Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Inevitable Ward Episode Is “A Fractured House!”

The Good: Decent character development, Good performances, Good plot development, Quips/humor
The Bad: Still a little plot-heavy
The Basics: “A Fractured House” puts Grant Ward and his brother in the spotlight in one of the better episodes of the series!

Ever since Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned a corner with the first season episode “Nothing Personal” (reviewed here!) and made Grant Ward an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D., but kept actor Brett Dalton as part of the regular cast of the show, it was pretty obvious that he would become the focus of a future episode. As the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. progressed, Ward has been peppered through the early episodes, stuck in a S.H.I.E.L.D. jail cell and the recurring nature of his character did not make great use of him. As a result, the fact that he remained in the cast meant that Brett Dalton would be getting a spotlight role. “A Fractured House” is the episode that gives him the shot to shine.

Fortunately, “A Fractured House” manages to give Brett Ward a decent part to play. Grant Ward and his backstory have been featured very little in the series so far; “A Fractured House” is arguably his best episode of the series so far. Continuing the story begun in “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” (reviewed here!), which made Bobbi Morse a member of Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team and saw the return of Simmons to the fold, “A Fractured House” has H.Y.D.R.A. stepping up its game and making an all-out war on S.H.I.E.L.D. . . . using governments around the world to do their dirty work. In the process, Ward’s family is fleshed out and Ward and Brett Dalton get to move out of the confines of the prison and the previously-established role.

Brigadier General Talbott is giving a speech to the United Nations when an assault force breaks in and attempts to kill him. The assailants claim to be S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives, though Coulson knows none of the operatives were his and Bobbi Morse recognizes the leader of the H.Y.D.R.A. cell that attacked the U.N. Talbott is working with Senator Christian Ward, who is Grant Ward’s sadistic older brother. Senator Ward starts mouthing off about how dangerous S.H.I.E.L.D. is and he tries to marshal world leaders to step up against the spy organization. Coulson allows Skye to interrogate Grant in the S.H.I.E.L.D. cell and Coulson learns that the Senator does not know where Grant is or where his true affiliation lay.

When Bobbi, May and Hunter make contact with the arm’s manufacturer who made the weapon used to attack the U.N., Coulson visits the Senator. When H.Y.D.R.A. lets all of its affiliates know that Bobbi is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Hunter has to rescue her. As Coulson confronts the Senator, Skye uses the opportunity to get whatever information she can from Ward about her father. But when Coulson strikes a deal with the Senator, H.Y.D.R.A. targets Beckers, grandson of the man who designed H.Y.D.R.A. weapons for Red Skull! In rerouting the protection for Beckers, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s vulnerabilities are exposed and Coulson takes some serious losses!

“A Fractured House” is a decent “he said/he said” episode that raises the tension by pitting the two Ward’s stories against one another. As the episode progresses, which Ward is lying more adds real dramatic tension. What could be a troublingly plot-centered episode wherein spies get burned over and over again manages to save itself by inserting enough character development to be interesting. In fact, the episode’s writers, Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc, manage to write the first episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a year that feels like a Joss Whedon production! The blending of character development, decent performances and quips/subtle humorous moments plays out to make a solidly entertaining episode!

Of the new characters introduced this season, Lance Hunter is easily the least interesting to be added to the mix. Hunter is a mercenary who is ably played by Nick Blood, who is not given much to do with the generic semi-antagonistic character. Hunter is not Spike and given that Skye is still a pretty random agent in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., he is filling a niche that is not one that was needing to be filled. Still, in “A Fractured House,” Hunter is given good banter, more of a backstory and a few kick-ass moments in the episode. Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki (Bobbi Morse) play off one another perfectly to be a credible formerly married couple and that makes the episode work nicely.

The character struggle in “A Fractured House” extends delightfully into the last moments of the episode. Not dropping the ball with the return of Simmons to the fold, Simmons has to wrestle with the consequences of abandoning her team. Simmons witnesses just how bad Fitz’s mental health has become and the reassuring aspect of the episode is that her return does not mean the death of Henry Simmons’ Mac. Mac has been a stabilizing influence on Fitz and he has managed to be a pretty good friend to the wounded scientist. Simmons gets the chance to see that and Mac does possibly the coolest tell-off ever without exhibiting anger. “A Fractured House” plays well Fitz’s frustration, through Mac gives voice to the passion he had for Simmons and allows Simmons to reveal credibly her feelings of guilt.

“A Fractured House” is a crowded episode on the character front, but it works wonderfully. Instead of appearing silly, Simmons threatens Ward and actress Elizabeth Henstridge completely lands the key moment. Appropriately, Brett Dalton manages to dominate the episode even though he is not given the most air time in “A Fractured House.” Far from being the bland, white bread character who appeared early in the first season, Dalton is cold, menacing and strangely compelling in “A Fractured House.” “A Fractured House” only truly works because Dalton and Tim DeKay (who plays Senator Ward) both have to appear credible in their accusations against one another and both present their characters with enough force of character to be entirely believable. Clark Gregg’s key moments as Agent Coulson in “A Fractured House” boil down to him judging the Wards and his choice is well-reasoned.

While the “twist” at the end of “A Fractured House” is anything but twisty, the episode manages to be one of the best-rendered, most well-rounded character pieces of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. while still managing to have some awesome kick-ass moments!

For other works with Tim DeKay, please visit my reviews of:
Get Smart
Sports Night

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Movie And Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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