*This piece contains spoilers for Agents of SHIELD and Captain America: The Winter Soldier*
In the aftermath of The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has become fittingly twisty-turny, leading us on a roller coaster of intrigue, betrayal, and subterfuge. Despite the show’s many revelations about the nature of the team and the organization they serve, the biggest gut punch to date didn’t have anything to do with the HYDRA story at large.
It wasn’t Melinda May’s mysterious phone calls. It wasn’t John Garrett or the Clairvoyant. It wasn’t even the fact that Coulson was the mysterious head of the Tahiti project (as crazy a twist as that was).
It’s not even Grant Ward being a HYDRA mole, at least, not entirely.
It’s the fact that Agent Ward is a genuine sociopath, has been this entire season, and we all missed it. It was the show’s best kept secret, and it was hidden in plain sight all this time.
At first it bugged me how sudden his character’s personality-180 felt. He went from the solid anchor of the team, to a complete stranger who laughed at how easy it was to betray his former friends. I wanted to smack that smug little grin off of his face every time he was off palling around with Garrett.
Then the realization hit me: it wasn’t sudden at all. His true nature, the real Grant Ward, explains everything about the character.
Ward’s calm and collected attitude in the face of danger wasn’t a facade, he is genuinely unfazed by all of the death and destruction around him. Ward’s ability to keep calm under fire is a marvel to Skye, who wonders how it’s possible to be so composed.
Well here’s the twist, Ward makes it look easy because it is easy. Killing comes naturally to him because he isn’t dealing with the moral hang-ups of your average agent. People are just targets and marks, even his SHIELD teammates (aside from Skye, but more on that later).
Ward is a sociopath, and like many of television’s iconic psychotic villains, his less than savory attributes are well-hidden under a layer of cool.
Let’s look at the signs we’ve missed: his frequent use of “protecting others” as a justification for violence, how effortlessly (and convincingly) he lies, how often he resorts to intimidation or charm to get what he wants, his inflated ego, his unnecessary risk-taking, the list goes on. Go ahead and factor in his creepy obsession with Skye, and in last night’s episode in particular, the ease with which he justifies his murders and betrayal, and you’ve got the makings of a classic cinematic sociopath.
It makes sense that Coulson’s team didn’t pick up on any of this for the same reason we as an audience didn’t. These exact same characteristics are what made Ward such a suave badass when cast in a heroic light.
His life before SHIELD is just hinted at, but the details we’ve gotten paint a chilling (and fitting) portrait. His older brother was sadistic and abusive, going as far as attempting to drown a younger sibling; his parents were apparently even worse. It’s no surprise that Ward grew up damaged.
My older brother, he didn’t beat up my younger brother. He was crueler than that. He made me do it, and I let him. I was afraid.
What about your parents?
They were worse.
For months we’ve assumed that underneath Ward’s icy exterior, there was more to his character. And all this time, most of us have given him the benefit of the doubt, just waiting for his romance with Skye to melt away that ice, revealing a cliché heart of gold. Well, surprise, while there was a deeper aspect to Ward, it just happens to be something much darker and more evil than we could have possibly imagined.
For me, this twist really works, not just because it came out of left field to knock us on our asses, but because it sets up the show’s first truly frightening antagonist. Yeah Deathlok is scary on a practical level, and obviously HYDRA as a whole is pretty dangerous, but Ward is on an entirely different level. He’s damaged (probably beyond repair), he’s driven to the point of obsession, and to him, violence is second nature.
Ward is a killer, and even worse, he’s a killer in love.
It doesn’t matter that Ward is an agent of HYDRA. Hell, I’m not even sure if that HYDRA allegiance is going to stick after the shenanigans Deathlok pulled last night. What I am certain of is that for the SHIELD crew, Ward is their single biggest threat, and you can bet your buns he’s gunning for them now.
Next week’s episode is set to explore the backstory of Ward, hopefully giving us some insight into the making of this monster. Until then, I’m just happy that Agents of SHIELD has finally found the villain it needed.