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REVIEW: Agents of SHIELD 3×02: “Purpose in the Machine”

Written by Jason Wittmer

Though “Purpose in the Machine” was slow out of the gate, it ultimately had some nice reveals and exciting moments that saved an otherwise boring episode. Ward’s first appearance this season was quite exciting, complete with fast cars and brutal beatdowns as his mission to rebuild HYDRA unfolds. May’s return, however, was not nearly as much fun, as she’s seen in self-imposed retirement with her ailing father. We also saw the surprising return of Eliott Randolph, the Asgardian drifter who first appeared in the first season episode, “The Well.” And while the premiere predominantly dealt with Daisy’s Secret Warriors and the introduction of the ATCU, this episode kept those storylines on the back-burner. Instead, the writers chose to tackle another storyline head-on (which I’m sure most viewers assumed was going to be dragged out for several episodes), as Fitz has a breakthrough in his plight to recover Simmons from the monolith.

The episode opens in a flashback to Gloucestershire, England 1839 as we witness a secret society of some sort engage in a ritual. The unlucky chap who withdraws a white stone from the bag is given some food, a sword, and sent on his way into…the monolith. After he departs, the leader tells his colleague, “as far as we know, in all of history, no one has ever returned.” What’s most interesting is their apparent understanding that the destination on the other end poses a danger of some kind, evidenced by the sword. Despite the utter lack of success, the society continues to indulge their Sisyphustic urge to presumably grasp the power that lies within the monolith. Is it just me, or does it seem likely that this group was a predecessor to HYDRA? It’ll be interesting to see if we find out.

After helplessly banging on the monolith in despair, Fitz notices “impossible sand” on his fingertips. Upon analysis, it’s discovered that this sand predates the earth by a billion years. It’s then when Coulson, Fitz, and the team track down Randolph for help in the search for Simmons – who they all now believe is trapped on some distant alien planet. Randolph is imprisoned for an apparent bout of drunken disorderly conduct. It’s still a bit strange that a demigod would settle for a life of earthly imprisonment, but I digress.

When we first find Ward, he’s seen drifting around pillars in a sportscar as some sort of HYDRA hazing ritual, while of course torturing someone whose dangling from the hood. We follow him and his lackey as they target an affluent young kid partying on a yacht in Ibiza. The bald, brooding lackey infiltrates the boat and immediately releases a bag full of rats onboard. Guests frantically leave as him and Ward attack the young kid and his bodyguards. When Ward finally reaches his target, he explains, “Good thing I dropped by….I’m the exterminator.” Though this scene featured some great action (particularly Ward’s Indiana Jones-esque decision to pull a gun on his enemy), I’m flabbergasted by this line of dialogue. I was waiting for the rats to come into play somehow, perhaps as a means of spreading a disease or something. Were the rats released purely for the sake of this poor joke? Or was Ward conscious of the bikini-clad partygoers’ fear of rodents, and unwilling to jeopardize the lives of innocent women? Something doesn’t quite add up.

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - "Purpose in the Machine" - Fitz and the team enlist the aid of an Asgardian to unlock the secrets of the ancient monolith that swallowed Simmons, and Agent May is at a crossroads in her personal and professional life, on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," TUESDAY, OCTOBER 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal) SPENCER TREAT CLARK

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Purpose in the Machine” –  (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

Ward’s mission does, however, lead to an exciting reveal. The young kid being targeted is none other than Werner Von Strucker, Baron Von Strucker’s son. While I think this is an awesome connection to the MCU, I still have some reservations about the character. You’re going to tell me that the son of a supervillain whose gone toe-to-toe (more or less) with the likes of Captain America and the Avengers has a fedora-wearing son who parties with beautiful women on a yacht off the coast of Spain? Werner later says, “My father so rarely let me see any of his world,” yet I’m just not buying it. As one of HYDRA’s leaders, you’d expect the Baron to have groomed his own flesh and blood – since birth – to follow in his footsteps. By the end of the episode, it’s clear that Werner has some sadistic tendencies inspired by his daddy issues, though I just would have hoped that his introduction meshed a little better with our expectation of how Baron Von Strucker’s son would appear to be.

The less said about May this episode, the better. She’s in self-imposed retirement, supposedly due to a belief that she wants to lead a “normal life.” This just isn’t a plotline any of us would be particularly interested in. May is at her best when she’s kicking ass and taking names, and she knows it. Let’s hope she’s not staying on the sidelines for long.

Coulson, Fitz, & Randolph track down the castle in England seen in the opening scene. There they stumble upon an underground, archaic laboratory, within which is a well that’s designed to control the monolith and its powers. When trying to use the system, however, it goes haywire and is destroyed. Daisy also faints from the reverberations. After Fitz explains that the system was designed to attain “a subsonic frequency to resonate with the monolith,” Daisy realizes that she herself can activate the portal with the use of her powers. I thought this was an especially cool scene because she didn’t need Fitz to explain how she could do so, but instead make the connection for herself. I hope to see more intriguing applications of her Quake powers in the future.

I hadn’t yet been sold on the episode, but wow was that an exciting finish! When Daisy activates the portal, Fitz promptly dives through to the other side, giving us a two-episode streak in which he does something uncharacteristically badass. I’m liking the new Fitz. Anyhow, Fitz is ushered through to Simmons’ planetary prison and – surprisingly – makes contact with her. The director deserves a on of credit for crafting an incredibly tense and suspenseful scene. I initially thought Fitz was going to let go of her hand and be pulled back into Earth, forced to start from square one, yet now with the proof of Simmons’ vitality. But instead, the monolith explodes into a pile of rubble. We’re left to think now both Simmons and Fitz are abandoned on the planet, forced to survive together (hey, at least they would have finally had that date, right?). The camera lingered upon the rubble until finally Fitz appears from beneath it, followed by Simmons, too. She’s now back on earth – a lot quicker than I’m sure any of us thought she would be – and she’s certainly got quite the story to tell. Will we find out what/who she’d been fighting? Let’s hope so.

And lastly, the closing minutes showed us that Werner has quickly fallen into the ranks of HYDRA, having been placed on a secret mission by Ward. He’s seen enrolling in one of Dr. Garner’s college psychology classes. Can Hunter track down the new head of HYDRA before May’s ex-husband is an unfortunate casualty in the ongoing war between the organizations? We shall see.

Final Grade: B

Extra Thoughts

-First and last time we see May in a skirt?

-“Amazon Woman and Robot Hand” sounds like a great working title for a new Pixar film, no?

I like that Coulson still slips and calls her Skye sometimes, having not adopted the “Daisy” moniker as quickly as everyone else.

-Mack screaming while trying to hold the cable was hilarious. Seriously, when is this guy gonna get some powers of his own?

-Upon hearing that Daisy is an Inhuman, Randolph responds: “I have not heard that word in a very long time.” Though this is exciting to hear, I was hoping to get a little more explanation. It’s unclear as to what relationship the Asgardians and Inhumans have – if any – as of yet in the MCU. Clearly they’ve come into contact before, but to what extent?

-Can’t say I’m a fan of Mack’s nickname of “Tremors” for Daisy.

About the author

Jason Wittmer