Who would have thought that Grant Ward would become my favorite character on Agents of SHIELD? Really. And all it took was one surprising reveal. Last night's episode was a nifty thriller, in which we discovered that monsters who know they're monsters are actually the most horrifying. Spoilers away!
It's looking more and more as if Grant Ward really is just straight-up evil, and the nastier he gets the more we love him. (Please let this not be a secret mission entrusted to him by Nick Fury, to infiltrate Hydra. Please.) Ward is a Hydra agent who looks up to Garrett (Bill Paxton) and has zero regret about betraying Coulson's team — only his feelings for Skye are real, although that just makes them creepier.
Grant has joined the rest of the team at Providence, the secret Canadian base that Nick Fury led Coulson to — because Grant needs to get Skye to decrypt the hard drive that has all of the team's research on it. (Including the info on the miracle Kree goop that brought Coulson back from the dead, and saved Skye.) Grant puts on a pretty good show of being the injured last survivor of the Fridge attack, and pretty much nobody questions him.
Until Eric Koenig (Patton Oswalt) decides to subject Coulson's whole crew to a super high-tech lie detector that uses weird free-associating questions to get inside your head. And while the rest of the team's answers are somewhat revealing, it's great watching Grant outsmarting the test — you really think he's going to get himself caught, and Koenig seems ready to blow Grant's brains out. But then Grant uses his love of Skye to save himself, saying that he's there not because of duty or loyalty to SHIELD, but for Skye. Which is true — coming to get Skye is Grant's mission, plus he does really dig her. So that's truthful enough to get him off the hook.
After Skye figures out how to hack into the NSA satellite feeds and get video of the attack on the Fridge, Grant's game is about to be up. So he kills Koenig and hides the body — not realizing that Skye can track people via their lanyards. There's a brilliantly skin-crawling scene where Grant confesses that he's not a good person, and that he actually bullied his younger brother — it wasn't his older brother, as he previously claimed. Ward tries to put his moves on Skye, who tries to play along as best she can.
Everything that was kind of off-putting about Ward before, including his weird sense of detachment and his fixation on Skye, is just perfect now that we know he's actually a Hydra psycho. His attempts to be charming and seductive are like watching a Terminator try to flirt.
And you have to hand it to Skye — she plays it cool. And Chloe Bennet does a great job of showing how she's repulsed and freaked out after finding Koenig's still-bleeding-out body, but she still plays along with Ward. She notices the penny Ward put over the door to the room where he stashed Koenig, and is smart enough to put it back in its spot when she leaves. Unfortunately, when Ward insists they take the team's jet off to decrypt her hard drive (which can only be decrypted when it's in a particular location) she has no choice but to go with him.
But what makes Ward so chilling is that he knows he's a total bastard, but he's willing to fake remorse and even self-loathing to get closer to his target. (Or maybe it's not entirely fake.)
And meanwhile, the episode's other plotline is also about a monster who declares that he's a monster. Marcus Daniels (aka Blackout) is a guy who can absorb electrical energy from anything, including people's bodies, and he's obsessed with Audrey, the cellist whom Coulson used to have a thing with. In an interesting parallel with the Grant-Skye scenes, Marcus tells Audrey that he's a monster but that she can save him — right before Audrey delivers him into a SHIELD trap.
The other interesting parallel between the two monsters in this episode is that SHIELD made them worse — Grant, by sending him on so many harsh "Specialist" missions, Marcus by experimenting on him and amplifying his powers. Was the experimentation on Marcus due to SHIELD being infiltrated by Hydra, or was it like Coulson's resurrection — just a consequence of SHIELD overreaching and being kind of evil in general?
Either way, this case is personal for Coulson, who pretends at first that he's just taking a small team after Marcus because it's their duty to clean up after the Fridge was breached. He put away Marcus the first time, and that was the start of his relationship with Audrey, whom we heard about in passing in The Avengers. And now, Coulson doesn't want Audrey to see him because she's starting to move on with her life after his death — and he wouldn't be able to stick around in any case.
The bit where she's passed out and he says he's always with her — and she writes it off as a hallucination — is actually quite moving.
Audrey is an unusual person in this day and age: Someone who still believes in SHIELD after they were declared a terrorist organization. Since SHIELD saved her, and she still loves and trusts Coulson, she sees them as the good guys — although maybe she wouldn't if she knew Coulson was alive and hiding from her. At first, our heroes try to pretend to be the CIA, which is just sad.
Other random bits from this episode: Triplett, who's becoming one of the show's best characters, is the grandson of a Howling Commando. Huh. Skye's birth name was Mary Sue Poots. Coulson gets the best line: "Nothing bad ever happens when you work with something called 'darkforce.'" The Fitz/Simmons schism continues — Fitz is so attached to Simmons, he'd want her to be in a box on a desert island, but Simmons is stepping out and flirting with Triplett.
And finally, there's Melinda May, who reaches something of a turning point in this episode. She tells Koenig in the lie-detector scene that she's only here on this base for Coulson — and then Coulson slams her yet again, saying he can't trust her after she kept the truth about his resurrection from him while he was suffering. He keeps her off his team on the Portland mission, and she decides there's no reason to stick around after all. (Thus leaving Skye and Koenig alone with psycho guy.)
As the episode ends, we see May on the road in Ontario, getting picked up by an old lady who taunts May with the fact that her own spy organization is still intact. And it turns out that May is looking for SHIELD's #2, Maria Hill — but she doesn't want to kill Maria. She just wants to have... a little chat.