Agents of SHIELD: 206 “A Fractured House” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
After the slow boiling up of tensions between the fledgling S.H.I.E.L.D. and the more dominant Hydra for the past few weeks, “A Fractured House” brings us the opening of true and explicit hostilities between the two organisations, and it brings with it some interesting revelations about the Ward family, and a damn good episode to boot.
The central plot of the episode concerns a Hydra attack on the United Nations, during a meeting hosted by General Talbot about how to deal with the ongoing ‘S.H.I.E.L.D. problem’, involving some weird weapons which cause people to disintegrate. However, the problem is that the Hydra agents, led by a man with a terrible haircut to rival Talbot’s, are posing as their S.H.I.E.L.D. counterparts, just to stir up some trouble. Unfortunately for our shadowy heroes, it works and a US Senator works with Talbot to put through some kind of severe anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. bill to make sure they are all hunted down. Things are made infinitely more complicated, though, when the Senator’s identity is revealed as Christian Ward, also known as the older brother of traitorous bastard Grant Ward, who has an axe to grind with his little brother.
So while the main plot of the episode is to do with our favourite S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, now including the passive-aggressive bickering of former married couple Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse, hunting down the Hydra perpetrators and clearing the organisation’s name, it all takes something of a backseat to the strange history of the Ward family. We learnt last season that Christian was something of a horrible bastard (I guess being a bastard runs in that family) who forced Grant into tormenting and downright torturing their younger brother, including the incident with the well, but in this episode we see that the truth is possibly a little more of a grey area.
This information is provided through a nice sequence in which Coulson is talking to Christian in an attempt to get him to stop the anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. bill, all of which is juxtaposed with Skye interrogating Ward about his brother. Christian tells Coulson that his brother has always been a liar, even going as far as torturing their little brother and telling their parents that Christian forced him to do it, and that the story about the well has changed over time, but always has the abusive older brother at the centre of it. Meanwhile, Grant tells Skye that his brother is a cold-hearted, manipulative individual who enjoys nothing more than causing pain, and will lie and twist the truth in order to do so. Both sides of the argument have their valid points, and even as the episode draws to a close it is not entirely clear who is telling the truth: it’s entirely possible that Grant has a twisted version of his brother in his thoughts and memories, that he used the abuse he received at Christian’s hands to justify the bad things he has done since his childhood; however it is also possible that Grant is telling the truth, and Coulson is just the next in a long line of people that Christian has manipulated into believing his side of the story.
But Coulson does seem to believe Christian, and arranges for the anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. bill to be withdrawn in return for handing Grant over to his brother. Skye manages to pull as much information out of Ward about her father, particularly that the village of people he massacred when she was a baby was entirely populated by Hydra agents trying to find Skye, and that he lost his mind and killed all of them in an effort to protect Skye and her mother. He also informs her that her mother is dead, and as her father lost his entire family that day, he is desperate to put it back together, and that is why he has been looking for Skye: it sheds a little bit of light on what the Doctor is doing, but his actions and his supposed motives don’t fully come together to make anything more than a psychotic killing machine.
Anyway, Ward is transferred from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody to US custody to stand trial for his actions as a member of Hydra, and Christian makes a heartfelt and emotional speech about bringing his brother to justice. But naturally Ward escapes by dislocating his thumb to get out of his handcuffs, and presumably kills a bunch of armed guards in the process. What he does next is anyone’s guess, but chances are he’s not going to let go of his weird and creepy attachment to Skye any time soon.
Elsewhere, the rest of Team Coulson uncover a plot by Hydra to use the group of mercenaries who carried out the UN attack to kill the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs. They also discover that the ‘splinter bombs’ used by the Hydra agents in the attack were designed by Toshiro Mori, a weapons designer and apparent old flame of Bobbi during her time undercover as a Hydra agent. He mentions Daniel Whitehall giving him the opportunity to work on ‘the Diviner’, which we found out last week was the true name of the Obelisk, and then a gunfight breaks out and all of Mori’s men end up dead.
They ultimately discover that the whole thing was a plot by the Hydra-loyal Belgian Minister to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to safehouses in his country so Hydra could take them out, and are ultimately foiled with a combination of ass-kicking and…well, pretty much just more ass-kicking, really.
So the day is saved, Simmons works out that her presence makes Fitz worse at his job as he becomes twitchy and emotional around her, and finally a dude walks into a tattoo parlour to get more of the strange alien writing tattooed onto his already-covered body. And of course, this being a US show, we now have to wait two weeks to find out what this is all about.
Another good episode, although the interesting character moments within the Ward family somewhat overshadowed the central ‘S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Hydra’ plot: having not had much to do this season other than be creepy and answer questions, Ward is finally leaping back into action.