Recap: Agents of SHIELD – “Purpose in the Machine”

Fitz and Mack in "Purpose in the Machine"

It’s great when a TV show can surprise you. It’s even better when a show can surprise you with the very plot development you knew was inevitable, simply by the way the story was told and the timing of events. Agents of SHIELD pulled off just such a surprise this week by giving us something I knew would happen eventually but so soon in week two. Last week we got an early glimpse at some of the ongoing storylines for season three with the introduction of Lash, the ATCU, and Daisy’s search for Inhumans. This week brought back May and Ward, missing from the previous episode, as well as a guest star from season one, all while solving some mysteries only to leave more behind. Throw some major emotions into the mix and I couldn’t be more excited about the direction season 3 is headed. So let’s jump into “Purpose in the Machine”, written by DJ Doyle and directed by Kevin Tancharoen.

  • As much as I want to start at the end of the episode with the dramatic finale, I really should take it from the top. After a flashback intro (more on that in a minute), this week’s episode opened immediately following the season premiere. Mack and Daisy are discussing Joey’s prospects for their new team and how May’s husband Andrew will probably recommend three months of evaluation before acting on anything when Bobbi and Hunter burst through the room on their way to stop Fitz from getting swallowed by the monolith. He’s still banging his fists against it when they get to him, wrenching him away from the stone and closing the door to its box just as it liquefies and then turns solid once more. They start to berate Fitz for his recklessness, but he’s more interested in the “impossible sand” on his face.
  • It turns out Fitz’s theory was correct, the monolith is a portal to another world and it works both ways. It took Simmons through and brought some sand back, sand that is older than the earth. The team is galvanized and rallies around Fitz, who needs someone familiar with portals and wormholes to help track down Simmons. Coulson knows a guy, who not only knows all about portals but also is thousands of years old and an alien. Coulson gives Bobbi some crap for having Fitz’s back this whole time as he gallivanted around searching for clues, before the three of them head off for an old friend. Bobbi gives Hunter a kiss as he goes on his own mission, tell him not to die out there while Coulson reminds him to make sure that Ward does.
  • Their portal expert turns out to be Elliot Randolph, an Asgardian who stayed behind on Earth hundreds of years ago, whom you might recognize from the season 1 episode “The Well”. Randolph is languishing in a Norwegian prison, despite the fact that he could escape, as he feels safer somewhere out of the limelight where he can also get three square meals a day and books to read. Coulson threatens to turn him over to the ATCU if he doesn’t help them with the portal and he agrees, noting that Coulson’s different now than he used to be. Back at the Playground Randolph claims to know nothing about the monolith, and doesn’t seem interested in helping. Coulson and Bobbi guess by his behavior that he’s scared of portals and of having to go back to Asgard, and he eventually agrees to help them find Simmons if they promise to destroy the monolith once she’s back. Based on the parchment Fitz recovered, which contains only the Hebrew world “death” (or “death by punishment”), Randolph makes a connection to a castle in England which had inscriptions of that word and at which he attended a costume ball over a hundred years ago.
  • Favorite Quote: Randolph: (about Bobbi and Coulson) “I don’t know what ‘Amazon Woman’ and ‘Robot Hand’ are capable of these days.”
  • So it’s off to England, where the symbols on the walls are discovered to lead to hidden passages and a secret room. Back at the beginning of the episode we watched as a group of men drew stones from a bag and the one who drew the white stone was armed and escorted through just such a hidden passageway, asking “What if I fail to return?” If only he had known he would never return. In the secret room they find an assortment of Frankenstien-esque devices and a sunken, empty hole in the floor. Fitz guesses that the room was designed to let them open and close the portal at will, and quickly talks Coulson into calling Mack and Daisy to bring them the monolith. They drop the monolith into the hole and Fitz fires up the equipment, setting off tremors in the castle and turning the stone to liquid on command. Fitz tries to shine a light through the blackness and at the last moment fires a flare into the pool before the machines give out and the portal turns back to stone.
  • What they hadn’t counted on was Daisy collapsing due to a sound no one else could hear. Fitz reasons that the entire room was designed as an amplifier with the equipment to provide the proper vibration frequency for the monolith. He would have to rebuild the busted machines before they can try again, except that Daisy is just the person to help them out with some good vibrations. They rig a probe to send through the portal on a hard line to search for Simmons for as long as Daisy can keep the stone liquefied. At the last moment, however, Fitz clips the line to his belt and jumps in, finding himself bathed in blue light calling out for Simmons. It all seems hopeless, as Simmons could be anywhere, but as Daisy’s strength starts to fade he hears a name call out “Fitz!” They reach for each other as the team back on Earth starts to pull Fitz back in, and they fumble to lock fingers before he’s pulled back home without Simmons. Daisy finally can’t take it anymore and in a last burst of power the monolith shatters to dust, filling the bottom of the hole with black, hopeless powder. They stare down in horror, thinking now Simmons and Fitz are lost for good, only for Fitz to emerge from the sand followed moments later by Simmons!
