This week on Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Relationships are hard, yo.
Let’s bitch it out…
For me ‘A Fractured House’ is the tale of three relationships played on a large scale that just happens to include two spy agencies declaring war on each other. The opening attack on the UN that nearly takes out General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) effectively sets the stage for a number of significant developments, including the reveal that the Obelisk has indeed been weaponized, the re-outing of SHIELD as public enemy number one and confirmation that the agency is both spread out and significantly weakened (6 dead in Brussels is a big deal? Compare this to the cacophony of bodies that perished during the events of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and it’s clear that SHIELD is hurting)
All of this spy vs spy stuff is cool, and it keeps the gadgets and the action sequences coming at regular intervals so that no one complains about the lack of fanboy components. But if you break down the emotional beats of this episode, it’s basically an examination of three effed up pairs that have some serious shit to work through:
1) The Ward brothers: Older brother Christian (Tim DeKay) gets an official introduction as the powerful, deep-pocketed Senator that has been holding Talbot’s leash. Turns out that Christian is essentially just the politico version of his younger brother Grant (Brett Dalton), which is to say that they’re both silver-tongued master manipulators. The editing of their conversations with Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) respectively is exceptionally well done because it reinforces their similarities and simultaneously prompts us to try and figure out which one is the liar. We know what Ward is capable of, so even though Coulson rightly throws Ward’s crimes back in his face after he has the audacity to suggest he’s still part of the team, my inclination is to trust this devil we know (despite the oh-so-evil beard). At this point Christian is giving off some serious Bolivar Trask vibes and anyone willing to publicly trade on the act of killing a sibling to win an election is probably not the nicest person. We’ll see what colours Christian shows next episode now that Grant has (predictably) escaped custody…
- Side Note: Is the escape all part of some Coulson master plan? There’s a very deliberate moment when Coulson instructs the guards not to give Ward any leeway, but surely he had to suspect that a few measly guards wouldn’t be enough to adequately keep an eye on such a lethal agent. Or is this just a convenient plot device to set Ward free so that different stories can be told?
2) Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge): While this storyline is hardly the most dynamic part of the episode, I appreciated it after last week’s underwhelming reunion. Here we see things a bit more clearly from both Fitz and Simmons’ perspective: it pains her to see Fitz struggle and she recognized that she makes it worse, which is why she took the undercover assignment. He interpreted that as abandonment and can’t stand her pitying looks now that she’s back. Clearly these two are working out not just the unresolved sexual tension, but deeper feelings of isolation, abandonment and helplessness as well. While their conversations do kind of drag things down a bit, they had to get everything out in the open in order for things to move forward.
- While I’m glad that Mac (Henry Simmons) is on hand to support Fitz, I’m still really frustrated that this is all he does on the series. I’m not about to argue that SHIELD is purposefully misusing its ethnic cast members (Ming-Na Wen is still kicking ass on a weekly basis), but the stubborn refusal to do more with both Mac and Tripp (BJ Britt) is increasingly obvious when you see how quickly and easily Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) has been integrated into the mix.
3) Finally, there’s Hunter (Nick Blood) and Bobbi, who mostly serve as comic relief, playing the role of the bickering (ex) married couple who can’t help but affectionately save each other’s lives. There’s a light, almost rom-com vibe from these interactions, especially when they shoot Tashiro (Brian Tee) without pausing their spat. Palicki certainly elevates the material because the squabbling is far more tolerable here than when it was just Hunter bemoaning his evil ex in earlier episodes, though I hope that this isn’t a recurring bit that we’ll revisit every week. By the end of the episode it appears that the pair have mostly worked out their issues – taking out a vicious group of Hydra agents does nothing if not encourage bonding – so let’s hope their relationship drama has come to an end.
- Bonus points for sticking May in this middle of the couples counseling. Her exasperated reactions provide some of the episode’s best comedy.
- Every day Ward wakes up at 5:30 am to work out, thereby ensuring his muscles bulge appropriately when Skye swings by for a visit. This information is all well and good, but the real question is where the hell is his bathroom?!
- While Ward’s escape is far too easy, I’m glad that the status quo has been shaken up because there were only so many more times I could stand to watch him and Skye bat their eyelashes and verbally manipulate each other.
- From afar, I totally thought that the head Hydra agent was Jonathan Rhys Meyer and I couldn’t decide whether that meant that his stock had plummeted or increased dramatically. I mean, did you watch Dracula on NBC last season?
- Comparing FX from various comic book shows, I’m going to have to award the gold star this week to SHIELD because the “splinter bomb” effect is pretty cool (Side Note: for some reason it kind of reminded me of the ray gun effects from Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!. I’m not exactly sure why)
- Wait…May was married?!?! Did we already know that? When do we get to meet that ex?
- Casting call: who should play the youngest Ward brother?
- Finally, our coda is a brief snippet of Cougar Town‘s Brian Van Holt as a mysterious man getting the alien writing tattoo’d on his body. There’s very little to go on, but I’m curious to know not just who this guy is, but why he’s using his body as a “map” (to use Skye’s description).
- Coulson (holding a Grumpy Cat coffee mug): “What did somebody bring this from home?”
- Hunter (after commenting that Bobbi is skilled in deception): “I mean that sincerely, not passive aggressively, like that’s a good attribute for a spy to have. Bloody hell”
- Coulson (handing over Christian’s papers): “I assume this is your speech. I made a few changes. It’s funnier now.”
- Hunter (mocking a female Hydra agent): “That face. So dour.”
Your turn: Which pair narrative was most interesting to you? Are you excited or annoyed that Ward has escaped? Can Christian be trusted? Will Bobbi and Hunter get back together? And who is the mysterious tattoo man? Speculate below in the comments.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is taking a week off so that ABC can pimp out the Marvel brand with an anniversary special. The show returns Tuesday Nov 11 at 9pm EST on ABC. Here’s a preview: