Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S03E02 “Purpose In The Machine” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: E4, Sundays, 9pm
Writer: DJ Doyle
Director: Kevin Tancharoen
Essential Plot Points:
- Fitz works out that the monolith is a portal to somewhere alien. Simmons could be there… still alive.
- Coulson places SHIELD’s resourced behind rescuing her.
- They spring Asgardian Elliot Randolph (you may distantly recall him) from jail because he’s an expert in ancient portals.
- He leads them to a castle in England he once visited where there’s a dilapidated machine that was being used to force the portal to open.
- Coulson gets the monolith transported there as well and they use Daisy’s powers to get the machine working.
- Fitz leaps through the portal they open and rescues Simmons, bringing her home. She’s not saying much.
- May is living with her dad who’s recuperating from an accident. He knows she’s not really there for him though.
- Hunter turns up to enlist May’s help in his hunt for Ward. She’s reluctant at first but dad gives her the kick she needs.
- Ward is rebuilding Hydra. This includes signing up Baron Von Strucker’s son (and professional ’80s James Spader impersonator), Werner Von Strucker.
- Von Stucker Jr enrols on one of Andrew Garner’s courses.
Another solid but hardly blockbuster episode of Agents Of SHIELD making you wonder when this season is going to kick into gear properly. Oddly, having introduced the ATCU in the season premiere, the show ignores them for this follow-up episode while Daisy’s new Inhumans-collecting project is reduced to just one scene of exposition. In fact, Inhumans are barely mentioned which is odd when they’re clearly going to be one of the major elements of the season.
Instead, the main plot deals with the search for Simmons, which could have been good if it weren’t dealt with like a bit of annoying housekeeping that needed to be done. The route to the discovery of the machine (“I know a bloke who might know… oh good, he does!” is about as complex as things gets) is hardly going to cause a nail-biting epidemic, and Elliot Randolph – fine actor that Peter MacNicol is – surely couldn’t have been in anybody’s Top 10 Characters We’d Like To See Return lists?
Things could have been saved if the machine in the castle had a bit of a “wow” factor. There was an opportunity here to create a bonkers steampunk contraption or a symphony in gothic electronics à la Frankenstein. But nah. Just a room with some cogs and a hole. And predominantly brown. As always. Agents Of SHIELD is such a brown show.
Okay, so yeah Fitz throwing himself into the portal and rescuing Jemma is an uplifting character moment, and the scenes of her emerging from the dusty remnants of the shattered monolith and snuggling up to Fitz when she’s back home are lovely. But the actual rescue – all close-ups and blue filters – is visually drab.
May’s storyline – “Dad know best!” – is weirdly uninspiring too until Hunter shows up. His welcome from May at the front door, his cringe when he calls May middle-aged and his glee at hearing the news about Jemma are all fun moments. But May playing golf and reminiscing about ice-skating is hardly the most riveting character building TV’s ever witnessed.
Luckily we have the increasingly Bond villain-esque Ward to keep the episode entertaining. From his first appearance to last here, Brett Dalton is like a force of nature and having a whale of a time. The scene where he slaloms a car at breakneck speed around a warehouse of underlings under command not to flinch as he nearly knocks them down while an ex-Hydra agent clings to the bonnet is a absolute classic. What a bastard. But a hugely watchable bastard. Werner Von Strucker looks like a promising proto -psycho ally as well.
And though new Inhuman activity is thin on the ground, the conversation between Andrew and Daisy about her need to create the“secret warriors” is a welcome, well-judged scene. While Coulson and co might see the project as one of damage limitation (or prevention) Daisy desperately want the new Inhumans to have a purpose and meaning. Of course, their real purpose will be to give Agents Of SHIELD a small-screen superteam by the end of the season, but it’s nice to know Daisy is concerned about their hearts and minds as well as their powers and potential to kick ass.
That’s if Andrew ever gives any of them a positive psyche assessment. Does this guy have an agenda?
- Ward is magnificent throughout. His first scene – giving the guy from the Hydra old guard a joy ride on the bonnet of his own car – is all kinds of fun, but we also like the subtle touch later on when – during a fight – Ward is happy to dispatch guys with his fists until the moment when one of his opponents draws blood… then the gun comes out.
- It’s great to have Jemma back and even better that she’s not giving any secrets away yet about her alien adventures. She’s clearly traumatised.
- Plus, the moment when she snuggles up to Fitz is really sweet.
- The chat Andrew and Daisy have about why Daisy feels the need to create the Secret Warriors feels authentic.
- Although it was very silly, you have to love the way Mack says, “Yeeahhhh!” with as much bass as he can muster when Randolph points out there in the middle of the world’s biggest sub-woofer.
- Line of the episode: “Mid-life crisis… Early midlife crisis.”
- This exchange is good too: “This is why I got rid of all the SHIELD logos on our vehicles. It’s like screaming for attention.” “You know there’s a ginormous eagle symbol on top of our jet?” “Yeah, sometimes I can’t help myself with the cool.”
- The teaser – allegedly set in Gloucestershire, England, 1839 – is embarrassingly unconvincing and badly staged.
- Simmons’s rescue feels a little convenient, quick and easy.
- The sequence of Simmons actually being rescued is a mess.
- The design of the machine is disappointingly dull.
- May’s plot isn’t particularly interesting/revealing.
- Lack of “Wow!” moments.
- Not sure about new “revengey” Coulson – he doesn’t look like he’s out for blood so much as about to pen a strongly-worded letter to his local council.
And The Random:
- At one point Randolph refers to Bobbi as “Amazon Woman”. Adrianne Palicki, who plays Bobbi, was once as the most famous Amazon woman of all, Wonder Woman, in a failed US TV pilot in 2011.
- Werner Von Strucker is a character from the Marvel comics universe (though nowhere near as interesting as his brother Andreas Von Strucker, aka the Swardsman). He first appeared in Nick Fury, Agents of SHIELD #1 (1989) where, after the death of his dad, he tried to rebuild Hydra. But he was a bit crap and when his dad was resurrected he killed him off as a liability (in Daredevil #309, 1992). He has actually made a previous screen appearance in the David Hasselhoff-starring TV movie Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998) where he was played by Scott Heindl.
- May’s dad is played by James Hong who will forever be remembered as the artificial eye manufacturer Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner (1982). His suspiciously un-grey hair is very distracting…
Review by Dave Golder