7.5

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: "Ragtag"

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<em>Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.</em>: "Ragtag"

By welcoming Cobie Smulders’ Agent Hill on last week’s installment, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. again failed at delivering on its promise of connecting to the wider MCU. And although the show remains stubbornly preoccupied with forcing Skye on the audience, the (wayyyyy slower than it should have been) incursion from the Big Outside World has been a tremendous boon—actually, more like a relief.

Onward to tonight, its penultimate episode (possibly ever—it still, this late in the season, has yet to officially be renewed): flashbacks of Ward’s underwhelming beginnings as Garrett’s protégé and nascent H.Y.D.R.A. sleeper agent frustratingly displace an unfortunate share of screen time. While it’s never unpleasant to spend more time with Bill Paxton’s sardonic, murderous villain, his presence served mainly to make us sympathize with Ward.

Frankly, it seems kind of silly for the show to try generating any drama out of “Can Ward be saved?!” after revealing his true intentions so late in the season, then wondering whether redemption is possible two episodes from the end. Fitz is the only character who seems to even care; it’s almost as though they very recently planted the trait of his undying loyalty as Ward’s Biggest Fan in order to elbow us in the chops over the question nobody asked regarding Ward’s conscience. If the tactic feels familiar, it should: they tried, basically, the same thing with Skye a couple months back. At least in last night’s episode, the entire team isn’t dripping with existential angst over it. The writers are really, really impatient for us to bond with these characters, and the plot move can’t help coming off as desperate.

Anyway, following up from evidence collected by Skye’s Trojan horse, the team infiltrates Cybertek, with Coulson and May undercover as job applicants. The following few minutes are easily the best in the episode: Gregg and Wen are terrific as they botch their interview, doing a horrible disservice to the technobabble FitzSimmons feeds them through their earpieces, all while dressed for success in their sweater vests. They sneak and beat their way to the facilities’ bowels and locate their quarry—and it turns out Cybertek’s files are decidedly lo-fi. They steal the files anyway, in what was the only time I actually chuckled out loud watching this show. “Get ready for a large file transfer,” Phil warns Skye, before a shot of the building’s exterior shows the entire filing cabinet crashing through a window. The files contain records of Garrett’s own early cyborgification (That’s a word! Shut up!) which laid the ground work for Project Deathlok.

Additionally, Agent Triplett is finally allowed a chance to prove himself useful. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been pretty good about ignoring him since his introduction, but now his family history involving a Grandfather in the Howling Commandos allowed him to introduce a spread of ‘60s James Bond spy tech. Q ain’t got nothin’ on Howard Stark. After tracking down Garrett in Cuba, Coulson explicitly orders the separated FitzSimmons to not pursue, but Fitz just has to know about Ward! They’re, of course, captured for their trouble, but Fitz gets a good zap in on Garrett with a piece of the old-school tech Triplett distributed. (Honest to Galactus, do any of these idiot guards on the show ever pat down their captives?) Garrett was already in bad shape, but Fitz’s toy compels Reina to rush the serum she’s approximated from Coulson’s Tahiti debacle into Tin Man Garrett. Simmons really should have just cold-cocked the moron right there, as his man-crush ends up finding them on the inside of an escape pod ejection-to-sea by his fake-friend. Garrett recovers handily, and we cut back to Quinn in DC, convincingly pitching the sale of a thousand Deathloks to US Army officials.

The end is a great setup to, unfortunately, one last episode that can’t possible resolve it. Not satisfyingly, at least. So, if Agents doesn’t get the slow nod from ABC for a second season, I can honestly say at this point I’ll be sorry. But who could blame them after witnessing one of their most valuable (and expensive) properties wait this long to begin barely meeting metrics promised by a resume boasting decades of proven experience?

Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.