(which means there's only two left!), from the "Nothing Personal" title -- because everything is personal -- to the fact that Ward is a double agent to the title of this article.
Do I mean "Under the Hill" because we're now under the guidance of Nick Fury's number two, Maria Hill? Or maybe it's because May finds the secret to T.A.H.I.T.I. under Coulson's tombstone? And maybe it's "Over the Skye" because Ward is totally over her and the budding romance was a sham? It's not, but his feelings are quite confusing. Or maybe it's because she falls from a plane to make her daring escape? Or because they have to hit 35,000 feet to break the encryption on the hard drive?
Who knows, maybe it's all these things? What I do know for sure is that we're shaping up for a very dramatic finale after the lead-up episode details Ward's backstory. But that's a discussion for another week. To the Bus!
Agents of SHIELD Mission Debrief: A 3-Person Debrief >>>
A Hill of Beans in This Crazy World
Now that How I Met Your Mother is officially in the books and Captain America: Winter Soldier has been knocked back to earth by three hot chicks unknowingly nailing the same dude, Cobie Smulders has some time on her hands. So she's once again gracing the small screen with her presence, reprising the role of Agent Maria Hill, Fury's right-hand lady and one of the few people who knows he's still alive.
Coulson knows this too, but she doesn't know that he knows, and he doesn't know if she knows or if she knows he knows (Thank you, Friends). But either way, she withholds the information, so even though he's the highest ranking "agent" remaining, she keeping the intel locked up tight.
I thought that Hill was in hiding, but she's apparently cut a deal to give SHIELD information to the military in exchange for being able to work for Tony Stark in the private sector. After a nice conversation with Pepper during which she discusses her obvious tales, May takes out said shadowers and informs Hill that Coulson needs help. She also wants to know who is behind the T.A.H.I.T.I. project, but the only clue Hill has is that Fury "buried the answer with Coulson." Then the FBI arrives and converges.
Thank You India, Thank You Providence
Back at Fury's secret base, Coulson, FitzSimmons and Tripp are still trying to figure out where everyone else went on the Bus. Camera footage shows May leaving and then Ward and Skye walking hand-in-hand onto the plane, but no one can find Koenig, the poor sucker. FitzSimmons decides to make pancakes to cheer everyone up, leading Simmons to the stockroom body and Fitz to a secret message from Skye identifying Ward as a HYDRA douche.
Everyone is shocked by the revelation, and Fitz, in particular, does not handle the news well. But Coulson convinces him to focus on the new mission: saving Skye. While Fitz works to get the systems up and running, Coulson and Tripp very accurately piece together all of the events, including the fact that Garrett is still alive. They only hope Skye can buy enough time for them to carry out a rescue, which is in the works until
Nathan Petrelli Colonel Glenn Talbot arrives with Hill in tow to shut down the operation. (Ironically, Adrian Pasdar has voiced the Tony Stark/Iron Man characters in all the cartoon TV series, animated films and video games.)
While Talbot intimidates the help, Hill reveals to Coulson that the plan is to give Providence to the military, cut a deal, let his team get processed through the system and then go private. He's noticeably outraged and spills the beans about Ward's true affiliation. Hill vetted him, so she's immediately on board with the mission. They take out the military forces and make a beeline for Los Angeles.
Er, It's Complicated
If there's a Facebook relationship status to label Skye and Ward, that's it. And as a viewer, it's really hard to determine if his emotions are real or just the act he's been keeping up all season. Either way, Skye has Ward convinced that the hard drive can only be decrypted at a certain latitude and longitude, which just happens to be her old LA diner hangout from the pilot episode -- where it all began.
She stalls for hours under the guise of a complicated hack, but really she's just buying time until the police arrive. Then she lays it on Ward, using his pretend relationship with Garrett to describe how he betrayed everyone who trusted him. After coming clean and leaving him to tangle with the cops, she steals a police cruiser and is making her getaway when Deathlok smashes her windshield and pulls her out.
Mike Peterson is working on the orders of a fed-up Garrett, who gives Ward five more minutes to get what he needs. And here's where it gets confusing. First, Skye kicks his ass, including a pretty wicked headbutt that prompts him to handcuff her to the stairs. But then, while she calls him a serial killer Nazi with a Hitler complex, he says he was just following orders and that none of this was personal. He claims his feelings for her have always been real, and someday she'll understand all this.
