Tuesday, October 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' - Fitz and the Team Struggle to Rescue Simmons in 'Purpose in the Machine'

ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Episode 3.02 "Purpose in the Machine"

Fitz and the team enlist the aid of an Asgardian to unlock the secrets of the ancient monolith that swallowed Simmons. Agent May is at a crossroads in her personal and professional life.

Last week's Season 3 premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. focused on many of the different aspects of story that will be on display this season. New threats emerged in Rosalind Price and the Advanced Threat Containment Unit (ATCU) as well as the mysterious creature hunting the Inhumans. Daisy is doing her best to get the Secret Warriors program up and running. New assets are emerging throughout the world but she doesn't know how best to handle their transitions from human to Inhuman. On top of that, Fitz was following leads on what may have happened to Simmons when the monolith consumed her. It was a busy episode - and it didn't even deal with what Ward and May are up to. "Purpose in the Machine" does simplify things a bit by shifting the majority of the focus on the search for Simmons. Ward and May do make their first appearances of the season but the majority of the action centers around Fitz and a re-inspired team doing their best to bring Simmons home.

The end of the premiere teased that Fitz was right with his theory that the monolith served as a black hole that carried Simmons to a different planet. She had survived the journey and the six months in isolation. But the harsh terrain has changed her as well. She is not the same person as before. The true effects this experience had on her won't be made clear until the next episode. This one is primarily focused on the team researching into where this portal takes its victims. Everyone is worried about Fitz's sanity in the wake of his latest lead coming up empty. His furious banging on the monolith begging for it to take him didn't go unnoticed by the rest of the team. And yet, that was the precise thing that gave all of them proof that Simmons may still be alive.

The search for Simmons had new energy again. This time Coulson actually did something smart in reaching out to the former Asgardian warrior they've encountered on Earth. Sure, it's hard to remember the specifics of what happened the last time Peter MacNicol was on the show back in Season 1. But that's not relevant. He is able to direct the team to the place where they are best able to understand what exactly the monolith is doing. It is largely a device that has added urgency and unpredictability to the narrative this season. It's threat has been vaguely known but it wasn't until Simmons went missing that the team decided to investigate into what it is actually is.

It is really satisfying that the show not only gives answers and allows its team to becoming fully engaged with this search, but it is also safely brings Simmons back to this world. It's surprising that she is already back on Earth. The tease at the end of the premiere hinted at a long and arduous journey for her on that other planet. And yet, the urgency felt by so many of the characters made this episode really exciting and entertaining. Sure, as Andrew pointed out, several of them were acting recklessly. Coulson supported Fitz on this endeavor to rescue one agent from a very unknown and perhaps deadly world. To top that, Fitz actually traveled through the portal to get Simmons back. That proves just how desperate and motivated he is to rescuing her. This has been a really fantastic season for Iain De Caestrecker so far. He's doing whatever it takes to rescue the love of his life. That is very powerful. That sequence where he's reaching out to her is very exhilarating. Is he going to grab her before the portal shuts? Is Daisy going to push through the pain for as long as possible? Are Coulson and Mack going to reel him in before he has Simmons? It is a very well executed action sequence.

It's an exciting prospect to have Simmons back already. The team is changing as it gears up to face these new threats. Inhumans are emerging but Andrew isn't willing to psychologically clear any of them for the team yet. Coulson and Bobbi are still healing. Hunter is determined to kill Ward for what he did to Bobbi. He is able to recruit May to his cause after she realizes she can never have a normal life. Ward is also making sure that the remaining factions of Hydra are determined to do whatever it takes to maintain the evil organization. He has a plan that is much more focused than any of the organization's leaders in the recent past. The future looks incredibly tense for the team. And yet, they get to celebrate for a moment because they've found Simmons. They brought her back from the dead. It's a miracle. They probably won't get much rest before the battle. But this was a major victory nevertheless. It should be celebrated. Hunter has the right idea with cheering in joy and wanting a celebratory beer.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Purpose in the Machine" was written by DJ Doyle and directed by Kevin Tancharoen.
  • So what's to happen to Peter MacNicol's Asgardian now? Is he just going back to prison? Or is he free to roam the world again? That was unclear. The deal he made with Coulson only specified destroying the monolith in the end - which was accomplished. So will Coulson be able to find him if necessary in the future? Or will he just be laying low and experiencing the world?
  • May's father is played by Ming-Na Wen's Mulan co-star James Hong. He was great in what's probably just a one-off role. Unless the show is going to be serious about putting her family in harm's way later this season - which it realistically could.
  • Ward is largely just figuring out which Hydra assets are still valuable to him. However, he has put a plan into motion that includes the son of a famed Hydra leader enrolling in the class that Andrew teaches. That means Ward is targeting the team - especially May.
  • It's hilarious as everyone on the team notes how Andrew would talk about them and their various psychological problems. They are all aware of the problems they have. But that doesn't make them able to actually handle them anytime soon.
  • So Hunter's plan is to infiltrate Hydra from the ground up? That can only go wrong, right?