual place, as is a review of the new X-Movie!

    • I enjoyed the Cybertek strand much more than the Ward flashbacks.

      I don’t know about the flashbacks being filler, though. I think there was a gaping hole which needed to be filled to explain why Ward became HYDRA, but it was done in a fairly perfunctory fashion (“we need to do this, and this and this”) to build up to the moment where him jettisoning Fitz and Simmons doesn’t feel totally cold-blooded.

      The Cybertek stuff was just good, old-fashioned fun – it’s more like what I originally imagined the series would be. And still could be – even in a superpowered villain-inhabited world, there need to be episodes where it’s just human drama. If this forms a template for season 2, I’ll be happy.

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