It’s time we take a moment and acknowledge the magnificence of Adrianne Palicki’s Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse. The former Friday Night Lights and Supernatural star has appeared in some high-profile genre projects in recent years, including Legion, David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman pilot, and last year’s GI Joe: Retaliation. But all of them died quick and mercifully brief deaths. Yet Palicki has the kind of larger-than-life physical screen presence that’s tailor-made for such projects, and she’s the last person to blame for their failure. That’s something made all the more clear when images of the actress in her S.H.I.E.L.D. combat uniform appeared online last week, in which she looked more like a super-spy than just about anyone we’ve seen work for the organization. And in last night’s “A Fractured House,” Palicki proved, as she did in her debut episode last week, that she’s got what it takes for an exciting fight sequence. She towers over most of her opponents, completely selling the idea that her eyes could melt a man’s heart moments before her hands choke him to death.
Even better than Palicki herself is the direction of which her character is indicative. In its first year, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t exactly cut an imposing figure, with all of its principal cast, with the one exception of Brett Dalton, less than five feet, ten inches in height. Now, in addition to the five-foot-eleven-inch Palicki, we’ve got B.J. Britt’s Trip, Nick Blood’s Hunter, and Henry Simmon’s Mack, all of which could pass for trained assassins. Not that there’s no room left for the Fitzes of the world, it’s just that I like my, strike forces to look, well, striking.
Anywho, about the episode… “A Fractured House” finds Marvel’s finest in a spot of bother when a squad of Hydra operatives disguise themselves as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and attack the U.N. General Assembly while it hosts General Talbot. Spurring Ward’s brother, Senator Christian Ward, to launch a campaign against Coulson and his people. It’s not long, however, before the Director learns he holds a powerful bargaining chip in the form of his traitorous former colleague.
The premise of this one is terrific, and it allows for some fun globetrotting by May, Morse, and her ex-hubby Hunter as they race to stop Hydra from doing further damage. The interplay between the former lovers is also great, topped by a scene set in Okinawa, in which they stop bickering just long enough to shoot Hydra’s arms dealer dead. (This is a pair for which “Don’t die out there” is every bit as romantic as “As you wish.”) May too gets to engage in another well-choreographed tussle when the search culminates in Bruges.
I’m also digging the relationship between the newly reunited Fitz and Simmons, where the former mole finds she may have to accept the person he’s become since his accident, as his new buddy Mack already has. The situation provides the young tech-heads with some necessary seasoning, shaping them into an old married couple. And what is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. if not a metaphor for family? Coulson’s father-daughter dynamic with Skye reaches a new plateau when, after attacking Ward for damaging his team, he shouts, “You will never see Skye again!”
The episode also offers more of the crosscutting that made last week’s “A Hen in the Wolf House” such a treat, as Coulson’s stand-off with the senator is interwoven with Skye’s showdown with Ward, both brothers trying to convince the agents that the other is not to be trusted. It’s tension built on character, the kind of suspense TV was made for. Only at the end of the sequence do we realize Skye’s exchange has taken place after Coulson’s. There’s a fine cliffhanger too, in which Ward, on his way to the Feds, frees himself at last.
Like Skye, we’re left uncertain who to trust, but invested just the same. I’m only hoping that the premise — in which the public is made to believe S.H.I.E.L.D. really has gone down the path of Hydra — is further explored now that Ward is on the loose, thus making Coulson unable to uphold his end of the deal. Left open, it adds weight to a dilemma that should plague the espionage agency for the remainder of the season. But regardless, even if loyalties within its ranks must be forever questioned, I’m learning to put my trust in S.H.I.E.L.D.
In two weeks — the alien glyphs in Coulson’s mind appear on a series of murder victims, forcing the director to reveal his secrets. See you then!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).