John Garrett turns out to have been a terrific villain for the first season of Agents of SHIELD — both because he perverts the ideals that SHIELD stands for in a fascinating way, and because he becomes an entertaining nutbag. But he also leaves me wondering if these people can still stand for something good. Spoilers ahead...
In the season finale of Agents of SHIELD, "The Beginning of the End," there's a funny moment where Nick Fury and Phil Coulson are both confronting John Garrett, who misquotes Nick Fury's sage advice: "A man can accomplish anything when he realizes he's become part of something bigger." Garrett twists this into "one man can accomplish anything once he realizes he can be something bigger." In other words, he turns a creed about selflessness into a call for egomania.
When Agents of SHIELD started, the pitch in the first episode was that the world has gotten more dangerous after The Avengers — and now we have to keep people safe, by hiding all the alien technology and superpowered people away. But that, too, gets turned on its head in this episode by Ian Quinn, who tells the army brass that the world has become a dangerous place and what we need is security. (In other words, unstoppable remote-controlled super-soldiers.)
The ideals of SHIELD are so easily turned upside down into an excuse for power-madness and paranoia that it's hard to see how the organization can even exist as something positive any more. And yet, this episode ends with Nick Fury making Phil Coulson the new director of SHIELD and ordering him to rebuild it from scratch.
Which brings us to the other problem that Garrett raises, which is a cause for concern in the future — Garrett went nuts because he was brought back from the brink of death with a cocktail that included Kree goop. That same Kree goop brought Coulson back from the dead — and in the end of the episode, we see Coulson making the same weird diagrams on the glass that Garrett was making earlier in the episode. (More on those in a bit.)
But Nick Fury suggests that knowing who you can count on — figuring out the people you can actually trust, and keeping those people around — is what saves SHIELD from turning into Garrett's nightmare.
Best Nick Fury Cameo Ever
There was a lot of great stuff in last night's episode, but it was all overshadowed by the awesome Nick Fury appearance — which probably beats Iron Man for the best Nick Fury cameo of all time.
Poor Fitz and Simmons are where Ward left them, slowly dying in a container that's been dropped into the ocean. (And they have a lovely scene where they talk about the First Law of Thermodynamics, the fact that energy can't be created or destroyed, and imagine living on as part of a supernova millennia from now. Until Fitz confesses his love for Simmons, and comes up with a plan to save her but not himself. This was the sweetest moment.)
Simmons manages to drag Fitz up to the ocean surface, but then they're stranded miles from anywhere — until Nick Fury descends like a god and rescues them. Even though we knew Fury would be in this episode, I kind of expected him to show up in the last five minutes. Fury saves Simmons (and hopefully Fitz!) and then rushes off because Coulson is involved in "a dispute I might want to weigh in on."
Fury's intervention is almost too miraculous, but I'll take it — especially since it leads to Coulson getting the big gun he wielded in Avengers. And Fury is there to counterbalance Garrett, as they debate whether SHIELD was ever about self-sacrifice or self-aggrandizement.
In the end, Coulson finally gets to bitch Fury out about bringing him back from the dead. Coulson says the TAHITI thing was a "hail mary" in case an Avenger died — and Fury says an Avenger did die. Meaning Coulson. And Fury only has a handful of people he trusts, a smaller number all the time — so he needs Coulson alive. Especially now that SHIELD is gone and Fury needs someone to rebuild it.
The Awesome Cybertech offices
Speaking of perversions of SHIELD, this episode offers an amazing look at the most dysfunctional version of an evil organization. At first, CyberTech's monitoring office seems to be just another start-up, with people talking about intellectual property and the irresistible "incentives package."
But then it turns out the people in that office are all monitoring super-soldiers through their eye-cameras, giving them instructions and preparing to blow their heads off if they disobey. And the "incentives package"? Garrett has kidnapped their loved ones, to force them to go along with his sadistic scheme. Nobody's ever turned down this incentive.
And the rug gets pulled one more time, when you realize that the "dealer," the office manager who you thought was one of the evil masterminds, turns out to be just another victim, whose wife was kidnapped.
