[TV Review] ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Episode 3.02 – “Purpose in the Machine”

As we return this week, the focus is placed on discovering the secrets of the Kree monolith and finding a way to retrieve Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) from wherever it has sent her.  We are also finally given some insight into the whereabouts and movements of both Melinda May (Ming Na-Wen) and the sinister Grant Ward (Brett Dalton).  On top of it all, we get two fun guest appearances in the form of a returning Peter MacNicol and the always-welcome James Hong.

On the subplot end of things, the premiere skipped what was going on with May and Ward.  What has May been up to?  Mostly just laying low with her father (James Hong) and attempting to live a normal life for at least awhile.  It seems daddy met with a mysterious hit and run accident, busting up his hip, and May has been keeping an eye on him since.  Now that he has recovered, it is becoming clear that she needs to be with him more than he needed her.  Due to the arrival of Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) at their door, it is also hinted at that Ward might be behind the vehicular assault.  Or at least Hunter wants her to think that, since he has been tasked with tracking down Ward and taking him out, a mission that he would like May to join him on.  In the end, after the urging of Hunter and her father to return to the life she is best at, she does just that.

This turn of events, the classic refusal to the call, is cliched as hell, but the actors help sell it regardless.  I’m also glad that it wasn’t something strung out across multiple episodes.  The past two seasons, particularly the first, had a penchant for wheel-spinning subplots and character arcs across a ridiculous amount of episodes, so the fact that this one has already been resolved is a massive plus.  It pleases me twice as much that another subplot was also wrapped up quickly this week, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Moving on to the aforementioned Grant Ward, he continues to personal crusade to rebuild Hydra after his beloved nefarious organization was smashed to bits by the Avengers earlier this year.  Going beyond simple recruiting, which has clearly been going well judging from the amount of staff rolling about his hidden lair, Ward targets a rich playboy to join his ranks.  Why?  Because he is the youngest child of the now-deceased Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Hydra’s most recent leader.  In addition to requiring the vast funds at young Werner’s disposal, the final moment of the episode reveal that Werner has been sent to spy on SHIELD consultant Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood) as a student in Garner’s college courses.  Cue ominous music (I say that lovingly).

Speaking of Ward’s tactics, I love the sheer camp nature of them.  Tossing rats onto a yacht to clear it of people?  That’s pretty much a Looney Tunes prank.  Playing chicken with his foot soldier recruits while driving a suped-up Ferrari, dodging in and out of pillars that they are standing beside?  Could their be a more bro-douche way of testing someone’s loyalty?  Perhaps, but one isn’t coming to mind.  There’s nothing better than a crazy villain with ridiculous notions of how the world should work, so I hope they keep this particular train a-rolling.

Back to Garner, May’s ex-husband has been doing psychological assessments on Daisy “Quake” Johnson’s (Chloe Bennet) potential recruits for her Inhumans-filled SHIELD task force, the Secret Warriors.  Daisy is a bit irritated with Garner, since to date he hasn’t cleared a single recruit for active field duty.  This is only briefly touched on, but appears to be a major development going forward, especially since the episode preview for next week centers on another attempt to bring Lincoln “Sparkplug” Campbell into the fold.

Moving on to the core narrative, we surprisingly have come to the conclusion of Jemma’s disappearance.  Don’t worry, she’s now safe and sound back with her friends and co-workers.  Retrieving her from wherever the monolith sent her (we still don’t know) was no easy task and it required the help of an old Season One acquaintance, Dr. Elliot Randolph (Peter MacNicol).  If you recall, Dr. Randolph is actually an Asgardian living in self-exile on our world and has been walking around planet Earth (or Midgard, if you will) for a very, very long time.  While MacNicol was good in his first appearance, he also happened to arrive in what is still one of the worst episodes of the series, so it’s nice to see him showcased in a far better one this year.  Given his knowledge of portals and otherworldly things, Randolph’s assistance was very much required and was attained after some not-so-nice coaxing from Coulson (Clark Gregg).  Their clue-finding journey ultimately lead the rest of the team to a remote castle, where a secret chamber that previously housed the monolith was discovered.

After some deducing of the properties of both the chamber and the monolith, it was decided that Daisy would use her powers to vibrate the monolith at a certain pitch to re-open the portal within it.  The team intended to send a probe through the open doorway to gain greater knowledge of what was on the other side.  To be honest, I was a bit worried that I was looking down the barrel of week after week of tests before Jemma was rescued.  I’m happy to say that I was wrong!  Instead of tossing the probe in once the doorway was opened, that rascal Fitz leaped into it himself and managed to pull Jemma back into our world before Daisy’s vibrations utterly destroyed the monolith.

While I’m sure the coming weeks will hold a greater glimpse into the world Jemma was tossed into and whatever traumas she faced there, it’s nice to have this particular phase of her journey already ticked off the list.  A show with this concept and a full 22 episode order already faces an uphill battle with keeping its narrative, subplots, and characters fresh each year.  There’s usually a strong desire to stretch storylines and arcs out for half (or most) of a season and often that is the worst course of action.  Keeping things fast-paced and more serialized, while also propelling the narrative forward, tends to work best with a show of this type and I’m glad that the showrunners have finally learned that lesson over the past two season.  So far, things are going quite well with this season and I hope that continues for the remaining 20 episodes.  Catch you next week, where we will see the return of Lincoln and the still-mysterious threat of the ATCU.