It wasn’t personal
I absolutely hate this phrase. Every time I hear it, I want to scream and smash things. Because it’s always used by someone to justify their wrong actions. “I wasn’t trying to attack you personally, so you can’t be mad.” No, it doesn’t work that way.
When it pops up in AoS, in my very favorite episode (Nothing Personal, 1x20), in my favorite scene (Skyeward confrontation on the BUS), it hurts. I so very genuinely understand Skye’s reaction to it. She is incensed by Ward trying to excuse his betrayal of SHIELD. “It wasn’t…..You did NOT just say that! It wasn’t personal?! Gah, you might actually believe that.” Because in that moment, it felt completely personal to her. His siding with Garrett, with the Clairvoyant, with Hydra, meant he was siding with who had her shot. With who almost killed her and didn’t care about the collateral damage. It’s pretty freaking easy to understand why she would be so upset. She thought that Ward was the one who would protect her, who would look out for her, who she could depend on. And he….chose the people who hurt her, over her. Someone else was more important than her. That is incredibly personal.
But from Ward’s perspective, it wasn’t meant to be personal. He was not out to attack the team, any of them, in Seasons 1 and 2 (Season 3 is a different ball game, and he definitely gets personal there). He was following a mission, a directive, chasing a goal. He was used to knowing that people would get hurt along the way, but that the mission was more important. (Hello, SHIELD Specialists - that’s their job.) There’s something about the way he says the phrase too, that, to me, makes it feel like he’s just reciting a line. He isn’t sure he believes it anymore, but he’s so used to thinking it and saying it, that is just comes out. There isn’t much conviction behind it. But he still says it, almost like it’s a conditioned response.
And that moment just lays out their conflict. It brings it into sharp focus. It also makes Skye shut down actual conversation. She is so personally offended by him saying that, that she can’t be open to his explanation, even though she had been begging him to explain, to tell her why. I would imagine that him saying that to her made her feel incredibly rejected. “It wasn’t personal” meant that she wasn’t worth it being personal for, that he didn’t care enough to consider her in his actions. (I think we all know that isn’t the truth, but I can easily see how she would feel that way.) And if it wasn’t personal for him, then she didn’t doesn’t need to make it personal either. She can dismiss what he’s saying out of hand, because if it’s not personal, then his motivations and explanations don’t matter. She doesn’t have to listen to him.
It’s a heartbreaking moment for them. You can see their hearts falling to pieces and each of them building up their walls, to keep the other firmly out. It may not have been intended to be personal, but it very much was.