Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Purpose in the Machine Review
I was actually a little wary going into Purpose in the Machine. When looking back at Season 2’s sophomore effort, Heavy is the Head, it had the unenviable task of slowing down the plot in order to ensure that the show didn’t rush too quickly into the events surrounding the mid-season finale. As a result, I was slightly concerned that Purpose in the Machine might potentially share those problems. It didn’t help that the episode featured the return of one Elliot Randolph, a former Asgardian warrior introduced back in Season 1 who had been living on Earth as a professor of Norse mythology. Strictly speaking, I don’t have anything against the character, but he had the misfortune of being introduced in The Well, which might be my least favorite episode of the series to date. It was intended as a tie-in to Thor: The Dark World, but in my opinion, it served as a monument to how the show was squandering its potential. Fortunately, Agents has since discovered how to properly make use of said potential, and, despite some rather silly moments, Purpose in the Machine proves to be an altogether great episode.
The episode starts up with Daisy and Mack sitting around waiting for Andrew Garner to arrive for his evaluation of Guiterrez, the new Inhuman from Laws of Nature. Daisy is feeling frustrated due to Garner’s failure to approve of any candidates for her team. However, they’re interrupted when Bobbi rushes in and informs them that Fitz had broken the quarantine on the Monolith. They’re able to get him out of the containment box before the stone liquidates, but Fitz tells them that he can’t move on. His hysterics come to an abrupt end when he realizes that he has sand on his hands. He reasons that he didn’t bring the sand into the chamber, and that the chamber should be clean, so the sand must have come from the Monolith itself. Through testing he is able to determine that the sand is not terrestrial, and from that they conclude that the Monolith is a portal.
In order to try and understand how the portal might operate, Coulson decides to reach out to Professor Randolph. It’s been awhile since I watched The Well, so my memory may be failing me but I don’t recall the Professor being nearly this amusing last time we saw him. Over the course of this episode he went from being a character who I had dreaded seeing again to one whom I wouldn’t mind being a regular returning character. He’s been attempting to lay low due to the increased concern regarding aliens, and, as a result, he is less than keen to provide aid. Coulson ends up having to coerce him through a combination of threats and by pointing out that it is in Randolph’s own best interest to familiarize himself with any alien portals that may be active. Randolph agrees to help with the added condition that, once they are done investigating the portal, Coulson will destroy it.
When looking over Fitz’s findings, Randolph recognizes the Hebrew text as he had seen it carved in the wall of an English castle. He points out that the time period in which he had seen the carving matched up with a period in history where Fitz had lost track of the Monolith’s location somewhere in Great Britain. They travel to the castle where they discover a hidden chamber, seemingly designed to house the Monolith. They succeed in getting the chamber operational, and with the stone pillar in place they are briefly able to form a stable portal. The pulses emitted by the equipment quickly incapacitate Daisy, and Fitz is barely able to fire a flare through the portal before the archaic equipment gives out.
As Fitz and Mack try to get the chamber operational again, Fitz realizes that it is designed to direct low level frequencies towards the Monolith. Daisy’s sensitivity to vibrations was what caused her to get knocked out, but it should be possible for her to replicate the frequency for at least a little while. She is able to set up another stable portal, with the plan being to send a probe through it to gather observational data. Fitz throws caution to the wind, however, and jumps into the portal himself. What follows is a scene that is almost so clichéd that it’s funny with Fitz and Simmons reaching out their hands to one another while dramatic music plays. Fortunately, the episode is able to pull it back at the end, and within seconds I went from rolling my eyes to being completely and totally invested. It had a really nice moment of redirection that had me completely and utterly tricked.
Ward and May get a bit of screentime in this episode, and after spending a season questioning what Agents was planning to do with Ward, I’m pleased to say that I’m really interested in what they’re doing with him. We get to see some of his efforts when it comes to rebuilding Hydra, and it’s honestly quite fascinating. He recruits Strucker’s son, whom he ends up placing undercover as one of Garner’s students. May, on the other hand, is hanging out with her father… It’s not as thrilling as it sounds.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- May’s father is played by James Hong who, oddly enough, appears to be wearing the same outfit he wore in R.I.P.D.
- Upon realizing what the chamber was designed to do, Randolph dubbed it “the world’s largest subwoofer.” Seriously, good writing can make all the difference with a character.
- I’m oddly uninterested in Hunter’s mission to kill Ward. My best guess is that this is because I’m far more interested in what Ward is up to, and don’t want to see him get interrupted with assassination attempts.
- Garner states that he is concerned about Coulson’s plans to kill Ward, and calls him desperate. I want to like Garner’s character, but his only real character trait is that he is constantly in a state of calmly concerned. He does have a mildly amusing moment where he calls Daisy’s still unformed team the Secret Warriors, though.
- Spencer Treat Clark plays Baron Strucker’s son, Werner. I spent most of his scenes wondering why he reminded me of Haley Joel Osment. It turns out I was thinking of the wrong M. Night. Shyamalan film. He played Bruce Willis’s son, Joseph, in Unbreakable. He also has appeared in Mad Men and Mystic River.
- Coulson continues to have problems adjusting to calling Daisy by her new name. It’s actually a kinda fun gag.
- I stumbled across a fan theory that suggested that Ward might become Taskmaster. I initially dismissed it, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes. Both have problems with their sense of identity, both are calculating, both tend to switch sides often, and that boat scene definitely gave me a bit of a Taskmaster vibe. Even if it doesn’t ultimately hold up, it’s a fun theory.
- It was pointed out to me that, with Spider-Man (and by extension Norman Osborn) being added to the MCU, it’s quite possible that the ATCU may actually be H.A.M.M.E.R.
Purpose in the Machine is a solid follow up to Laws of Nature. It provides more focus than its predecessor, and while the abruptness of the resolution of the missing Simmons storyline may be a bit off putting, it is effective in its presentation, and is certainly preferable to watching Agents waffle about for a half season while it occasionally passes out tidbits of information. All in all, Purpose in the Machine offers up some new intrigue, while continuing to be quite fun.
Despite an abrupt and, at one point, clichéd conclusion to Simmon's storyline, and May's less than captivating vacation, Purpose in the Machine offers a bit of a bit of a step up from the already good Laws of Nature.