With the exception of AMC’s The Walking Dead, ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has parlayed its rock solid resurgence into becoming the best show on TV. The momentum continues with “A Fractured House,” where we get our first inkling of what a “Civil War”-like mandate could look like in the MCU, see Bobbi Morse in action as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent for the first time, and witness a bunch of people disintegrate thanks to some sinister (and snazzy) Hydra tech.
Brigadier General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) addresses the UN about the scourge that is SHIELD; following the Chitauri invasion and The Avengers heroic rescue of New York City and beyond, S.H.I.E.L.D. “took advantage of our faith.” Talbot wants to rid the world of S.H.I.E.L.D., and an Italian representative asks for proof of his accusations. For his fact-checking efforts, a cadre of agents clearly pretending to be S.H.I.E.L.D. stomp in, and attack the assemblage with what we’ll learn are called “splinter bombs,” which are like nefarious discus’ that dissolve their targets in seconds. It’s a sweet effect that turns our upset Italian politician into dust. Talbot, of course, escapes, and now the government has even more fodder to eradicate the tendrils of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Even in confinement, without light or clock, Ward (Brett Dalton) gets up at 5:30 on the dot every morning, and does sexy shirtless push ups and other exercises foreign to a schlub like me. Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are watching, mostly just wondering how his internal clock is so effective. Their reunion is interrupted when news of the attack comes to Coulson (Clark Gregg), whose emotions can be described by his Grumpy Cat mug (does this mean Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever is in the MCU?). It’s obvious the murders were committed by Hydra, led by Marcus Scarlotti (Falk Hentschel), who goes by Whiplash in the comics. Just not Mickey Rourke Whiplash, thankfully. Coulson’s team figures out that the weapons were created by Toshiro Mori (The Wolverine‘s Brian Tee), so May, Hunter and Morse prep the quinjet for a Japanese excursion. This forces Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance (Nick Blood) to work together, promising a ton of post-marital squabbling. It sounds groan-worthy, but anything that will draw the ire of Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is hilarious, and the former couple’s back and forth serves as a fun and effective way to seamlessly bring Morse into the fold. She’s also another female badass to add to the mix; Adrianne Palicki just LOOKS like a superhero, even in a Star Wars V-neck. Especially in a Star Wars V-neck. She towers over everyone else, and delivers some of the best action in this episode.
After “Hen in the Wolf House,” an episode title that could’ve referred to about 14 possibilities, “A Fractured House” keeps the tradition up. It’s a reference to Ward’s considerable family tensions, the divide in the U.S. Government over S.H.I.E.L.D., and the bickering between Hunter and Bobbi Morse hint at a home that was split. Or in a macro way, it could describe the chasm within S.H.I.E.L.D. thanks to Hydra’s infiltration, the original “fractured house” in which all of these balloon out of.
One of the better surprises of this episode was the identity of guest star Tim DeKay (White Collar). Following the attack on the UN, DeKay’s Senator is leading the witch hunt for S.H.I.E.L.D., proposing a task force to destroy all S.H.I.E.L.D. ties around the globe. Do we need another government tool? Even Talbot doesn’t really think the strike came from Coulson’s crew, but it’s the only excuse Senator Ward needs. It’s a motion that threatens to infringe on citizen’s rights, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because the Senator turns out to be Ward’s older brother, Christian Ward. This is a guy who forced Ward to torture his younger brother for malicious glee (or so we’re told). As Skye notes, “I guess being a douchebag runs in the family.”
At one point, Coulson sends out a call to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base in Netherlands, checking in with an Agent Walters (Melanie Cruz). This could be some crazy tease for She-Hulk, since she shares the last name of the famed gamma-irradiated attorney/Avenger Jennifer Walters, or it’s just foreshadowing that Agent Walters is going to die and be attacked later in the episode; and we want a name and a face to make it feel like something bad happened, rather than six faceless S.H.I.E.L.D. agents dying. Since yeah, that all happens.
En route to Japan, Bobbi and Lance continue their back and forth, and we learn that Melinda May used to be married, and with one “Are you kidding me?” look to Bobbi, expresses that NO, of course she doesn’t still talk to her ex. Melinda May is the best.
