Marvel is having a good week. The leaked trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron broke internet records. Nine new films were officially announced for the upcoming Phase Three of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, including new titles such as Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Inhumans. Not to mention sequels for Captain America, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy, along with the two-part Avengers: Infinity War. Last night, Marvel replaced the planned trailer reveal with exclusive footage from Age of Ultron. In a scene that had been shown at this year’s Comic-Con (but remained elusive to thirsty fans), the Avengers are gathered for a party and all try their hand at lifting Thor’s hammer before being interrupted by a very malevolent, early-stage Ultron. Be sure to check it out if you still haven’t seen it!
“A Fractured House” furthered the anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. sentiments swirling in the world after the reveal of Hydra’s infiltration. In fact, the entire episode feels rather like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the film in which that event took place. A group of Hydra commandos masquerading as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attack a United Nations meeting that General Talbot is speaking out. Coulson had just made an uncertain ally out of Talbot, so it seemed like maybe the world might stop turning against the covert intelligence group. Bad timing. Hydra leader Daniel Whitehall planned the attack to keep the world against S.H.I.E.L.D. and get everyone else to hunt them down so Hydra doesn’t have to. His plan goes even deeper later on, fooling European S.H.I.E.L.D. into seeking refuge in Bruges and eliminating them.
The most concerning part about these advancing threats is that the technology the Hydra strike team is using seems to be based on The Obelisk’s technology: disintegrating bombs. Now that Skye’s father is working with Whitehall, Hydra has full access to The Obelisk, and Coulson must put all other priorities on hold until the threat is dealt with. May, Lance, and Bobbi Morse are sent to meet with the man who invented the “splinter bombs”. Morse really channels a more charismatic, less kill-you-with-a-glance Black Widow vibe in this episode. She demonstrates her manipulative prowess undercover, flirting endlessly with her mark. Then, once he turns on her and the thugs move in, she effortlessly dispatches most of them. Most of them, except for the one her ex-husband Lance Hunter shoots, saving her life. I honestly expected the Lance/Bobbi bickering ex-spouse dynamic to be a bit annoying, but the two have stunning chemistry together, and work very well onscreen for being two completely new characters. At one point in mid-argument, they both shoot a waking thug on the ground, without missing a beat.
FitzSimmons got their moment of confrontation this week as well. With Fitz adjusting to the real-life version of Simmons, and Simmons still unsure of how to handle Fitz in his current condition, their relationship is sadly painful and awkward. Fitz finally asks her why she left and she can’t answer him. Mack proves to be a better friend to Fitz by sticking with him and helping him express his thoughts to help the field team. Later, Simmons thanks Mack for being friendly to Mack, and he (bless him) tells Simmons that he’s a little weird yes, but he doesn’t need help. He just needs a friend. He then calls out Simmons for ditching Fitz when he confessed his feelings. Simmons confesses that the reason she left is because she made him worse by sticking around. Ouch. Owwwwwwww.
The meat of the episode’s story revolves around Coulson, Skye, Ward, and Tim DeKay’s new character who plays (nobody saw this coming) Ward’s brother, Christian. As fans of the show know, Christian Ward is the purported reason for Grant Ward’s screwy personality. When they were young, Christian forced Grant into torturing and eventually killing their younger brother in a well. Coulson meets with Christian after discovering that he had been the deep pocketed senator who had tasked Talbot with keeping an eye on S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson is the classic “secret agent man” in this episode, appearing suddenly in Christian’s office as an unknown variable. He uses the fact that they have Ward in custody as leverage against Christian. In a shocking twist, Christian claims that the story Ward told about the well? It’s all lies. In Christian’s story, Ward was simply a demonic little sociopath who drowned their little brother in a river and then told their parents that Christian put him up to it. There wasn’t even a well involved. Simultaneously, Skye is interrogating Ward about Christian. Both brothers warn about the other. Both call the other liars. Both beg not to trust the other. It’s a stellar performance for both actors, and the back-and-forth switching between the two conversations really makes it hard exactly who you should believe. The writers have been building up Ward’s vow against lying to Skye just for this moment. We don’t trust Ward, but by this point we kind of believe that he would never lie to Skye. And then there’s this totally new guy, who has the benefit of NOT being a confirmed Hydra agent, but also, we really don’t know who he is.
In the end, Coulson sides with Christian and they both get what they want. Christian renounces his anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. campaign and reveals that his younger brother was a member of the real threat, Hydra. In exchange, Coulson transfers custody of Ward over to his brother. When Skye gives him this info, the look on Ward’s face is complete horror. The kind of horror that’s really unlikely to be an act just for Skye’s sake. I’m willing to bet more on Ward telling the truth than Christian.
Some final notes about the episode, May fighting the guy with the freakin’ CHAIN KNIFE was amazing. Skye finally found out about her parents from Ward, who claimed that Hydra agents killed her mother causing her father to go berserk and slaughter all of them. In the final montage of Ward’s transfer, many of his old friends look on coldly, with Simmons even going as far as telling him if she sees him again, she’ll kill him. In a perfectly shot final scene, Ward is loaded onto a prisoner van and Coulson warns the guards, “Don’t give him an inch.” Inside, we see a close-up of Ward’s vacant eyes, and after taking a few deep breaths, stealthily dislocates his thumb and slips out of his handcuffs. In all of three seconds, Ward disarms all of the guards and spins to point a gun straight at the camera, ending the episode.
Or not. A short scene attached to the end shows an unknown man getting the alien markings tattooed onto his body. Hopefully this mystery will be somewhat resolved by the time the show goes on break!