  • I never would have guessed we would see Simmons rescued so soon! I figured this would be an ongoing storyline for the first half of the season, with us getting glimpses of Simmons’ life on the alien world while the team searched for a way to bring her home. I had no doubt that they’d find a way, but I thought it’d be in the episode 8-13 range, never would I have guessed episode 2! And the sequence of her rescue was so suspenseful, leaving so many opportunities for things not to work out that I was completely shocked when everything succeeded! I first assumed that Fitz would return without Simmons, then as the monolith exploded I thought they were both trapped, then Fitz raised his head and I thought he’d been brought back alone but now with no portal, and when Simmons finally emerged my nerves could barely take it anymore.
  • I’ll return to FitzSimmons in a bit, but I want to get to the other major plotlines of the episode, which brought back some of our stars who were missing last week. I think it’s safe to say that Ward is now 100% a bad guy (not that there was any doubt after he tortured Bobbi and set up a trap to kill Hunter in front of her). Ward is now in full-on HYDRA head mode, trying to find loyal troops and gain power. We watch him terrorizing a HYDRA operative who’s gone soft, forcing him to hang onto the hood of his own sports car as they whip through columns in an empty building before slamming on the breaks and sending him to the ground. Ward is after someone specific, and he catches up with a young man hanging out on a luxury yacht surrounded by women and bodyguards. Ward has his henchman (Kebo) drop a bag of rats onto the ship, and in the chaos Ward takes out the bodyguards and makes his way to the young man seemingly in charge. Interestingly, Ward takes out the guards with only his fists until one final guard gets in a good punch to Ward’s face, at which he whips out a gun and kills the man dead.
  • Ward and Kebo take the kid back to their base, where Kebo is tasked with beating him until he gives them the passwords to his family’s bank accounts, presumably to help finance HYDRA’s operations. A while later, the kid all bruised and beaten, Kebo mocks him for his weakness until he fights back, stabbing Kebo in the leg and brutally beating him until Ward interrupts with tacos. It was all part of the plan to push the kid to fight back and live up to his father’s name. You see, the kid is Werner von Strucker, son of HYDRA head Baron von Strucker, who was killed by Ultron after helping to create the Maximoff twins. Ward tells Werner that he can relate to coming from a complicated family, and shares his plans to rebuild the world through force, making it stronger than before. Werner, never before allowed to see his father’s work, jumps at the opportunity.
  • Favorite Quote: Randolph: “To the plane!…. Am I allowed to say that?” Coulson: “Let’s all go to the plane, I guess…”
  • Ward wasn’t the only returning face, because Melinda f-ing May is back! And she’s playing golf! Ok, that was somewhat unexpected. It seems that May has been lying low hanging out with her father (veteran actor James Hong) in the retirement community of Sun City, AZ. Her father is recovering from a hip injury and she’s babysitting him, though he sees right through her quest to win “daughter of the year”. They reminisce about her love of ice skating when she was younger, but her father wants to know why she’s really hanging around. A possible answer comes when Hunter shows up at her door and gets a knife to the throat before she realizes who he is. He says there’s been all kinds of speculation about what she’s been up to, from a walkabout to a mid-life crisis (“an early mid-life crisis” he’s careful to add). He tells her he’s going after Ward and wants her to help him, and when she refuses in order to care for her father, who was the victim of a hit and run, Hunter lays out her fears for her. She fears that Ward targeted her father, and that the hit and run was no accident, and feels responsible for him. She turns Hunter down, saying she’s out of the game, but he tells her she’ll never be out so long as she’s looking over her shoulder. When Andrew calls her later to tell her the good news about Simmons’ return, we see her gathering guns with Hunter, clearly having changed her mind, and smiling despite herself at Hunter’s insistence that they celebrate the good news with beers.
  • The final plotline this week centered around Andrew’s analysis of Joey Gutierrez, and the situation with SHIELD in general. He tells Daisy just what she thought he would, that Joey’s unfit for action and needs more evaluation. She tells him how frustrated she is (“like punching a waterfall”) and he gives her a little bit of analysis as a bonus. He knows she wants to fight fire with fire, but the Inhumans have the potential to turn into monsters and desperation leads to mistakes. He says that Daisy is still changing, turning into a leader, and he wonders what she’ll make of this “Secret Warriors” project. He tells her that she could make SHIELD into a halfway house for Inhumans, but she rejects that because that’s what her mother did and look how it turned out. She wants a place for them to belong, where they can realize that “being different can mean making a difference.” Andrew returns to his teaching gig (probably a bit more boring than analyzing superheroes), and who should he run into but a new student, one Werner von Strucker, who is interested in psychology because of serious family issues.
