[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week on the season 3 premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the series picked up a few months after the season 2 finale, with Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) leading a team and in charge of intake for newly transformed Inhumans. Meanwhile, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) faced off with Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer), the head of new government organization the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, or ATCU, who was also tracking down Inhumans. Elsewhere, Daisy, Mack (Henry Simmons) and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) met a new threat in the form of Lash (Matthew Willig), a powerful Inhuman.
The season premiere ended on Fitz's (Iain de Caestecker) search for Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), who disappeared into the Kree monolith in the season 2 finale; the final scene revealed that Simmons was alive and on a strange planet. This week's episode, 'Purpose in the Machine,' saw the team continue their search for Simmons and for answers about the monolith by enlisting the help of the Asgardian Elliot Randolph (Peter McNicol), who viewers may remember from the season 1 episode 'The Well.' Additionally, Hunter (Nick Blood) tracked down May (Ming-Na Wen) in effort to get her help in his mission to find and destroy Ward (Brett Dalton) and Hydra.
A Better, Badder Hydra
Since the season 3 premiere only picked up a handful of the story threads left off in the season 2 finale, 'Purpose in the Machine' brings Ward back to the forefront -- along with his new and improved Hydra that he has been building. It seems Ward is taking a page out of his mentor John Garrett's (Bill Paxton) book, making sure those under him are soldiers rather than politicians. The change in Ward's demeanor, as played expertly by Dalton, is a mix of the character's drive from season 1 and his villainy from season 2, which may provide an even more compelling character arc through season 3 -- it's certainly entertaining to watch, so far.
However, while Ward's Hydra could prove to be a formidable foe to Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D., so far it seems the main focus of the organization is its leader's vendetta against his old team. Viewers got a glimpse at one of Ward's plans for getting back at S.H.I.E.L.D. when he went after the son of a wealthy family and took out a boat full of security along the way. The son was revealed to be Werner von Strucker (Spencer Treat Clark), the son of former head of Hydra Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who was killed by Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. At the end of 'Purpose in the Machine,' Werner was shown asking to join Dr. Garner's (Blair Underwood) psych class, presumably as a way to get close to someone May cares about, but where this plan will lead remains to be seen.
The Cavalry Returns
Another S.H.I.E.L.D. agent absent from the season 3 premiere, 'Purpose in the Machine' caught up with May, a.k.a. The Cavalry, who took a vacation after the events of the last season's finale and never returned to S.H.I.E.L.D. Viewers found May in Sun City, Arizona, shooting golf balls with her father and reminiscing about her childhood hobby of ice skating. The metaphor of May's hobby as it related to her career -- her remembering how hard she fell while her father remembered her getting up after each fall -- was heavy-handed and a bit of clunky storytelling. Additionally, the episode's question of whether May will return to the field falls flat since there was never really any doubt May would return to the main group.
That being said, when Hunter arrives in Arizona to convince May to help him in his mission to seek revenge on Ward and Hydra, he manages to bring a more compelling character story. While May is still reeling from the (never mentioned) trauma of season 2, Hunter is very clearly looking to kill Ward as retribution for hurting him and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki). Still, he manages to enlist May's help with his plan to infiltrate Hydra as a way to get to Ward. How that will pan out remains unclear, but it will give viewers a chance to see how Hunter operates outside of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s direct supervision -- perhaps it may be an indication of what to expect from Marvel's Most Wanted.
Daisy's Secret Warriors
Although Joey (Juan Pablo Raba), the Inhuman taken in by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the season premiere, doesn't appear in 'Purpose in the Machine,' he is the topic of much discussion between Daisy and Mack. Coulson has placed the responsibility of building up the Secret Warriors team on Daisy, who is taking on a leadership role for the first time in the series, but she is meeting resistance from Mack and Dr. Garner. Specifically, they argue over how to build up the team: Daisy is in favor of enlisting anyone willing to join, while Mack takes the side of Dr. Garner, who orders three months of observation before Joey -- or any of the other Inhumans -- can even be considered to join.
It's clear that season 3 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to slowly build up the Secret Warriors while the writers explore how the team will fit into the established hierarchies of the organization. Additionally, the new Inhumans are an unpredictable factor, causing discord between team members and adding new dynamics to the series. The slow burn to a realized Secret Warriors will hopefully provide more of the character drama that viewers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have come to expect. So far, it has done just that.
Fitz Rescues Simmons
Following his breakdown in 'Laws of Nature,' Fitz makes a discovery that leads him to prove the monolith is a portal to another, very old world. To find more answers, Coulson enlists Elliot, who demands that S.H.I.E.L.D. destroy the monolith in exchange for his help. Elliot leads the team to a castle in England where a 19th-century group found a way to control the portal using a machine they built. When the machine fails, Daisy is forced to use her powers to keep the portal open while the team sends a probe. However, Fitz dives through the portal instead of sending the probe and he searches for Simmons, bringing her back just as Daisy loses control and destroys the monolith.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made quick work of rescuing Simmons, perhaps at the detriment of more compelling character moments. The strongest-acted moment of 'Laws of Nature' was Fitz's breakdown and his similarly desperate actions in 'Purpose in the Machine' have given both episodes a level of tension rarely achieved on this series. Of course, the rushed timeline certainly heightened the drama of Fitz's search for Simmons, echoing his desperation to save her as soon as possible from the unknown world. While there never seemed to be any doubt that May would return to S.H.I.E.L.D., there was plenty of doubt as to whether Fitz would be able to rescue Simmons
Of course, the monolith’s mystery and the effects of Simmons' time in the other world will be lingering, as evidenced at the end of 'Purpose in the Machine.' However, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. setting up so much else to explore in season 3, with the Secret Warriors, the Inhumans, and Ward's Hydra, it makes sense that the series wouldn't spend too much time on the monolith and quickly rescued Simmons.
A few other observations and notes:
- Mack calls Daisy "Tremors" after powering the monolith's portal. It's not quite Quake, but it's close.
- Elliot mentioned he hasn't heard the word Inhumans "in a very long time." Will we be seeing more about the culture's past on Earth?
Share your thoughts on the episode and theories about the monolith in the comments below!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday with ‘A Wanted (Inhu)man’ at 9pm on ABC.