Last night, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. executed a necessary loss.
In its mid-season finale, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had central character Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) execute traitorous former agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). Ward had been part of the field team that launched the series. Late in Season 1 he was revealed as a secret member of the evil Hydra, who’d been tasked to infiltrate and betray Coulson’s team.
In the almost two years since that reveal, Ward has proven to be a homicidal sociopath with a frightening body count. He’s attempted to kill, tortured, assaulted or otherwise attacked most of the cast. He’s shown no remorse. The options for the character have steadily narrowed, until death was the only logical outcome.
Especially during Season 2, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dangled the possibility of Ward’s redemption. The character was quite popular with certain fans of the show. Many still hoped that the Season 1 romantic spark between Ward and Daisy/Skye (Chloe Bennett) could come to something. The fact that a year ago at this time, Daisy shot Ward in the back and left him bleeding without a backward glance somehow didn’t deter those fans.
The writers, however, haven’t seemed especially inclined to actually send Ward on a redemption arc. Quite the opposite. Late in Season 2 he executed more treachery against his former team, then threw himself into a rebuilding Hydra with a blind fervor. It was the right call. Ward was a generic action hero early on. He became much more interesting after the revelation of his double life.
Much of the first half of Season 3 centered on “What to do about Ward?” After Ward murdered someone close to Coulson, his fate couldn’t be in doubt. He was evil and remorseless. The only logical outcome for this story was Ward’s death. Coulson executing him made the most sense and will have major ripples going forward.
The fact is, TV shows do themselves a great disservice by keeping a popular villain front and center when it makes no story sense to do so. Look at how Heroes went off the rails after a successful first season, by pushing villain Sylar into the spotlight.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had sidestepped some of those traps. The writers usually didn’t shoehorn stories for Ward into episodes if they didn’t fit. Especially in Season 2, it wasn’t unusual for a couple episodes to go by without seeing the character. Even in the first half of Season 3, while Ward appeared in most episodes, he wasn’t necessarily prominent in each one. With a large cast and a lot of story to tell, Ward’s arc led inevitably to his death.
It was a smart decision. Ward, as he’d been, had exhausted his usefulness. He could have turned into a bad distraction.
Since this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ward’s body was almost immediately re-animated and possessed by an ancient, evil entity. Because of course it was.
This could be a smart way for the show to have it both ways. They paid off two years of stories with Ward’s death. They wrapped up an arc that had nowhere else to go.
But they also get to keep a popular actor in the cast (at least for the rest of this season). He’s playing a character that looks and sounds like Ward and even has access to his memories. But transforming Ward into something different, something dark and powerful, gives the show something it didn’t have with pre-death Ward: options.
Where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. goes with re-animated Ward remains to be seen. And I wouldn’t put money on Dalton remaining a regular cast member after Season 3. But the show’s willingness to make a necessary, difficult decision for its own good is commendable.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on December 9, 2015.