Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is really on a roll this season and “A Fractured House” continues this in fine form, widening the scope of the conflict against Hydra in a way that feels realistic and yet epic. Both organizations take a bold step out of the shadows in this episode, re-entering the world stage and taking their war public. S.H.I.E.L.D. pulls a victory out of this, but it’s not much of one. Hydra has become too effective a villain to be truly defeated.
Making Hydra an effective antagonist has really transformed this show, providing momentum to the stories as a whole and forcing the writers to make the most of the now-limited time they have to develop the characters. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is now more layered as a result, the interactions between characters are much sharper, and it all happens without sacrificing any of the motion of the back and forth with Hydra.
Not only that, and this is something I didn’t quite realize until this episode, but making Hydra so repeatedly effective makes Coulson’s team the underdogs, which weds the show much more closely to the very appeal of superheroes as people who stand against a seemingly overwhelming tide of injustice. And Coulson and his Scrappies don’t even have the benefit of superpowers to stand between them and certain doom. By backing them repeatedly against the wall with Hydra’s victories, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is slowly making its characters more than just spies. It’s making them into heroes.
It’s also just plain exciting to watch Hydra win. There’s Talbot in the U.N., repeating his s.c.h.p.i.e.l. about S.H.I.E.L.D. when in bursts a guy who has Talbot’s exact haircut and it’s like, uh oh, do you think Talbot’s mad? Or is he just ahead of the fashion curve? Then he starts throwing discs that disintegrate people and OH, IT IS ON NOW. Holy crap Hydra has already weaponized the Obelisk Coulson LOOK OUT.
S.H.I.E.L.D. gets put on the defensive once more due to the events of this episode and it’s exciting to watch Coulson try to wriggle his team out from under that. It’s even more exciting when that wriggling involves teaming up with Talbot and Ward’s psychopath of a brother, Senator Christian Ward. I squealed when I saw that nameplate. It’s insane how much I look forward to a Ward-related plotline these days. Probably just as insane as Ward himself is. It’s a fever, I tell you, and the only prescription is more Ward!
Christian’s presence throws the entire history of Ward into question. Did Ward lie about being made to torture their younger brother? The flashbacks from “The Well” all the way back would seem to say otherwise, but those flashbacks themselves changed to suit what Ward was thinking. It seems quite possible that Ward actually believes the lie he told about what Christian is like. It also seems quite possible that Ward wasn’t lying at all. The tension of that uncertainty played beautifully into the episode’s closing scenes. Was Christian going to keep his word to Coulson? Even if he did, what compromise does this put S.H.I.E.L.D. in? No one seems happy to be working together by the end of “A Fractured House,” putting a new twist on the title of the episode itself. Maybe a fractured house isn’t what occurs to S.H.I.E.L.D. Maybe a fractured house is the best that Coulson can build.
S.H.I.E.L.D. lives still, but it’s once again weakened by Hydra’s onslaught. The events of Captain America 2 struck the greatest blow, but Ward and Garrett kept hammering at them even after that, and now Whitehall has whittled S.H.I.E.L.D. down even further by taking the conflict public.
It’s despairing, but exciting to watch. Every victory is hard-earned on this show this season. Go team go.
- Um…small nitpick, Marvel TV, but next time you open with a panoramic shot of midtown Manhattan don’t forget to insert the very prominent Avengers/Stark Tower. Since it’s, you know, four blocks away from the U.N.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe officially has two Whiplashes now! The guy biting Talbot’s style is Marcus “Mark” Scarlotti, also known as Whiplash. I thought they were just using the name at first, but then he had an awesome whip-fight with May!
- Nice Friday Night Lights reference, Toshiro.
- “I’m telling you I have your brother in my basement.”
- This Week in Fitz’s Brain: He’s not getting better but it was touching to see the show put that desire aside in favor of teaching Fitz to become more accepting of the person that he is now. That’s a subtlety you don’t usually see on shows dealing with newly impaired characters.
- This Week in Lance Hunter: That character is ten thousand times improved by being bounced off of Adrianne Palicki. And now he might just leave altogether? WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE SUCH GRACE?
- How intense was Ward’s perp walk, huh? It says a lot about the show that it was able to instill sense a palpable sense of danger with just having Ward present. When he finally effects his escape from the troops, it’s almost a relief.
- I think we all figured Ward would escape at some point, but what I personally never considered was that Ward would escape and then insist on staying with S.H.I.E.L.D.. Him constantly trying to break in is now a far scarier prospect than the idea of him breaking out. I guess we’ll see how this develops.
- Annnnd Belgium betrays the world’s trust. YET AGAIN.
- Finally… who do you think brought this in?