[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 6 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]
Now that the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has set the team on a new mission, against a new enemy, the time invested in establishing relationships is finally paying off – as one by one, those relationships are tested, and often broken. But just as the series seemed poised to kick off a brand new fight, this week’s episode instead focuses on the uglier truths that even viewers have been hoping to avoid for the time being.
In “A Fractured House”, written by Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc (Chuck, My Own Worst Enemy), Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team are forced to act when HYDRA begins unleashing attacks in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s name. As several agents seek to uncover HYDRA’s ultimate plan, Coulson approaches Senator Christian Ward (Tim DeKay) to make a deal for his brother Grant (Brett Dalton). Meanwhile, agents Fitz (Iain De Castaecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) find they can never go back to the way things were.
Despite the growing stakes surrounding Coulson’s compulsion (constructing the mysterious ‘map’ threatening to cost him his life), the writers make it clear that the immediate story centered on HYDRA will push that mystery to the back burner. It may seem like a stall – because it largely is – but the answers freely given in the recent episodes make it one that fans might tolerate, where it would only have frustrated in the previous season.
The writing duo was also responsible for “The Hub”, one of our favorite Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes to date. Although “A Fractured House” doesn’t deliver the same scale or world-changing twists, it’s a chapter which focuses on establishing even more story lines both main and supporting (as opposed to wrapping them up). All the while, it also gives Coulson’s new team – and Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) in particular – another opportunity for some action-heavy field work.
With the action serving to show that HYDRA’s forces won’t be purely made up of eccentric villains like Daniel Whitehall or Skye’s mysterious father, it also fits Morse a.k.a. Mockingbird into the existing team surprisingly well; simultaneously adding a brand new romantic dynamic between she and Hunter (Nick Blood), her ex-husband.
It’s the episode’s task of dealing with the dark cloud hanging over the heads of Fitz and Simmons that will be the most important takeaway for those fans who have stuck with the series from the start. The writers had put the chemistry between the two, and the unique betrayal they experienced to full use, showing that in a world of calculating secret agents, a man like Fitz was left truly scarred. The return of Simmons in “A Hen in the Wolfhouse” teased that the former halves of one whole were going to have to work out some of their issues, and “A Fractured House” beings to carry through, with another strong performance from both sides of the equation.
But it is Henry Simmons’ Mack who once again proves a strong (if not entirely necessary) addition to their dynamic, accepting Fitz for who he is, instead of frowning with thoughts of the genius he once was. In just a pair of scenes, Mack shows that Fitz may be more like his old self than any wish to realize, and forces Simmons to realize that with their partnership fractured, she – and the audience- may need to accept that what’s been broken simply can’t be put back together.
It’s hard to know just what to make of the Christian/Grant Ward subplot just yet, since (predictably) the truth seems a fluid concept to both men. No matter how it plays out in next week’s episode, the episode’s final act finally allowed Coulson to air his grievances with Ward’ betrayal. There was a time when Coulson willingly giving up one of his own knowing, full well it could lead to their death, would seem outrageous.
Given the episode’s implied conclusion, audiences haven’t seen the last interaction between Coulson and Ward. Since the relationship between the two remains shrouded in hurt feelings and half-truths, it’s hard to see how redemption of any kind lies in Ward’s future. Will he continue to defy S.H.I.E.L.D., flee from his brother’s wrath, or find a new path to walk in the impending war between Coulson’s remnant and HYDRA’s high-reaching ranks?
That’s anyone’s guess. But with heartbreak in his lab, a divorced couple on his strike team, an alien riddle in his head, and a former point man on the loose, Coulson’s going to have his hands full.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns on Tuesday, November 11th, with “The Writing on the Wall” @9pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of the next episode, below:
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