Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Save Grant Ward: The Bucky Barnes of 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'

Throughout pop culture there is hardly a worse type of criminal to deal with than a traitor. People who eschew loyalty are often hung from the highest tree either literally or purely metaphorically and usually that’s an acceptable course of action. If episode twenty one of ‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’ proved one thing it’s that Grant Ward is a victim in need of deprogramming not decommissioning.

No, despite what Fitz may have wanted, Ward didn’t turn out to be a cybernetic human like Mike Anderson or even Ward’s own S.O. Agent John Garrett, the first incarnation of the Deathlok program. He wasn’t filled with any complex wiring mechanisms that forced his hand during his actions against what was once S.H.I.E.L.D. but that didn’t make him any less programmed to act in this manner. Now that we’ve seen how Grant Ward’s troubled childhood came to a fiery apex and a very predatory man called John Garrett came into his life offering discipline and the closest thing the boy’s ever felt of being given a damn about.

The show wouldn’t have gone through the motions of showing Ward’s tragic backstory and training if they planned to scrap the character entirely. There is a good man tangled up inside of a soldier trained to remove so-called weaknesses from his life no matter what form they take. Garrett might as well be holding a remote control up and pushing a button to make Ward go because that’s the level of control we’re talking about here. He got him young, impressionable, and already damaged from an abusive home environment--in other words the perfect makings of a soldier who will carry out orders no matter how extreme. Grant Ward has never stopped being tested by Garrett and each time he follows through with a command there’s a young boy desperate for a pat on the back--an acknowledgement that he is capable and valued.

In "Ragtag"we’ve seen that Ward did come to care for his team despite the fact that they were meant only to be his mission (sound a little like a certain soldier of a wintery persuasion?) People are constantly mislabeling the Winter Soldier aka Bucky Barnes as a villain yet it's clear that he's one of Hydra's most extreme victims. Forced against his will to perform high-level assassinations before having his mind wiped to do it all over again the next decade or so, Bucky is a character whose interactions with Hydra changed him into someone he is not. 

For Ward, even though there were no fancy brainwash machines sessions to turn him into a killer that
doesn't mean that more pedestrian methods of manipulation and coercion couldn't be as effective. Grant may have always had a bit of darkness in him due to his environment but his loyalty extends to the person that took him away from not only a bad home life but a mediocre existence with a lack of real purpose. It's just unfortunate for him that this person happened to be a trained sociopath who foisted his own loss of faith with SHIELD onto his young charge. Just as Bucky Barnes can be redeemed for countless horrific acts, so too can Grant Ward if the team allows him the chance to realize that the difference between Garett and his fellow former agents could be an unconditional support. Grant needs the chance to truly learn the difference between right and wrong, not SHIELD and Hydra--both of which may as well be one and the same at this point due to decades of bad influence.

It may seem cheesy on the surface, but what Ward needs is a step away from tough “love.” I can imagine that Garrett will either be taken out in the finale or he will implode, that surge of Extremis-style glowing under his skin once he got the shot of serum was as ominous a sign of doom as any. Removing this man’s toxic influence is going to be the hardest thing that Grant has ever had to deal with. 

Whenever a victim of mental abuse is parted from their abuser it’s a very delicate time period. I want to hope that his former team members will somehow get the chance to see that there is more than redemption as a possibility for Grant Ward--there was always a pure heart that just got damaged along the way. It could have happened to absolutely anyone and in some ways Ward’s fall from grace mimics Coulson’s own disillusionment toward the agency he devoted most of his life to. Anyone can make bad choices when the intel they’re fed is rotten from the start. So let’s hope that the team can band together to stop this Hydra, cell but more than anything that they can save one of the most significant victims of the entire series so far.


  1. Ward is no Bucky Barnes. He was manipulated by Garrett. He wasn't "programmed" or brainwashed. There is a big difference. And the only person who can save Ward is him. Right now, he hasn't done jack shit to save himself.

  2. Bucky Barnes is a war hero who was repeatedly tortured, brainwashed, experimented on and cryogenically frozen. He had no agency in the slightest, no choices. He was turned into a weapon who followed orders, then was put away until the next mission. The last choice we see Bucky make before he's captured is to try and protect Steve, which is how he dies. The first choice he makes after Steve breaks through years of brainwashing is to save Steve's life. When Bucky had choices he made the right ones. Ward has choices and he makes the wrong ones. They're nothing alike.