'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Review: "Ragtag"

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Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its twenty-first installment in “Ragtag,” as Coulson uses the team's limited resources to track down John Garrett through his Cybertek connections, while Ward remembers the past that led him to Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Nothing Personal” saw Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) returning to assist the team in rescuing Skye from the rogue Agent Ward and Deathlok, while Melinda May sought answers regarding Nick Fury and the mysterious T.A.H.I.T.I. project, so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series keep us marveling at its inaugural season?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s twenty-first and penultimate season 1 episode, “Ragtag!”

Fifteen years ago, John Garrett greets a young Grant Ward in a juvenile detention facility, having heard of a the military school recruit with incredible talents that burned down his family’s home. Garrett offers Ward a new life with a secret organization that can “make him a man,” and Ward’s reluctant acceptance brings a team storming into the facility to liberate them both. Back in the present, the team watches a report on Deathlok killing a Colombian druglord, before Coulson updates them on the plan to go after Cybertek. Skye explains how her encrypted drive had been rigged to infiltrate Hydra computers, though they’ll need to find a Cybertek terminal first.

Garrett revels in the success of Deathlok’s mission to have their campaign of terror go public, while Ward remains unconvinced that they can truly trust the half-man half-machine. Garrett checks in with Raina on the progress of recreating the GH-325, while back at the motel, Fitz continually doubts that Ward could be altogether evil. Tripp arrives with a cache of his Howling Commando grandfather’s old spy gear, among them an EMP joy buzzer and a cigarette laser that sets the drapes on fire. Back in the past, Garrett abandons Ward in the Wyoming wilderness with a dog to learn survival skills on his own.

Coulson and May go undercover with the research team at Cybertek, though the Cybertek team finds their offerings substandard compared to those brought in by Hydra. Meanwhile, Skye and Tripp attempt to search through the building’s computer records, but find no computer networks to tap into. Coulson and May sneak their way into the fourth floor to investigate a hidden area, discovering that Cybertek keeps all its data on hard copy. Coulson finds that the original Deathlok project dates back to 1990, the original subject of which was Garrett, before he and May throw the file cabinets out the window and zipline down for a hasty escape.

Present Ward bristles that Garrett would have let him die at Deahlok’s hands, but Garrett counters that his underling again paints himself as a victim. The argument causes Garrett to double over in pain, as Ward clears the room, Raina included, and hooks Garrett’s cybernetic side implants up to an external device to repair him. Ward reboots the biomechanics, but Garrett reveals that his organs have begun shutting down, and Cybertek gives him a window of no longer than a month. Back at the hotel, Skye laments that she allowed Ward to live, while May reminds her that there are better ways to mine and use her anger.

Ian Quinn enjoys a haircut at Garrett’s Cuban lair, before heading out to Washington to deal with the fallout of Deathlok's public attack. Downstairs, Raina expresses her doubts about Garrett to Ward, relaying how data she’d obtained about Skye’s origins correlated to a story she'd once heard about monsters slaying a Chinese village in defense of a baby. Intriguingly however, the monsters hadn’t killed the child’s parents, but rather the human child was apparently born to two of the monsters. Back in the past, Garrett returns to find Ward thriving after six months in the wilderness, having opted to raid several cabins in search of tools to bolster his survival.

Having tracked Garrett’s operation, Coulson and the team find Garrett’s Havana barbershop largely abandoned, though Skye detects a Hydra signal lingering within. Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons track Garrett and the bus to a Cuban airfield, though despite their orders not to engage, the two find themselves confronted by Ward. Back in the past, Garrett explains to Ward how S.H.I.E.L.D. abandoning him on a mission led to his cybernetic enhancements, while he now serves a force within the organization that better values survival, that of Hydra.

Ward brings Fitz and Simmons aboard the plane to see Garrett, for which Fitz activates the EMP joy buzzer to short out the circuitry in Garrett’s life support systems. Raina radios in to a Hydra facility for treatment, though Garrett orders Ward to put down Fitz and Simmons, similarly tasking Raina with injecting the only viable supply of GH-325 into his Centipede enhancements, the effects of which are unknown. Back in the past, Garrett congratulates an older Ward on being accepted into S.H.I.E.L.D., but reminds him to not develop any attachments, resultantly ordering him to kill his longtime canine companion Buddy as a sign of devotion.