Skye and May break into these offices and take the supersoldiers offline — reverting them to their default programming of protecting Garrett — and then free Mike Peterson's kid. Thus allowing Mike Peterson free will once again, at which point he turns on Garrett.
Ward is not redeemed, yay
And in the middle of the CyberTech attack, Ward shows up to grab Skye — and gets his ass handed to him by May in a beautiful fight scene that ends with him having his foot nailed to the floor.
Early in this episode, we see Ward having severe doubts about Garrett, who's acting more and more wacky and talking about seeing the universe and shape of evolution and so on. Ward even asks Garrett if maybe it's time to cut their ties with Hydra, since they've gotten everything they wanted from the organization — which seems to hint that Ward isn't really sold on the whole "Nazi superscience" deal after all.
At one point, Ward says that Skye detests him and thinks he's a monster — but Raina responds that maybe that's just what Garrett made Ward to be. Either Ward can choose to be something else, or he can wait for the world to change and Skye to become a monster alongside him.
In any case, I was worried for a while there that we were leading up to Ward doing something heroic and saving everyone, thus possibly setting the stage for his redemption at some later date.
In fact, Ward just gets his ass kicked, and is taken into custody by the army and/or what's left of SHIELD. And his ass-kicking leaves him in such bad shape that he can't even talk when his former comrades taunt him with the tortures (both internal and external) he'll be enduring while they try to get Hydra intel out of him.
And Coulson tells Ward: "You devoted your entire life to a deranged narcissist who never gave a damn about anyone, and now he's dead. You've got the rest of your life to wrestle with the question ... who are you without him?" And yeah, eventually, Ward may come up with an answer to that question that looks somewhat like redemption. But not any time soon.
(And yay for another rug-pulling, when Garrett seems to turn himself into an even more unstoppable cyborg, only to be splatted by Coulson.)
And the fact that Fitz and Simmons come so close to dying, and we still don't know how well Fitz pulled through, makes Ward's redemption look a lot longer off. I had sort of assumed that Ward might have left Fitz and Simmons some clear way out, or at least a fighting chance. But no. He put them in a death trap, and left them to die, and they were supposed to be his friends.
This show gets major points for not sugar-coating it.
Is Raina crazy too? Apparently not.
One of the perplexing things about this episode is whether Garrett is crazy, or just seeing a plane of reality that nobody else can see. Or both. He definitely seems to have gotten some superpowers from the injection of Kree goop — but has he become a god? Does he actually see the fabric of the universe and stuff?
It's really hard to tell — those diagrams he's drawing certainly look fancy. And Raina seems impressed with him. On the other hand, he acts deranged, and when Quinn is in the middle of making his sales pitch to the army brass, Garrett ruins everything and eventually murders a general for no particular reason.
Raina, meanwhile, seems to know stuff for real. For one thing, at the end of the episode, we see her visiting Skye's real father, who's just a weird red hand. (The Red Skull? One of the Inhumans?) Raina is obsessed with "evolution," the idea that people are going to reach the next stage of development and the world will become new and super-strange.
(But no mutants, because we don't own the rights to "mutants." I love that we can talk about evolution as long as we don't mention mutation.)
So is this madness or insight? The answer to that question probably helps determine whether Fury just put a lunatic in charge of SHIELD. Meanwhile, not only is Skye's dad now aware of her location — but also Raina and Quinn have the Gravitonium, which houses one of the universe's most powerful superhumans of all, Franklin Hall.
SHIELD goes back to basics
In the end, the only way to cope with the perversion of SHIELD by Garrett and his ilk is to go back to basics — as Fury puts it, the idea of "protection." Either protecting one man from himself, or the entire world from alien invasion. So Coulson gets handed a toolkit to help him rebuild, and this leads him to a base. Where there's another iteration of Koenig (Patton Oswalt) — either Eric's brother, or his clone, or a LMD. Something.
And now, I guess season two will be Coulson and the gang following Fury's roadmap to find stuff they'll need, while recruiting more people and building a new organization. I'm just glad Triplett gets to be part of the core team now. Because he brings the noise and the funk wherever he goes.
Screencaps via Screencapped