One of the last things Phil Coulson did before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went on its hiatus in December was crush Grant Ward’s chest in with his prosthetic hand. Coulson’s made a lot of tough decisions over the years, but even that was particularly shocking to watch--not that Ward didn’t have it coming. Despite taking the enemy out, not everything will be perfect for Coulson in the latter half of Season 3, and viewers may see him change not necessarily for the better.
While talking about the merciless murder with TV Guide, Clark Gregg mentioned that Coulson will struggle with the decision he made in "Maveth," and that could take him down a dark path. The actor said:
I don't think he's going to know for some time if this was a terrible mistake that changes him and maybe turns him into a super-villain - it becomes, really, a show about a team run by a super-villain - or not.
It’s worth noting that when Clark Gregg says "super-villain," he probably doesn’t mean Coulson’s going to become your traditional, mustache-twirling evildoer. Over the four movies and three seasons we’ve gotten to know him, Coulson doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would ever fall that deep. Instead, Gregg likely means that Coulson may fall to darker impulses as he leads the team though new challenges during Season 3’s next 12 episodes. Coulson and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have had to kill before, but this was way more personal, and depending on how much worse things get from here, Coulson may feel lethal action is more essential going forward, no matter who the adversary is.
However, for those of you who saw that look Coulson gave Fitz when they returned to the base and wondered if it had sinister intent, Fitz’s actor Iain de Caestecker said that was merely Coulson not caring about anything at that particular moment, but he’ll definitely be in that dark place among the team going forward. Unfortunately, it’s actually fitting considering how much darker things will be getting.
Yes, just because Ward is dead doesn’t mean he’s out of the game permanently. Shortly after Coulson did the deed, that evil Inhuman on the alien planet, who we now know as Hive, took over Ward’s body and made its way back to Earth after thousands of years of exile. Hive is now with Gideon Malick and its other followers in HYDRA, and will be initiating their plan to bend humanity to their will. It may sound cliched, but it fits in this case: the S.H.I.E.L.D. protagonists are in for their toughest challenge yet, and Coulson may fall towards something closer to villainy in the process if this battle gets bad enough.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on ABC.