MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Episode 2.06: A Fractured House (T.V. review)


The title of this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, A Fractured House, could refer to multiple “houses.”

There’s S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, still suffering from its Hydra infestation and fugitive status. Next is the Fitz-Simmons relationship, which resumed last week with Simmons’ return, though not in the direction that Fitz would prefer. Then we have a pair of divorcées — new recruits Bobbi and Hunter — trying to work together without killing each other. Most significantly, however, is the House of Ward.

Evil brother #1 — Agent Ward

Turncoat Grant Ward and his big bro, the shifty Senator Christian Ward, could give the Menendez brothers a run for their money in the sociopath department. The difference though is that the Wards are estranged from one another.

Grant calls Christian a liar and evil manipulator. Christian does the same for Grant. Who’s telling the truth and how does it affect Coulson and company? That’s where the intrigue comes in.

Christian is working with General Talbot to bring Coulson’s on-the-lam agents to “justice,” but what he wants most is his incarcerated brother. To gain custody of him, Senator Ward, not unlike Senator McCarthy in the 1950s, conducts a witch-hunt on par with that era’s Hollywood blacklist. (Not to be confused with this era’s Blacklist starring James Spader, which is not to be confused with Franklin Leonard’s Black List. Or Franklin Leonard’s other Black List. Black is apparently the go-to color for lists these days.)

Evil brother #2 — Senator Ward

Grant, a traitor and cold-blooded killer who seems to want to make amends, shows something in this episode that we haven’t seen in a while — fear. The last time it was on display was in last season’s The Well, the plot of which revealed his childhood abuse at the hands of his brother. That abuse took the form of Christian making Grant kill their other brother. It built sympathy for a character before he revealed his true colors. It provided the undercurrent that Grant isn’t pure evil like Garrett was and Christian is. Grant turned to the dark side due to family trauma. Or so we thought until Christian told us otherwise.

This episode culminates in a great sequence that cuts back-and-forth between Skye’s grilling of Grant and Coulson’s questioning of Christian. The Wards’ accusations of each other’s wrongdoing succeed in confounding their interrogators (and the home viewers) in the best possible sense. Our beliefs, like those of Skye’s and Coulson’s, are flipped on their head by the time Grant breaks out of prison.

Maybe Grant is escaping to avoid the clutches of his alleged abusive sibling. Maybe he’s escaping because he’s the abuser in question. Who truly is the bad guy here? Who is the baddest of the bad? My money’s on Christian, but my money was also on the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, so what the hell do I know?


Marcus Scarlotti, A.K.A. Whiplash

If A Fractured House suffers, it’s from the lack of diabolical Dr. Whitehall. He’s referenced several times in conjunction with Hydra agents (led by Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second Whiplash*) masquerading as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who commit crimes using nifty “splinter bombs,” but we never actually see him.

Actor Reed Diamond does a good job playing a bad guy, but he’s no Sydney Greenstreet or Jabba the Hutt in terms of weight — both literally and figuratively. He lacks the screen presence necessary to strike fear in the hearts of do-gooders while off screen. Take Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men for example.

Jack’s character isn’t seen until midway through the movie, but his presence is felt throughout, not just by the other characters but also the audience. Only an actor with the gravitas of Nicholson could pull that off. Ditto for Brando in Apocalypse Now.

Diamond, on the other hand, needs to be seen to be frightening. That’s not a knock against his acting skills. It’s just a truism that some performers have it and others don’t, “it” being charisma.

On the upside, this episode comes with bonus Marvel previews — a first look at the upcoming Agent Carter mini-series, as well as the previously released trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but now with an additional scene. (Thor’s Excalibur challenge to the other superheroes to lift his hammer, which is not a sexual innuendo but probably should be.)

* The first Whiplash was portrayed by Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2.


NEXT MISSION: Marvel’s 75th anniversary, followed a week later by The Writing on the Wall.



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