I said last week that one of the things that’s changed for me in the past few episodes is Ward: whereas I found him rather dull for most of the season, he’s now interesting.
That’s even more true after this week’s episode, which left me with several theories and a bunch of questions (and isn’t that one indicator of a good story – when we can’t quit thinking about what happened or what it means?)
Here’s a brief recap of what I took away from the Ward plot here, and my musings on various points:
He was a juvenile delinquent, facing serious prison time for arson and attempted murder when Garret gave him the option of leaving with him.
- Question: was Garrett lying about Ward’s parents’ plans to have him tried as adult? (It’s not that I’m trying to paint his family situation differently than what’s been presented – but Garrett lies to everyone, and would absolutely do so in that situation if it got him what he wanted, namely Ward.)
- Question: was Ward lying when he said he didn’t know his brother was in the house when he burned it down? (This isn’t necessarily relevant; I’m just curious; the delay before he answers Garrett struck me – was it because he didn’t think he would believe he hadn’t been trying to kill his brother, or was it because he had been, and was lying?)
So Garrett springs him, takes him to the wilderness, and abandons him, leaving him with just the dog. During the six months he’s gone, Ward learns the survival skills necessary to fend for himself.
- Observation: Something in this whole process cemented Ward’s loyalty to Garrett, and my theory is that it had to do with his perception that, A) Garrett saw something in him that made him believe Ward could meet the challenge of surviving on his own; and B) a turning point in becoming an adult is discovering that you can meet your own physical needs, and Garrett was responsible for that realization.
- Question: …and yet, the loyalty is there despite Garrett’s having abandoned him. Why wasn’t the takeaway for Ward something along the lines of, ‘I can obviously make it on my own and don’t need you’?
Most likely answer: because he could survive in the wilderness on his own, but he couldn’t do so in civilization, not with his history of violence and juvenile incarceration, and no good way to explain why he’s no longer awaiting trial.
Alternative theory: because he did still need Garrett’s approval; he wanted to please the man who’d rescued him from prison and given him the opportunity to become independent.
Garrett’s next act is to test the dept of that loyalty by forcing Ward to kill the dog who’s been his only companion for six months. The fact that Garrett doesn’t give him the option of just leaving Buddy in the wilderness, but expects him to actually end his life, makes it apparent that it’s about controlling Ward, not getting rid of the dog they can’t take with them.
Not killing is failure, and Ward needs the approval of the man who saved him. And doing so has the reward of being offered, finally, the opportunity dangled in front of him when they first met: the chance to join S.H.I.E.L.D, to belong somewhere, to put the survival skills he’s been honing to use.
The result, though, is that Garrett has now conditioned Ward to kill on his command.
But there’s another important takeaway from the last scene with Buddy: Ward didn’t want to kill him. It’s the first completely convincing evidence I’ve seen that he’s not a total monster, was not born a sociopath. Whether or not he can be redeemed is still a question, but at least the capacity for an emotional connection was there.
Fitz desperately wanted to believe that, to believe that Ward wasn’t acting of his own free will, and the back story, of how Garrett ‘trained’ him, lends weight to Fitz having been right…or would have, fifteen years earlier, at least. Loyalty to the man who created you, who gave you a chance, allowed you to become who you are, is understandable …to a point.
Plus, despite the six months he spent on his own, thinking for himself isn’t something Garrett encouraged him to do, so when he orders him to betray them, it’s possible Ward doesn’t have a framework, really, for not following orders.
The problem is that Ward isn’t still a teenager.
When Garrett nearly kills him, relying solely on Skye’s nature to save him, it seems like a grown man would begin to question whether his devotion to Garrett was deserved. So why doesn’t he?
Is it because he’s in too deep? Having betrayed a bunch of people who might have actually been worthy of that loyalty, he really has no one but Garrett? (Isn’t that what Garrett has set up from day one?)
Still paralleling their early experiences, Garrett once again orders Ward to kill, this time Fitz and Simmons, using the same trigger that worked with Buddy: “Is this a problem?”
Again, we see the proof that despite Garrett’s control over him, Ward doesn’t want to kill them, anymore than he did Buddy. But he’s not capable, for whatever reason, of going against Garrett. So he drops them into the ocean.
More questions: does he do so believing there’s a chance they’ll live, and so he’s not just certainly killed people he cares about? Or does he think he has killed them, has obeyed Garrett completely, but just in a less messy fashion than a bullet to the brain?
Are his actions those of a man struggling to be as good as possible when he’s conditioned to obey a monster? Or are they of a man who, while being beyond redemption, can care about his victims?
Ward’s not the only one whose motivations are revealed in this episode, though, which addresses another question I’ve had: what are the motives of Hydra agents? It’s a large organization, and it doesn’t make sense to me that every single one of them wants the same things as did Alexander Pierce. And equally unlikely to me is that all but a few are blind to what they’re doing.
Here, we get some of those puzzle pieces: Mike, we know, is on-board because, A) they’ve got his son, and B) they can kill him instantly if he doesn’t do as ordered. Raina? Her focus is answers. She wants to know about people who are “other,” who are, apparently, like her. And Garrett? He wants to live. (That’s not the reason he originally signed up for Hydra, but it’s his driving motivation now.)
I very much like that they’re taking the time to explore that. Not everyone who’s a member of Hydra is evil; not everyone’s who part of S.H.I.E.L.D is noble and good.
In terms of the rest of the team, my favorite part of the story was Fitz. Having taken the time to establish that he’s not dealing well with Ward’s betrayal, his choices here, leading to their being dumped in the ocean, make perfect sense. And that scene, set up so that the audience sees that Fitz is right about Ward caring about them, though Fitz doesn’t, is particularly powerful.
Other scenes of note:
- Skye struggling to come to terms with having saved Ward
- Skye and May’s discussion about anger and ‘hate-fu.’ I love what their relationship is becoming.
- The file transfer.
- Tripplet’s box of toys – it’s fun watching him become more integrated into the team.
“I should have let Mike finish him when I had the chance. I was stupid and weak.”
“You weren’t weak. You had compassion. That’s harder.” (Skye and Coulson)