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'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' recap: 'Purpose in the Machine'

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Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
tvpgr:
TV-PG
seasons:
4
run date:
07/19/13
performer:
Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet
broadcaster:
ABC
genre:
ActionAdventure

Here’s the thing about the third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: It knows what stories to tell. Gone are the days when we sat through hours of team building and character backstories, slowly building mythology until we could get to the meat of an episode. While we’re still building mythology — a lot of it — and while we’re still building a team, the speed at which we’re moving is a much, much faster pace.

Case in point: TPTB weren’t kidding when they said that we would find out sooner rather than later what happened to Simmons. Granted, being rescued doesn’t mean the door is shut on that front at all: We’ve still got a long way to go in terms of finding out exactly where she was, and how that experience has changed her. But last week we saw the planet she had been transported to, and this week, we brought her home. We’ve got our Science Team back, and I’m pretty sure Fitz deserves a really long nap, or cookies, or possibly both.

Before we can talk about Simmons’ return, though, we need to talk about how we got there. And that starts in 1839 in Gloucestershire, England, at a dinner party where there’s a game going on to see who’s going to draw the unlucky straw (or in this case, rock). The chosen one gets to take “a journey,” which basically translates into, “take this sword — which will probably not be much help — and go into a locked room that holds the monolith.” The man wonders what will happen if he fails to return, and that question is answered for him when he gets swallowed up. Will he come back? Well, the bad news is, nobody has ever returned.

In the present day, Daisy is trying to convince Mack that Joey’s a real candidate for the Secret Warriors team. Mack disagrees. He wants to wait for Dr. Garner to make his assessment, and Daisy’s less than thrilled with this answer because apparently Garner’s been denying potential team members all over the place. They’re interrupted by Hunter and Bobbi, who alert them that Fitz has broken into the room that holds the monolith. Along with Coulson, they manage to get Fitz out before the artifact actually DOES react. The team tries to talk him down, but Fitz is too determined to quit. And serendipitously, he notices that in his confrontation with the rock has left him with the gift of small grains of sand — finally, a lead. Tests show that the sand predates Earth by at least a billion years, which means they can prove that the monolith is a portal that leads to another planet… and that since the sand can obviously travel back and forth through the rock, there’s a chance Simmons is alive. It’s all the confirmation everyone else needs, so, yeah, they’re going to find her. Once Fitz gets all the scientific things he needs to finish researching. And a sandwich. (Prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella with homemade pesto aioli, perhaps? Also, what is it with Marvel people asking for scientific things and also really wanting sandwiches?)

Once again, Bobbi tries to convince Hunter to let her go with him and hunt Ward. Once again, Hunter denies her. Hey, at least she gets to do some flying, because Coulson needs her to accompany him on a trip to see someone who has traveled through space in a portal. Who is also an alien. Who is also Professor Randolph, the Asgardian from very early in season 1, who you might remember from the time he spent wielding a Berserker staff. He’s continued to live on Earth, and they find him in a prison cell, because while Asgardians can hold their drinks, apparently they can’t hold all the drinks. (I’m guessing he wouldn’t fare well in a contest against Cap and Thor.) Coulson threatens him into talking, which is apparently all the push he needs: Certainly, his super strength means he has no problem getting himself out of lock-up.

To his credit, Randolph is able to figure out the monolith pretty quickly. There’s something triggering it, possibly on the other planet, but here on Earth they have no idea how to control it. He agrees to help “Amazon woman and Robot hand” get Simmons back, but only on the condition that the portal is destroyed afterward, so that no one can pass through it again. At this point, I think Coulson and everyone else would rather die than keep this thing around, so it’s not a hard deal to accept. They show him the parchment with the Hebrew that Fitz found earlier, and Randolph tells them he’s seen this writing before: In England, carved into the walls of a palace in the 1800s, when he had gone there for a costume ball. Looks like the team’s going to England, then.

NEXT: All hail Ward’s new regime

[pagebreak]

Garner shows up to vet Joey’s credentials, but without May, and no one seems to know where The Cavalry is… not even her teammates. True to form, Garner tells Daisy that her newest recruit isn’t ready to be a Secret Warrior just yet. Daisy’s worried that they’re running out of time, but Garner wants her to wait. She’s also changing, turning into a leader, and that’s something that requires adjustment. (Someone tell that to Coulson.) According to Garner, she seems too focused on trying to find members for her team. Daisy insists it’s not about tunnel vision, it’s about the fact that she knows what people need: help. She needs to show them that, like her, they can belong.

We’re finally treated to our first glimpse of Ward since we saw him heading off to start up Hydra under new leadership: his own, naturally. It seems like his method of recruitment focuses on embracing a “leaner” generation; he’s hunting down (or, more accurately, mowing down) old Hydra guys to find a certain kid, whom he eventually tracks to a yacht. Ward and Kebo manage to take over the boat by unleashing a slew of rats (clearly, these people are not from New York), and Ward takes out the unlucky ones who try to fight him. By the way, if we had any doubt about just how ruthless Ward has become, just take a moment to realize that when some guy pissed him off enough, he shot him point blank in the chest.

