It’s been a heck of a couple weeks for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The TV show set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe offers an immediate reaction to the mega-events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and shows how much the world changes thanks to that film.
SPOILERS ON for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Winter Soldier
Yes, in The Winter Soldier, Hydra was revealed as the real force behind the world’s premiere peacekeeping and intelligence agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Captain America and his cohorts sent the agency crashing down around them in a very literal way. Of course that begged the question, what the heck is going to happen to the show that bears that agency’s name?
Well that answer came in the form of some major twists in episodes 16 and 17 of the series – 16 set it all up with Agent Jasper Sitwell having “a boat to catch” and Fury’s initial attack by the Winter Soldier. Then 17 went and really turned the whole thing on its head. Hydra was exposed, and Agent John Garrett (played by recurring guest star Bill Paxton) was revealed as not just a high-level Hydra agent, but also as the Clairvoyant, the mysterious individual who had manipulated the team pretty much from the start.
Of course, for fans of the show, the most heartbreaking part came next, when Agent Grant Ward (played by Brett Dalton), who was trained by Garrett, turned on S.H.I.E.L.D., shooting two nameless agents in the head before turning his gun on Victoria Hand, shooting her once in the stomach and twice in the head as she lay face down bleeding out.
But while even Dalton didn’t know what was coming until just before shooting episode 16, the actor tells Newsarama in a phone interview that the signs were there.
“There are these moments throughout the series, when he just kind of turns on that dangerous side, and he shows, especially there, where he can just kind of flick a switch and turn it on,” Dalton says of Ward’s killer side. The actor praised astute fans who were watching closely, and saw the same expressionless look on his face when he killed the fake Clairvoyant as when he shot Agent Hand.
“I think that was kind of an accident, but it was Ward revealing that mask, taking it off and showing what was underneath,” the actor reveals.
Dalton was told by showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon that his character would be one of the hidden agents of Hydra just after shooting episode 15, but after the cast had their viewing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a movie the actor says is “so awesome, the best Marvel movie since the first Iron Man”), which revealed there were big changes in store for the show. His reaction, and that of the rest of the cast, was one of excitement.
“It just completely blows everything up in a big way and changes the entire face of the show. Our show is called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Are we even going to be S.H.I.E.L.D.? Is the show going to change its name? [The cast] all just got really excited because you don’t get huge things changing the face of an entire world like this.”
As for Ward’s specific switch, Dalton was glad he didn’t know about the character’s duplicity until the episodes were shooting.
“I’m really glad I didn’t know earlier on,” the actor says. “I think it would’ve made it really hard to play the mask of the ‘yes sir, no sir’ Agent Ward if I had known from the very beginning. I was glad to get the chance to build the earnest character first. Even for those two episodes, suddenly it was this thing in my head.”
Of course, some fans are speculating that Ward hasn’t truly turned – or that if he was Hydra, now he’s a true-blue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent thanks to his time with the team, but Dalton isn’t budging, insisting, “Ward has always been this guy. This is the real him.” Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his last few months – or turned entirely to the dark side.
“I don’t think anyone is really ‘evil’ here,” Dalton says of Ward’s motivations. “They just have different goals and ways of doing things.” Of course, the actor does tease that there’s some hope that Ward has been changed. “He’s also had these moments – when you’re living on this ship with these people and you’re in close quarters and you’re with them all the time, he has these things and these people that have affected him in ways he didn’t know would happen.”
While he wouldn’t outright say whether or not Ward is “troubled” by having to turn against his team, Dalton does admit there’s a quandary there for the agent.
“I don’t think Ward expected to build any kind of real relationship with anyone on the squad,” he says. The actor was surprised by how some of the relationships have changed and developed throughout the young series, as well.
“I was really surprised by the Ward-May thing; I didn’t see that coming. I, like a lot of people, just kind of thought it was going to Ward and Skye from the start, and then they threw that in and at first I was like, ‘What?’” he says about his first romantic – or at least amorous – hook-up on the show. “But then I started to think about it, and it made sense. They’re both these warriors of the team – they are used to living life a little more compartmentalized and separated off, and there’s appeal sometimes to just being with someone with no commitment.”
Dalton also enjoyed the way Ward and Fitz’s characters grew closer together, especially since he and actor Ian De Caestecker have become “best friends in the world” while filming on the show. “I think that chemistry, that relationship, was just going to come out whether you liked it or not,” the actor says with a laugh, acknowledging the writers for putting them together in more scenes when their real-life friendship bloomed.
As for that potential relationship with Skye, fans who “ship” the characters under the name “SkyeWard” had a brief moment of bliss when Ward seemed to open up to his young protégé, only to have her surprise him with a kiss.
“Yeah! That was surprising for him,” Dalton says with a mischievous laugh. “That was the thing I loved most about the episode too. They finally give you SkyeWard, then like 8 minutes later it all turns around and I’m shooting Hand.”
Of course, that laugh comes from a real place for Dalton, as he says it’s “really liberating playing the bad guy,” citing the freedom of having “a clearer mind once the mask is off. That’s a new way of thinking for Ward.”
While any questions about Ward’s true allegiances were danced around for fear of spoilers (the actor even jokes “I think Marvel has eyes and ears everywhere – if I start spoiling something they’ll just crsshhh – cut the line!), he also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Ward being a triple agent now that his double agent status was revealed.
“Double Agent, Triple Agent – I like to think, what if I’m a quadruple agent?” the actor jokes, with that laugh coming out once again. “Then I’ve just gone in a big square back to exactly where I started, right?”
Of course, Dalton wouldn’t divulge which was the starting point – S.H.I.E.L.D. or Hydra.
As for what’s to come, Dalton says that after admittedly fanboying out a bit when he first met Joss Whedon and got cast in the role, working with Bill Paxton is “a close second.” He says to watch for these scenes, and that “seeing the way he’s taken off his mask has just been amazing.
“You started to see that last episode, and now this week you’re going to really see more of who he is underneath that as the Clairvoyant, what he’s been doing and how he’s been moving all these pieces across the board.”
After sharing a laugh about how simply sinister Paxton’s John Garrett was as he uttered “Hail Hydra” (and getting to hear Dalton himself utter the words), Marvel TV’s publicity left us with one last tease for episode 18, “Providence,” airing at 9pm on April 15, 2014.
“You’ll never look at turtlenecks the same way again.”
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.airs regularly at 8pm Tuesday nights; tonight offers a special encore presentation of Episode 17, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” at 8pm and the new episode at 9pm.