Friday, October 9, 2015

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 2: Purpose In The Machine

This week's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was one of their best yet!

I actually thought I was going to fall off the couch during the harrowing Simmons rescue scene. That said, I think Simmons was rescued much too quickly. Yes, they keep telling us that she's been missing for months, and Fitz has been desperately searching for her all that time. But we only got to see two episodes worth of this. It played out over way too little time for us. The happy FitzSimmons reunion just didn't feel like it was earned yet.

On the other hand, kudos to them for not dragging out this subplot for an entire season, like some shows would have done.


The Plot:
In Gloucester England in 1830, a group of wealthy noblemen meet in secret. For some reason, one of them is chosen to enter a room containing the Monolith. They enter, it liquefies, and they're gone. Just like what happened to Simmons last season!

In the present, Dr. Garner (May's ex) examines Joey the Inhuman and says he's not yet ready to join Daisy's team of "Secret Warriors." Yeah, he said it. Coulson sends Hunter on a mission to kill Evil Ward once and for all.

Fitz tries to activate the Monolith, setting off an alarm. Mockingbird, Mack and Coulson stop him seconds before the Monolith liquefies, opening its portal. Fitz sees a bit of sand on his thumb where he touched the Monolith and examines it. He determines its not from Earth, and is incredibly ancient. Apparently that's all the proof the Team needs to believe that the Monolith abducted Simmons and she's alive and well on another planet.

Coulson recruits Prof. Elliot Randolph, the Asgardian exile we met in Season 1. He agrees to help rescue Simmons, if Coulson promises to destroy the Monolith when they're done.

We see Agent May's been spending the past few months chilling with her dad, (played by James Wong). Hunter shows up at Mr. Wong's house, hoping to recruit May for his mission. She tells Hunter she's through with S.H.I.E.L.D., but eventually changes her mind and joins him.

Speaking of Evil Ward, he's busy recruiting members for his new and improved HYDRA. He kidnaps Werner von Strucker, the son of the late HYDRA leader Wolfgang von Strucker.

Randolph takes the Team to an ancient English castle, where hundreds of years ago he saw a machine that could control the Monolith. Amazingly the machine is still there, and they lower the Monolith into a pit in the center of a special room. Daisy determines that the Monolith is activated by certain sound frequencies. She uses her powers to activate it and open a portal. Fitz shoots a flare through the portal, and as Coulson and the other ready a probe, he unexpectedly jumps through it.

Fitz emerges on a hostile planet, and miraculously finds Simmons, who saw his flare. He's barely able to grab her hand as the Team, back on Earth, reels in his lifeline. The Monolith explodes into a million pieces, but fortunately Fitz AND Simmons crawl from the rubble.

Werner von Strucker enrolls in Dr. Garner's psychology class.

• At the beginning of the episode we see that the monolith existed in Gloucester England back in 1839. So who were those guys in the fancy duds shoving one of their own into it? They reminded me of the Hellfire Club from the comics, but I doubt they could have anything to do with them. They were X-Men villains, and Marvel can't touch them.

• When Dr. Garner's talking to Daisy about assembling her team, he calls them "Secret Warriors." In the comics, the Secret Warriors were a super powered team lead by Nick Fury. Daisy Johnson was one of the members of the team.

As far as I know this is the first time anyone's said the name on the series.

• It was fun to see the Asgardian Prof. Randolph again. We last saw him in the Season 1 episode The Well. I wouldn't mind if he became a regular on the show.

• Fitz shows Professor Randolph the ancient Hebrew scroll he found, that has something to do with the Monolith. Randolph says the scroll reads "Maveth," which is the Hebrew word for death.

• Agent May's back! Well, sort of. Apparently she's been chilling with her dad the past few months in Sun City, AZ (which is a huge retirement community).

Somehow it makes sense that May's dad would be James Hong (aka David Lo Pan!). Hong's played every elderly Chinese man in movies and TV for the past thirty or forty years.

By the way, Hong was sporting some pretty suspicious hair. He's either wearing a wig or pouring a lot of Just For Men on his head. He's 86 now, so it's unlikely his hair is still naturally "absence of all light" black.

As much as I like May, the scenes between her and her dad were the low point of the episode, and a chore to watch. Despite what she says, we all KNOW she's not going to settle down and will eventually return to S.H.I.E.L.D. It's like these scenes exist to pad out the run time and give May something to do before she inevitably returns to the Team.

• May uses a clunky looking flip phone to call Hunter to tell him she's in. Is this some kind of special issue S.H.I.E.L.D. phone, or has she not updated hers in the past fifteen years?

• Evil Ward recruits Werner von Strucker into his new and improved HYDRA. Werner's dad was Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s main adversaries in the comics for decades. Strucker Sr. got a big buildup last season, only to die a very underwhelming death (offscreen yet!) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

In the comics, Werner von Strucker became the Swordsman, a sometimes hero, sometimes villain who was a member of the Avengers. I kind of doubt they're going to go that route with him here.

Frankly, Werner doesn't look like much more of a threat than his old man. Is his "Aw, shucks" baby face supposed to be menacing? Jesus, he looks like a human puppy! He makes D.J. Qualls look like Schwarzenegger. Surely they could have found someone a bit more threatening. 

Competent or not, the fact that Strucker Jr. just joined Dr. Garner's psych class doesn't bode well for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resident psychologist.

• Coulson gets in a meta comment about how silly it was to brand everything with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo. Maybe, but I'd say it's even worse for HYDRA to do the same thing, since, you know, they're supposed to be a secret organization bent on world domination and all.

• Man, that Simmons rescue was amazing! First we see Fitz miraculously find her on the alien planet. Then he tries to grab Simmons' hand, with great difficulty. Then back on Earth, Coulson orders them to reel in Fitz's lifeline. Back on the alien planet, Fitz looses his grip on Simmons. Then back on Earth the Monolith explodes into a million pieces, causing the audience to soil themselves and wonder "Now what?"

Whoever shot and edited that sequence, well done! You really know how to twist the knife and ratchet up the tension.

• So Simmons has been gone for months, and all that time Fitz has been trying to convince Coulson that she's still alive. When Coulson finally accepts his proof, the Team gets together and BANG! They bring her back home on their very first try.

It's too bad Coulson didn't listen to Fitz the first time he asked for help several months ago. 

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