Ward takes the mystery kid back to his base, where he, along with right hand man Kebo, continue to make the guy’s life miserable. Why is Ward obsessed with this kid? Because he’s none other than Werner von Strucker — #1 Hydra thug Baron von Strucker’s son (a.k.a., cut off one head, two more shall take its place. Hydra, amirite?) Werner is less than enthusiastic about joining up with Ward, considering the way he was brought in, but Ward’s not dumb. He sympathizes with him by bringing up the fact that he knows how it feels to come from a broken family. He also entices him with power, and with the promise of rebuilding Hydra “the right way.” Since Hydra is something the kid’s dad kept from him, he’s kind of easily swayed. And then they make up and eat tacos. (I’m not being sarcastic, by the way. Ward really does just offer him a taco. Now that’s how you do leadership.)

At the palace, they find Randolph has been true to his word. They also find that there’s another translation to the scroll’s Hebrew: “death by punishment.” Naturally, Coulson decides to enter the secret-walled space where this is written, with Fitz being the first to go in. They end up in an old room that Randolph definitely doesn’t recognize, and Fitz theorizes it’s from the late 1800s, judging by the equipment. When they manage to get the lights on, they find a machine that Fitz realizes was most likely designed to hold the monolith… and then he realizes the machine was probably used to open and close it at will. Thus, Mack ends up with a job that he probably isn’t so happy with: transporting the object (along with himself and Daisy) to England.

With the artifact finally delivered, the group is ready to see if Fitz is right about this thing. They start the machine and the monolith opens, and Fitz manages to send down a flare, but the machine breaks before they can make any real progress. Daisy collapses from a sound that apparently no one else can hear, which leaves Coulson concerned, but Fitz is now more determined than ever that there’s a way to save Simmons. If they can get it open again and send a probe to the other side, maybe they can find her. Mack attempts to fix the machine, and Fitz eventually realizes that it’s designed to create a frequency that resonates with the monolith. What does this mean? Daisy can open the portal and provide that frequency with her quake powers. It takes some serious strength and stamina, but she manages to get the monolith open again. As soon as she does, Fitz abandons the probe idea and jumps — landing on the same, strange planet that we saw Simmons stumbling around on at the end of last week’s episode. (So, it looks like we can confirm that the portal is only sending you to ONE specific universe, wherever this place is.)

Fitz wanders the planet, screaming out for Simmons, and it’s one of the most heart-wrenching scenes you can imagine. That is until it gets worse when Simmons hears Fitz’s calls, and the two attempt to reunite. Daisy’s powers start to wane even with the help of Mack and Bobbi, and for a moment, we’re convinced this whole thing is going to end terribly, and… they wouldn’t do THAT to us, would they? But when Daisy stops the frequency — destroying the monolith in the process — they find that not only has Fitz returned, but Simmons has returned with him. (She saw Fitz’s flare that he initially sent in, which is how she knew where to find her partner.) Yes, Simmons is home.

NEXT: Where in the world is Agent Melinda May?

[pagebreak]

Last week, I wondered if May was sipping Mai Tais somewhere on vacation. And hey, I was kind of right! Her and Garner went to Maui. But now Garner is back with the team, and May is home with her father. Why? The estranged husband and wife seemed like they were on their way to reconciliation at the end of last season. May’s parents are both sharp cookies, and while May is busy being domestic, her dad is busy trying to figure out how to get her to open up about the real reason she’s not returning to her old life. They’re distracted by someone sneaking around outside, and May goes in for the attack… only to find out that it’s Hunter. Apparently, May’s spy skills are a little sloppy: She’s been making anonymous calls looking for Hydra, which allowed Hunter to trace her here.

Hunter wants May’s help in going after Ward, and May tells him no because her father needs her. Hunter points out that the whole reason she’s here is because of paranoia, the lingering fear that the hit and run that left her father injured wasn’t JUST a random driver. Hunter plans to go in from below and gives her information if she changes her mind about joining up, but May’s stance is firm: She’s still out. She wants a normal life away from S.H.I.E.L.D., if that’s even possible. (IS it possible? Maybe only if you have a farm.)

Back on the Zephyr, Randolph asks about Daisy’s powers. When Coulson tells him she’s Inhuman, his response — “I have not heard that word in a very long time” — is interesting to consider, since Randolph is Asgardian and not only has the guy been around for centuries, he’s got a pretty extensive background. Garner calls May to tell her about Simmons, trying to get her to come back, and it turns out May’s gone with Hunter after all. Simmons, meanwhile, for all that she seems to be okay, is clearly not. She’s suffering from PTSD, which has carried over from whatever time she spent on the mysterious planet, and wakes up in the middle of the night, on guard, and scared of whatever she’s been running from. But this time, instead of danger, she finds Fitz sleeping next to her. Simmons curls up next to him and breaks down, and for the second time this hour, my heart also breaks down. These two are killing me.

We’re not done with our episode yet, though, and the tag gives us a little taste of how Ward is going to use his new plan to break back into S.H.I.E.L.D., which also involved “going in from below.” Hydra kid Werner is going to enroll in Garner’s psych class. Oh, yeah… he’s definitely got family issues. But I don’t think the issues are ones that Garner wants to know about.

Debriefing Notes:

  • As a former ice skater, I love that this is another part of May’s history that we uncovered. It fits, doesn’t it? The skill, the agility, the determination… before she traded it all for martial arts, of course. The big question is, could she do a triple axel?
  • I’ll admit I got a little emotional when Bobbi told Hunter, “Don’t die out there.” Yep, the two are back to their old selves, and I couldn’t be happier.
  • Who thinks Randolph went off to visit the Louvre to see if Bobbi’s bunker comment was correct? (Hey, he’s gotta keep himself busy somehow.)

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