Throughout this first, very uneven season, one of the biggest disappointments with ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is that the show just hasn’t been very much fun, and that’s a crime for a series with as goofy a concept as this one. Remarkably, this week managed to bring one of the rare episodes to break through the tedium, but is it too little too late?
Episode ‘Ragtag’ is largely concerned with explaining why Agent Ward would turn traitor against S.H.I.E.L.D. In a series of flashbacks, we see how he was recruited as a teenager by Garrett, who trained him how to survive, take care of himself and avoid emotional attachments. “Don’t trust anybody ever, especially me,” Garrett tells him. Ward struggles when ordered to kill a faithful dog, just as he’ll struggle later when forced to deal with his friends. This part of the episode isn’t terribly exciting, though it does provide some welcome development for a character who has otherwise been sketched rather two-dimensionally.
Much more entertaining is a storyline where Coulson and May have to go undercover as former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist nerds on a job interview with a HYDRA-backed corporation called Cybertek. Basically, they have to imitate Fitz and Simmons, and their banter is really funny. The purpose of infiltrating Cybertek is to plant a flash drive so that Skye can hack the computer server and get more info on Garrett and HYRDA. However, it turns out that Cybertek doesn’t have any computers at all. Its records are all stored on paper the old-fashioned way. A bit where Coulson notifies Skye, Simmons and Fitz that they should prepare to receive “a large file transfer,” and then tosses a huge filing cabinet out the window is pretty hilarious.
Also really great is a scene where Triplett brings the team a stash of his grandfather’s old Howling Commando spy gear, and Coulson totally geeks out in glee at playing with all the vintage tech doodads.
In obtaining the files, Coulson and group learn that the Deathlok project goes all the way back to 1990, and Garrett himself was the first test subject. In another flashback, Garrett explains to Ward that he was injured years earlier and left for dead, and that’s why he holds such resentment towards S.H.I.E.L.D. Later, he tells Ward that his internal organs are failing and he only has a couple months left. Hence the reason he’s so eager to learn the secrets of the alien technology that resurrected Coulson from the dead and saved Skye. He needs it if he wants to live. Also, Skye’s hard drive that everybody’s been so concerned about the last few episodes contains all of their research on that alien juice. Ah ha, things are finally starting to fall together here.
Towards the end of the episode, Ward catches Fitz and Simmons spying on the Bus. He brings them onto the plane, where Fitz sets off a mini EMP that fries the cybernetics in Garrett’s body. Garrett orders Ward to kill Fitz and Simmons. Ward struggles with this, and ultimately locks them in a storage container and dumps them off the back of the plane into the ocean. I’m sure they’ll be fine. The question is whether Ward really believed this to be a death sentence, or whether he spared them on purpose and expects them to get rescued.
Barely clinging to life, Garrett asks Raina to use the only vial of alien juice they have on him. He immediately has a seizure and starts glowing. When Ward asks him how he is, Garrett says that he “can feel the universe,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. It doesn’t sound good.
As the episode winds down, Coulson and team are confronted by a group of HYDRA super-soldiers. Also, rich jerkoff Ian Quinn (who has effectively been exonerated of his crimes now that S.H.I.E.L.D. is discredited) is seen selling the super-soldier program to the American military.
In a weird aside, Raina tells a story about Skye’s origin in a Chinese orphanage and some legend about her parents literally being monsters. An implication is suggested that both Skye and Raina may be aliens. I don’t know where this is going to lead.
This episode is briskly paced and wittily written. It’s essentially what ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ had always promised to be but rarely lived up to. If more of the show’s episodes had been like this early on, it might be a whole lot more successful.