Agents of SHIELD Is the Crazy Epic That Every Other Show Wishes It Could Be

Illustration for article titled iAgents of SHIELD/i Is the Crazy Epic That Every Other Show Wishes It Could Be

We’re living in a freaking golden age of superhero television shows right now, especially if you count things like Netflix. But even with such a wealth of amazing stuff hitting our screens lately, Agents of SHIELD feels pretty unique. And last night’s non-stop-madness episode was the proof.

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Spoilers ahead...

Agents of SHIELD has always had its ups and downs—but it’s also a show that has a pretty solid track record of paying off, if you give it enough time. For those of us who were wondering if the stuff about the ATCU, that government agency set up to deal with all the newly-empowered Inhumans, would prove worthwhile—we got a decent answer with last night’s “Closure.”

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Illustration for article titled iAgents of SHIELD/i Is the Crazy Epic That Every Other Show Wishes It Could Be

And there was a lot of stuff in “Closure” that only packs its full impact if you’ve been watching Agents of SHIELD since day one, because it’s an episode that really rewards an in-depth knowledge of that freaking psycho bastard, Grant Ward.

In a nutshell, here’s what happens in “Closure.” Grant Ward goes after Coulson, shooting Coulson’s colleague/love-interest Roz in the middle of a too-good-to-last romantic moment. Coulson, in return, goes off the deep end, so determined to eliminate Ward that he’s willing to go “off books” with some crazy stunts. Meanwhile, Ward and his new bestie, Gideon Malick, are putting their actual plan into action—with some reluctance on Ward’s part. They lure Fitz and Simmons into a trap, interrogate them, and finally convince Fitz to help them go to the distant planet where Simmons was trapped, so they can rescue the ancient Inhuman monster that Simmons glimpsed there. (The one that tends to drive people insane.) Fitz, Ward, and some Hydra goons travel through a portal to the alien world—but they bring along a stowaway: Coulson.

“Closure” starts and ends with some pretty shocking events and over-the-top action—but its linchpin is the stuff in the middle, where we delve into just what makes Grant Ward the person he is. And we’re forced to ask just how much like Ward Coulson is willing to become, in order to get revenge for Roz’s death.

Coulson is being totally reactive, but he still plays it somewhat smart. He gathers all of his original team from season one, and questions them about Ward, trying to pinpoint anything they may remember about their ex-teammate that could help. It’s actually super fascinating to see all those relationships from a couple years ago, filtered through what we know about Ward now.
And the interesting bit comes when Daisy sort of lets slip that she does really understand Ward, and even sympathize with him a little bit. They both had similar “messed-up” childhoods, and that became a filter through which they see everything else. They got used to hiding parts of themselves, and lying in order to survive. Daisy understands Ward—but she will never forgive him.

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“The reason Ward kills isn’t because he feels nothing,” says Daisy. “It’s because he feels too much.”

This enables Coulson to find Ward’s weakness and exploit it—Ward’s brother, Thomas, whom he trapped down a well when they were kids at the instigation of their psycho older brother Christian. All of those flashbacks to the kid down the well, from season one, suddenly take on a new significance when we meet Thomas and see just how scarred he still is by Grant’s abusive behavior. (Plus their evil parents, and Christian.)

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Illustration for article titled iAgents of SHIELD/i Is the Crazy Epic That Every Other Show Wishes It Could Be

So we end up with a situation where Ward and Coulson are both pushing each other’s buttons as hard as they can, and they’re both being driven over the edge by their emotions. The only person who’s even trying to be the voice of reason is Bobbi, who’s used to this kind of shit with her on-again, off-again love interest Lance.

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And on Grant’s side, the voice of reason is weirdly Gideon Malick, who tells Grant that closure is bullshit. Closure is not for closers. “What I believe in is moving forward.” Instead of obsessing over wrongs from his past and trying to balance the scales and all that therapeutic stuff, Malick just wants to bring that nightmare creature from the other planet back to Earth, which is allegedly Hydra’s founding mission, from hundreds of years ago.

Malick wins that argument, by convincing Ward that he can be a leader in Hydra, instead of obsessively chasing the Road Runner of Coulson and SHIELD. And once he’s found the monster and brought it back to Earth, “we can do whatever the hell we want.” Ward sort of knows he’s being manipulated, but he still goes along with it.

Meanwhile, Coulson is being led by his emotions, and on a crazy rampage, after the fridging of Rosalind. But he does make one good call—he makes Mack the acting director of SHIELD while Coulson is off doing things the SHIELD director shouldn’t be involved in, like kidnapping Ward’s brother.

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And one of the great things in the episode is getting to watch Mack step up and slowly start making the tough calls. Including recruiting two Inhumans, Joey and Lincoln, to the SHIELD team attacking the facility where Ward and Malick are holding Fitz and Simmons. Mack actually makes a really good leader—probably better than Coulson, because he shares his intel with others and tries to take care of his people. (Coulson’s the one who sends Fitz and Simmons into that trap, without enough backup.)

Illustration for article titled iAgents of SHIELD/i Is the Crazy Epic That Every Other Show Wishes It Could Be
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Speaking of which, Fitz and Simmons both wind up face-to-face with Ward, right after doing all that soul-searching about him to Coulson. And Ward is in full-on psychopath mode, having his telekinetic friend torture Simmons while he manipulates Fitz. The end result is that Fitz folds, agreeing to go to the other planet as their guide. (But Fitz also sort of promises Simmons that he’ll rescue Will, the plucky astronaut that Simmons was involved with, but he won’t bring back the terrifying creature that drives people mad. Good luck, Fitz!)

So as the episode ends, Coulson has parachuted into the portal just as it’s closing, and he does not have a particularly soft landing on the alien planet. He seems out cold, or possibly injured. Meanwhile, Ward, Fitz and the Hydra goons are already on their way.

