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I've made no secret of the fact that I think Agents of SHIELD got much better as it dealt with the fallout from Winter Soldier. As I mentioned in my post on the first part of the season, the pacing of the earlier episodes feels better in retrospect than it did at the time, but it still suffered from having to draw out too little story over too many episodes. When HYDRA comes out of the shadows in "Turn Turn Turn", the plot picks up steam, and (with the exception of the mostly terrible episode about the cellist -- although the Skye vs. Ward plotline almost saves it) barrels ahead to a satisfying ending.

I made a mistake in my prior post when I assumed that Ward was feeding intel about Coulson's team directly to Garrett -- at some point after they reunite, Garrett makes some reference to Ward having been mostly out of contact. It was, of course, in the context of Garrett ordering Quinn to shoot Skye, which is the only time Ward really talks back to Garrett. That man has Ward completely under his thumb. I guess that's what happens when you become the father figure to someone who grew up in an abusive family situation. Not that Garrett was any less abusive toward Ward, but he was more subtle about it -- he knew just how to manipulate Ward, and he succeeded.

Given certain events of the current season, I feel secure in my belief that no redemption arc is forthcoming for Grant Ward. But it certainly seemed like a possibility in these episodes. When Skye tells Ward that he's a Nazi (which is such a fantastic moment; I have no words for how much I loved seeing someone name HYDRA for what it truly is, and how much I loved that the someone in question was Skye), it's obvious that he's literally never thought of himself that way, and it might even have shaken him a little. Ward's loyalty is to Garrett, not HYDRA, and there are a number of suggestions, all the way up to the season finale, that he'd be happy for the two of them to leave HYDRA and go do their own thing. But of course Garrett is in way too deep for that, and when he suggests to Ward that staying is the best way to get his hands on Skye, that's pretty much it for Ward and redemption. (Never mind that Garrett has it exactly backwards -- the only way for Ward to have a chance with Skye would be to truly repent of and atone for his betrayals, but that would require Ward and Garrett to respect Skye as a person, not see her as a prize to be won or the key to a puzzle.)

Even though at the time I thought there were reasonable odds that Ward would at least try to be redeemed, I find him much more interesting as a villain, so I'm not sorry they've gone that route. And make no mistake -- like Loki before him, Ward is a villain. A villain with a tragic backstory, and sometimes with defensible reasons for his choices, but a villain nonetheless. And I have far less sympathy for Ward than for Loki, because Loki can feel regret. I'm not sure Ward allows himself to do that.

The show upends a lot of its own mythology in this run of episodes: Ward is HYDRA, Hand is not (and I have to confess that I fell for that particular misdirection the first time through), May is spying on Coulson for Fury and is the actual driver behind the formation of the team. Trip integrates seamlessly onto the team, and I love how his backstory ties him to the Howling Commandos. Skye figuring out that Ward is HYDRA and then playing him to her own ends is one of my favorite things ever. The return of Mike Peterson is ultimately handled pretty well. I could have done without the attempt at a Fitz/Simmons/Trip love triangle (will probably talk more about that when I cover the second season of AoS), but Simmons's reaction to how that all goes down is perfect.

Overall I liked the whole season better the second time around, although this latter chunk didn't have as far to improve. Now that I'm not longer under time pressure, Guardians of the Galaxy is up next, and I'm curious to see what new connections, if any, I can make to the rest of canon.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/711515.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.

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