The remaining SHIELD operatives are on the run, fighting to survive, while HYDRA has all the resources it needs to embark on a quest of world domination (or whatever devious endgame it would be working towards).
To the second point, in the normal realm of entertainment, the fall of SHIELD would be a big hullabaloo in the movie world, and then fans would have to wait until the following summer or Christmas to see what happens next in whatever feature film would follow. But this show gives us a rare chance to fill in the gaps, continue exposition and build anticipation toward the next blockbuster. And that's just plain cool.
Ward Drops Out of Consideration
The reveal of Ward as a double agent was rather shocking, if not brilliantly done when looked at in hindsight. Ward did some incredible things that, when examined, show him off as quite the cunning adversary. If there was a HYDRA Agent of the Week award, Ward would certainly win.
When you see May yell at Ward about "her" and then witness his tender moment and kiss with Skye, it's easy to imagine that some of his feelings might be real. (Though I'll admit the "Maybe I deserve to die, I killed an innocent man" thing was a bit cheesy, but it seemed to work.) You have to remember, however, that it was the Clairvoyant who tipped off May about Ward's desire for Skye in the first place, meaning the entire love triangle was an elaborate scheme to keep everyone preoccupied and split the team apart.
Then you start to think about other moments -- like Ward suggesting they remove all the data from the Bus' hard drives while making only a single backup copy, his pretend outrage over Garrett's true allegiance in order to stay close to his mentor and his willingness to kill a dozen SHIELD agents with a knife before returning to Skye with a smile -- with a bit more clarity.
You realize that Ward is basically just a cold-blooded potentially psychopathic murderer without a conscience. And then it's like, whoa, there's a whole lot more going on in his head than punch, kick, headbutt. There's a depth we didn't anticipate. And the real question begs -- why?
Is FitzSimmons Still a Package Deal?
Jemma Simmons didn't do a whole lot in this one, but on a larger scale, I'm not even sure that she's on the good side. I think it'd be a mistake to break up the FitzSimmons team, because they're a constant bright spot, but think about it. Did she prove any loyalty in this one?
First, she's spent the last two episodes disobeying direct orders in a quest to find out more information about the serum that saved Coulson and Skye, which is the one thing HYDRA has been desperate to uncover all this time. She never breaks character, even questioning whether or not she can trust Agent Triplett, and surely she is smart enough to recognize that trying to stab him with the knife he gave her would've been a bad idea.
But in these who-can-you-trust times, it's important to note that she never responded when Hand extended the offer to join HYDRA or die. She did toss Triplett the "If you take us out, we're taking him out" knife, but I'm not completely sold that wasn't just a calculated risk.
May, Skye and the Sideline Bunch
While no one is really questioning Agent May's loyalties, it's hard to praise her after all she kept from Coulson in the name of good intentions. Not only was she reporting about the team to Fury the entire time, she was also responsible for assembling it in the first place in order to keep an eye on Coulson's recovery. And all the butt kicking she did isn't enough to excuse the blinders she was wearing during her relationship with Ward.
Likewise, Skye also let herself become embroiled in an emotional conflict of interest with the enemy. She contributed some, most notably breaking the coded message that HYDRA was in control and helping destroy the Hub's processing center, but she remains a liability at times. Still, she seems trustworthy and genuinely disappointed that SHIELD disbanded like one day after she was finally welcomed as an agent.
As for the random selection possibilities, Hand is dead, Garrett is the Clairvoyant and Triplett just made a bunch of angry faces at his CO as he was led out. He gets a few bonus points for being Ward's likely replacement and a potential Simmons love interest, but it's not enough for him to stand out other than not being evil.
Coulson got a tough rub this time around. On one hand, he's been betrayed by most every living person he trusted, past and present. All his old friends who he fought next to year after year are either dead or the enemy, Garrett chief among them.
Then he's got to deal with the fact that May went behind his back and, while an ally, is no longer a friend. And he doesn't even know about Ward yet.
There are only a handful of people he can put his faith in, and some in even that small group are suspect. Still, he is now believed to be the highest-ranking SHIELD agent still alive, which presents interesting opportunities going forward if the agency can be revived in the wake of Fury's own inevitable resurrection. He also got in some impressive hand-to-hand combat action and proved his loyalty to SHIELD despite a pretty significant rebellious streak on a resume that accentuates how outside the box he actually is. Heck, it almost got him killed after it arose suspicion in Agent Blake.
Fitz Shines in the Face of Danger
In the end, you'd be hard-pressed to find another agent who excelled in the face of adversity and potential death the way that Leo Fitz did. He came up big time and time again, starting when he got the Bus' guns working manually to save then-friend Garrett from the drone attack.
He cut and restored the secret phone line in time for May to learn the news that Fury was "dead," and he used the self-created "mousehole" device to carve a way off the Bus as the strike team was storming the plane. But all that is pittance compared to his actions after Garrett's allegiance came to light.
Faced with the choice of joining HYDRA or being forced to cooperate through pain (he's too valuable for them to just kill him), Fitzy shed a tear and stood tall in his defiance. Then during the ensuing melee, he shot a guard who was about to kill May and tossed Coulson the flash grenade-type device that he used to subdue Garrett.
A blind belief in Simmons might eventually lead to his downfall, but at this point, he's the only agent with an unquestioned loyalty to the SHIELD cause. And that, combined with his heroic actions while death stared him in the face, earns Fitz yet another Agent of the Week award.
What do you think? Is anyone else going to betray SHIELD and end up being a villain? Who can we trust and who is the enemy? Will SHIELD rise again, or is HYDRA here to stay? We'll find out, as things heat up to close out the first season in style.
You can watch Agents of SHIELD every Tuesday at 8pm on ABC.