Last week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we had our first return to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in months. Coulson and crew were out trying to grab up Inhumans and bring them in before someone else did likewise. A rival, Rosalind Price, was out to do the same thing, albeit in the name of the government. A wild card Inhuman with crazy dreadlocks and energy powers was hunting Inhumans too, though his intention was to murder them. Daisy and Mack were trying to build their new Inhuman team. And Fitz was desperately trying to discover where Simmons was and how to get her back home again. The latest episode, ‘Purpose in the Machine’ answers the Simmons riddle while bringing Ward and May back into the mix. And all-in-all, it was a pretty damned good outing.
We begin with a flashback into the 1800s and a secret society in England. They have control of the obelisk and, in their attempts to study it, decide that they need to send their members through it. Unfortunately for them, none of their pals ever make it back home again.
Back in the present, S.H.I.E.L.D. is busy doing S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff. Daisy and Mack are exploring the best way to go about building a super team. They bring in Doctor Garner to evaluate the new guy, Joey, but he’s just a bit too messed up in the head to drop into combat just yet. Hunter is sent out on a quest to hunt down Ward and stop HYDRA from rebuilding. But the real focus of the story is Fitz.
When the alarms start blaring, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is forced to rush in and grab Fitz before the obelisk goes nuts again and swallows him up. They’re none-too-happy with their resident science guy, but his foolishness brings with it a clue – sand. Said sand is more than 3 billion years old and comes from the obelisk, meaning that it’s a portal of some sort and that Simmons is likely trapped far away on an alien planet.
So the team rallies to the cause. They want to mount a rescue, but don’t quite know how to go about it. Coulson decides to pay a visit to Professor Randolph, that Asgardian the team ran in to before. He’s been around for centuries, after all, and likely has a bit of knowledge to spare. He figures out that the obelisk is a portal and offers to help the team get Simmons back as long as they promise to destroy the portal when they’re done.
The only clue they have is the parchment that Fitz picked up during episode 1 and the Professor has seen the word on the parchment before – in an old English castle. A short flight later, the team is across the pond and digging deep into secret passages, eventually stumbling upon a room that looks as if it was specifically designed to house the obelisk. Not only that, but they have some crazy steampunk technology there that actually opens and closes the portal at will.
Attempt #1 – Fitz manages to shoot a flare into the open portal. While it’s open, Daisy is bombarded with some sort of vibrational waves. Then the machine breaks down and they’re forced to close it. But they do discover that Daisy has the power to replicate the vibrations and open the portal a second time.
Attempt #2 – Daisy opens the portal so that they can send a probe through. Fitz goes nuts and dives right into it. But things work out for the better when he finds Simmons and, just in the nick of time, pulls her back to our world. But Simmons’ time on the alien planet has taken its toll. She comes back with some sort of PTSD, likely something that will be explored in detail as the season progresses.
In the meanwhile, we get to see what’s going on with May and Ward. May is busy spending time with her father, trying to move away from her life in S.H.I.E.L.D.. When Hunter shows up to say hello and recruit her in his hunt for Ward, she says no. Eventually, however, a nice chat with her dad convinces her that giving up isn’t the best solution. She’ll help Hunter infiltrate HYDRA and take down Ward.
So what’s going on with Ward? He’s taken well to HYDRA leadership, cleaning house and getting rid of the crap agents who sit around doing nothing all day. His first plan consists of a little kidnapping. He wants money and influence, but his real motivation revolves around the kidnapped kid’s identity. He’s a real life son of Baron Von Strucker. With a little nudge from Ward, the kid decides that he too wants to be a HYDRA agent. Next we see him, he’s on a college campus and signing up for classes with none-other-than Doctor Garner.
Once again, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is proving that the crew in charge has their pacing down. The episode was over before I knew it – a very good sign that the dull and useless moments have been mostly trimmed down. They’ve attained that delicate balance between character development, the deepening of mysteries, action and confrontation, and setting up new arcs while progressing existing ones. Let’s hope this level of mastery remains throughout the entire season.
The other great thing about this episode was the presence of a new, purely evil Ward. We’ve seen him grow and develop throughout the last two seasons and so we finally have a bad guy who is not only worthy of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attention, but worthy of the audience’s attention. He’s a total bad-ass with a bone to pick and I’m guessing that S.H.I.E.L.D. will have their hands full trying to deal with Ward version 3.0.
The only thing that threw me off about ‘Purpose in the Machine’ was all that was left unsaid with Simmons. No doubt we’ll find out more as the season progresses, but how did she survive for so long on the alien world? And how did she see S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flare through the haze of a massive dust storm? Why was she so close to the exit when last we saw her she was running for her life? The writers had better have some good answers to these questions or it’s going to feel like they either retconned the alien world story arc in order to rein in the show or that they just didn’t give enough thought to all the complications involved in what happened. I’ll reserve my final judgment on this one until I see more.
So, another successful episode. That makes two in a row! Next week, ‘A Wanted (Inhu)man’ brings Rosalind Price back into the mix. The heat steps up on the Inhumans as Daisy still desperately tries to help Joey. Will it comes to blows? Check out the trailer for that one below.