San Diego Comic Con was this past weekend, which means that everything nerdy is relevant again for a moment. So I’d like to take this moment to talk about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Grant Ward.
io9 posted an interview with Brett Dalton yesterday, in which they asked him about the general plan for Grant Ward’s redemption. They took it as a given that he would be redeemed, and so did the actor—although the latter probably just knows more than we do. But you only have to look at the comments to see what the fans are thinking.
I have always liked Marvel better than DC. I’ve always felt their characters were more interesting, had better stories, and often were more relatable than DC’s characters. (Except for Vertigo. Vertigo does good work.) Sure, there’s a certain allure to Batman—what girl hasn’t been charmed by his brooding?—but there’s only so much brooding I’m really prepared to care about. I will defend Chris Nolan’s Batman movies as fantastic movies to my dying day, but I am more entertained by watching the X-Men movies and, more recently, the movies that fall into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I’m not entirely sure how true it is, but I’ve heard that the creation of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was at least partially in response to the fan outcry at Agent Coulson’s death in The Avengers. Marvel could have allowed Coulson’s death to stand. Instead, realizing that in the fans who cried for their beloved agent’s demise they also had a market, they gave us something we wanted. In a way, it became a dialogue between Marvel and their devoted fans.
I enjoyed most of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Like everyone else who watched it, I thought Fitz and Simmons were charming in the most adorable of ways. I thought that Skye had an interesting story that I wanted the plot to be more concerned with more often. I enjoyed Melinda May’s stoicism and her unquestioned ability to kick ass. And Phil Coulson was delightful as always.
But Grant Ward. Ward I found more than a little boring. His sudden betrayal of the team and his subsequent replacement by Antoine Triplett—better known as Trip—felt like sloppy writing. When a friend asked me to try to explain that feeling a little bit more, the only thing I could come up with was that it felt like someone in charge had suddenly realized that the team was predominantly made up of white characters/actors and decided to fix it right away. Yes, the plot all made sense and worked well within the larger canon that was established in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it was… awkward, not the least because there had been no hint of Ward’s true allegiance in the first 75% of the show.
After the truth of Ward’s loyalty came out, opinion was sharply divided. “We stand with Grant Ward,” and “We believe in Grant Ward,” floated around on Tumblr and Twitter, as did some surprising vitriol for the character and the fans who wanted his redemption. I’ve been thinking about this particular issue for a while, ever since I saw one fan express a desire to Ward to “get what he deserves” because he’s a “Nazi” and is “evil.”
I don’t particularly like Grant Ward and I do actually think it would be much more interesting if he doesn’t get forgiven, but even as the series was ending I was already sure that he would be redeemed. Whether it was towards the end of the first season or in the season(s) that followed, I knew it was going to happen. Why? Because even if I don’t find the character to be all that compelling, whoever is writing pretty obviously does.
They aren’t writing Ward as an uncaring villain. They’re writing him like he cares a lot and doesn’t know what to do about it because the person he cares about most, and to whom he believes he owes loyalty above all, has been telling him that caring is a weakness and has been trying to burn that weakness out of him for more than half his life. They’re writing him as if he hasn’t yet let him. They’re not writing Ward as a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. They’re writing him as a person who has devoted himself to the person who rescued him from a potentially life-ruining prison sentence because his honor demands it. They’re not even really writing him as a villain; they’re writing him as misguided, as a man who listened to the villain, as a person who gave his loyalty and faith to the wrong person.
Personally I don’t find the character to be all that interesting. As a character and as The Team’s Specialist, Trip is fantastic. I like that they’ve given him a family history with Captain America as another tie-in with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s best episodes and moments have been the ones that tied in with the rest of the universe and the movies that are coming out these days. I want to watch Trip and Agent Coulson be history nerd bros, who geek out about Captain America and the Howling Commandos. It would be fantastic if he were a permanent part of the team.
I’m not at all surprised that the writers will redeem Ward. I think it would be more interesting if they didn’t, but I’m not surprised.