Hard Copy: A Review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 21 “Ragtag”

Posted: May 27, 2014 in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Reviews, TV
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Episode: 21 (S01E21)
Airdate: April 22, 2014

This, the penultimate episode of the inaugural season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sees the team in full scramble mode, as they’ve finally realized the depth and seriousness of their situation, and they seek a way to bring down their enemies for good. With nearly everyone reunited, the team can work together – but will everyone survive the coming climax? Click through to read more after the break.

<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E21 – “Ragtag” – will discuss major plot points and events in the episode, as well as spoilers that apply to events in the recently released movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier; read at your own risk!>>

There are two primary arcs going on in this episode, one in the present, and a second that shows us flashbacks of Ward’s developing relationship with Garrett.

The purpose of Ward’s flashbacks appears to be twofold: to explain how he became what he is, a Hydra agent in deep cover, and to elicit a modicum of sympathy in the audience. He’s presented as a juvenile, being held at a facility for other delinquents, when Garrett shows up and makes him an offer. He’s surprisingly forthcoming, seeing as how admitting you’re Hydra to a young, already troubled teen, is not necessarily the best way to maintain one’s cover, but he gives young Ward one piece of advice that is particularly telling: “Trust no one – especially me.”

Garrett dumps Ward out in the woods, alone except for a Golden Retriever named Buddy. He comes back – months later – to find that not only has Ward survived, but flourished. Ward surprises Garrett, has him at gunpoint, but he lets him go when Garrett talks him down. As a finishing touch, to test how cold Ward is or has become, Garrett tells him to “take care of Buddy” – he doesn’t want to bring the dog back. This flashback is integrated with a moment in the present when Ward must decide whether or not to take an action that could kill two of his former teammates, and there is a moment of hope when we see him fire in the air, telling Buddy to run; however, we then see someone – is it Garrett, or is it Ward? – sighting through a sniper’s scope at the running dog, then a loud report as the gun is fired. We aren’t shown who took the shot, but the insinuation is that it was likely Ward (earlier in the episode, we see him handling a sniper rifle, showing his skill at long-distance killing – we never see Garrett using the gun).

In the present, the team is trying to find a way to activate Skye’s trojan. Unfortunately, needing a Hydra hardwired computer to activate the virus means going to some kind of Hydra facility – so they choose the softest target they can think of: a Cybertek office building. Coulson and May go in undercover, doing their best geeky scientist impersonations, working with audio feeds from Fitz and Simmons who, inevitably, end up arguing over approach, causing Coulson and May to babble almost incoherently. Fitz is particularly humorous, as he gets angry at the Cybertek interviewer’s reaction to his night-night ammunition – they’ve taken the idea and improved upon it, and Fitz is quite miffed.

After the interview, Coulson and May infiltrate the building, but can’t find a single computer anywhere. There’s one floor that appears to be inaccessible, so they figure that must be where the computers are kept. However, once they get access, they find a room stacked with row on row of filing cabinets – every one of Cybertek’s files is kept in hard copy, thus preventing electronic theft. In one of the funnier moments of the episode, Coulson radios down to the waiting Skye and Trip, telling them, “Skye, Trip, get ready for a large file transfer.” Moments later, an upper floor window smashes open, as May and Coulson throw out a full filing cabinet.

Among their more interesting findings: they now know that Garrett is Deathlok version 1.0 – and thus much more dangerous than they even suspected.

Garrett and Ward are seeming to wear on each other. Garrett’s gleeful approach to every little act of evil runs counter to Ward’s serious approach. He’s angered at the killing of a South American drug lord, a killing committed by Deathlok (version 2.0, Michael Peterson) in a very public manner. Instead of addressing Ward’s valid concerns, Garrett congratulates an obviously dissatisfied Peterson on his success. Later, he starts to really lay into Ward, calling him weak due to the connections he made with the team, particularly his feelings for Skye. Of course, this weakness runs back to the flashbacks as well, when we see him bonding with Buddy. The irony here is that, just as Garrett is laying it on most heavily, he suddenly grips his side and collapses: his body is dying, and the cybernetics are not able to keep him going much longer. Who’s the weak one now? Apparently, he only has a month or two left to live, although that’ll likely be moot should Coulson and the team get their hands on him.

Coulson and team are able to track Cybertek shipments to Havana, and he recalls an old base S.H.I.E.L.D. had there, so off they go in search of the elusive hard wired Hydra computer terminal. In Havana, Garrett and his team are, as usual lately, just one step ahead. We see Quinn – he’s going to be the new face of a corporate Hydra fronted by Cybertek – and Ward gets a call from Raina, who has found something interesting from the Bus’s data: Skye’s DNA is not entirely human, and is in fact a match for a baby she’s heard about from China – one who was saved from a village where monsters killed everyone else. When Ward asks what happened to the baby’s parents, Raina replies, “The baby’s parents were the monsters.”

This is something that’s been building all season long, beginning with Episode 102, “0-8-4,” when Skye found out that she was designated such (an object of unknown origin), and continuing in Episode 112, “Seeds,” when Skye found out that a village was massacred and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents lost trying to protect her. Her positive and rapid reaction to the GH-325 drug in Episode 114, “T.A.H.I.T.I.” confirmed, at least in Coulson’s mind, that there is something different about Skye, based on his own difficulties in absorbing the miracle cure. Now it looks as though the connections are coming full circle.

