Forgive the sporadic posting! I'm busier than all get-out these days. But not too busy for some Agents of SHIELD, whose absolutely meteoric rise in quality post-Winter Soldier (solidified, though, in a big way at the onset of its second season) has surprised me more than just about anything in recent memory.
SHIELD, after suffering an incredible amount of damage at the hands of Hydra, is finding itself in tougher and tougher positions. Not only is it trying to mop up Hydra's remnants (now pursuing both its wold-domination and killing-the-rest-of-SHIELD goals with equal fervor), but it's also contending with an ever-sinking public opinion. The latter problem is seriously exacerbated by the episode's opening scene, which involves a Hydra unit posing as SHIELD and attacking a United Nations tribunal at which General Talbot happens to be explaining exactly how much of a menace he thinks SHIELD is.
Following the attack, we're introduced to Talbot's Senator benefactor, and find out that it's none other than the psychopathic older brother Ward has warned us about once or twice now.
The reveal is a great one, and the episode finds a lot of its strength in the way its tells its story about the Wards. The audience's history with Ward makes his accounts of his older brother potentially swing either way. Ward's level of sympathy is fascinatingly played with by the show's writing staff. He remains something of a blank slate, and the information provided by the show at this point kind of puts the character in a place where the audience must (almost necessarily) project their own feelings and assumptions onto the character. Since we've spent a lot of time with the guy, we're inclined to sympathize with him. We want to believe that he's telling the truth, even if only because it means that as audience members, we're smart enough to know what's what. This is further compounded by his behavior since the start of season 2, namely his repeated claims that he only wants to help Skye and his promises to tell her the truth.
So when Senator Ward immediately lays it out that Grant is a compulsive liar and master manipulator (cleverly intercut with a scene in which Grant tells Skye the same thing about his Senator brother), we really don't know which one we're supposed to believe. At this point, it's equally as plausible that either brother is a fucked-up, crazy liar, and Agents of SHIELD has another tortured family dynamic to add to its current fascination with tortured family dynamics.
Family comes up in another strong way in "A Fractured House" with the episode's other literally fractured house: Bobbi Morse and Agent Hunter. While these bits are a bit on the nose (ok, they're a lot on the nose), the show still manages to do a decent enough job picking apart the way two people might make great secret agents, but shitty marriage partners for a lot of the exact same reasons.
In the end, Mockingbird and Hunter realize that the SHIELD family unit fits them a lot better than the literal family unit that they tried out however many years back. By this point, it's already too late, and Hunter's decided to take off. We'll see whether or not that sticks, though.
The rest of the episode deals with SHIELD's attempts to deal with Hydra's ongoing bullshit. This culminates in a pretty neat fight sequence set in a Bruges safehouse, but otherwise this episode is mostly table-setting and character development. Senator Chris Ward's introduction gives the Grant Ward storyline a great new wrinkle, as does his escape at the episode's end, even if this was something anybody could have seen coming from a mile away.
"A Fractured House" wasn't the most riveting hour of television Agents of SHIELD has given us in its second season, but it was one that did a good job with thematic exploration, and set up some pieces that I'm very interested in seeing fall. Of course, before Grant Ward can be transferred to his brother's custody, he escapes, providing us with what will undoubtedly be the chief concern of the next few episodes. In the meantime, everyone on the show will struggle to deal with the status of their newly-formed family unit, and what everyone's place in entails, now that things have gotten screwed up so badly. I've got to say, I never thought I'd be this bummed out to learn that Agents of SHIELD would be skipping a week between broadcasts.
Oh, and also...
• This episode comes close to overdoing it when it comes to the cross-cutting.
• Really, there's no reason Bobbi would have been able to use her old Hydra cover; that seems a bit lazy, on the writers' parts.
• Fitz and Simmons' relationship is as complicated and riveting as ever; I'll have to make sure I devote more time to it, two weeks from now.