“Purpose in the Machine” is another terrific episode title for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., since it perfectly captures the headspace of our heroes at the beginning of their third season. With each of them trying to give their life meaning, be it through duty, love, or even revenge.
Picking up where last week’s opener left off, Daisy (does anyone other than Coulson have trouble not calling her Skye?) is eager to recruit metal-melter Joey to be the first in an Inhuman task force she wants to build, a team of “secret warriors” if you will. To that end, she gets Andrew Garner to evaluate him. Garner refuses to clear Joey for duty, but in the process of his evaluation we learn that things didn’t work out so well for May and her ex when they went off to Hawaii together at the end of last season. The Cavalry has been laying low in Arizona (contributing to the state’s “three-percent Asian” population, according to Hunter). It seems her father (played by Big Trouble in Little China‘s James Huong) was recently struck and injured by a car, and May fears it could be Ward out to torture his old teammates. It’s also a fear that Hunter handily exploits when he asks her to join him in killing the turncoat for what he did to Bobbi last season. It turns out that Ward is actually seeking to build a newer, stronger Hydra to replace the old one; in order to do so, he seeks out the son of Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. Turns out the kid didn’t just inherit his father’s wealth, but a fair amount of his anger and spitefulness to boot.
But the literal meaning of this episode’s title is directly connected to Fitz, the S.H.I.E.L.D. member with the greatest sense of purpose, since he’ll go to any lengths to save his beloved Simmons from the Monolith that swallowed her up in the season 2 finale. All signs indicate the young agent’s crusade is a futile one until, after the Monolith reforms, he finds residual grains of “impossible sand” on his face, a sign that Simmons was taken to another world. (Hey, the science works out.) With the support of his teammates, and the Asgardian Professor Elliot Randolph (Peter MacNicol), an expert in time-space portals, he discovers “the world’s largest subwoofer” in the basement of an ages-old castle in Gloucestershire where the Monolith once resided, which reduces the rock to its liquid/portal state. This allows Fitz to jump through it to reach the alien planet on which Simmons has been lost, and, to our relief, rescue her just before the Monolith solidifies. Go on, admit you choked up.
Alas, methinks the two soulmate scientists have a lot more heartache ahead of them. (This is, after all, a Mutant Enemy show, in which no true love can ever last.) Simmons is already showing signs of what looks like PTSD, but I’m willing to bet it’s more than that. Randolph, who I hope will stay on for a little while (since he operates on an oddball frequency that differs from anyone else’s on the show), admits to a long familiarity with the Inhumans; and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the strange blue world of the Kree on which Simmons was hunted. By what, we still don’t know.
Kevin Tancharoen, brother to executive producer Maurissa Tancharoen, yet again proves he’s one of the show’s strongest directors. His S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes are remarkable not only for how well they move, but also for the clarity of their storytelling. With the aid of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s greater-than-ever emotional resonance, he imbues the biggest machine of all, the show itself, with near limitless purpose.
- We learn a lot more about May’s backstory in this episode, but my favorite piece of intel is that her dad calls her “Millie.”
- “Hunter, make sure he dies.” Randolph is right, Coulson. You have changed.
- “To the plane! Am I allowed to say that?”
- I love that the show finally addresses Coulson’s reason for slapping the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on the team’s vehicles, and that it’s totally in keeping with his character: “Sometimes I can’t help myself with the cool.”
- As sweet as Fitz and Simmons’ reunion is here, I found the lengths to which Mack and Bobbi go to help the two find each other again even sweeter. You can feel the pain Mack endures as his arms are almost ripped from his sockets while he tries to keep that damn portal open.
- “You remember the pain when you hit the ice. But I always remember how quickly you got up.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).