Is ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ already falling back into a rut of old habits? This week’s episode is centered around a minor character from the early first season that most viewers probably neither remember nor care about.
It’s not like Peter MacNicol is a major “get” as a guest star. His reappearance here as Elliot Randolph, the history professor introduced in Episode 1.08 who was secretly an Asgardian hiding on Earth, does little other than to remind us of how lame the show was in those days. I thought we’d moved past this?
It also brings to mind how badly the show dropped the ball with the storyline involving the Asgardian berserker staff that was supposed to infect both May and Ward with an all-consuming rage that would last for decades. What happened with that? Not much, huh?
All things considered, the Randolph character has so little pertinence to the new episode’s story that I really think he should have been written out. To me, his presence does more harm than good.
Nevertheless, we’re stuck with him. Episode ‘Purpose of the Machine’ opens with a flashback to 1839, in which the members of some sort of secret society meet in an English castle. They draw lots, and one is forced to enter a room where the Kree monolith swallows him up to transport him to another planet. The others explain that no one has ever returned from this trip. What’s the point of sending this guy, then?
Back to the present, Fitz refuses to believe that Jemma is dead and is still obsessed with discovering whatever secrets the monolith may hold. He finds some sand on it, which should be impossible since it hasn’t left containment since S.H.I.E.L.D. captured it. What’s more, the sand appears to be alien in nature. Fitz takes this as confirmation that the monolith is a portal to another world. He’s right, of course, but this seems like flimsy evidence to jump to that conclusion. Regardless, Coulson authorizes Fitz to drop everything else and work on this problem. He also suggests that they bring in Prof. Randolph, who’s an expert on inter-dimensional portals, being that he traveled through one to get to Earth.
They find Randolph chilling in a Norwegian jail. He likes it there. It’s quiet, it has a great library, and it keeps him off most of his enemies’ radars. He isn’t too happy that S.H.I.E.L.D. found him and initially declines to help. He only agrees on the condition that S.H.I.E.L.D. must destroy the portal after rescuing Simmons. Coulson makes that promise.
Randolph directs the team to the English castle, now long since abandoned. They find a secret passage which leads to an old laboratory that looks like a set reused from the original ‘Frankenstein’ movie. Based on practically nothing, Fitz determines that the equipment was designed to control the opening and closing of the portal. Coulson has the monolith flown in and deposited in a shaft designed for it. Fitz and Mack get the old machines running and are indeed able to open the portal for a moment.
Unfortunately, the machine makes Daisy pass out and then breaks down shortly afterward. Fitz and Mack figure out that the machine works by manipulating vibrations. They call it “the world’s largest subwoofer.” (Meh, I have friends with larger.) With this in mind, Daisy realizes that she can use her telekinetic powers to open the portal herself, and does so. Coulson wants to send a probe through the portal on a tether, but Fitz lashes the cable to himself and dives in first.
Fitz comes out on the other side on the alien planet in the middle of a sandstorm. He calls out Jemma’s name. She must have been hanging out nearby, because she hears him and crawls toward him. They barely touch hands when Coulson orders the cable to be retracted.
Daisy loses control of the portal and it explodes. Fortunately, both Fitz and Simmons crawl out of the debris. He got her back. Everybody’s happy. Even Randolph is satisfied that the portal was destroyed.
More Interesting Stuff
In a side story, Coulson sends Lance on a mission to hunt down and finish off Ward once and for all. In doing so, he first tracks down May, who’s been laying low with her elderly father (the great James Hong) in Arizona. He tells her that he plans to go undercover in HYDRA and needs her help. She refuses at first, but comes around eventually.
Meanwhile, Ward is in Europe building a new and leaner HYDRA, which involves clearing out some of the useless old members that aren’t pulling their weight. In Spain, Ward kidnaps a rich young douchebag on a yacht. Later, we’ll learn that the kid is Werner von Strucker, the son of former HYDRA bigwig Baron von Strucker. Ward recruits him to join the new organization.
Less Interesting Stuff
Daisy is eager to have Joey, the Inhuman from last week’s episode, join S.H.I.E.L.D. as a new agent. In fact, she pushes to sign every Inhuman she can find with the team. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t ready. They first need to be vetted by May’s ex-husband, Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood), and he keeps turning them down.
At episode’s end, a new student signs up for the college psychology course that Garner teaches. Of course, it’s Werner von Strucker. Ward has sent him undercover.
Honestly, this isn’t a terrible episode. It’s fine for what it is. However, the show already feels like it’s treading water, and that’s not something it can afford to do this soon into the new season.
I’m disappointed that Simmons has already been retrieved from the alien planet. Other than the fact that she seems to have PTSD from her time there, we never got to learn much about the place. Will this be revisited, or is that the last we’ll ever see of it? I would have liked to spend some time with Simmons trying to explore and survive. As it is, she seems to have spent the whole time waiting around within a few feet of the spot where she was originally deposited.