Umm, que? I can't tell if this is all a ploy, because obviously we want the feelings to be real. But there's no way this can work out, not at this point. While we ponder our own emotions, Garrett has had enough and orders Deathlok to refer to plan B. That entails a device that gives Ward a heart attack until Skye breaks the encryption, which she does. (It was altitude, not coordinates. Go Skye!) Would Garrett have let Ward die? I think he would in the end, but probably not at this point. Still, nothing would surprise me.
Ward is set to pilot the Bus back to HYDRA headquarters when they are blocked on the runway by another plane, with Maria Hill at the helm. They trade barbs before Ward says eff-it, I'm just taking off. I thought we were in store for a Con-Air-style game of Chicken, but these planes take off vertically, so there's that. Then it turns out the confrontation was really just to buy Couslon enough time to get on board the Bus before takeoff.
He finds Skye in the interrogation room, and they manage to escape in Lola out the back cargo door. They tumble to the earth and crash land into the Whomping Willow a la Harry Potter, and Coulson takes a minute to pay the valet. Then they check into a motel so Maria Hill can teach them some harsh realities.
Back on the Bus, Ward warns Dealthlok never to try a stunt like that again. Peterson coolly responds that he was just following orders and that it was nothing personal. Boom. Thor's hammer dropped.
If this last remaining SHIELD team was on the FBI's Most Wanted before, they're really on the crap list now. Coulson tries to plan a massive offensive with heavy artillery and backup, but Hill has to drop her own brand of justice with the information that that kind of support, and SHIELD as a whole, just doesn't exist anymore. Coulson and his team are on their own, and while she understands that they have to get Ward and Garrett, they have nothing to turn to afterwards. He leaves her with parting words to stay hi to Stark, but oh wait, the Avengers still think he's dead.
While the agents lounge around the motel pool and lament about being homeless, Coulson assures Skye that they'll take down Ward. "I know," she says, filled with as much dread at the thought as confidence. She left a present for them on the hard drive that will supposedly help, but no more deets are offered.
Then it's time for a stunner in the epilogue, as May follows Hill's clue and digs up Coulson's grave to find a flash drive. On it is the last statement of the person in charge of T.A.H.I.T.I. They reunite and watch in the motel room, and the video is Coulson tendering his resignation as head of the project. While the alien-harvested serum could be used to bring a superhero back to life, the side effects (including severe psychosis) are far too severe to make it worthwhile. The only thing that has shown any positive results is to perform memory replacement so that the subject recalls nothing of what happened to them.
Get a Grip
The main crux of "Nothing Personal" is everyone coming to terms with the true nature of their situations. Fitz goes on a decidedly un-Fitz-like rampage at the news of Ward's betrayal, and he really can't deal with not knowing who to trust. He even questions Simmons as they dangle their feet in the pool, saying he just wouldn't be able to handle it if she were HYDRA, too. She reassures him, which either means she's being honest or is a really, really good liar.
Hill is almost coming to grips too well, taking steps to protect her own hide at the expense of her former comrades. I'm not sure if Stark's lawyers will be able to keep the FBI off her butt after the stunt at Providence, but apparently she feels pretty secure that she doesn't need to go into hiding despite a brief return to her principles.
Tripp seems dedicated, while Simmons is handling things as well as anyone, outside a stray tear at the Ward bombshell. Maybe a bit too well...
Skye is stuck in the throws of star-crossed love, unsure if she's allowed to have feelings for Ward despite hating his back-stabbing guts. Coulson, meanwhile, has things the toughest of all. He has to accept that the organization he's dedicated his life to is no more. SHIELD no longer exists, and those who used to fight for justice are now the target of it. If he doesn't have SHIELD, what does he have? The cellist? Alien DNA? Time will tell...
Where do you think this season is headed for the finale? The results of last week's poll
regarding Ward's redemption were split pretty evenly, with four of the five options garnering more than 20% support with nearly 500 votes cast. The top choices were "Survival and a return to SHIELD" and "Death without redemption," tied at 23% each. So viewers are in opposite camps on what they want to happen.
Are his feelings for real? Is it all part of his scam? Is there actually a chance for him and Skye? And what horrible things happened in his past that he owes such a debt of gratitude to Garrett, who nearly had him killed? The answer to that question, we're told, is coming next week. See you then.
You can watch Agents of SHIELD every Tuesday at 8pm on ABC.