Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 2, "Purpose in the Machine" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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“Purpose in the Machine” definitely continues the trend from the season premiere of including multiple plots and subplots, but for some reason it does not feel too crowded.  Each subplot only gets a little time, but they make the most of their time.  We get some good character development from a few of the characters, as well as a lot of background on May and what she’s been doing since the season finale.  Also, the Monolith question gets solved quite definitively, and it’s really cool.

This time around, the main plot of the episode is essentially a continuation of Fitz’ nervous breakdown at the end of the season premiere, “Laws of Nature.”  The episode begins with a flashback to a fancy dinner in Gloucester, England, in 1839.  Everyone present draws a stone from a bag, and the man who draws the white stone is given gifts before entering a room with the Monolith.  The Monolith liquefies and the man is drawn through.  According to the seeming-leader, they have been trying to figure out what it is with no success.  However, there is little chance of the man returning because “As far as we know, in all of history, no one has ever returned.”  There really isn’t that much explained about the flashback, but who the men are isn’t quite as important as the fact that they knew that it was some sort of portal and were sending people through it.  Why they would do it is beyond me, though.  Professor Randolph seemed to suggest that the “ritualistic killings” and “half-baked Satanism” were part of the attraction for that group.  Regardless, it was interesting to see how the Monolith was used in history, especially as the location connected to the rest of the episode.

In present day, the rest of the team rushes in to get Fitz out of the Monolith containment box, which they succeed in doing shortly before it liquefies.  Note that yet again it goes liquid when an Inhuman is present (Daisy).  It’s impressive how Fitz’ nervous breakdown from the previous episode is actually what drives this plot forward—and more than just his dedication and refusal to give up.  Fitz discovers sand on his fingertips which he picked up from the Monolith, and he analyzes it to discover that it is from a planet far older than the Earth—it really is a portal.  At this Coulson decides to let Fitz run with the Monolith portal theory a little more (It was their first—and as far as we know only—breakthrough).  This immediately leads Coulson to their resident Asgardian, Professor Randolph, who’s been spending his days in a Norwegian prison after getting a little drunk and violent (because where else would you find an Asgardian who’s hiding on Earth?).  Can I just say that I find Randolph to be hilarious?  He doesn’t exactly make jokes, but he and Coulson have a witty banter going in this episode that I really enjoyed (“drunken stumble through history,” anyone?).  And of course it doesn’t hurt that when he decides to leave with S.H.I.E.L.D. he just picks the cell door up off its hinges and walks out.

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While observing the Monolith, Randolph is rather unimpressed at first, though when it goes liquid with him standing next to it, he changes his tune rather quickly.  I don’t find it at all surprising that he would have investigated every rumor of portal generation through the centuries; he seems to like it on Earth, and portals could mean Asgardians dragging him home to his rocks.  As such, his goal in joining them is to eventually destroy the Monolith and destroy the portal.  Because he’s investigated all these stories, he knows about that group in Gloucester from the beginning of the episode, and he, Coulson, Fitz, and Bobbi all go to Gloucester to check it out.  At the castle, he shows them מות carved into one of the stones and suggests a connection between it and the Monolith.  They go deeper into the castle and discover a room filled with late-1800s-era machinery which Fitz believes to have been designed to control the Monolith.  Mack and Daisy bring the Monolith to England, where they set up the machine and start it up.  However, Daisy quickly gets a headache, hears a humming, and collapses as the machine starts to fall apart at the seams.  At that point Fitz and Daisy realize that the machine causes the room to vibrate at a specific resonant frequency which opens the portal.  And even though the machine is damaged beyond easy repair, they don’t need the machine to vibrate the Monolith; they’ve got an Inhuman subwoofer to do it.

The scene with Daisy attempting to keep the portal open while Fitz jumps through and Mack and Bobbi hold the winch scaffolding was insanely intense and easily the biggest “action” scene of the episode.  What I found so fascinating about it was the level of suspense they keep us in throughout.  Fitz jumping through was completely unexpected (though it really shouldn’t have been; the dude’s been going nuts), and there was always the possibility that he would get left on the other side with Simmons and that the remainder of the season would be their attempts to return.  Meanwhile the struggle Daisy is undergoing to keep from collapsing and closing the portal was mirrored in intensity (and visualized) by Mack and Bobbi struggling to secure the scaffolding.  Hearing and then seeing Simmons through the dust storm was incredible as we had no idea what was really going on.  And then when Coulson started retracting the winch before Fitz and Simmons could touch, there was even more suspense:  would Fitz manage to bring her back?  That final moment when the portal closed with the Monolith exploding was incredible as we really didn’t know if Fitz and Simmons had come back through it or not.  And even when we saw Fitz in the rubble that still didn’t mean Simmons had made it through also.  Overall, I really enjoyed this main plot and how well that final scene was set up visually.

