Friday, August 28, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 6 RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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For an episode with a ton of action and a ton of fight scenes, “A Fractured House” is surprisingly character-driven.  Bobbi and Hunter, Fitz and Simmons, and especially Ward all have their relationships developed to a huge extent in this episode.  And that focus on character really helps to push the action.

Reminder:  Retro-Reviews may contain potential spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The episode begins with General Talbot testifying before the U.N. that they need to take the S.H.I.E.L.D. threat seriously.  Then, almost as if on cue, a team wearing S.H.I.E.L.D. uniforms attacks them with bombs that cause their bodies to disintegrate within moments.  The moment S.H.I.E.L.D. learns of the attack, everyone needs to ask Coulson if they were responsible.  However, thanks to her undercover work in Hydra, Bobbi can identify the leader of the team as Marcus Scarlotti (Backlash in the comics), a mercenary who is now working for Hydra.  Oh, and he’s so good that he nearly killed Barton a few years back.  Bobbi and Simmons can also identify the weapon used as likely having been designed by Toshiro Mori, a Hydra weapons designer.  Because of this brazen attack on the U.N., politicians—specifically a certain U.S. Senator who does not want his Hydra connection coming to light—are starting to call for an international task force to hunt down and exterminate whatever remains of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Coulson does not want that to happen, so he sends May, Bobbi, and Hunter to Japan to find out more about the attack and try to find evidence which can clear them and prevent the U.N. from cracking down on S.H.I.E.L.D.  Here we see character relationships 1 and 2 come into play:  Hunter and Bobbi on a mission together, and the senator trying to keep his Hydra connection hidden in an election year.

While on the mission together, Bobbi and Hunter attempt to be civil, but it seems like just about everything one of them says sets the other off.  At first it seems just about impossible for both of them to remain with S.H.I.E.L.D. together.  For example, when they get to Japan, they need to figure out a plan—either go in guns blazing and hope they survive, or let Bobbi go in alone and hope that her Hydra cover isn’t blown.  Hunter says that he thinks Bobbi can go in alone because “Deception’s her forte”—at which point Bobbi and May share a look, assuming it to be a passive-aggressive jab.  Even when Bobbi’s cover is completely blown midway through the mission and one of Mori’s guards is about to put a bullet in her head before Hunter kills him and saves her life, Bobbi is angry at him for thinking that she needed to be saved!  In fact, they get into an argument about that fact in the middle of the mission, during which the not-dead Mori sits up to shoot them and they both shoot him simultaneously.

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Fortunately, Bobbi managed to find out from Mori that Scarlotti’s next target is the Belgian Foreign Minister Julien Beckers, who has been attempting to keep the peace and prevent the world governments from going after S.H.I.E.L.D.  Consequently, Coulson sends May and her team to Belgium to save Beckers.  While en route, however, Simmons realizes that Beckers’ grandfather was a Hydra scientist who worked for Red Skull (the one who invented the “splinter bombs”), and the rest of the team pieces together that Beckers is a plant:  He was supposed to look like a friend to S.H.I.E.L.D. so that agents would come to Belgium, where Scarlotti could execute them.  And in fact the plan succeeded:  Beckers found the S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house and led the mercenaries right to it, where they killed six S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.  May, Bobbi, and Hunter got to the safe house in time to capture and/or kill the mercenaries, but too late to save the S.H.I.E.L.D. team.  The fight sequence is pretty cool, especially when Hunter saves Bobbi by kicking a mercenary in the path of a splinter bomb and Bobbi in turn leaps through the disintegration cloud to knock out the mercenary who’d thrown the bomb with one of her batons.  May fighting Scarlotti who is using a knife on a chain—an homage to his comic book origin—is also pretty impressive, though I don’t think this fight really holds a candle to the May-vs.-May fight from “Face My Enemy” (2x04).  Of course, I don’t think anything will be better than that fight for a long time!  However, at the end of the day the fight isn’t the biggest thing here; the biggest thing is that Hunter yet again saved Bobbi’s life, and she actually appreciates that he cares for her.

