Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Love in the Time of Hydra”

(Episode 2.14)

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Love in the Time of Hydra”

So, you know that awkward feeling you get when you meet a new character and they’re in opposition to your heroes, but you realize that the new character’s point isn’t entirely invalid, and is in fact probably the more logical course of action? After last night, you will.

There’s a lot to love from last night’s episode. Ward and Maygent finally return. If you’ll recall, last we saw our evil pair, Ward had been shot by Skye, and Maygent was in an identity tailspin with Whitehall’s sudden departure—AKA Coulson has no problem murdering you while Skye’s crazy dad serves as a distraction. They’re both much improved tonight. Ward is flirting it up. Maygent is in better spirits, though they really could have grabbed her some concealer for the horrendous facial scar. And the production team is channeling Pulp Fiction. Seriously, I’m disappointed Ward didn’t manage to slip in an “I love you, Hunny Bunny” before they moved forward with their kidnapping. Still I’m rooting for those two crazy sociopaths.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. Corner, Skye, Fitz, and Simmons are having a bit of a philosophical debate about the value of super heroes and the sacrifices inherent in the process. It’s interesting, but the biggest take away is that Fitz is kind of a dick to Bruce Banner. I swing back and forth on how much I want Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters to directly interact with the Avengers, but I feel like story time with Uncle Bruce might be in need to build a little more understanding between humans with accidental scientific enhancements and humans without.

Coulson and May are trying to figure out what to do about Skye. May backs Andrew’s call from the end of the last episode about how Skye should be removed from S.H.I.E.L.D., which is interesting as she completely disagreed with him about it when they spoke to each other. So basically she agrees with him, but not to his face. I mean, WOMEN! Am I right? But seriously, while this week’s episode is really good, it has a bit of a fail in the writing strong women department. More on that later.

We catch up briefly with Maygent and Ward to find their kidnapping victim is fixing Maygent’s mask. He’s quite literally patching her up, so that she can fully transform her face again. He takes the time to let us know that it’s not quite as good as the original thing, and offers us a bit of philosophy by way of “we all hide our true selves.” The look on Ward’s face pretty much lets you know that dropping philosophy on Hydra Bonnie and Clyde will get you nowhere but dead.

And finally, we come to Hunter as he’s introduced to S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0 or S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “less” evil twin. Which one it is, still remains to be seen. With an advisory board made up of General Adama, that one guy from OZ, the lady who once judged Christopher Eccelston hard core on Doctor Who, and a guy with some seriously ethically ambiguous beard growth; what’s not to trust? They basically present them selves as the cool version of S.H.I.E.L.D. that Peggy and Howard would have wanted, but it’s hard to get behind a bunch of people who cry out for operational transparency while hiding from and spying on their colleagues. They do have one good point. With all of the alien experiments and tech in his head, Coulson is definitely compromised.

Back with Maygent and Ward we run headfirst into this week’s biggest writing strong women fail. I want to be really clear here. I don’t think this scene was written with some intentional misogyny in mind, but it’s disheartening to see a scene like this make it to air in its current form. Essentially, it revolves around Maygent’s concern with how she will repay Ward for helping her get her face back. First off, I think it’s important to point out that she doesn’t need to pay him back for anything. She got him out of Whitehall’s base, and patched up when he’d been shot. If we’re looking at it as someone being indebted to someone else, it’s Ward who is already indebted to Maygent. And he’s paying off that debt by helping her out. Second, Maygent has proven herself to be highly competent and a valuable ally. Why is it that, with all her fighting and intelligence, the only way she can think to repay Ward is to have sex with him? It’s pretty blatant objectification, which is only made worse once she adopts Skye’s face. Cuz nothing says thanks for being a half decent villainous ally better than projecting your ex-love interest’s face and offering you the only thing my meager female body is good for. Just a reminder: She saved his life. She doesn’t owe him anything.

This whole scene is bad enough, but what follows just adds insult to injury. Ward is into it, until suddenly he’s not. Because—in our continued mission to make Ward a vicious murderous sociopath, but not too horrible a vicious murderous sociopath—he can’t get excited about fake Skye knowing that real Skye doesn’t love him anymore. And here’s where we hit this scene’s most chauvinist turn. Immediately upon hearing Ward’s objections to her seduction, Maygent not only gives up on the idea, but has a minor panic attack and calls out her own plan as being stupid. This harkens back—intentionally or not—to seduction scenes of comic books past, where it takes the level-headed men folk to let the sexually out of control temptress know that she’s in the wrong. It takes away what little agency Maygent has carried through this episode. Add on top of this May’s “Women!” moment from earlier, Skye being compared to a car, Adama and Co accusing Bobbi of falling victim to her feelings for Hunter, and the random moment where a military officer comments on the looks of a superior female officer while on duty, and you’re basically representing a whole spectrum of misogynist cultural norms. Like I said earlier, I don’t think these plot elements were added intentionally, but it’s important to be aware of them. Over 55% of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s viewership is male (rare for an ABC show) which means, intentional or not, those of us working in media have to be aware of how using such plot devices read and what cultural attitudes they perpetuate.

Okay, hopping off my soapbox.

I really do like the idea of Ward and Maygent forming some kind of crazy, Post-Hydra Bonnie and Clyde. I was (a little bit still am) rooting for those two crazy kids, especially when Ward manages to subtly admit to burying his family in rather shallow graves (“Dig in” anyone?) and as they team up to go after our rarely seen, but not forgotten Mr. Ominous.

While Maygent and Ward break into General Talbot’s “high security” base to get to Mr. Ominous, Coulson is taking Skye to her new safe house. Originally one of Fury’s deep cover hideouts, it’s essentially a cabin in the woods. Yep, yep we see what you did there Whedons. This results in a pretty heartwarming moment for the two where Coulson tells Skye, who is begging him to tell her what to do, that he doesn’t know. Somehow this moment really puts those two on equal footing in a way that’s often talked about, but never really seen.

After that, the plot wraps up with a lot of set-up for next week. Ward and Maygent kidnap Mr. Ominous, Hunter escapes from Nuvo-S.H.I.E.L.D., and Coulson and May both agree that Mac and Bobbi are up to something. Most chilling is Bobbi’s announcement that she’s going back undercover to execute a mysterious plan.

And so we end the episode with Maygent and Ward. Maygent powers down her holographic mask and for the first time we see the entirety of the damage done to her face. Ward is essentially meeting the real her for the first time, and in a way so are we. The Maygent we once knew as Agent 33 reveals her real name to be Kara. And it looks like there could be hope for those two after all. I mean, what better reaction could you hope for your homemade Clockwork Orange brainwashing set up, than to get that oh so telling smirk of approval from your sociopathic future boyfriend?

Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.