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Saturday, August 09, 2014

On Agents of SHIELD and really unfortunate comparisons

It's interesting.  I'm not a very big fan of the show.  (I'd stopped entirely before the post-Captain America: Winter Soldier reveal made things interesting again.)  But I find myself interested in the conversations after the finale.

One point of discussion I've seen a lot is Jeph Loeb's comment that compares Grant Ward and Bucky Barnes, which seems to have upset quite a few people.  I can understand why, but I found a few of the counterarguments a bit upsetting.

It seems like a lot of reaction to Jeph Loeb's comments consist of: "It is not the same, because Bucky was brainwashed and Ward chose to serve HYDRA."

And honestly, that's a bit over simplistic.  And has some really unfortunate implications.

It is true that Bucky never had any opportunity for choice.  He was brainwashed via machine, tortured, and so on.  That machine certainly appeared to have wiped out his memories and any sense of self.  Of course, he's not responsible for what he did.

Grant Ward isn't (at least as far as we know) in that position.  But to say that he "chose" is a bit much too.  Grant Ward was an abused fifteen year old child who was pulled out of the legal system by an older male figure who then isolated him in the wilderness, subjecting him to tests, and remaining his sole human contact.  And yes, he did "choose" to go with Garrett to begin with, but when your choice is go with the strange government dude, or be a fifteen year old kid in prison...that's not much of a choice.

In his backstory episode, we see John Garrett using real world brainwashing and indoctrinating techniques on a 15-year old child.  Long before the kid ever gets any sort of real introduction to SHIELD or HYDRA.

This is where the Bucky-Ward comparison, or rejection thereof, starts having some really bad implications.  Because what you're really doing is trying to compare a predator targetting, isolating, abusing, and intentionally instilling Stockholm Syndrome to a fifteen year old child to a supervillain shoving a grown man into a mindwiping device and rewriting his entire being.

And they're not really comparable because, while both are horrific, one could happen (does happen) in the real world.  One absolutely cannot.

There is no device in the real world that operates like the HYDRA brainwashing device.  None.  Period.  No real human person can suffer what Bucky Barnes has suffered in the Captain America movies.

When people start making the comparison and saying "Bucky had it worse!", it gets a little awkward.  Because fiction isn't bound to what is actually possible in the real world.  Someone can, in fiction, be completely atomized and rebuilt from the ground up.  I would completely accept a story that portrayed this as a form of torture.  But if someone were to argue that this is worse somehow than real world torture techniques, I'd be very uncomfortable.

To be fair, I don't think anyone would go up to a real person who'd suffered real world indoctrination or torture and tell them "your suffering isn't as bad as Fictional Character A".  But I do think that we all need to be careful about comparing real world to fantasy.

I'm not trying to excuse what Grant Ward has done as a character since the reveal.  (I do think he has the advantage over Bucky in the eyes of some viewers because we never really SEE what other things the Winter Soldier has done in the name of HYDRA.  We get a first hand view of Ward's.)  Right at this point in time, he is a villain and rightly so.

I'm not ruling out a redemption arc however.  And honestly, I'd like to see one (provided it's written well.)  This isn't because he was my favorite character pre-Reveal.  (Full disclosure: he was.  I like them awkward and violent.  But there are quite a few awkward and violent protagonists I enjoy, that I can spare one.)  But because at heart, I consider myself an optimistic person and I want to believe that someone can seek/find redemption, even if they are the worst monster in the world.  It shouldn't be easy, but I want to believe it's possible.

I'd much rather see yet another attempt at a redemption story than a cynical yet another villain dies as a villain kind of thing.  We see that often enough as well.  And honestly, "abuse victim gets recruited to be a villain, stays a villain, and dies" is kind of a really depressing narrative, isn't it?


  • At August 10, 2016 2:49 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Okay, just in case someone manages to stumble across this post years after the fact, I'd just like to clarify that I wrote this after the end of season 1 of SHIELD. At that time, I legitimately thought he was redeemable.

    Obviously things went in a much different direction. And thus if I were writing today, I would be saying very different things.

    Fuck Grant Ward.


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