Plot: Still reeling from Grant Ward’s (Brett Dalton) betrayal, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team bundle their limited resources to fight Hydra. Their first goal is to infiltrate Cybertek, Ian Quinn’s (David Conrad) company that is connected to their enemies. Meanwhile, John Garrett (Bill Paxton) is on the verge of unlocking the secrets behind GH-325.
For the past three episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has explored Ward’s betrayal from a couple of angles. We first saw it from the perspective of Garrett who viewed his protégé’s actions as the ultimate form of validation. He trained Ward in everything he could possibly know to survive, so to have him by this side during a time of great change brought him nothing but joy. Then we experienced Ward’s actions through the eyes of his team, people he has traveled with all season. His betrayal cut them to their core and brought on feelings of pure hatred. Naturally, it was the exact opposite of Garrett. After experiencing Ward’s revelation from two very different sides, it was time to see it from the man himself. What has this dual life done to our former hero, and what put him down this path of destruction?
“Ragtag” set out to answer that question. The episode opened up with a flashback to Garrett pulling Ward out of a juvenile detention facility after he was arrested for a multitude of crimes, including arson, grand theft auto, abandoning military school, and possible attempted murder. Garrett was confident he could bring this future criminal into his ranks. As last night’s story unfolded, we saw more flashbacks detailing Ward’s growth from horribly troubled youth to hardcore agent. This evidently consisted of Garrett abandoning Ward in the woods for six months with nothing but a backpack and a loyal dog named Buddy. He was then trained by Garrett for several years until S.H.I.E.L.D. pulled him in.
While these scenes delivered some excellent insight into their pasts together, especially Ward being introduced to Hydra, it would have been much better to actually see his growth unfold. In one scene, Ward is struggling with Buddy underneath a tree during a storm. Next we see him with a camp full a gear that he successfully ransacked. Garret then wants to train him in firearms, and it jumps five years into the future. We barely witnessed the struggles Ward experienced to reach the point where he is worthy of S.H.I.E.L.D. and actively wants to be part of a well known terrorist organization like Hydra. Sure, he didn’t know who Hydra was in the beginning, but surely he learned down the road. There was also little explanation as to what exactly Garrett did to cause such fervent devotion from Ward. His growth felt too rushed, which is honestly the side-effect of a very jam packed episode.
The main story revolving around Coulson’s fight against Hydra was easily the most fun its been in weeks. For a bunch of agents who are barely scraping by on the absolute minimum, they have surprisingly humorous dispositions towards their situation. Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt) brings in his Uncle’s old Howling Commandos gear to help the team, which causes Coulson to flip out upon witnessing priceless antiques. It was a great call back to a simpler time when Coulson had superhero trading cards in his S.H.I.E.L.D. locker and an office full of trinkets. I also legitimately laughed out loud at Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) burning curtains with a cigarette disguised laser and him and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) arguing through Coulson and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). That’s not something that happens every week and I loved it.
Plus, it’s obvious that the removal of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an overseer allowed this team to let their hair down a bit, so to speak. For the first time since Hydra’s uprising, the team openly references themselves as vigilantes. This basically made them throw caution to the wind during their infiltration of Cybertek. No matter how difficult the situation got, no one lost their cool under pressure. Each member played a vital part and they did it flawlessly regardless of the circumstances. When Coulson and May straight up threw an entire filing cabinet out of a window to steal the information, no one flinched. Flagrant property destruction couldn’t be farther from their minds. Perhaps this team should be unshackled more often!
The episode also did an excellent job wrapping the plot around Ward’s turmoil in the present day. Of the major things we did witness during the flashback, the most notable was Garrett making Ward’s last trial killing his precious dog. Being a part of Hydra requires no personal connections so Ward had to prove he can be as cold-hearted as a cyborg. Yet whether or not he does is actually up to interpretation. Ward scares Buddy off with a gunshot, but we officially last see the dog running in the middle of cross-hairs. Who is holding that gun is a mystery, though my money is on Garrett. The same can be said about Ward jettisoning Fitz and Simmons into the ocean. Was that cold-hearted Ward attempting to kill his former friends, or was he trying to save them since Garrett will kill them for Fitz shorting out his cybernetics with an EMP? One makes Ward a ruthless monster and the other makes him a tragic villain.
Now seeing as this was the penultimate episode of Season 1, we needed some strong set up for the finale. We got that handily with plenty of cliffhangers and new mysteries. Raina (Ruth Negga) has apparently discovered what exactly makes Skye (Chloe Bennet) so important it requires an 0-8-4 label. Garrett has now received the very last sample of GH-325 and became even stronger, on top of being the first Deathlok ever created. The episode ended with Quinn trying to sell their super soldier program to the US Army, including the many possible Deathlok’s that ambushed Coulson and his team at the abandoned Hydra base. Quite honestly, the stage is set for one off-the-rails finale and I’m confident this re-energized show can deliver.