  • Andrew’s appearance did lead to my favorite dialogue of the night, in which Daisy, Coulson, and Bobbi discussed the various conditions with which they’ve been diagnosed by Andrew. Coulson: “If we were realistic, we would never have gotten this far.” Daisy: “Well, Andrew Garner thinks I need to be more so. He recommended three months observation and counselling before reassessment for Joey. Says I’m reckless.” Coulson: “Don’t take it personally. He probably just meant…” Daisy: “He says you’re desperate.” Coulson: “What? He didn’t say that… Did he say that?” Bobbi: “Let me guess: I’m struggling to come to terms with physical limitations and losing my sense of self instead of redefining it.”Daisy: “No, he didn’t mention you.” Bobbi: (disappointed) “Oh.” Daisy: “Oh he did, that’s what he said.” Bobbi: “Oh good.”
  • And that brings us back to Simmons. We see her sleeping in the infirmary when a nightmare jerks her awake. She sits bolt upright in bed, stabbing the air with a makeshift knife before realizing it was just a dream. She looks to her right and sees Fitz asleep in a chair by her bedside. She climbs silently out of bed, sits on the floor next to his chair, and puts her head in his lap, closing her eyes. ::sobs:: We obviously have a million questions about what happened to Simmons, what she had to fight off on the alien planet, and what sort of effect this experience will have on her, but I’m absolutely thrilled that Simmons is back. They could have easily dragged her exile out for half a season, but the fact that they brought her back so soon means that they have plenty of other story ahead, which I can only guess at. I’m excited to see more character development for Simmons as we see how she’s been changed by her ordeal, as well as how her relationship with Fitz will evolve now that she’s back. But I’m glad she still can take comfort in his presence, and that they haven’t lost her connection.
  • One small line that might have larger consequences to the story was Randolph’s admission that he’s heard the name “Inhumans” before, though not for a long time. I’m curious to see if we’ll ever learn of his previous experiences or what he might have seen, but perhaps he’s visited Attilan at some point. What role have the Inhumans played in Asgardian history, and if Randolph heard of them a long time ago what were they up to back then? I’m sure we’ll learn more as the season goes on, perhaps tying things together with Lash’s story, but for now Randolph’s throwaway comment has piqued my interest.
  • I’m also very curious what Ward’s plans are for Andrew. Is he looking to get intel on SHIELD through him, specifically on the Inhumans/Secret Warriors, or does he have another use for the psychologist? I’m also curious to see how Ward will use Werner. At first I thought all he was interested in was Werner’s funds, but sending him on a mission makes him seem a little more important to Ward. (As a side note, if Werner looks familiar you might be recognizing him from a role in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, as Russell Crowe’s nephew in Gladiator, or Bruce Willis’ son in Unbreakable.)
  • Favorite Quote: Coulson: “That’s why I got rid of all the SHIELD logos on our vehicles. It’s like screaming for attention.”Bobbi: “There’s an enormous eagle symbol on our jet.” Coulson: “Sometimes I can’t help myself with the cool.”
  • I like the way that SHIELD is setting up some unconventional partnerships this season. I like the combination of Mack and Daisy, as his conservative approach is a nice offset for Daisy’s enthusiasm. But I’m really surprised how eager I am to see more of Hunter and May working together. The couldn’t be more opposite, with his talkative, easygoing personality and her (generally) stony silence. I bet Hunter can bring her out of her shell a bit, especially considering everything she went through last season with having to relive what happened in Bahrain. I feel like if anyone can bring her back into the SHIELD fold it’s Hunter, because he’ll constantly have her off-guard and unprepared for his different way of looking at things. I like the idea of Bobbi and Fitz working together in the lab, but now that Simmons is back I don’t know if we’ll get too much of that.
  • I can’t leave things without once again praising Iain de Caestecker. He’s really been the breakout performer on SHIELD, going from comic nerd to the character who can most be relied upon to bring tears to our eyes. But the writing can’t be ignored either. It was a stroke of brilliance to have Fitz jump into the portal in a way that so easily paralleled the way Ward jumped after Simmons to rescue her in “FZZT” back in season one. That time Fitz hesitated and Ward was there to save the day, but this time Fitz didn’t hesitate a second, taking the first opportunity to go after Simmons no matter the cost. Fitz has really become a hero, and the days of the quiet nerd who doesn’t do field work are officially over. But the moment that got to me the most was the look on Fitz’s face when Simmons emerged from the debris of the monolith. It was heroic, sure, but it was so clearly overwhelmed by having Simmons back that it broke me. The shock of the scene gave way to the emotion of the reunion, and of FitzSimmons being made whole once again. Without her he was a wreck, but he can be complete again with her home, no matter what she’s been through. A+ for everyone involved in tonight’sepisode!

