On this show, death comes in two forms: permanent and temporary. The latter was built into the show's very first episode, which brought Agent Coulson back to life after his untimely demise in The Avengers. Since then, some of the show's most memorable characters have shuffled off this mortal coil, then shuffled right back again. Mike Peterson purportedly died before he became the technology-enhanced assassin Deathlok. Agent Koenig was killed off, except Patton Oswalt came back as several of Koenig's identical twin brothers. Just a few episodes ago, Andrew Garner seemed to die in a convenience-store explosion, only to return as the Inhuman Lash.
The permanent kind of death is much harder to undo — and unfortunately, it seems that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. won't have a reprieve for Rosalind Price, the ATCU leader played by Constance Zimmer. Rosalind's murder at the hands of Ward isn't merely surprising because it's the death of a major supporting player. It's surprising because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dispenses with her in such a quick and perfunctory way, within the first few minutes of the episode.
This is one of those plot twists that depends on how generously you watch the show. Was the suddenness of Rosalind's death-by-sniper a clever, unsettling way to remind us that this world is dangerous? Or was the suddenness of her death a clunky consequence of a poorly paced subplot designed to put Coulson on the other side of the portal in time for the season finale?
If I had to choose, I'd lean toward the latter. At the very least, the show deserves credit for making Rosalind so compelling that her death leaves an actual void — even as it's hard to believe such a capable character would have no security in a place while she eats a hamburger in front of an open window.
There's also something unseemly about the efficiency with which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reduces Rosalind to a bullet point in Coulson's larger character arc. It's a stock comic-book trope with a long and infamous history, as exhaustively documented on the website Women in Refrigerators. Within the context of the narrative, Rosalind's death is tragic because she deserved better. I just can't shake the feeling that the character deserved a better send-off from the show, too.
Whatever you make of the circumstances of Rosalind's death, though, it has an immediate impact on Coulson, who immediately dedicates himself to killing Grant Ward. Coulson may be the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he's been flirting with the dark side all season. "Closure" sees him go totally rogue in his hunt for revenge.
Coulson begins his mission by grilling everyone about their memories of Ward, which has the audience-friendly bonus of reminding us how integral he once was to the team. Simmons remembers him as a crush; May remembers him as a lover; Fitz remembers him as a brother. The most significant insight comes from Daisy, who bonded with Ward over their similarly tragic childhoods. "The reason Ward kills isn't because he feels nothing," she says. "It's because he feels too much."
With that tragic backstory in mind, Coulson tracks down the one living person Ward still cares about: Thomas, the younger brother he once failed to protect. Coulson threatens to have Thomas killed in retaliation for Rosalind's murder. But under the tutelage of Gideon Malick, Ward takes his own pair of valuable hostages: Fitz and Simmons, who he plans to torture until they explain how they took a round-trip through the portal. By the end of the episode, Ward coerces Fitz to lead him to the other side — so long as Simmons remains unharmed. Just before the portal closes behind them, Coulson drops in and propels himself through, setting the stage for a climactic conflict that will close out the first half of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s third season.
And that's where another death may stick. Grant Ward has survived much, much longer than I expected he would following his betrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D. — but it's nearly impossible to imagine Coulson letting him slip through his fingers again. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may finally be ready to give him a proper send-off.
Next week's mid-season finale will return us to the desert planet that served as the setting for the show's all-time best episode. Although it's an ideal cliffhanger, it's a shame to lose a character like Rosalind Price along the way. As Gideon Malick would say, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. believes in moving forward, not looking back.
- Also killed off in "Closure," with much less fanfare: Banks, Rosalind's stoic right-hand man. We can truly say we hardly knew ye.
- As Daisy, Lincoln, and Joey Gutierrez prepare to take the field as a supporting unit, it seems like next week's episode will introduce the show's version of the Secret Warriors — a team of superpower S.H.I.E.L.D. agents first introduced in the comics in 2008.
- "I lost you once. I can't lose you again. I'm just not strong enough to live in a world that doesn't have you in it." Everything Fitz says to Simmons is designed for maximum Tumblr image macro shares.
- Blink-and-you'll-miss-it name drop: Gideon Malick references his old ally Pierce, the Hydra sleeper agent played by Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- "I am impressed with this whole Furiosa vibe you got going on," says Ward, who apparently found some time between evil super-spy missions to see Mad Max: Fury Road.
- Next week: This grand drama comes to a head.
Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.