Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 3 Episode 2
“Purpose in the Machine”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD continues season 3 with a story almost entirely focussed on the Monolith and the potential it has to bring Simmons back from wherever she is.
Fitz is the star of the show here with some deeply emotional stuff that he has to deal with. He is so obsessed with finding Simmons that he risked his own life by facing the Monolith directly and challenging it to do something. This actually sort of works but luckily his team mates manage to get him out of the way just in time or her would have found himself in the Negative Zone -I am going to call it that until proven otherwise- along with Simmons with no way back.
This part of the episode is spent sciencing out the problem in order to figure out what the Monolith does and how they can use it to get Simmons back. Coulson is willing to go along with it for I suspect 2 reasons. The first being that he cares about Simmons and wants to see her safe and the second is pretty much being unable to stop Fitz so it makes more sense to deal with it now before he gets himself lost as well.
It is quickly identified that the Monolith is a portal to somewhere -Negative Zone, come on Negative Zone- that predates the Earth by a billion years and logically if it can be used to get there then it can be used to bring someone back. Curiously the concept of another world accessed through a portal is very similar to the recent Fantastic Four movie. I am sorry for bringing that up but the similarity did strike me.
Naturally it completely makes sense to find an expert in this field and bring them in to help so the team go to track down Elliot Randolph (Peter MacNicol), the Asgardian they met in the season 1 episode “The Well” since he is their best chance at insider knowledge. I liked Randolph when he first appeared as he gave a bit of depth to Asgard and suggested that there was some sort of class system at play. That much is obvious from the films with Odin clearly seen as the King and respected as such but to see a normal guy in the context of Asgard was a nice touch so I am glad to see him back.
At first he is a little uncooperative as he’s enjoying being locked in prison after a drinking binge goes a little too far but eventually after a threat from Coulson he comes around to the idea but only on the condition that the portal is destroyed once Simmons is retrieved.
Luckily Randolph has travelled the globe and come across the Hebrew word written on the scroll before so they all head off to a castle in England to puzzle this out. They find an old mechanism that was used to control the Monolith and use it to try to open a portal. It shorts out the equipment but it works. This gives Fitz everything he needs to act recklessly. He is so full of energy and determination trying to get the portal open again now that he knows it’s possible. Luckily he’s a clever guy and is able to figure out that the shape of the chamber along with the frequency of sound is what makes the thing work which is where Daisy comes in. She is able to use her powers to open the portal and keep it that way long enough to send a probe in though Fitz leaps in to search for Simmons and brings her home.
The chamber with all the old machinery looks amazing. It’s a nice big room and everything looks old and functional. It’s a nice visual contrast to the clinical looking S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities full of state of the art holographic displays and other such tech. I like what the writers are doing with Fitz so far this season. Being assertive and reckless certainly agrees with him so I hope it’s not something that vanishes now that Simmons has returned.
These scenes did sometimes play out a little awkwardly with some of the banter feeling very off. Coulson doesn’t seem to have much authority as Director as people just seem to ignore what he says when it doesn’t mesh with what they want to do. I understand that Fitz is driven and obsessive but Coulson should be prepared to deal with that. I hope he manages to assert more authority as time goes on. Similarly lots of Bobbi’s dialogue didn’t really fit her mannerisms. It’s almost as if they swapped her character onto this team at the last minute and simply changed the name on the script.
I’m very disappointed that Simmons was brought back from the Negative Zone so quickly. There was so much mileage in an offworld adventure featuring Simmons and whoever or whatever she might find there. To have her back so soon robs the show of all that potential. I did like the emotional tension in the scene where Fitz struggled to take her hand but it might have been more impactful if she had been left there and the Monolith had been destroyed. It would have given an excuse for her to remain and a reasonable delay while the team find another method.
That’s not to say her return was terrible. There was an excellent scene at the end of the episode where she wakes up suddenly and holds out a sharp piece of wood as if she is expecting an attack followed by her seeking comfort from Fitz. It’s clear that something happened to her there and the exploration of the effect on her character may prove interesting. We might even get some flashbacks to her time in exile. One thing is for certain, Simmons will never be the same again.
Visual flair is something that this episode has a lot of with the above mentioned machinery room and of course the Negative Zone providing some cool imagery. Another nice touch was the opening scene set in 1839 in Gloucestershire, England. It looked really cool and gave the show a sense of style that it sometimes lacks. It also deepens the mythos in a subtle way by showing that none of this is new, only forgotten.
A large chunk of this episode also goes to May who sat last week out. It turns out that she has gone to help her recently injured father and really sucks at trying to have a normal life. She tries to play golf for one thing but isn’t very good at it and is constantly looking over her shoulder expecting an attack.
