At a very specific point in season one, Grant Ward was elevated from generic handsome man to the show’s most complex and polarizing character. In fact, he may be the most polarizing character in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
On one hand, you have fans who insist that Ward is a literal Nazi who murdered his own dog. On the other, you have the Ward Warriors, some of whom insist with increased feebleness that Ward was abused as a child and that his horrific actions should be overlooked because he was incapable of control. The vast majority of fans fall somewhere in the middle. This episode sought to put this sometimes vicious debate to rest.
The entire episode was about explaining Ward’s character with less and less subtlety until the appearance of Thomas Ward, who acted as a writer insert character and completely abandoned any sort of subtext, informing the team and the audience, “Just because you grow up in a family of abusive monsters, doesn’t mean you have to become one.”
If we believe Thomas (and I think we should), Ward’s entire life has been framed by the day he pushed his brother down a well, previously explored in a first season episode fittingly entitled “The Well.” After that, the boy Thomas described as his best friend became increasingly obsessed with “protecting” his little brother to the point he attempted to kill their abusive older brother Christian. Thomas describes a boy incapable of seeing shades of grey and insistent on redeeming himself, whatever the cost. He casts his family as evil and himself as the white knight, the conquering hero. Earlier in the episode, May suggests that Ward was “desperate for others to think of him as some kind of hero.” I think it was more important to Ward that he was able to think of himself as a hero, that that was the only way he could live with himself and what he’d done, starting with a relatively simple act of pushing his brother down a well. I think it’s interesting and totally believable that Thomas doesn’t appear to hold the well incident against his brother and instead focuses on the much more horrific acts of burning down the family home with Christian inside and the later murder of the entire family. I get the feeling that if Ward had been able to get over the well, to accept responsibility for a single violent impulse that he might have never gone down this path.
There was also a discussion of the tremendous impact father figures have had on Ward’s life. Daisy points out, in case the audience has forgotten, that she had a messed up childhood too and that she was completely “taken in” when her mother reappeared in her life, even being manipulated into attacking May. Ward was much younger than Daisy when Garrett appeared in his life and Daisy understands the pull that would have and is even understands his allegiance to HYDRA. But she’s not willing to forgive the horrible things he’s done, an important distinction. Understanding why a person or character does something does not necessarily mean that you can or should forgive them. An explanation is not an excuse.
An excuse is something Ward is desperate for because he is a man unwilling or unable to take responsibility for his actions. Like the newest MCU villain, he doesn’t see himself as a villain. To him, S.H.I.E.L.D. are the bad guys. He tells Thomas and I think he truly believes that they are responsible for Kara’s death when in fact he was the one who shot and killed her. That he thought he was killing May is as weak an excuse as you’ll get. Again, we see the lack of ability to see shades of grey and differing levels of responsibility. S.H.I.E.L.D. is evil. S.H.I.E.L.D. killed Kara. Ward is avenging her death by taking down S.H.I.E.L.D.
We can see in real time the draw father figures have for Ward as he lets himself be manipulated by Malick despite knowing exactly what he is doing. His desperation for approval continues to be one of his most obvious characteristics, whether that approval comes from Garrett or Daisy or Thomas or Malick, he needs someone to affirm that he is as he thinks of himself, a hero.
The episode ends with Fitz, Ward, and a bunch of HYDRA goons on Jemma’s mysterious home away from home, with Coulson nearby but unconscious. I’m not sure at all that they will make it off that planet in one piece.
Intel and Assets
--I’m going to miss Rosalind. I really liked her. Her date night with Phil was almost unbearably cute.
--Simmons mentioned laughing at Ward’s “ridiculous puns.” Ward never made puns. Brett Dalton, on the other hand…
Wait, I thought all's well that ends well #AgentsofSHIELD— Brett Dalton (@IMBrettDalton) December 2, 2015
Coulson: “Honestly? Don’t know what that means.”
Hunter: “Piece of advice: never trust a crooked jockey on a doped up horse.”
Hunter: “We both know common sense was never really my strong suit.”
four out of four Grant Wards
sunbunny, who is not Mark Greig
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