Crisp, witty dialogue, smart character interaction, intense performances and great chemistry were all punctuated by outstanding action sequences.
Not many. Still not enough FitzSimmons, but this episode didn't lack for much.
The past catches up with everyone in an entertaining, edgy and gripping Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that sets the standard for how good this show can be.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — As if things weren’t already difficult, when Hydra impersonates S.H.I.E.L.D. in a highly visible attack on the United Nations using weapons technology from The Obelisk, things get even stickier. Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) and team find themselves under more scrutiny and mistrust than ever before, spearheaded by none other than Senator Christian Ward (Tim Dekay), the older brother of former Agent, turned Hydra traitor, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). Coulson sends Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and his newest member of the team, Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki), with Bobbi’s ex-husband Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) to Okinawa to find the source of these deadly new weapons and learn Hydra’s next target.
As the entire world turns their focus toward eliminating S.H.I.E.L.D., the past begins to creep up on the entire team and tensions rise from old wounds and new ones. With General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar), Senator Ward and Hydra pressing from all sides, the team will have to figure out how to put the past behind them and work together, or face the end of what remains of S.H.I.E.L.D. in an episode filled with action, lies and more relationship problems than Dr. Phil could ever solve in an hour of television. If that’s not an invite for lots of discussion, we’ve not heard one. Let’s open everyone’s closet doors and find out which skeletons fall out this week!
Is there a relationship counselor in the house? This couple has issues.
We had a hunch last week that the introduction of Bobbi Morse as Lance Hunter’s ex was going to be entertainment gold. We’re tickled to say that we were completely right. We were already loving Nick Blood as Hunter, but now that there’s an emotional stake and someone to put him in his place on a regular basis, we’re beside ourselves. Adrianne Palicki was a tremendous get for this cast and this show. She’s brought an instant charge of confident, kick-ass woman power to this group and a snarky bite to almost every smart remark Hunter can spit out. Adding this dynamic to the show made what was already turning out to be a great second season, into one where the sky is the limit.
As Morse, Hunter and May all make their way to Okinawa to uncover information about the Predator-style dusting discs, every bit of banter was a quote-worthy moment. Hunter and Morse have a rich and sordid history and both Palicki and Blood have embraced that past to slip right into roles that feel like two characters that have known each other’s every dirty little secret for years. Little quips were quick to get eye rolls and the two got under each other’s skin so easily they certainly felt like a divorced couple. We’d have loved to be a fly on the wall while veteran writers Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc experimented with dialogue for these two. What they finally came up with was splendid television and a script not only worth an hour of our time, but several re-watches just for fun.
As Bobbi uses her Hydra cover to extract information from Toshiro Mori (Brian Tee), the designer of the splinter bombs as he calls them, Hunter laments their relationship with almost every word Bobbi says until he intercepts an incoming communication. Bobbi’s cover is blown and she’s now sitting in a viper’s nest about to turn hostile. Hunter acts without thinking, taking out the first shooter and in the ensuing battle he, May and Bobbi, eliminate the rest. Expecting gratitude from Bobbi, Hunter gets just the opposite.
“You don’t think I knew that guy was behind me? This — This is just your peacocking.” ~ Bobbi
“He made you, and he was gonna kill you! And, sweetheart, nobody uses the word “peacocking.” ~ Hunter
At which point Mori rolls over to raise his gun, only to casually get shot by both of them so they can continue arguing. As much as someone getting shot shouldn’t be funny, the tongue in cheek nature of this show allows for it, and we laughed out loud. And we weren’t alone because Twitter exploded at this hilarious moment. This is the kind of action, humor, fun and down right entertaining television Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should give us each week and we’re glad to see it happening more and more in season two.
All was not lost in the exchange. Bobbi did manage to learn that Julien Beckers (Michael Enright) of Belgium was Hydra’s next intended target. Beckers had been one of the few to oppose the international witch hunt of S.H.I.E.L.D. and by doing so he made Belgium one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s few safe havens, but he also put a Hydra target firmly on his chest.
Ward versus Ward. Who can we trust?
By mixing in the light in just the right way, the heavy, emotional moments carry even more weight. This episode did both to near perfection and that’s only possible when writing, performance and production come together with all the nuanced polish a second year show should have.
Nowhere in this episode was this on better display than the dueling conversations that the Ward brothers have simultaneously with Coulson and Skye. Brilliant dialogue, editing and performances made this scene the heavy it was meant to be by splicing Skye’s interrogation of Grant with Coulson’s confrontation of Christian in just the right way.
Coulson’s and Christian’s confrontation starts out witty but shifts darker as the subject of Grant comes up and it’s clear that the Senator would prefer his brother’s traitorous behavior remain a secret. As Coulson grills the Senator on how he treated his younger brother as children, the brilliance of this sequence emerges.
Christian begins to tell his own tale. A very different one—of a younger brother with a darkness that instilled fear and produced lies on top of lies that lead to constant upheaval. As Christian tells his side, Grant does the same with Skye. Insisting his older brother can’t be trusted. The Senator is not who he appears to be.
