Sorry about our unscheduled week off, readers! Here’s a quick recap of everything you need to know from last week’s episode:
Alright, let’s get back to it.
God, it must suck to be an imprisoned mastermind supervillain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Remember in The Avengers, when Black Widow pretended to be at Loki’s mercy, even while he was locked up in a giant hermetically sealed cell? Loki waxes loquaciously, assuming he has Agent Romanov wrapped around his finger, when she casually gives him a “k, thx” and informs the rest of the team his plans. She was playing him all along, Loki is left hanging like an idiot, and it was awesome.
The thing is, it feels slightly less and less awesome each time we see it play out.
Halfway through this week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “A Fractured House,” Skye descends once again into the basement prison cell holding Grant Ward. She turns the surveillance camera off, and asks him to tell her everything he knows about her father, the murderous doctor we saw quite a bit of last week.
Ward thinks he’s getting everything he ever wanted from this tortured relationship. Skye pulls him in with a doe-eyed “Please, Ward,” but a moment later pulls the rug out from under him – and presumably, the audience – telling him that he’s about to be shipped off into the custody of his older brother, Christian.
The entire episode, in one way or another, revolves around Senator Christian Ward, a master manipulator masterfully played by Tim DeKay. Ward Sr. is the older brother we’ve seen in flashback form last season, apparently egging on his brother Grant to drown (or near-drown, at least) their third brother in a well. At least, that’s what we’re told happened, as Senator Ward quips to Director Coulson, “Oh. So it’s a well, now?”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second season has an embarrassing amount of villains that pique my interest, especially compared to the meager offerings we had last year. HYDRA’s Daniel Whitehall is the calm and collected psychopath; Skye’s father is the unhinged sort-of Hulk desperately trying to control a monster inside of him; and now Senator Ward is a dangerous addition to the series of threats to SHIELD, as we’re not yet clear of his motivations. He’s clearly able to use both lies and his selective versions of the truth to get what he wants – whatever that is.
The scenes between him and a distressed Director Coulson are far more interesting than Skye and Grant Ward’s scene – Coulson is doing his usual work, letting his adversary spill enough information to inform what move he should make next. The tactic was expertly displayed last week during his high-stakes dinner with Raina.
But here, Director Ward clearly has the upper hand. He’s threatened to turn the entire U.S. military on a S.H.I.E.L.D. witch hunt, after the episode’s opening scene, where a team of HYDRA mercs wearing S.H.I.E.L.D. liveries murder a handful of United Nations dignitaries. It’s a dangerous game of one-upsmanship, as Coulson weighs the benefits and risks of doing anything that could even remotely benefit the Senator.
In the end, Coulson decides that his only choice is to hand Grant Ward over, in exchange for letting S.H.I.E.L.D. off the public relations radar. That doesn’t mean they get off easily, as the other threads of this episode play out in dire fashion.
Agents May, Hunter and Morse (the latter being Bobbi Morse, played by Adrianne Palicki, who comic book fans will know as Mockingbird) have to stop a HYDRA assassination attempt, but find out that it’s all a ruse meant to take out several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on the European continent. The deaths of several unknown operatives helps drive home the magnitude of HYDRA’s strength compared to Coulson’s relatively meagre resources.
Of course, most of these scenes help build the on-screen relationship of the off-screen, frazzled relationship of sort-of-maybe-bitter divorcees Hunter and Morse. The way they bicker while simultaneously fighting off enemies is great action flick fodder with a Mr. and Mrs. Smith vibe, while Agent May remains the steadfast foundation for the team and provides, yet again, another completely bad-ass fight scene with Marcus Scarlotti, a HYDRA mercenary with a wicked chain-and-knife weapon.
Meanwhile at the base, we see yet more tension and heartbreak between Fitz and Simmons. Simmons is trying to help Fitz recover, but we quickly find out she’s nowhere near as good at filling in the blanks in Fitz’s thoughts as the fake Simmons in his head (sometimes humorously referred to as SIM.mons). Mack helps him parse out a strange HYDRA connection to a peripheral character – turns out the Belgian ambassador Coulson was trying to save was actually a HYDRA inside – and reveals the difference between his and her approach.
Mack has only known Fitz since his injury; as he says, Fitz is a weird guy, but he’s a friend. Mack never knew Fitz before his brain damage, and therefore it’s easier for him to accept him for what he is. Simmons, meanwhile, wants to help – to help Fitz recover, to be what he was. And that’s a far more difficult expectation for a relationship to work with. I’m not sure where this is going, but the likelihood of a comic book medical miracle “fixing” Fitz seems less likely as we go forward, and that’s definitely a good thing as far as this heartstrings-tugging storyline goes.
The tension in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is greater than I can remember it ever being, unless we count those who saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier before the big HYDRA reveal last season. Lots of moody shots and over-dramatic music plays the showrunners’ hand far too much as usual (get a load of the ominous thrums as the camera pans over SENATOR CHRISTIAN WARD’s name plaque), but it probably mirrors the excitement of many fans right now.
I’m giddily wondering just what role Coulson’s team, and the program, has to play now that Marvel unveiled five freaking years’ worth of films this week – and I still don’t know what’s going to happen next Tuesday. It’s a good day to be a Marvel fan.
- – You might wonder at HYDRA heavy Scarlotti’s strange chain-spear that looks like it was ripped from Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion. The guy’s name is actually the alter-ego of Iron Man villain Whiplash in the comics. Sadly, that persona was merged with Ivan Vanko, otherwise known as the Crimson Dynamo, in the underwhelming Iron Man 2. I hope that doesn’t preclude him from returning a few times to get punched in the face by May again, though.
- – An Agent Walters is trapped and murdered by HYDRA this week, thanks to those weird alien technology-based weapons that turn a victim into ash. Considering her brief cameo and unambiguous death, she’s probably not related in any way to Jennifer Walters, a.k.a., She-Hulk, but it’s fun to speculate.
- – Coulson with a Grumpy Cat mug? Bobbi Morse wearing a Star Wars t-shirt? Those are some uncharacteristically out-in-the-open cultural references for this show.
- – “If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you.” Yes, that was Agent Simmons to Ward as he’s escorted out of the base and into Senator Ward’s custody (at least before Ward busts out with some murderous Tom Clancy skills). She’s becoming more hardened than Skye in some scenes, which was unexpected at the start of this season.