Fitz and Simmons manage to break free of their Hydra escort long enough to seal themselves in one of the plane’s cells, through which Fitz continually insists to Ward that he knows the former agent still cares about his friends. Ward remembers back to being unable to kill the dog, and subsequently detaches Fitz and Ward’s cell from the plane, dropping them safely in the water below. Meanwhile, Raina injects the GH-325 into Garrett’s mechanized organs, which first cause him excruciating pain, but subsequently make him look healthy and he opines that he's feeling “the universe.”

Skye, Coulson and the others infiltrate Garrett’s abandoned Cuban lair to find a Hydra terminal hidden behind a wall, and soon find themselves confronted by Garrett’s forces, armed with the Asgardian Berserker staff and several cybernetic upgrades. Elsewhere, Ian Quinn meets with heads of the U.S. Army and Navy, offering to sell them thousands of Cybertek super-soldiers to combat the rise of growing threats like S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra.

OUR REVIEW:

It’s been a rocky road for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ building up to its first season finale, initially bolstered by the fallout of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and last week given an extra boost by the return of Maria Hill, as well as Glenn Talbot’s presence and the relatively rich material stemming from Ward’s betrayals. This week, “Ragtag” definitely managed to keep the team on the offensive and toss a few bits of background in time for next week’s first season closer, though we might imagine that the series would have been better served to dole out some of the bigger budgetary punches, or at least juicier reveals for the penultimate installment.

“Ragtag” primarily serves to add a few more shades to Ward’s sudden Hydra turn, though the effect again proves somewhat weak considering a dissonance with the material presented earlier in the season. It was one thing to suddenly decide Ward’s actions could retroactively be justified to serve ‘Captain America’’s Hydra twist, but it’s another altogether to gloss over the family material alluded to early on in the year, picking up instead with Garrett’s recruitment of a young Ward, and subsequent abandonment in the woods. The story serves simply enough to at least fill in how Ward might have developed some of his colder instincts, though it says little of how to view the character in light of a S.H.I.E.L.D. or Hydra context, and instead offers better justification for Garrett’s cybernetic backstory.

Perhaps worse-so, the decision for Ward to spare Simmons and Fitz at least pays off some of the latter’s stubborn refusal to accept Ward’s true allegiances, but largely serves to again undercut any consistent sense of how to perceive the character. Keep in mind how the character apparently played the core team for months, even years, gunning down Victoria Hand and a number of others in absolute cold blood, but apparently opts to spare two younger operatives out of a similar sympathy for his dog years earlier, as the episode would present to us. Now that we know a bit more about Garrett at least, “Ragtag” makes a reasonably strong setup for his presumably final villainous outing, but Ward’s transition has proven so sloppy that we wouldn’t’ miss the character being dispatched in the final hour one bit.

Elsewhere, no sign of any fallout from Coulson’s discovery of his own involvement in the GH-325 serum last week, as the episode leaned more on one of the weaker mysteries from the season, that of Skye’s parentage. That isn’t to say that next week’s finale will definitively lack justification for Skye’s all-important focus, but it remains a continually weak and short-sighted trait of the narrative to hinge crucial story junctures on its least interesting links. Perhaps more bleakly, we can’t imagine any of the super-soldier tag’s willhold water with any of the impending Marvel productions through ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ making the stakes feel decidedly lax toward an unconfirmed second season.

The previous few episodes laid enough groundwork to reasonably coast toward a serviceable finale, though “Ragtag” felt a bit wobbly in its setup for the final hour of an already-uneven first season.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • J. August Richards continues to do nice work as Deathlok, even if his brief scene with Raina felt a bit untethered, and glossed over in service of her fascination with Skye.
  • Utilizing Tripp’s Howling Commando tech was a nice touch, with a few old-school gee-whiz spy aspects to the Cybertek proceedings, though correct me if I’m wrong, we don’t actually know which Commando he descends from, no?
  • So, what are we thinking for Skye’s parents?
  • Admittedly, the editing for Ward’s releasing Fitz and Simmons was nicely done, and surely meant to visually evoke Loki’s dropping Thor from the Helicarrier.
  • Oh, Glenn Morshower. How many generals have you played, now?

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “Ragtag” set up the season finale as successfully as we'd hoped? Where do you think the team will go next? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and join us again next week for another all-new recap of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s season 1 finale, "Beginning of the End" on ABC!

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