Everything changes, but not usually quite so rapidly as in “A Fractured House”. By the end of this episode Ward is free, SHIELD is publicly vindicated, Talbot is ready to shake and make up (with a broken arm – does that make it more or less genuine?) and Coulson discovers a Grumpy Cat mug in the SHIELD kitchen.
Although the A-plot is hardly the most ingenious storytelling ever committed to screen (a new Hydra weapon leads SHIELD agents on a wild goose chase around the world… Mission: Impossible it ain’t) the episode is packed with a whole bunch of great scenes, character clashes (verbal and physical), format-quaking revelations and genuinely impressive action scenes. It even has a supervillain, of sorts, though he’s not actually name checked as such (see “Whiplash” below).
The episode opens with a scene that makes it look like SHIELD is going be in even deeper shit, but Coulson manages to turn it round within 45 minutes thanks to the convenient coincidence that a useful politician happens to be Ward’s brother. Still, you can’t blame him for using his assets. The splinter bombs are an eye-catching visual and the running gag that follows the opening massacre – with all the agents clarifying, “That wasn’t us… right?” – is fun, especially the punchline. Hunter’s less concerned with who caused the massacre than the fact he has to join his wife on a mission.
And here we have one of the highlights of the episode; Hunter and Bobbi going all Mr And Mrs Smith (Jolie and Pitt, we mean, not Carol Lombard and Robert Montgomery). The idea of partners having domestics during missions is hardly new, but Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood have a wonderfully sparky screen chemistry that’s great fun to watch.
This also helps make Bobbi (aka Mockingbird) more than a mere small-screen Black Widow. Her battle stances and the way she uses unlikely props in fights (including, impressively, a towel here) may be very similar to the Russian’s, but her backstory with Hunter means she’s no Xerox.
Plus, Bobbi looks fantastic in a fight, though May wins honours for fight of the week. This was no easy task – there are a number of great bust-ups on offer – but May has the benefit of a much more noteworthy opponent: the Hydra guy with the whirling blade.
The episode’s director, Ron Underwood, previously directed the films Tremors, Mighty Joe Young, City Slickers and (we‘re sure he’d like us to forget) The Adventures Of Pluto Nash. Since 2005 he’s mainly worked in TV.
We also have Ward looking genuinely unnerved by the idea that he’s going to be delivered to his crooked politician brother. However, since Ward escapes so easily (and we see him preparing for it in one brief throwaway shot early in the episode) you have to wonder if he feigned this fear; surely being transferred was the chance for escape he was looking for?
There are also some touching scenes over in Fitzsimmons-verse. It’s especially pleasing to see Simmons hit back when Mack comes on all holier-than-thou. First he tells her off for leaving Fitz, then moans,“From what I’ve seen, the only that makes him worse is you.” “I know,” retorts Simmons. “Why do you think I left?” Watch Mack plummet from that high horse.
Aside from the skimpy A-plot, there are a couple of other ongoing Agents Of SHIELD problems, which aren’t actually problems as such, just a case of the show underselling itself. Coulson’s chat with Christian Ward has some cracking dialogue, but it’s a bit static; the show needs to learn from the Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk school of scriptwriting. Also, after weeks of being a bargain basement Hannibal Lecter, it’s a shame that Ward’s escape isn’t a bit more Hannibal-esque. Okay, maybe not quite so gruesome but something more inventive than the old I-can-break-my-thumb-without-screaming-like-a-girl routine.
Oh, and after such a great episode, there’s a disappointing final stinger scene. Some guy we don’t know has some other guy draw alien symbols on him with a felt tip pen… Oh, hang on. It was supposed to be a tattoo? Yeah, right.
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK and on ABC on Tuesday nights in the US.
|Rafe Judkins, Lauren LeFranc
|The one where
|Hydra poses as SHIELD to kill a bunch of dignitaries, and SHIELD hands Ward to his politician brother.