Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 21 review: Ragtag

Review James Hunt 8 May 2014 - 12:58

After last week's corker of an episode, Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD keeps the standard high. Here's James' review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.21 Ragtag

After last week's episode, guest-starring Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill (which, though I was unable to review it, I absolutely loved), this week's episode of Agents of SHIELD had a high standard to live up to. It's quite surprising that even after what was probably the series' best instalment, it managed to keep the standard high.

In the past I've criticised SHIELD for acting less like a spy organisation and more like a bunch of government auditors. Well, this episode did something about that. With a collection of Bond-esque gadgets and agents assuming cover identities, things finally have some of the glamour of post-war espionage that has always accompanied SHIELD in the comics. Why it couldn't have been like this from the start, I'll never know, but I'm glad they're getting to it now.

The comedy is landing more reliably as well. In addition to Coulson and May mimicking Fitz and Simmons (get one actor to impersonate another - guaranteed comedy gold) we had a great scene of Triplett and Coulson nerding out over the original-issue SHIELD gadgets, and Fitz misusing his laser. Indeed, Triplett has made a great addition to the team overall, shaking up the dynamic and finally giving the team a member who doesn't deliver every line like they're fully clenched.

Plot-wise, they're keeping things at full throttle. I'm not sure I like Garrett's reveal that he was the prototype Deathlok, but it's as good a motivation as any, and it managed to expand Reina's growing disillusionment with "the Clairvoyant" in ways that revealed more about her. Interestingly, it seems that she knows something about Skye, and while it hasn't been officially revealed, it's at least looking more and more likely that Skye has some kind of extra-terrestrial heritage. There is a Guardians Of The Galaxy movie they need to tie into somehow, after all…

Speculation aside, do we think Fitz and Simmons are dead? Not for a second. But at the very least, Fitz should be convinced that Ward's too far gone for them to reach him. Personally I hope they're correct. Evil Ward is far more entertaining than non-evil Ward ever was. Don't get me wrong, he still doesn't have a personality, but at least his actions aren't predictable. There was a near-zero chance of him plugging Fitz & Simmons in the forehead as requested, but I didn't entirely expect him to dump them in the sea either. This was really his episode, and for once he didn't disappoint.

Even so, while I liked that they tried to explain how Ward ended up in Hydra, I don't really think that aspect of the story worked. Hydra is supposed to be a group of radicals. And you don't radicalise people by dumping them in a forest for 6 months and then making them shoot their dog. There was the opportunity for a much more poignant, complex and socially relevant story here, about young men with no prospects and no escape being seduced by powerful ideologies. And yet Agents of SHIELD glossed over potentially interesting themes in favour of a tediously over-used device: he shot his dog, therefore he's evil. You know, like Hitler.

Fair enough. I suppose I have to accept that SHIELD isn't going to be the kind of Joss Whedon show that metabolises complex ideas into pop culture. Of course, that's easier to do now that the rest of the show is starting to resemble a well-oiled machine, instead of the heap of twisted metal it started off as. I almost find myself regretting that next week is the finale. After months of mediocrity, Agents of SHIELD has finally found its feet. And now it's almost over.

I won't speculate on what's going to happen, but I will say that at this point there seems like far too much story to wrap up in one episode. With no official renewal announced, it'd be a risky strategy to leave it open-ended, so let's hope for a satisfying chapter break at least. The series opened with Mike Peterson, so I'd expect a big moment for him in the finale. And, of course, there's an Nick Fury appearance coming. After the end of Captain America 2, I'd come back for that alone. One more time next week, then.

Read James' review of episode nineteen, The Only Light In The Darkness, here.

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Disqus - noscript

This show's chances of getting renewed are as high as Almost Human's aren't. It's Marvel's show flagship. Even if it would bomb with audiences, they would simply buy off the network for airing it.

As for the review, I agree. The Ward origin story was lame and not really the thing you expect with a loyal fanatic. Wasted space - and too much cliche with the dog-shooting. The ending there felt like a weak Point Blank reference.

But! It was hilariously funny when it wanted it to be ("Skye, Trip, prepare for a large file transfer.") and tense when it needed to be.

The one thing that really still irks me is Deathlok. He looks like a Snowboarder with a foible for black and neon shockpads (look at the tortoise on his back!) who had an unfortunate accident with a big, hanging insect-trap.

I want him to look like he did in that CGI xray scene - this just looks cheap and silly. :/

CGI Xray scence was a highlight of the show. I bet budgeting keeps them from doing that on a regular basis

I'm sure they'd do more if they had more budget. But it still looks sucky. They could have at least deteriorated his head more and gave him more shiny armor. But this look currently seems to be his final form. :/

/edit: But, you know, looking at the comic book Deathlok, I really see no problems of making that into a mask. They'd maybe need some greenscreen action for the nose, but that's it. The half-mask shouldn't be THAT expensive - at least for a full-season Number 1 Henchman.

Since Winter Soldier happend Agents of SHIELD is awesome. A renewal is almost garantueed. Plus we get a Marvel almost every week next season. Agents of SHIELD will be split in a winter and spring season, with Agent Carter sandwiched in between!

And who doesn't like an Agent Carter sandwich?

Steve Rodgers?

Touché. ^^

Just to point out ward was in the forest for more than 6 months. It said 15 years ago when Garrett dropped him off and the second time he came back it said 10 years ago. Great review though!

"It's quite surprising that even after what was probably the series' best instalment, it managed to keep the standard high." … so great to have an optimistic and open-minded reviewer.

