After last week’s tense, exciting episode, it would have been tough for Agents of SHIELD to try to match that level of intensity. The standoff between Raina and Coulson, with Simmons’ life hanging in the balance, combined with some new and emotional revelations about Skye’s father, would have been a tough act to follow. Wisely, SHIELD charted a different course this week, giving us one of those all-important connect-the-dots episodes, that helps position the pieces for bigger things to come. And while it might have been a slight but inevitable let down, it still packed in some great moments both fun and emotional, while setting up one big game changer that will affect how the rest of the season plays out. So let’s take a look at “A Fractured House,” written by Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc and directed by Ron Underwood.
We open in New York, at the United Nations headquarters. General Talbot is there giving a speech, talking about his experience at the Battle of New York against the Chitauri in The Avengers. He says that aliens rained down from the sky (“Aliens!” he repeats, in case he wasn’t clear the first time) and SHIELD revealed themselves to the world along with the Avengers. Ever since then, the rest of the world stood by while SHILED “collected” superpowered individuals and built bases in almost every country on the globe. He says that SHIELD took advantage of the good faith that they were given. A delegate from Italy stands up and confronts Talbot, asking for proof that he’s been fighting against SHIELD this whole time. He doesn’t get very far into his demands before he suddenly explodes/dissolves into dust. A bunch of commandos break into the room, dissolving some people, shooting others, and causing general chaos. Talbot, jumping right into action, starts helping the UN delegates to evacuate, but looks back and realizes that the commandos are wearing the SHIELD insignia on their outfits. As he ushers the civilians away, we watch as the leader of the “SHIELD” forces pulls out a small disc, presses a button on it, and tosses it at Talbot.
Ward, meanwhile, is exercising in his cell, doing situps and pushups despite his present circumstances. Upstairs, Skye watches him on a monitor when Simmons comes up beside her. Simmons points out that Ward does this every morning at precisely 5:30, despite having no clocks, no light, and no way to tell the time. Skye’s been watching him every day, and Simmons doesn’t know how she can stand it. Skye says that it’s the price for valuable intel, something Simmons, the undercover HYDRA agent, can surely understand. Simmons is a bit embarrassed about being called out for her work, and says, “I thought I was dead at least four times.” They both agree that they’re glad she’s not dead, and Simmons warns Skye to be careful with Ward. At that moment, May comes bursting in, hurrying by them in alarm. They ask what’s up and she tells them there’s been an attack on the UN.
Coulson has heard, too, and we see him walking purposefully past a TV as May, Skye, and Simmons catch up to him. The news is saying that six people were killed in the attack and dozens were injured. Coulson’s clearly pissed, but May asks him, “It wasn’t us, was it?” He says no, that it was “HYDRA looking for revenge.” So much for their plan of staying in the shadows. He reaches for a mug to get some coffee, but stops when he sees that the mug he’s grabbed has a picture of Grumpy Cat on it. “Somebody bring this from home?” he asks, a little impatiently. He wants them to find out anything they can and he tells Skye that the alien writing mystery will be put on hold until they sort out this mess.
Bobbi comes in (wearing a Star Wars t-shirt) looking at some security footage of the attack, and she recognizes the leader, a guy named Marcus Scarlotti, who once upon a time almost killed Clint Barton. They see footage of people’s bodies disintegrating, and it triggers something in Simmons’ memory of references she saw in the HYDRA lab to various projects. Bobbi thinks it looks like the work of Toshiro Mori, a weapons designer for HYDRA. Coulson decides to send her to check out Mori, along with May and Hunter. “Hunter’s going?” she asks, earning a head tilt and a “seriously?” look from Coulson. “Got it, thank you sir,” she replies to his look. Simmons heads off to see what she can recover from the stolen HYDRA hard drive. A minute later, Hunter pops his head in wanting to ask a quick question. “No, this wasn’t us,” Coulson says automatically, but Hunter’s more interested in the fact that he and Bobbi are being sent on a mission together. Coulson asks if it’s going to be a problem and Hunter replies, “Why, did she say it was?” “I’m not going to dignify that with a comment,” Coulson answers. He tells May that HYDRA’s plan is to use the rest of the world to help them take out SHIELD.
Talbot, his arm now in a sling, drops in for a chat about the situation with the senator who has been backing him, the one with deep pockets. The senator says that Talbot is lucky to be alive, but is angry because he was of the understanding that Talbot had SHIELD under control. He gave Talbot’s unit extraordinary funding, but nothing that happened before matters in the light of this attack. Talbot tells him that the people behind the attack may not have been SHIELD, but the senator isn’t interested. He wants to step in and take the press this situation has gotten and run with it. Talbot asks if he’s worried that the press will find out about his brother. The senator asks how Talbot knows, but Talbot merely says that he hasn’t told anyone about it. As the senator promises to put SHIELD in the ground for good, the camera pans down to the nameplate on his desk which says “Christian Ward.”
