Shot Through the Heart and You're to Blame
“Nothing Personal” continues the trend towards quality for Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD…or whatever they call it next season (I’d put even money they keep the title). The effects of Hydra coming out of the shadows finally hit home on a personal level as the team reacts to Ward being Hydra. A fact not so subtly scrawled out by Skye in the final minutes of “The Only Light in the Darkness”. These moments of earned personal turmoil are combined with moments of excitement and the low rent camp aesthetic, turning Agents of SHIELD into the show it’s meant to be.
I have a soft spot for the cheap aesthetic, when it’s done well. Shows like Spartacus turned their limited budget, dependent on green screen to recreate ancient Rome, and squarely used it to channel 300 effects. This effectively allowed them to make for some rather beautiful and stylish action sequences. All of this “style” cannot save the first half (or 4 if you’re generous) season where the show was unmoored from anything resembling character and development. That series eventually found its footing, cutting down on some swearing and soft core eroticism and most importantly found the heart of its major characters. A heart they managed to keep when recasting several actors. This arc can be applied to Arrow as well, it had a cool gritty camp aesthetic and no soul.
On their own, moments like Simmons lamenting the lack of bunker-ception within Providence base. Or the ham fistedly played comedic beat in which the blast doors open, fall flat. Last week Simmons talked about wanting the Tardis and it’s hard not to feel a bit of Doctor Who when SHIELD tries comedy. These moments do not entirely in a vacuum; they are contextualized by earned character moments mainly from Fitz this week. Fitz is the worst at controlling his emotions and he takes the fact Ward is Hydra the hardest. One of the better threads from the first two-thirds was the slow and begrudging respect developed between Ward and Fitz. It was a legitimate connection that has now been shattered. Fitz reacts in kind by throwing the makeshift lab equipment to the ground (he needs some upper body strength).
Fitz is losing things to trust in, he can trust in Simmons as their tender moment by the pool implies. Fitz straight out asks her if she is Hydra, she isn’t (as far as we know). I don’t care if they become the nerd power couple of the show, because it’s a soft moment between friends that actually works. Fitz has been transformed into the emotional heart of this show.
The big marketing push for this episode was the return of Maria Hill, a semi-bland present in most of her Marvel features. She is just given a thankless role really that doesn’t allow her to actually be utilized in lieu of bigger name characters and stars. “Nothing Personal” is he first real moment to shine, by turning Coulson and Providence base over to Talbot. It’s betrayal that helps flesh out the friendship between Coulson and herself. Watching SHIELD go down in flames around Coulson has brought out questions of how friendships work in the spy game, a naturally secretive business. Hill can compartmentalize turning her friends over to Talbot, while still keeping her own secretes. Secretes Coulson desperately wants more than anything as a sign of friendship, he would’ve kept them like a good soldier. Talbots reaction to the team calling themselves Agents of SHIELD still tells you exactly how little currency that term carries in the post Winter Soldier world. For Coulson it was never currency, it is an ideal to strive towards and one his team seems to finally be getting behind (just in time for their world to end).
Hill’s appearance also offers some opportunities to world build a bit. As seen in the end of Winter Soldier, Hill is now working for Stark who appears to be privatizing global security. It’s a moment that fans would jump all over as further confirmation that Stark will create Ultron. Politically, it is a move that effectively turns Stark back into an arms dealer, this time he’s selling men AND guns to the highest bidder. Hill offers a job at Stark Industries for Coulson and his team, a move that seems highly logical if they don’t want to make next season totally ragtag. As the team sits around “homeless” in a cheap motel, for once they feel like the an actual family.
Giving this show a ‘B’ plot away from the team has really helped with the pacing of episodes. We just spent to much time with these characters and got barely anything out of it. With Ward and Skye on the run, “Nothing Personal” has a surfire tense scene to jump to when things are about to get a little boring for Coulson’s crew. Skye has really turned around for me, cemented by her take down of Ward in the diner before revealing she turned them in. Ward’s betrayal hits even more personally for her, ideas of romance aside, the team was her family. Bennett unleashes a fury within Skye as she slowly reveals she knows. Things do go a little off the rails once Skyes calls Ward a Nazi by association “It’s in the S.H.I.E.L.D. handbook. Chapter One: The Red Skull, founder of Hydra, was a big fat frickin’ Nazi.” There’s no real way to make that work, sure Ward is a serial killer but Nazi? That term is thrown around so much it has lost all meaning for true evil.
Evil Ward (sadly without evil stubble) continues to be the most interesting problem for the show to deal with. “Nothing Persona” has the unenviable task of squaring away his bonafides as evil, fan theories of Ward being brainwashed (a possibility I thought held water) are thrown aside by the team and his feeling for Skye. Skye is a clear weak point that is used against him by Deathlok, in order for Skye to decrypt the macguffin hard drive. With his true self revealed any future he hoped for a future with Skye, Homeland-esque as it would’ve been has gone up in smoke. Garrett’s aggressive action, in acquiring the data on the drive also has the appearance of driving a wedge between master and pupils, making Ward’s odds for survival dwindle.
And then there’s the ending. So the man behind Tahiti was Coulson all along! Whatever good that was done by erasing his memories must be fully undone at this point. Past-Coulson’s warning about the psychological damage do not sound good for Coulson or Skye. It could be argued that Coulson has already gotten past the major psychological damage (is there anything but major?) and that Skye wasn’t In as bad a spot. Honestly it’s hard to really care about anything in this thread.