Some of the best/hardest moments in this episode come from the not at all happy reunion of FitzSimmons. They’re working together for the first time since Simmons came back from her brief foray into undercover ops, and it’s not the same. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) had been getting better at talking and you know, earning his place as a tech genius, but seems to have taken a step backward with Jemma around again. Later, he doesn’t have trouble spitting out to her: “You gave up on me.” Simmons lied to him and went undercover with Hydra; he had no idea if he’d ever see her again, and demands to know why she left, clearly referencing the fact that he revealed his true feelings. Simmons can’t deal, leaving Fitz alone. Of course, he’s not alone: Mac’s there, his true love.
We get a lot of Ward this week, with Skye trying to get intel about his brother, and Ward warning her that yes, he knows he’s awful, but his brother is “worse.” She also gets as much out of Ward about her father as she can: indeed, he’s a murderer, but he killed people trying to protect his family (so it’s cool). Apparently the massacre in the Hunan village didn’t involve innocent villagers, but Hydra agents who attacked and killed Skye’s mother. Skye’s father lost it and tore up the village. Ward doesn’t know what Skye’s father is, but offers to help her find him… together. Yucky. Instead, Skye says farewell, because they’re packing Ward up to bring to his older brother.
Coulson pays Christian Ward a visit and we get pure Coulson bliss, a reminder of the wise-cracking smartass he was in his first few film appearances, handing Christian an edited speech that’s “funnier,” swaggering around the Senator’s office. Coulson offers Ward to Christian, threatening to release the information that his brother is a Hydra agent unless he wants to make a trade: squash the witch hunt, and you can have your brother. Christian and Ward go back and forth telling Coulson and Skye, respectively, that the other is a master manipulator, unleashing lies upon lies; who’s telling the truth? Is anyone? How screwed up is their younger brother? He’s probably Dexter. Having extracted all they could from Ward, Coulson decides to hand off the traitor to his brother, who’s keen to make a spectacle of his younger brother by putting him on trial, a crazy announcement that should prove to be (Grumpy) catnip to voters in the upcoming election year.
Meanwhile, May/Hunter/Morse kick ass abroad. Morse uses her cover to talk to Toshiro… but mostly uses her feminine wiles. She can also speak Japanese, and remembers every little detail, something that’s super annoying in a relationship, according to Hunter. We learn that Toshiro was given the tech by Whitehall, and that he’s hoping to work with Whitehall on the Diviner. Around then, Morse’s cover dries up, and Hunter and May come in to save her skin. Their ass-kicking moves to Belgium; Hydra lays a trap for S.H.I.E.L.D., but it doesn’t matter. Three S.H.I.E.L.D. agents can kick and punch their way out of it. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has improved its spy action considerably since the first season, and its action has become another awesome feather in its ever-growing cap, with May’s fight with the man-who-would-be-Whiplash proving to be the highlight.
The saddest moment comes at home, where Simmons goes to Mac (Henry Simmons) to thank him for helping Fitz. Because Mac’s perfect, he explains that Fitz hasn’t needed his help. Sure, he’s weird, but he likes the adorable Scot. Mac has his bro’s back, explaining that he’s heard how Simmons bailed after Fitz revealed his feelings. Then he unleashes a dagger: “The only thing that makes him worse is you.” Simmons knows this all too well: “Why do you think I left?” FITZSIMMONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ward’s paraded through the base, getting a glimpse of all of his former teammates. Simmons warns Ward that if she sees him again, “I’ll kill you.” Doubtful, but awesome. As Ward’s custody switches, his brother reveals his secret to the public in a press conference. Predictably, about three seconds after Ward is out from under S.H.I.E.L.D., he escapes. It’s way too easy; did Coulson plan this too? Did he trust Ward enough to give him another mission? Or did Coulson set him free because he thinks Ward will lead him somewhere important? Or did they really just let one of the most dangerous crazy men in the world free that easily? Either way, I was kind of intrigued by the possibilities of a Ward-on-trial subplot… but that seems to be on ice for now.
If I wasn’t stoked enough for next week’s episode, the post-credits teaser is all kinds of intriguing. Brian Van Holt (Cougar Town), referred to as “The Stranger” on IMDb, saunters into a tattoo shop, ready to complete the tat. He removes his shirt and reveals the alien writing all over his chest, like a Kree crossover with Prison Break. While I highly doubt this Stranger being THE Stranger from the Marvel universe (the cosmic being has power rivaling Galactus), it’s still another fascinating wrinkle to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s sterling sophomore season.