While the combat-ready team members go to bust the Hydra base (along with Skye so she can start up her trojan), Fitz and Simmons track down the Bus with the hope that they can at least track where Garrett is going. Of course, they’re captured and taken aboard. Fitz uses one of Trip’s grandfather’s gizmos, a joy buzzer that sends out an EMP, disabling Garrett’s cybernetics and sending him into a full system shutdown. Garrett tells Ward to take care of Fitz and Simmons, and then gives Raina the GH-325 surrogate she’s managed to distill – it’s close to the original, by it’s synthetic, and she has no idea what it will do. She also tells Garrett that it’s all she has, and that she can’t make more, although that makes little sense – doesn’t she keep lab notes? He tells her to use it on him.

This is the point when we get the flashback of Ward being told to kill Buddy. Fitz and Simmons close themselves in a sealed cargo pod, and Ward tells them to come out. They refuse, and he ejects the pod into the ocean. Thing is, I don’t think he really wants to kill them – he genuinely seems torn, but with the uncertainty of who shot Buddy left out there, his intentions are similarly unclear. What can be said, is that the plane is low, and in near-vertical mode when the pod is ejected. I don’t see how Ward could have manipulated the flight path to do this, and it is never explained why the plane is suddenly running low and slow, so this is kind of a sticking point. To be generous, I imagine we could say that the plane needs to go into that flight mode (near vertical) when ejecting cargo pods, and it was already flying low in order to avoid radar, so…. Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it allows the scriptwriters to give Fitz and Simmons at least a chance of survival.

Inevitably, Raina injects all of the GH-325 into Garrett – and he goes into huge convulsions, eventually settling on his back with his eyes staring intently into space. Ward – returned from dealing with his former teammates – asks him, “What are you feeling?” “The universe,” Garrett replies.

The episode ends on a tense note: we don’t know the condition of Fitz and Simmons, and the rest of the team is suddenly confronted by a team of Hydra super-soldiers, including one holding the Asgardian berserker staff from Episode 108, “The Well.” Things look dire indeed.

In the stinger, Quinn is fitting into his new role, promising a group of generals one thousand super-soldiers just like the one who killed the South American drug lord, if they’ll agree to a contract with Cybertek. He tells them that these soldiers will be “Better, stronger, faster,” evoking The Six Million Dollar Man in so doing, and you can practically see most of the generals drooling.

This was a very strong episode, with a couple of logic flaws that detracted a little from the overall quality. The use of flashbacks and parallel story structure worked very well, and while the writers could have focused on trying to set Ward up as sympathetic heading into the season finale, they didn’t over do it, and his decision to eject Fitz and Simmons to an unknown fate means that even his one defender on the team – Fitz – will have to admit that Ward is fully a Hydra agent.

I did like the Buddy storyline. The dog, with his unquestioning loyalty, becomes a surrogate for Fitz, who has had a special bond with Ward ever since they worked together in Episode 107, “The Hub,” and the way the writers toyed with viewer emotions as they showed Ward firing into the air to send Buddy away was subtly done – there was a moment of hope that he would find an alternative, make a different choice – but then we see the sniper scope focusing in on the running dog, and the button/trigger is pushed. Nicely dovetailed together, this kind of action is indicative of the overall improvements the show has been enjoying during the season-ending “Uprising” story arc.

The tension, and the placing of team members in real danger, is something that has been sorely lacking at times this inaugural season, so it’s been a real pleasure to see both tension and danger ramped up continually over the last six weeks. The end of this episode means that the season finale will, by necessity, begin in medias res, “in the middle of the action.” And that’s exactly what this kind of show needs.

Questions that were answered and story-lines ended:

– we now have Ward’s true origin story, not the line he’s been feeding Skye

– Raina confirmed that Skye is not human, giving us more insight into her 0-8-4 status

– we found out that the cybernetics we glimpsed on Garrett’s side mean that he’s actually the first Deathlok

– Fitz has no more illusions about Ward

Questions unanswered, both old and new:

– why can’t Raina synthesize more GH-325 surrogate?

– why was the Bus flying low and slow when Fitz and Simmons were ejected?

– if Skye’s parents are monsters, why isn’t she? (Some may debate her status as a non-monster.)

Best Lines:

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Garrett and Ward get away with murder…and I want my plane back.” – Coulson, briefing the team

“Inside, I believe she and I have something in common.” – Raina to Michael Peterson, when he asks why she’s helping Hydra

“I’m going to mine it, save it, and when we find Ward? I’m going to use every bit of it to take him down.” – May, when Skye asks her why she isn’t angry

“The baby’s parents were the monsters.” – Raina to Ward, talking about Skye’s possible origins

“Looks like the joke’s on you.” – Fitz to Garrett after disabling his cybernetics via the joy buzzer EMP

“You’re right. It’s a weakness.” – Ward admitting he cares for Fitz and Simmons, right before ejecting their cargo pod into the ocean

Funniest Moment:

“Skye, Trip, get ready for a large file transfer.” – said by Coulson, just before he and May throw a heavy filing cabinet out of an upper floor window

Other things we learned:

– Garrett not only doesn’t have any respect for Ward, he doesn’t really like him either, despite their years of history together

Steve’s Grade: B+
A couple of slips by the writers did little to detract from an otherwise excellent episode, which saw everyone on the team get into deeper trouble, and Ward finally sell the last vestige of his soul to a devil that doesn’t even like him.

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