Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recap: 'A Fractured House'
Hydra frames S.H.I.E.L.D., and we finally meet a certain someone's scary older brother.
It’s official, folks: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has stepped up its game in just about every conceivable way. I’ve mentioned this a little bit in just about every recap thus far, because I want to make sure those who are just checking in to get a read on the show’s pulse knows for sure: AoS is now entertaining in its own right, whether or not you care about comic books or the MCU as a whole. And if you do, it’s great at hitting those notes as well.
Probably one of my favorite improvements is the way the show now handles its cold opens. They’re punchy, intriguing problems that propel the plot forward—notice that after each of them how the show springs into action. This might sound frustratingly basic to some—it’s how television is supposed to work, after all—but it’s a definite sign that the AoS creative team has given serious thought to constructing satisfying week-to-week adventures that also push forward a season-long story.
This week’s episode centers on a Hydra attempt to turn the public against S.H.I.E.L.D. by sending a hit squad in disguise to take out a number of dignitaries meeting at the UN. It’s pretty harrowing stuff—the assassins are using Obelisk (henceforth called the Diviner)-inspired throwing disks that cause targets to dissolve to ash.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. response is fast and furious. Coulson sends May, Morse, and Hunter to go after Toshiro Mori in Japan—he’s the guy who made the weapons. Of course, given Hunter and Morse’s failed marriage, that makes things quite uncomfortable—for Lance, at least. Bobbi looks like she can handle just about everything.
Back at HQ, Simmons tries to talk to Fitz, trying to carry on as if nothing had changed and they could pal around while cracking into her stolen Hydra Hard drive. Except, they can’t, and Fitz tells her so—he’s different, and he needed her, and she bailed. It’s really heavy stuff, wonderfully acted, and absolutely heartbreaking when Simmons decides she can’t deal. So she bails (again), and we all hate her just a little bit.
Let’s talk about the government! You know, the one in the show, not the real one. In the aftermath of the UN attack, Talbot is getting reamed by an unnamed senator about the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. in it all—he wants them to burn for this. Talbot, however, knows Coulson, and asking for a more level-headed approach—as much as he hates the guy, he’s almost certain Coulson and his team would never do any such thing. (I’m liking Talbot more and more every time he shows up. Did I mention that yet? Adrian Pasdar is getting really good at deadpanning his lines, and Talbot is less of a cartoonish jerk of a character. Now he’s a principled jerk. Which is actually really entertaining.)
Anyway, who is this mystery senator? Aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know? You do? Good! Because the camera is going to dramatically sweep down to his name plate: CHRISTIAN WARD.
Oh hey, doesn’t that last name sound familiar?
NEXT: Sup, bro?
Back at HQ, Skye is interrogating Prisoner Grant Ward about his senator sibling. There’s a direct callback to “The Well”—arguably season one’s first truly good episode, or at least the first one to try something approaching genuine pathos. If you don’t remember, that was the one episode that revealed Grant’s childhood was pretty messed up, and that his abusive older brother was a big part of that. As such, Grant Ward is less concerned with telling Skye what she wants to know and more concerned with his brother not finding out where he is.
Trouble is, Christian is expressing to Coulson the exact same fear that Grant is expressing to Skye. Both brothers portray the other as seemingly trustworthy people with a monster hiding inside of him, not to be trusted. Of course, only one of them turned traitor and killed/nearly killed a bunch of their friends, so Coulson gives Christian what he wants: custody of his brother in order to have him publicly denounced and imprisoned as a terrorist, in exchange for publicly burying the hatchet he has with S.H.I.E.L.D. and making a public statement exonerating the organization.
However, the Agents are dealing with much bigger problems. After their meeting with Toshiro turns sour, the field team is halfway to their next destination when they realize they’ve been sent on a wild goose chase—their next target was a Hydra ruse meant to distract them while Hydra’s hit squad went off to eliminate everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s team in Bruges, which sadly does not include Colin Farrell.
May, Hunter, and Morse race to Bruges to try and save their teammates, but they’re too late. Still, they decide to take on the Hydra hit squad directly (with a pretty great distraction from Lance Hunter—”whoa whoa whoa Hail hydra guys, hail Hydra”) for a pretty dope fight scene. AoS is getting really good at fight scenes—they are never boring, especially when they include Bobbi Morse in full Mockingbird gear. Although she isn’t called Mockingbird—which isn’t really the biggest deal. She’s a spy, she kicks ass, and she’s got probably the coolest moment of the entire fight when Hunter uses the Hydra disintegration disks against someone about to take her out and she jumps through his ashes to pummel another goon immediately behind him.
I wish I had a gif of that.
Oh, and May fights a dude who must’ve been pretty into God of War in his free time, with the whole blade on a chain thing and all. It’s all very exciting and well-executed, but ultimately sad—because even though they beat them in this brawl, they still lost. They were still too late. It’s another really dark turn in a series of dark turns, and I really applaud the efforts to give the show some weight. It really looks like everyone is going to be challenged and pushed as the season goes on, and I couldn’t be happier.
Speaking of challenging, the Fitz/Simmons story ends on a really sharp note this week—Simmons is confronted by Mac, who, as you may remember, is actually really connecting with Fitz this season. He doesn’t pull any punches for her. “I never met the guy that you knew. I only know this guy. I heard he told you how he felt and you bailed.”
That’s right. Tell it like it is, Mac.
Now comes the cliffhanger: As Coulson hands Ward over to a military escort and every one of his former teammates give him the stank eye (and his brother speechifies about his Hydra allegiance during a press conference), Ward goes full Zen. It’s only once he’s inside the vehicle taking him into his brother’s custody that he acts, taking out everyone in the vehicle with him as the episode ends.
AVENGERS, ASSEMBLE: How bout that Age of Ultron clip? As many folks speculated, it was a fun bit of footage that was already shown at San Diego Comic-Con with a slightly different trailer—you guys see any good hints? I just spotted the scepter from Avengers, which we know is important thanks to the post-credits scene in The Winter Soldier, but really isn’t much of a surprise.
STINGER: Some guy walks into a tattoo shop to finish getting inked and then WHOA IT’S THE GLYPHS ALL OVER HIS BODY LIKE THE DUDE FROM MEMENTO. I love Memento.
YEAHHHH COULSON: “These are for your speech. I made a few changes. It’s funnier now.”
NEXT NEXT WEEK: That’s right, not a typo. AoS is taking a week off for a Marvel TV special: From Pulp to Pop. Will you be watching? I realize I haven’t always been making comic book recommendations. But seeing as we have this retrospective special looming, I’m going to recommend a book: Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. It’s a fantastic and fascinating history of the company that pulls no punches, and you can read an excerpt here.
See you guys in two weeks for some dramatic revelations about The Coulson Mystery—which is a pretty terrible name for this particular plotline. Feel free to come up with a better one in the comments.