The last few episodes of Agents of SHIELD have been a cut above almost the entire season thus far. A significant part of is that the show has finally begun to accept the comic-ness of the setting, and has made great strides in furthering along the characters and the meta plot in a way that we didn’t see outside of a very small handful of episodes like TRACKS and YES MEN. As I have said recently, it has finally become the kind of show that I’ve wanted it to be since the start, and although I detest that we had to wait so long for it to get going, I’m just glad that it finally did. But some vestiges of the first half of the season remain.
In this, the penultimate episode of Agents of SHIELD‘s debut season, I expected some really big things. I expected some big clashes, some big reveals, perhaps a movie guest star or two even, but no, none of that happened. Watching this episode, “Ragtag“, you would never get the feeling that next week this season is ending. It is so… normal, so… average that it just beggars belief. The last few shows had the team deal with some of the fallout of HYDRA’s emergence from within SHIELD. This week, it is all about heavy-handed character development, which is kind of weird.
See, my thing is that a penultimate episode should really up the stakes for the characters. It has to have some character development yes, but not at the expense of the story itself. The penultimate episode, more than any other in a season, should really be the one that builds up the hype for the season finale. It should have you on the edge of your seat, chomping at the bit to get to the end of things. And yet, that doesn’t happen in “Ragtag“. Given the story in this episode, I’d expect this episode to have aired some 2-3 weeks back, honestly. Because this episode was all about how Ward and Garrett met for the first time and how the latter recruited the former into SHIELD (and HYDRA of course). And the weirdest thing is that Garrett has been a HYDRA agent within SHIELD for more than two decades and he brings in Ward to join HYDRA first and foremost. It creates a really tangled web of betrayals and double-crosses, something that the show has promoted from the get go unfortunately.
And the worst thing is that I lost interest in Garrett after the second flashback to fifteen years back. And a part of it was that Bill Paxton was laying on the heavy voice/accent really thick and he was just too smug all the time. Now that didn’t work for me at all. It meant that the character of John Garrett has been static for all that time and that he hasn’t really developed. Sure, we get the reasons for why he turned from SHIELD to HYDRA, not to mention that we finally learn some truths about Cybertek’s Project Deathlok, but John Garrett just didn’t work for me in this episode.
Conversely, Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward did. He has been one of the characters that I didn’t much care for when the show started, but the recent episodes have changed that and this one does more than most. Apart from learning how he turned into such a big villain, we also see that he is indeed a very conflicted character and that he wrestles with his betrayal of Team Coulson constantly. That was incredibly refreshing. He had already made a pretty decent villain, but now he is so much more. And the ending of the episode between him and two other main-cast characters was really emotional and touching, the way it was contrasted against some of the flashbacks. Ward is finally not just a what-you-see-on-the-surface character anymore!
There’s a lot of things that this episode does. It shows Team Coulson assessing everything they know and then coming to a conclusion about the single biggest connecting factor linking all of it, which provides them with an avenue of investigation: Cybertek Industries. But it is all over far too quick because the story doesn’t really leave the characters time to adjust against these conclusions. No one stops to think and consider just how long this conspiracy has been in place. Deathlok, Ian Quinn, Garrett, Clairvoyant, Project Centipede, Raina, everything. They just don’t seem all that interested in making sense of the dots. They just go in.
One of the really neat moments of this episode was when Agent Triplett arrived from a trip to his grandmother’s, bringing along with him his grandfather’s “kit” from his days as a member of the Howling Commandos, a World War 2-era American special ops group. Said kit includes some really, really old espionage gear and some gadgets of the era. All of which the team is going to use in their fight against the bad guys. As fun as it is, and as comic-y as it is, I couldn’t help but seen similarities between this and Iron Man 3. Not to mention, there’s something headdesk-y about a bunch of trained SHIELD agents using seventy-year old spy gadgets against a modern enemy.
There’s just too many contradictions in this episode of the same context and magnitude, especially once the team gets to Cybertek’s Palo Alto offices. A bit too much ridiculousness, I’d say. But fun, and the team does get to use the antiquated technology in a way that really pisses the bad guys off, so that’s worth something at least.
On the subject of how Phil Coulson and Melinda May are dealing with everything going on, we get nary a word. Very disheartening after everything that was revealed in the last episode about Project TAHITI, that Phil himself led the team that worked on it, and that his recommendation to Fury was to not go ahead with it. As we know, things turned out very differently indeed, just more betrayals on top of each other. What I really wanted to see in this episode was Coulson dealing with that revelation and talking with May about it. But nope, nothing of the kind, and that was just plain disappointing. The same with May. It seems that their verbal tiff in the previous episodes was just routine, and now she’s back in the team and all is well with this HYDRA-frakked world.
And given what happened between Skye and Ward last episode, well, I was hoping for more, but nothing of the kind. Skye fell back into woe-is-me mode and that was really irritating. Where she is concerned, the show has a really bad record of dealing with characters in a proper manner, of making them three-dimensional. Just when she was improving, she takes a step back.
And that really is it. I mean, there were some interesting scenes involving Deathlok and Raina, and Raina with Ward, but nothing major, all run-of-the-mill stuff that references information we already know and doesn’t provide us with anything new. Fitz gets some sort of a good outing, and that ties in with what happens with Ward in the end. That’s all.
Overall, I was just bored really, because this just didn’t feel at all like a season pre-finale episode at all. Very, very run-of-the-mill actually.
More Agents of SHIELD reviews can be found here. I’ve reviewed every episode so far.