Back and forth the scene shifts until each statement by one brother is almost a direct refute of the last by the other. Bear McCreary’s throbbing and uneasy score adds to the tension. And as we watched this play out, we were on pins and needles. Skye and Coulson listen, and it’s Christian that starts to make the most sense.
“You may think you know Grant Ward, Mr. Coulson, but trust me—underneath every lie he tells, is just another lie.” ~ Christian
“Is Coulson talking to Christian? You can’t trust him. He’ll smile, bare his soul. It is all manipulation. He is a master at it. Look, I know what I am, but my brother…he’s worse.” ~ Grant
Just when we think Skye might be susceptible to Grant’s pleas about Christian and his promises that Skye’s father is not the monster she believes him to be, an agreement is struck and Skye deals Grant the blow. He is to be handed over to his brother for trial in exchange for the Senator’s reprieve from the hunt for S.H.I.E.L.D. The darkness in the Ward family closet will be put on display for all to see.
This sequence is so brilliantly written and the performances so good, it’s still not clear who we can trust, but Coulson and Skye have made their decision. In a final confrontation with Grant, Coulson finally lets out the frustration we’ve been waiting for him to unleash all season.
“You betrayed every one of us you deluded son of a bitch! The only reason your alive is because you were of use. And the only reason you’re being transferred is because your brother is of more use.” ~ Coulson.
This entire sequence is so well-played by all involved and so cleverly written that even though we are nearly certain Grant is the monster we believe, there is room for doubt. And we’re sure that’s exactly what Judkins and LeFranc wanted us to feel when they wrote it—conflicted and uncertain.
Emotional blows can hurt just as much as the physical ones.
Before Ward can be properly dealt with, the real deception of this episode comes to light. Julien Beckers, who has created a safe haven for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Belgium, is the grandson of Hydra scientist Vincent Beckers, who designed the technology in Mori’s splinter bombs. Apparently Hydra runs in the family and every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent congregating in the Belgian safe house has been lured into a trap.
Bobbi, May and Hunter who are already close to Belgium in order to save Beckers, who they thought was in danger, now are in a race to save as many agents as they can. The three converge on the Belgian safe house, now overrun by the same Hydra agents that attacked the U.N., and one hell of a fight breaks out. We’ll raise a glass to the stunt and visual effects teams this season. They’ve raised the bar and just when we thought they couldn’t top themselves—they do it again. Spectacular stunt work and choreography highlighted this scene and as much fun as it was to see Bobbi and Hunter fighting side by side, the knife and chain sequence between May and Scarlotti (Falk Hentschel) was another level in martial arts acrobatics. We humbly bow to the stunt teams here and our only sane reaction afterward was that this was only episode six, and for the other sixteen, we say—bring it.
Through all the action and tension of other plot lines, we didn’t get to see much interaction between Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), but what we did see was heartbreaking. The real Jemma isn’t as adept at finishing Fitz’s sentences and her careful treatment of him just isn’t helping. He knows he’s different and can’t come to terms with a solid reason why she would have left and abandoned him when he needed her most. Emotional and unable to finish the conversation, Simmons walks away.
Later, after she sees the positive impact Mack (Henry Simmons) has on Fitz she approaches Mack to thank him for helping Fitz and being his friend. He insists he’s not helping Fitz. He doesn’t need help. He’s a little odd, but Mack likes him. Mack turns the conversation serious and when Simmons denies that she bailed on Fitz, it’s Mack that sees the truth in her.
“Look, I know the two of you have a past, but from what I’ve seen, the only thing that makes him worse…is you.” ~ Mack
“I know. Why do you think I left?” ~ Simmons.
The pain and defensiveness in Simmons’ response to the truth is glaring. Her best friend in the world is hurting and the frustration of not being able to do anything but make it worse is heartbreaking. We don’t know where this story is headed, but it left us feeling hurt and hollow in this moment and that’s a firm testament to just how much De Caestecker, Henstridge and Henry Simmons have made this odd little triangle so emotionally tangible.
When the dust settles from all the physical and the emotional blows, Senator Ward’s monologue over the final sequence of the episode touches on just the right emotions. As Grant Ward is led out in chains, past everyone he’d betrayed or tried to kill, his brother reminds us that sometimes we want things to be simpler than they are, but the tough reality is, we are complex creatures. It was a sobering reality as Grant passed each in turn and we can only wonder how much of that complexity we have yet to see in either Ward brother. As the Senator goes on, he explains that there is a difference between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra. One was based on protection and the other on world domination.
As the Hydra team in Belgium is led out in custody by Talbot’s men, perhaps the best moment of this episode was Talbot paying respect to the men and women S.H.I.E.L.D. lost that day and extending a hand of friendship to May. That handshake and Senator Ward’s speech changes the course of this series. They are no longer branded as traitors by everyone. Some will still see them that way, but as the Senator admits to the darkness hidden within his own house, with his brother a Hydra traitor, there is hope that the world will eventually see that S.H.I.E.L.D. suffered the same fate. His closing remarks prophetically sum up the final scene as Grant, now under guard in a transport van, breaks free of his restraints and overpowers his captors.