Her father is an interesting character who completely understands that May doesn’t belong there and is lying to herself to pretend that she does. He is more than capable of taking care of himself so it’s something else that makes her not want to go back.
I liked this plot as it allows Ming-Na Wen to bring a different side to May that hasn’t been seen before. There’s a vulnerability to her that lies beneath the strength that she gives off. The layers added to her character here are refreshing to see as May was so often portrayed as an unfeeling ice queen to the point of it almost seeming like parody. Giving her depth like this is long overdue and most welcomed.
As with the Simmons story I felt that this has ended perhaps a little too quickly. I would like to see May trying civilian life for a little longer before getting back to work but working with Hunter on a mission to hunt down Ward should be a cool story to see unfold.
This is one instance where Coulson does act a bit more Director like. It’s a bit strange that he would sign off on an assassination/revenge mission like this but I could see Nick Fury doing the same thing. Ward is a very dangerous man to be left alive so sending someone to take him out makes tactical sense. Hunter and May are the perfect combination to do this as they both have a personal interest in seeing Ward killed. This should prove interesting when the confrontation happens.
Speaking of Ward, we get some scenes of him rebuilding H.Y.D.R.A. from the ground up. His reintroduction scene where he delivers exposition while driving a fast car with a guy on the hood was really well done. I almost forgot it was meant as a catchup exposition scene with it looking so great. It does the job of catching the audience up on what he’s been up to and we get a real sense of what his H.Y.D.R.A. will look like. Ward is a man who respects strength and never fights fair if he can win as evidenced by his brutal attack on Werner von Strucker‘s (Spencer Treat Clark) boat.
His recruitment of the son of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron) is a nice touch as it gives yet another connection to the films running parallel to this. There’s even a joke at the expense of his father’s easy dispatch in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Using Werner von Strucker is a good choice for the show as he is far more of a blank slate than his siblings who were featured more heavily. He already seems like a good fit and Clark has good chemistry with Brett Dalton so I am interested to see how the new H.Y.D.R.A. pans out. Ward is always fun to watch as his true agenda is never quite clear. I actually found it to be a bit of a surprise when he wanted Strucker to kill his interrogator to prove his worth.
Daisy continues to evolve as a character as she grows more into her powers and her role as an inhuman. She has an extended conversation with May’s ex husband Andrew Garner about what she wants. She wants Inhumans to use their powers to help so that they can learn that being different means that they can make a difference. She has identified that her mother distancing Inhumans from the rest of the world wasn’t good enough and feels that her idea will be successful.
Her frustration comes from the fact that Garner won’t approve anyone to be on her team due to their psychological state. This makes perfect sense and I’m with Garner on this one as Joey still can’t control his powers and his head must be all over the place trying to process this profound change. I imagine the same is true for other Inhumans so waiting a while for this to sink in seems like a smart idea. Garner understands that where Skye’s reckless attitude might create further problems down the road. I still can’t wait to see the Secret Warriors in action now that they have been so named by Garner. I also found it interesting that Garner is a bit wary of Coulson’s cavalier attitude and warns that it should be kept an eye on. I wonder what this will develop into if anything.
A solid entry that disappoints a little by bringing Simmons home from her exile in the -I hope- Negative Zone too soon for my liking.
Fitz has some strong stuff to do here as he desperately searches for an answer with a lot of impatience. He is keen to get things moving and his recklessness almost gets him stuck with Simmons. He does manage to bring her back and the Monolith is completely destroyed as a result which makes the thing feel a bit too neat.
A strong scene where Simmons awakens startled brandishing a sharp piece of wood strongly hints that she has been changed by her experience and will never be the same again. I look forward to seeing this develop.
This episode was very impressive with the visuals from the room full of old machinery to the Negative Zone and the flashback to 1839 England. There was a great sense of style that the show often lacks to this imagery.
May gets a large chunk of the episode to develop a more human and vulnerable side to her. Spending time with her father gives her perspective as he constantly encourages her to do something more worthwhile than playing golf as it is clear that she can’t shake the life she’s trying to run from. I imagine her team-up with Hunter to hunt down Ward will be worth a look once it gets going.
I enjoyed seeing Ward’s efforts to rebuild H.Y.D.R.A. His harsh recruitment standards and brutal ideology make him an unpredictable and formidable force. I also like that he recruited Baron von Strucker’s son and can’t wait to see what their partnership will bring in the coming episode.
Daisy continues to evolve and grow into her powers. Through her discussions with Garner we learn that she wants to make Inhumans a useful part of society and showing them that they can make a difference. It’s good that Garner identifies that nobody is ready yet as it does feel a bit soon for people to have adjusted but it’s good to know that a team of people with super powers is coming. I also found Garner’s warning about Coulson’s reckless attitude interesting. I hope that it leads somewhere.