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This was a standout episode—not just because it kept you guessing about what was going to happen next, but also because characters we’ve had a few years to invest in were making some seriously scary choices. Coulson, in particular, seems like the loss of Rosalind, who was his equal and someone he could actually confide in, is turning him into a monster. It’s a fascinating paradox that the one person who offers useful advice on how to avoid letting the past turn you into an abomination is Malick, who’s the most horrendous character of all.


Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.

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DISCUSSION

Cool_Breeze
Cool_Breeze

ಠ_ಠ

A lot of stuff happened this episode, and by gosh was it an intense ride. Oh Boy. Up until the reveal that Rosalind didn’t know about Malick’s plans last episode, I was worried she was in on it the whole time. But once it was confirmed that she didn’t know, but was hand selected by Malick to run the ATCU, I came around. She was a good character, and I’m sad to see her go.

Marvel is on a roll. Say what you want about their depictions of women heroes and strong women characters in the movies (a lot of those criticisims are founded), but the television side of things is just nailing it. From Agent May, Daisy, Simmons, and Mockingbird, to Peggy Carter, Claire Temple, Jessica freaking Jones, and even Rosalind, they are absolutely bringing the heat. This isn’t pandering - it’s reality. There are just as many (if not more) strong women in the world as men. It’s refreshing to finally see that getting depicted on screen (even if it’s the small one, there is some work to do) without immediately reverting to the damsel in distress stereotype. Rosalind was the latest example of this.

Ros was the female Coulson. She ran her team, and had a plan. She had impeccable taste in cars. Such a luddite.

What a time to be alive.

1. But this show wasn’t really about all that - all of that was just something Marvel does on the side. This episode was mostly about the lengths people will go for the ones they care about. Ros’ sudden death was a wicked gut punch, and set Coulson on his mission, armed only with a parachute, a plan, and vibranium balls.

That fight scene after Ward killed Ros (that was in the first THREE MINUTES OF THE EPISODE SO YOU MIGHT GUESS HOW THE PACE WAS) between Coulson and Ward’s goons was awesome. There was some scrappyness, but when was the last time we actually saw Coulson throw down like that? The best Marvel One Shot: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer. And just like A Funny Thing..., Coulson made MacGruber proud with his use of his surroundings and his homemade flash bang. I like how we got to go along for the ride: Air Freshener! Matches! A FIREPLACE! MACGRUBER!

2. Funny enough: When Coulson texted for extraction, one person showed up: Mack. Mack is a force to be reckoned with. Who needs a team of extractors when Mack got yo’ back? Hell, even his one gunshot while giving Coulson cover sounded powerful. Was that a goddamn HAND CANNON? Vincent Vega would be proud.

3. Ward. WHAT THE HELL MAN. I’m beginning the see a pattern: The best villains in the MCU are on television, not the movies. Loki is by far the best movie villain in the MCU. But that’s it. On television, however, shit gets real. Ward. Fisk. Motherfucking KILGRAVE. These villains are absolutely bonkers. The movie side of the MCU might get all the love and the bigger names and the bigger budgets, but holy shit is the television side holding it’s own.

Ward is irredeemable. There is no question. He’s a straight villain (as I have always maintained since he was outed) and there is no turning back. Might as well give him a mustache to twirl next season ‘cause he’s all in. He shot Ros for the sole purpose of getting to Coulson. Sure, Malick “ordered” it, but Ward would have done it anyway.

It was crazy to see him try to be reasonable with Fitz and Simmons after they were captured, insisting that he would never hurt Simmons OH BUT WHAT ABOUT BUDGET MAGNETO? he has no qualms. And forcing Fitz to listen to Simmons in the other room. That’s worse than any physical torture Ward could have done. Ward cared about Fitz in some twisted way, and was willing to use that against him while making Fitz listen to Simmons’ screams (and silence). “I even told you to make a move before it was too late. Guess what? It’s too late.” What. The. Fuck.

And then, when he found out Coulson had his little brother, he made himself a liar: He hurt Simmons in desperation. He crossed his own line, and it’s going to be harder for him to justify himself going forward.

4. Speaking of, as I mentioned, this episode was about the lengths people will go for the ones they care about. Ward tried to protect his little brother, and hurt him once, and then spent the rest of his “childhood” trying to explain it away and blame it on others and make it “right.” He was willing to hurt Simmons (despite telling her he never would) for his brother.

Coulson was also willing to cross some lines to avenge Ros and save FitzSimmons. Coulson was on a tear, and I do not doubt for a minute that he would have told Hunter to kill Thomas if need be. We might as well call Coulson the Winter Soldier from now on, because that shit was ICE COLD.

And then there’s Fitz. He’d rather jump across the universe than see Simmons hurt or dead. He lost her once, and isn’t strong enough to live in a world that doesn’t have her in it. WHO IS CUTTING ONIONS? STOP.

5. Malick said there were five mini monoliths divided between Hydra’s greatest leaders. I wonder if Red Skull had one?

6. I approve of Director Mack. I liked the hint of Director Johnson (“What about Daisy?”) but think Mack will do just fine in Coulson’s absence. I laughed once the reality set in, and Mack had the “I have no idea what I’m doing” look. Mack is the only one without an AXE to grind with Ward. Just get the man his Shotgun Axe already! Now that he’s Director, he can commission it himself!

7. Mack may have started out as Director with that look, but he owned it. Mack, the man who was turned into a Kree sentry and absolutely did not trust Tremors or Coulson,was the one to finally commission the SECRET WARRIORS! Lets look at that team: Daisy! Lincoln! Joey! ..and that’s it. HEY IT’S A START. We have the Secret Warriors on television.

What a time to be alive.

I kept writing! Check it out!