The rest of the subplots for the episode were relatively minor.  Andrew stops by S.H.I.E.L.D. to evaluate Joey (which happens off-screen) and give his recommendation to Daisy.  This gives us a chance to learn more about the Secret Warriors recruitment—it’s not been going well.  Evidently Daisy has brought in multiple possible recruits and Andrew has rejected every single one with a “check back later.”  Granted, Joey really doesn’t seem ready to leave his box, let alone suit up.  The more important part of this scene is the insight we get into Daisy.  Andrew sees her becoming a leader, and he is concerned for both her and Coulson.  She explains that she sees the Secret Warriors as a way to show Inhumans that they have a place to belong.   I really appreciated this scene for how well it fleshed out Daisy’s character and what she’s been doing between seasons.  I think that going forward we will see Andrew come in like this to help flesh a character out quite a bit, and it makes sense for him to be the one to do it.

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Ward for his part is busy recruiting new agents for Hydra, something which he has apparently been busy doing for quite some time.  Specifically, Ward is recruiting Werner von Strucker, son of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, to the cause—incidentally, Werner von Strucker is a character from the comics who takes over Hydra during one of his father’s apparent deaths.  Is it weird that I found Ward’s plan to kidnap the kid to be rather comical?  I mean, loosing rats and then calling yourself an “exterminator” takes some guts!  And then he drops the kid in a room with his “muscle,” Kebo, and lets Kebo beat on him for a while—just long enough for the kid to decide he’s had enough and fight back against Kebo (did he kill him?  It’s not entirely clear…).  I love how Ward is pretty much channeling Garrett here while “turning” Werner:  he’s equal-parts evil jerk and father-figure, and it works on the kid.  And then at the end of the episode Werner is signing up for Andrew’s psychology class… and it can’t be a coincidence.  I’m going to call it right now that by the end of the season Baron Werner von Strucker will be one of the new Heads of Hydra alongside Baron Zemo (and possibly Ward, assuming he survives the season).

Speaking of Ward’s chances of surviving the season, I kinda think they went down in this episode.  Now that Coulson has given Hunter carte blanche to eliminate Ward and Hunter’s teamed up with May, I don’t see them not getting close enough to at least do some damage to Hydra.  It was really fun getting to see May’s father, played by James Hong.  For as funny as his character is (albeit more so by association with everything else he’s done), he brought a lot of humanity to May, even more than meeting her mother in season 1.  Simply put, here is proof of May’s humanity:  she cares for her father, so much so that she will put everything else on hold when he might be in danger.  That was a really well-done bit of character development.  May’s decision to leave with Hunter felt a bit surprising, but considering that her father essentially gave her permission, it made sense.  I am very curious to see how the May/Hunter buddy-cop thing is going to go.

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I think the most purely-sweet moment of the episode comes near the end when Simmons wakes up in a panic of night terrors and we see that she is sleeping in one of the adaptive pods.  She looks around in confusion and sees Fitz asleep sitting up against the wall next to her bed.  And then she gets out of bed and lies down on the floor to sleep with her head in Fitz’ lap.  Let the Fitz-Simmons shipping recommence!  I expect that over the next few episodes we will learn a lot more about what happened to Simmons on that planet, and I am very curious to find out.

This episode had a lot going on in it, with one major plot and 3 varyingly-minor plots on the side.  However, for some reason the subplots felt natural:  sufficiently developed and connected to be necessary, but sufficiently minor to avoid taking away from the main plot (though I wouldn’t have minded more time spent with the alien planet).  I like how the minor plots focus more on character development while the main plot bears the brunt of moving the story forward.  I also appreciate how a few characters have been left out of each episode or had greatly-diminished roles; that definitely helps keep the episode from becoming too complex and over-full.  I do think that at some point they will need to reduce the number of characters and plots for the series, but I don’t think they can really do it before season 4, when the spinoff Marvel’s Most Wanted begins (taking at least 2 characters and 1 plot away from the main series).  Of course, I was saying the same thing last season and look where we are, so…  I think the ideal would be another spinoff focused on Marvel’s Inhumans.

Long story short, this was an awesome episode with a lot of excitement to it.  I love the characters, I’m glad that they brought Simmons back (though it would have been cool to leave her and Fitz on that planet for another episode together), and I’m excited to see where the Hunter-vs.-Ward plot is going.  I can’t wait to see the Inhumans plot return next week!

What did you think of this episode?  What is your theory for where Simmons was?  Let me know in the comments! 

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