The Agents of SHIELD episode “The Purpose in the Machine,” had a lot of positive things going for it, from using steampunk technology with an Asgardian to figure out how the Kree monolith operated, to Agent May spending quality time with her dad.
The only way it could have been better, would have been leaving Simmons on that Kree Moon for a few more episodes. This was a great opportunity to have introduced Captain Mar-Vell as an ally, or Una treating Simmons, or a Peter Quill cameo. Sadly, none of those things were not meant to be. Let’s see what the flashbacks hold for us.
The problem with the episode is Lance Hunter being sent out to kill Grant Ward. SHIELD is a rogue government agency, not following the Constitution, not taking orders from the President, and doing whatever they see fit. This pattern of behavior is not that dissimilar from the Red Skull going rogue with HYDRA from Germany.
A former secret agent deciding to kill a terrorist is still murder, even if the intended victim is a horrible human being. We have a pesky Constitution that specifically prohibits people being deprived of their life without due process of law. Director Coulson deciding to have Ward killed is simply murder and everyone participating is part of the conspiracy.
SHIELD acted as an agency with law enforcement, military, and espionage missions before the HYDRA coup. Continuing to blend law enforcement and national defense is highly problematic, because law enforcement in the United States does not execute kill orders from the President. The mission of law enforcement is to arrest with specific rules on when lethal force can used.
Military operations are inherently different. In the War on Terror, Congress has authorized the use of force in combating terrorists groups. President Obama has used drones executing his “kill list,” which has included Americans operating with terrorists. These individuals are no doubt traitors who took up arms against the United States in foreign counties. The military does not conduct law enforcement; it wages war. Those who take up arms against the United States overseas should not be surprised to have war waged against them.
We have a very different situation in the fictional world of Agents of SHIELD. Director Coulson has no legal authority to order any missions, let alone to decide to kill people. Moreover, the FBI and CIA would both be monitoring for HYDRA communications to counter terrorism at home or abroad. The mission of the FBI would be to stop HYDRA, but the goal would be to arrest those involved and use lethal force if met with lethal force.
It would not be farfetched in this imaginary world to see Congress authorize the military to hunt down HYDRA on US soil, just like Congress did against the Klan during President Grant’s administration. General Talbot might have such a mandate, but it is not clear to what extent.
Director Coulson deciding to kill a US Citizen who should be prosecuted for murdering a US Senator, multiple military service personnel, treason, terrorism, and a long list of other crimes, really makes him no better than Grant Ward. If SHIELD is successful, there really is no going back from the fact that Coulson, Hunter, and May, have more in common with the Punisher than Captain America.