I find that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ works best when the writers find some way to work in a little bit of that flippant Joss Whedon-style humor without overdoing it. Last week’s episode took itself too seriously for my liking, but this week strikes a better balance.
The bit where Coulson, right in the middle of a crisis that could affect the future of S.H.I.E.L.D., pauses to express his annoyance that someone left a Grumpy Cat mug in the pantry, had me in stitches. Also, the image of Adrianne Palicki wearing a ‘Star Wars’ T-shirt may be a shameless bit of Disney corporate marketing synergy, but it’s a really, really effective bit of Disney corporate marketing synergy sure to get a lot of nerds all hot and bothered.
Episode ‘A Fractured House’ opens when a group of HYDRA agents posing as S.H.I.E.L.D. raid the United Nations and kill a bunch of representatives with a weapon that instantly disintegrates whatever it hits. This prompts an arrogant blowhard Senator (Tim DeKay from ‘White Collar’) to rant and rail about declaring S.H.I.E.L.D. an enemy of state and burying its remains once and for all. The Senator in question is named Christian Ward, and he just happens to be traitor Grant Ward’s older brother, the one who supposedly tormented and abused him as a child. His posturing turns much of the international community against S.H.I.E.L.D. as well. Only Belgium still seems to be friendly to the organization.
In order to track the source of the disintegration weapon, Coulson sends May, Lance and Bobbi on a mission to Japan. Lance and Bobbi have a lot of fun banter about being forced to work together. They trace the “splinter bombs” to an old HYDRA contact of Bobbi’s named Toshiro. Pretending to still be working for HYDRA, she goes undercover and meets with him, which involves some kissing that puts Lance in a foul mood. The mission goes south when HYDRA sends out an alert about Bobbi being a turncoat. (What took so long?) Lance moves in to save Bobbi from an assailant, which she claims she was perfectly aware of and could have handled on her own, thank you very much. Their bickering is pretty entertaining.
When Skye asks Grant about his brother, he warns her that the Senator is a very devious man and far more dangerous than he ever was. Nevertheless, Coulson makes a surprise visit to the Senator’s office. The Senator claims that Grant’s stories about their childhood are false and that Grant is a big fat liar. Which of these two is telling the truth? Does it really matter? They both seem pretty awful. Coulson agrees. He strikes a deal to turn Grant over to the Senator so that the Senator can put on a big public show about putting his own brother on trial for treason. This will make him look like a strong, tough-on-crime candidate in the next election cycle. In return, the Senator will back down from his attacks on S.H.I.E.L.D. and publicly acknowledge the difference between S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Belgium isn’t such a safe haven for S.H.I.E.L.D. after all. A S.H.I.E.L.D. team that was assigned to protect that nation’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julien Beckers, is attacked and killed at their safe house by HYDRA agents. Beckers is in fact the grandson of a HYDRA scientist who invented the disintegration bombs, and he lured S.H.I.E.L.D. to Belgium as a trap.
May, Lance and Bobbi jet over to Belgium to investigate. They encounter the HYDRA team and have a big fight that’s very impressively staged for a TV show. Both May and Bobbi kick much ass.
In the wrap-up, Gen. Talbot finally makes peace with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sen. Ward holds a press conference about his brother. Grant is put on a plane, but slips out of his cuffs and kills the guards. You’d think that after what happened with Garrett last season, Coulson might be a little more careful in how he transports his prisoners. At the very least, maybe handcuffing him behind his back rather than in front could have helped a little. Doesn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. still have some of those super-secure cuffs that were used on Loki in the first ‘Avengers’ movie?
Anyway, an epilogue scene closes out the episode with a mysterious man (Brian Van Holt from ‘Cougar Town’) seen getting some alien writing tattooed all over his body. Whatever that’s about will have to be revealed later.
This episode is very exciting and funny, and moves the storylines forward in ways that keep me interested. The occasional blip aside, this season is shaping up a lot better than the first.
‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will be off next week in favor of some lame-looking Marvel celebration special, but the show will be back in two weeks.