Christian Ward then goes on TV, telling the world (or at least those who watch news shows) that SHIELD is a terrorist organization and should be treated as such. He wants to form a multinational police force to target and eliminate anyone suspected of ties to SHIELD, using any and all methods at their disposal. Beckers, a delegate from Belgium and another guest on the program, challenges him by saying that his country is concerned about what Christian’s plans would mean for citizen’s rights. “If you want to welcome SHIELD into your country,” Christian begins, as we see Skye and Coulson watching the interchange on TV. “I guess being a douchebag runs in the family,” Skye says, earning cheers from SHIELD fans in living rooms across the world. Coulson assumes that this is the “senator with deep pockets” who has been backing Talbot, but that now he’s created a witchhunt. He wants to give everyone out there a license to kick down SHIELD’s doors and shoot people on the spot. He pulls up a map of SHIELD operations, showing just a handful of agents and bases despite months of rebuilding. He tells Skye to talk to Ward and try to get any intel they can on his brother. “Keep the focus on his family, not yours,” he advises as she leaves. He makes a call to an Agent Walters to check in on how things are where she’s situated in the Netherlands. “Lots of bikes, lots of weed,” is her response, but Coulson advises her to go dark and drop off the grid, reminding her to stay safe before ending the call.
Onboard the quinjet, Bobbi and Hunter sit awkwardly in the back while May flies the plane. Bobbi tells Hunter that he looks good, which earns her a “cheers” in response. After a moment he returns the compliment, particularly as she’s now gone back to being a blonde, and she thanks him for what he says. “I hear you’ve been telling people I’m a hell beast,” she says. “I don’t think so,” he replies, a bit rattled. “I didn’t use those words specifically, it doesn’t sound like something I’d say at all.” He brings up the fact that she vouched for him, to which she replies that she never thought he’d stay this long. He says he’s just keeping his options open, which she says is what he always does. “If we’re going to do this at least,” Hunter says, sensing a fight coming, “at least let me grab a beer first.” Bobbi isn’t interested in continuing however, and goes up to the cockpit to check on May. She takes the copilot seat as May tells her they’ll be landing soon. “Ever been married?” Bobbi asks, to which May gives the slightest of nods. “Still talk to him?” This earns a “you’ve got to be kidding” look from May. “Right, good advice,” Bobbi replies.
Back at the Playground, Fitz is half-asleep and mumbling to himself. “Probably a bad idea,” he says quietly as Simmons walks in and cheerily wishes him good morning. He starts, removing his hand from his shoulder, where presumably he was holding hands with the version of Simmons that lives in his head. He spots the hard drive in her hand and asks her about it, and she tells him she was hoping he’d help her. “I suppose I’ve got some time,” he says coyly. The drive was damaged during their escape and she needs Fitz to repair it. As he starts to work on it he stares at her, and when she asks what he’s looking at he says, “It’s just, you look different. That’s all…. Not a bad different… just…” He gets to work on the drive, and in trying to explain what’s broken he struggles to find the right words. Simmons offers some suggestions, clearly trying to help, but he has no patience for that and tells her to stop.
Down in the vault, Skye tells Ward she wants to talk about his brother. He asks which one and she says the older one who’s a senator. Ward wants to know what happened, but she’s not going to give him any information, instead she wants info from him about Christian’s habits, the places he visits, and anything else Ward knows. Ward warns her to stay away from Christian, that he’s not what he seems, he always has an angle, and he always had a way to get to Ward. Skye says this isn’t about Ward, but Ward doesn’t believe that. He reminds her of what Christian did to him at the well, and what he made him do. “He gets joy from one thing, hurting people,” Ward says. “So tell me please, does he know I’m here?” Skye reminds him that’s not how their deal works, that he answers her questions and not the other way around. She again asks for information, but Ward tries to change the subject, saying he wasn’t lying about Skye’s father. “He’s a murderer!” Skye says, unable to control herself. “You forgot to mention that detail.” “You found him?” asks Ward, but before anything more can happen the barrier between them turns opaque and we see Coulson standing at the stairs with the control pad. Skye insists that Ward still hasn’t given them what they need, but he says Ward gave them more than she thinks. “And you’re slipping, Skye,” he says, reminding her to stay on the mission.