Moving on to the next major relationship explored in this episode, these two characters never actually meet:  Grant Ward and his brother, Senator Christian Ward.  Christian is planning to publically urge the U.N. to bring down its full force on S.H.I.E.L.D. as a way to cover up the fact that his brother is a Hydra agent, especially since this is an election year.  Grant for his part is terrified of Christian and of what Christian might do to him if he ever gets his hands on him.  I don’t think that Grant is lying about his fear of Christian, but I’m not sure which one of them is telling the truth.  I mean, you’ve got a Hydra agent on one side and a politician on the other.  Neither of those professions is exactly known for being truthful!  And I don’t think that Coulson is entirely buying Christian’s “nice guy routine,” either; he’s too smart for that.  I think Coulson is simply playing Christian as a way to get what he wants:  the U.N. to leave S.H.I.E.L.D. alone and focus its attention where it belongs, on Hydra.  Coulson is not alone in wanting this, as we learn from Talbot’s one conversation with Christian, during which he tells Christian that he thinks the team that attacked the U.N. wasn’t actually S.H.I.E.L.D. but was Hydra.  At the end of the day, Coulson strikes a deal with Christian:  he will turn Grant over to the FBI to stand trial (which will give Christian a huge boost right around the election) in exchange for Christian’s assurance that he will change his stance on S.H.I.E.L.D. and propose that the U.N. focus its attention on Hydra instead of S.H.I.E.L.D.  But before Grant is turned over to the FBI, Relationship 4 comes into play.

Skye goes down to the basement to talk to Ward without any cameras or anyone watching to find out what he knows about her father and where to find him.  Ward tells her that he knew he was a monster but did not get a chance to tell her.  However, everything her father did was only to “put his family back together.”  The “villagers” he killed were not innocent villagers but Hydra agents (which we now know to be a lie or at the very least a half-truth).  When Skye’s mother was killed and she was taken away, he just lost it and killed the agents.  Skye asks him how he plans to find her father, and Ward tells her that he has contacts (meaning Raina) and that he’s resourceful.  However, he doesn’t actually know where her father is.  And that’s all Skye wanted to get out of him before they turned him over to the FBI.  You actually almost have to feel sorry for Ward here:  he’s been spilling everything he knows about Hydra for weeks to gain Skye’s trust, and now he’s finally telling her everything he knows about her father… and she still doesn’t trust him.  He still hasn’t regained any trust from her.  And in his mind he deserves that shot at redemption from Skye and Coulson.

In fact, Ward says as much when Coulson comes to visit him before they turn him over to the FBI.  Ward thinks that he’s still part of the team because he’s been feeding them information on Hydra.  He wants Coulson to take him back and give him a second chance.  He wants to be trusted.  But Coulson has only been keeping him alive because he’s useful.  And Coulson is only transferring him because his brother “is of more use.”  In other words, in Coulson’s mind any chance Ward had at redemption died when he killed Hand and Koenig and dropped Fitz and Simmons into the ocean.  And this is what drives Ward’s actions for the rest of the season (and into season 3).

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Fitz and Simmons’ relationship is the final one explored in this episode, but their relationship is almost as rocky as Bobbi and Hunter’s at the beginning of the episode.  Unfortunately, theirs does not improve at the end of the episode.  They have a couple scenes in the lab together where Simmons tries to work with Fitz and treat him no differently than usual, but it’s like their rhythm is off.  Before they were routinely finishing each other’s sentences; now every time Simmons tries to supply a word it is wrong.  Before they were like a well-oiled machine; now Fitz gets thrown off whenever she’s there.  Partly he is upset because she left him in the lurch just when he needed her to help with the cloaking and help with his recovery.  When he demands to know why she left, she refuses to tell him.  We only find out near the end of the episode when she approaches Mack to thank him for everything he does for Fitz and for being his friend.  Mack turns it around on her by saying that Fitz doesn’t need his help, and that it wasn’t right of her to leave him because he’d told her how he felt about her.  She says that she didn’t leave because of that, at which point it comes out that Fitz’s condition worsens when she’s around, and that’s why she left:  she thought that her absence would help him to improve.  That this whole ordeal has been at least as difficult for her as it has been for Fitz is very clear from her interactions with both Fitz and Mack.  Fitz-Simmons may not be dead per se at this point in the season, but it is certainly in jeopardy.

At the end of the day, Bobbi and Hunter’s relationship is improved, along with that between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the military—as evidenced by Talbot meeting with May in the destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house and giving her some condolences for the loss of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.  However, each of the other relationships seems to be in a worse position at the end of the episode than at the beginning.  Christian and Grant are still scared of each other—probably not improved by Grant’s escape from the FBI.  Ward’s relationships with Skye and Coulson are both pretty much done on their ends.  Fitz and Simmons are on the rocks, and do not look like there will be a reconciliation for a while.

As a character-driven episode, I think this is a good one.  Just about everything that happens is tied to the characters involved in one way or another.  And at the end you feel pretty invested in those characters and relationships.

What did you think of this episode?  Do you like character-driven episodes?

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