Wow, Agents of SHIELD sure knows how to set up a mid-series finale. Clearly some shows do actually work hard on their penultimate episodes (at or at least their half-series penultimates), as this episode was a very good one. In fact, it was probably the best one in the show’s history. While it was in no way as outstanding as the episode on the Alien Planet, ‘Closure’ was still very good and it ramped up anticipation for the mid-series finale, which is pretty much what an episode should do (and coming out days after ‘Heaven Sent’ as well).
This episode was great because of how intense it was. It knew that the mid-series finale was coming up and really worked to accelerate the plot and close up loose ends. Whether it was Coulson deciding to personally take Ward out or the torture of Fitz and Simmons, or even the preparations to open the portal to the Alien Planet (I think they are calling it Maveth) to find that Inhuman bloke and bring it back, this episode had hardly a boring moment. As a show there are times where Agents of SHIELD drags and does not deal with its plot points fast enough (that would be Series One), but this series shows that those days are behind it. I am glad that the show is willing to wrap up plot points because it actually gives us a good episode to watch. Mid-series finales have to be good and enjoyable enough to make us want to see the next half, so the build-up is important. Given that Agents of SHIELD has a pretty good record in making their finales (mid-series and series) good, as they proved with Series Two, the fact that we have such a strong build-up in this episode makes me feel excited for the finale.
Once again the standout character here goes to Ward. He continues going down the path of darkness and crosses several moral lines that show that he is not going to be redeemed, which is good because that would be lazy screenwriting. Ward continues to murder and act like a loose cannon and has become such a problem that Coulson is now going to personally try to kill him. However, rather than just focusing on his evil, it was nice to look a bit more at his backstory, which they did with his brother Thomas. Unlike Christian and Ward himself who both seem like sneaky pathological liars, Thomas seems like an honest bloke who actually knows what went on. It turns out that Ward was abused as a child and that his parents and brother were just generally awful to him. This was telling of how he is a tragic figure who Skye could empathise with, hence understanding why he would fall in with the likes of Garrett in order to fill void left by his father. That whole scene shows how different the characters of Skye and Ward were and how that it is due to the different circumstances that they found themselves in. Ward was raised by a sociopath who taught him to be a killer, whilst Skye was taken in by Coulson, a warm figure who taught her to believe in herself. It could have easily been the other way around, and that was an interesting reflection. It does not justify Ward and I am glad the episode did not try to excuse him, but it makes us somewhat understand our villain.
Finally I also really liked that this episode made the decision to kill Ros. Once again SHIELD shows that it is not afraid to kill off interesting characters. This is a very Wheadonesque trope, and has been done in Buffy, Angel, and I am sure it would have been done if Firefly had been allowed a second series (I am a bit sore about that). Ros and Coulson were having a budding romance and it would have been interesting to see where that went. She was a good character, with depth and it was a brave decision to kill her. Nevertheless it was a good decision, since she will now forever remain as an interesting character who Coulson can come back to in his memory again and again, rather than staying on and potentially going nowhere or becoming a contrivance. She was effective for the half series she was on-screen, but it is good that they made the right decision with her.
However, in a slight volte-face, I will criticise this episode for killing Banks. It seemed a bit excessive to do that and while he was a bit of a jerk, I felt his death was a little meaningless. It would have been nice for him to accompany Coulson to Maveth or have him lead the attack on HYDRA. I feel he never developed from a one-dimensional character. Much like Trip in Series Two, he was a character that never went anywhere and either should have been omitted from the show altogether (or just made into an extra) or given more time to shine. It is a minor gripe though with what is an excellent episode.