[This post contains major spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the last two episodes of SHIELD. You've been warned.]
Hopefully we can agree that the last few weeks have been a major turning point in quality for SHIELD. While the show still isn’t perfect, its major issue — namely that it couldn’t pick and stick with a tone — has finally been resolved.
As it turns out, SHIELD works better as an action show with some comic relief than it did as a 90s-style cheesefest with a case-of-the-week format. Now that it has real stakes, namely the corruption of SHIELD and the infiltration of a secret HYDRA cell, it’s easier to care about the characters and their roles within the team, rather than when it seemed like they were just floating around looking for easy-to-defeat bad guys with alien weaponry. Or whatever it is they were supposed to be doing.
While the team’s new outlaw angle runs the risk of devolving into cliche, the writers have made a good choice by having the biggest threat come from within the group rather than from the forces of HYDRA. But by “inside the group,” I’m not just talking about Ward. Instead, the threat is the team’s stability as a whole. There’s a question that the members of “the bus” have been dancing around for the last couple of episodes and, through a nice confessional format offered by Patton Oswalt’s character, they have now finally been asked point-blank: why are they still here? Why stay associated with a government organization that the world believes is evil and why stay with a resistance force that seems to be composed of — at most — 7 or 8 people? Rather than wanting to fight the good fight against evil and injustice, all of them — including Ward — are here for at least one other person on the team. Which makes things a little volatile — if one person walks, is it a domino effect?
With that said, obviously the threat from Ward is the more obvious and immediate issue for the time being. Is he completely evil? Has he been brain-washed? Can he be saved by Skye’s love? If the writers need my imput, I vote for yes, no and definitely not.
At the very least I’ll settle for no more tragic childhood backstories. At this point it sounds like all of his inner turmoil stems from some roughhousing when he was a kid. Unless they plan to amp that pain up to 11, don’t keep alluding to a situation that doesn’t sound that bad.
There have been arguments put forward that Ward could be a triple agent working on a super secret assignment from Nick Fury, but I think by this point his SHIELD body count is so high that it would still be more than a little tough for the team to shrug off everything he’s done. Instead, my worry is that they’re setting Ward up for a redemption through love coupled with a betrayal from his boss and father figure, Garrett.
I will say right now that I assume that that is where the writers are going and that the most likely outcome is either that Ward dies a hero’s death, or else that he is healed through the power of love and, due to the fact that nothing is particularly secure at the moment, Coulson keeps him under a kind of “house arrest” aboard the plane until he manages to convince them all he’s cool now. Which makes hero’s death the more likely option.
But what if the writers just decided to let a bad character be bad? Let’s face it: Ward is infinitely more interesting now. Plus I cannot overstate just how boring and pointless Good Ward was. Watching Dalton chew scenery as his evil self, you can almost feel how relieved he is to have a character who doesn’t just stand around looking blankly handsome. The fact that he was able to dupe his team — and us — for so long, and the fact that that facade is on the verge of cracking, is fantastic TV. Evil Ward is not only more compelling than both the empty promise of “The Clairvoyant” from the first half of the season, but unquestionably better than the actual Clairvoyant (sorry, Paxton). If instead they let Ward take over the spot of lead villain, at least until the end of the season, you’re left with a much more emotional climax with the promise of a far better payoff.