Hydra may be a bunch of radicals but Ward is following Garrett (the alphas of the pack ?) rather than Hydra… Further more, Ward is a sociopath/psychopath: who drives over a thousand miles to set fire to the family home "believing" it is empty ?

Actually, Garrett showed up and Ward pointed a gun at him, telling him it had been six months since he left, not two like he promised.

I thought Ward didn't shoot the dog?

I'm not sure he did either. It might have been Garrett lining up his sights on it, after Ward failed to pulll the trigger. Just to give him one more lesson in there not being happy endings or some such..

Garrett's reveal that he was the prototype Deathlok is a little bit closer to the comics though, where he was something of a cyborg. Still wish Bill Paxton had grown a moustache for the role to look more like the character in the books, but I like at least that they're giving him the cybertec enhancements..

Steve's a very polite guy, so I'm sure he'd let someone 'cut in' when they "dance."

I think Ward dumped Fitz/Simmons in the sea because he knew he couldn't kill them. It got them out of the way very conveniently.

I agree that it was ambiguous, but at this point we're clearly supposed to think it was Ward, and until they reveal otherwise that's the assumption I'm operating under. I mean, how are they going to work that plot point back into the series? Short of Garrett saying "I knew you were weak when I had to shoot your dog!", there's not really much they can do to bring it back without it making very little sense. And let's face it, if it wasn't Ward and Garrett knew it wasn't him, why keep him on the path to Hydra?

I could see them having a moment in the next episode where Ward again has to make a choice whether or not to kill a member of his old team, and there being a quick followup flashback to what happened. Of course it would be as cheesy as hell. But stranger things have happened..
As for Garrett's reasoning, God only knows what goes through that guys head! LOL!

'Allo there. Just to clarify, when no-personality-not-quite-Angel-when-he-is-evil Ward propelled Fitzsimmons into the ocean he said "I do care about you, too much, it is a weakness" or something like that. That indicated to me that it was because he cared about them he did not kill them, and instead propelled them into the ocean to be saved by the team. Hmmmmmm.
Also - I thought it was clear that he did not shoot his dog. Also, agree that sequence was lame. There was such a great and important opportunity regarding fanaticism that was missed. Also, nothing to indicate where no-personality-not-quite-like-Angel-when-he-is-evil Ward got his skills from. Otherwise SHIELD has improved no-end. Remember the beginning episodes? I nearly died.

I'm on the side of the radicals. Always. The Greens, Occupy, trade unionists, socialists etc. They're the good guys. So why all these shows where they are portrayed as villains? Why are the "good" guys the sinister people in suits with Nazi type insignia who go around stealthily (or noisily) killing them to protect the guys in suits in the financial districts?

Apart from the fact that the show's renewal has been made official over the past few hours if I I haven't been misinformed, Disney needn't buy ABC to show SHIELD - as it already belongs to them, just like Marvel.

Didn't know that. Fact checked - you're right. Been acquired by Disney since the 1990s. So I guess we all know that SHIELD will never be canned by it's broadcasting station. ^^

A fair point, but in this case the radicals at Hydra are LITERALLY nazis. So, er, I wouldn't rush to claim you're on their side.

And big fat FRICKIN' Nazis at that.

Skye even points that out to Ward in "Nothing Personal":

"That is EXACTLY what you are! It's in the SHIELD handbook, Chapter 1: the Red Skull, founder of HYDRA, was a big, fat, freaking Nazi !"

"As for Garrett's reasoning, God only knows what goes through that guys head!"

Well, now it's "The Universe", apparently.

Fondue!

Closely followed by a bullet in next weeks episode I think..
Will be a shame if that happens though. He's just the right amount of cracked up crazy for a recurring villain..

It looked to me like Garret shot the dog, just from the side view alone, when Ward shot in the air the dog was running off straight ahead.

I think Ward is going to be like that evil-but-not-entirely-evil character in every movie that in the end redeems himself and then dies.

Maybe he'll kill Garrett, or he'll try to kill Garrett, it all depends if they want to keep him as the main villain for season 2, and die in the process, with the team crying over him, thus paving the way for Triplett to take his place.

I don't see how dumping them into the sea, inside a metal box without any restraints, from several hundred feet in the air, and travelling at hundreds of kilometers an hour, is "not" an attempt to kill them.

In the real world it would kill anyone.

Put two eggs inside an empty toolbox and drop it from ten feet in the air. The eggs don't turn out so well :(

Goodbye Fitz/Simmons :(

Yeah I want his nose to fall off but no metal plate on his face. Terminator and Cyborg are plenty. I think Garrett's gonna kill someone and escape. He might even kill Ward.

Didn't he shoot his dog? I think he did. The first time (when Ward was holding a handgun) he hesitated and let the dog run. Later, however, he shot the dog with a sniper rifle, didn't he?

I may be wrong; but, that's what I remember watching. Although, it was rather ambiguous.

But surely they can escape. Using SCIENCE!

Sure...if they had the foresight to gather tools and such while running for their lives through the Bus...and if the ejectable room had crash seats in it...

Oh, is that what that implied? I thought it was trying to imply that Garrett was actually watching, and then Garrett shot the dog, the implication being that Ward was thinking if he didn't get rid of Fitzsimmons, Garrett eventually would. Idk, I felt it was ambiguous ...

I hope we don't get a situation where Garrett, finding out that Fitzsimmons are alive, confronts Ward and Ward doesn't use the obvious and legit argument that 'I DID throw them into the ocean - that would usually kill someone!'. Because tbh, as you said, it is a realistic attempt.

That was actually my initial thinking, but I'm still uncertain. It being ambiguous and all.

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