What do you think? Did you enjoy “Purpose in the Machine”? Did you think they’d rescue Simmons so quickly? Were you on the edge of your seat? Are you glad May’s back? What do you think of the teamup with Hunter? What is Ward up to with Andrew and Werner? Will Coulson ever stop calling Daisy Skye? Will you? Are you glad the monolith storyline is (somewhat) finished and the show can move on to other stories? Were you glad to see Peter MacNicol again? What do you think Randolph knows about the Inhumans? Will Daisy ever get the Secret Warriors off the ground? And what exactly happened to Simmons on that alien world? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Recap: Agents of SHIELD – “Purpose in the Machine”

  1. I was also surprised that Simmons was saved now since I thought it would take at least two or three more weeks. On the one hand, she probably has some major issues of PTSD to work through, but on the other, I think that Fitz and Simmons may have a chance to stay together for this season. This situation could be an interesting parallel of Fitz’s growth in season 2 as both learn to handle a new normal after a traumatic event. She will probably need Fitz in a more dependent way that could turn poignant as she tries to handle things on her own, but I don’t think we’ll have to see them separated again for a while.

    Randolph’s last line on the Inhumans was a interesting one, especially since they didn’t elaborate on it. Some people, including me, thinks this implies that he knew of the Royal Family including Black Bolt and Medusa, which is what the future Inhumans movie will be about. While someone like Randolph probably knew of the regular Inhumans in the last thousand years, I wouldn’t be surprised if this group was a part of that. It would certainly be something to be concerned over.

    I hate to say it, but I was also tense in that rescue scene. I should have known that they would probably rescue Simmons, but the emotion and setup was just too intense to think logically. I was actually a fan of how they incorporated Daisy into it. It perfectly compliments her earlier line about how she wants people who are different to make a difference. They never would have gotten Simmons out if she wasn’t Inhuman, and she’s come to terms with that this season. Plus, it looks like the show will push forth her image as not only an agent but a superhero as she was willing to push her stamina to the limits when trying to save her friends, even if it hurt herself in the process.

    Granted most of the characters turn to become heroes in their own right. Fitz has raised the bar in going above and beyond in being a hero. All the agents prove their loyalty and sacrifice for the greater good. I hate to bring that up considering we still have a good 20 episodes left in the season, so there are plenty of other moments to come in the future with whatever Ward and Hydra have planned, the ACTU and Lash situation, and not to mention whenever the Secret Warriors are going to happen. Mentioning them by name is a good step, but I can’t wait to see this in action. Judging by these episodes, they’re clearly into a lot of action.

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  2. Pingback: Recap: Agents of SHIELD – “A Wanted (Inhu)man” | The Love Pirate

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