“As is so often true, the darkness lingers longer than the light. And while S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone, Hydra is a problem that the world must still face. Otherwise, that darkness will grow and spread…and cast a shadow over us all.” ~ Christian Ward
Grant Ward is now loose again. And what his intentions are, we do not know.
FINAL VERDICT: Sticky relationships, laughs, lies, brutal emotions and amazing action made this one of the best episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet.
Strong themes that vary from episode to episode along with grittier, more meaty scripts highlighted with brilliant humor and fantastic action have made this second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so much better than the first. The parallels amongst family and relationship ties in this episode alone were layered so well with the humor, tense moments and action that we’ll be watching this episode more than once just to soak in all its texture and rich performances.
Clark Gregg has been absolutely outstanding this season and in particular the last couple of episodes. Bouncing back and forth from the humor of this show to the serious moments, Coulson in season two is far more complex and we love him all the more for it. It’s been truly enjoyable to see Gregg embrace the harsher and more emotionally tense moments with the same punctuation as the lighter, more sarcastically humorous ones. He’s nailing it this season and this episode was his best effort to date.
Writers Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc deserve tremendous praise for a sharply written script that moved forward some large plot elements for this season without sacrificing the small, subtle emotions throughout. Director Ron Underwood had wonderfully juicy material to work from and he pulled fantastic performances from everyone throughout this episode. Sharp editing by Eric Litman and fantastic stunt coordination by Tanner Gill’s team once again set the bar ever higher. As an ensemble, this entire team accomplished their goal—to deliver an entertaining and riveting episode of television.
We were glued to our seat for this hour and on a day when Marvel announced to the world so many entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of which this series is a part, it was fitting the punctuation for the day was perhaps one of the best episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet. We know this much, we’ll be back in two weeks to see where this all goes next!
Questions, Comments, Concerns and My Reaction on Twitter…
- One question after this episode ended. Who is the guy with the alien writing tattoos all over his body? Where did that come from and where is it going?
- Grumpy cat has arrived. He’s now appeared on #AgentsofS.H.I.E.L.D.
- OMG. I’m officially in love. Bobbi in a #StarWars T-Shirt! @AdriannePalickiIf he turns out to be evil, does anyone see the irony in the name Christian Ward?
- “Guess being a douche bag runs in the family.” ~ Skye lol @TimDeKay @ChloeBennet4
- “I’ve heard you’ve been telling people I’m a hellbeast.” ~ Bobbi. Uncomfortable plane ride Hunter? @AdriannePalicki @nickdiscoblood
- “Ever been married?” ~ Bobbi (May nods) “Still talk to him?” ~ Bobbi (May gives the—that’s a stupid question look) “Good advice.” ~ Bobbi. Best effin convo ever!!!@AdriannePalicki @MingNa
- We need Mack. Real Simmons isn’t near as good at finishing Fitz’s sentences as Mack has become.
- “Deception is her forte.” ~ Hunter. Blabbering apologies. I love these two on this show. @AdriannePalicki @nickdiscoblood
- That kiss is burned into Hunter’s mind. “Still like option two?” ~ May. OMG I love the additions to this cast! @AdriannePalicki @nickdiscoblood @MingNa
- “Excuse me for doing my job thoroughly .. and with style.” ~ Hunter. Put him in his place May! @MingNa @nickdiscoblood
- “You know I really don’t like you.” ~ May to Hunter. Boom!! @MingNa
- Marital frustration! Two in the chest! Holy hell!! LMAO!! @AdriannePalicki @nickdiscoblood
- “I assume these are for your speech. I made a few changes. It’s funnier now.” ~ Coulson. LOL! @clarkgregg
- “I know what I am. But my brother, he’s worse.” ~ Grant Ward. Which one of them is lying here? @TimDeKay @IMBrettDalton
- Argg! @bearmccreary your thumping score & drums aren’t slowing my heart listening to 2 Wards here! @IMBrettDalton @TimDeKay
- “You will never be on MY TEAM you deluded son of a bitch!” ~ Coulson. Damn! Smack down! @clarkgregg @IMBrettDalton
- “You were saying?” ~ Hydra Goon. Good grief this is twisted and so damned good tonight!
- “Third time today.” ~ Bobbi. Couple power!! @AdriannePalicki @nickdiscoblood
- That was BADASS May!! @MingNa
- That handshake between May and Talbot was almost the best moment I’ve seen on this show yet this season.
- AHHHHHHHHH!!!! (Kinda summed up my feelings about Ward’s escape at the end!)
- Holy hell! My heart won’t stop racing after that unreal ep of #AgentsofS.H.I.E.L.D. and then the #AgeOfUltron Clip/Trailer!!
- Relationship problems, laughs, lies, truths, unreal action, death, honor & brutal #feels. This might have been the best #AgentsofS.H.I.E.L.D. yet!
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review: 2×06 “A Fractured House”