Thursday, October 8, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3x02 "Purpose In The Machine" (Playing The Odds) [Contributor: Alice Walker]

"Purpose In The Machine"
Original Airdate: October 6, 2015

Last week’s premiere reintroduced us to the newly powered-up S.H.I.E.L.D., and this week's episode picked up right where we left off (after a quick flashback to the 1800s in England) with Fitz taking a shotgun to the monolith, trying desperately to find out what happened to Simmons. The team rushes in to stop him from getting absorbed, but in his frustration, Fitz has found the key to determining the whereabouts of his lost lab partner.

I find Fitz to be far more believable as a frantic scientist than a 007-style agent, so thankfully this week saw him in classic Fitz-form, explaining complicated science and math that went over the team’s (and the audience’s) head. Essentially, he found sand from another universe right where it could not possibly be, and thus we were on the path to finding Simmons.

In a fun callback to season one Peter MacNicol (who will always be Ally McBeal's John Cage to me) returned as the erstwhile Asgardian Professor Eliott Randolph. Not only did he bring an easy, light energy to the show, he also slyly pointed out how much darker everyone had gotten since he'd seen them last. I'm fairly certain that his calling Bobbi Morse the "Amazon woman" was a reference to another David E. Kelly project, Palicki's failed (and much maligned) Wonder Woman pilot. Bold move. His whole appearance was self-aware and meta. I adored every moment of it.

After a Daisy-powered boost, Fitz makes it to the other planet and manages to rescue Simmons in a moment that was both achingly sweet and utterly implausible. His bursting forth from the remains of the monolith and pulling Simmons up next to him was a perfect mirror of the season one finale when Simmons doggedly saved him from drowning in the ocean. His smile at the end was sweet, and I am all about this non-stuttering, confident Fitz.

However, this pushes my suspension of disbelief –– something that's already pretty flexible –– to the limit. Simmons was gone for months, living on a barren planet with no real resources to speak of, and survived with only enduring a scratch? Plus she was able to find Fitz with only one flare sent out in the entire universe, and he was able to pull her back as everything broke down? The emotional resonance was there, but it came with some pretty strong questions. Simmons was already headed down a darker path during season two, and it seems life on another planet has only made her more grim.

This week it was May's turn to consider not rejoining S.H.I.E.LD. A quick note to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. promotion and production team: if you want us to get emotionally invested in these characters not being a part of the team, don't release promotional photos showing them as clear members of S.H.I.E.L.D. At this point, it just feels like a series of check boxes to get Lincoln and May back on board and the process isn't particularly interesting, especially when we could be focusing on superpowers and alternate universes. May had a fairly boring and routine visit with her dad that ended when Hunter (who continues to shine away from Bobbi) showed up and convinced her to join him on his Ward hunt.

Speaking of Ward, Brett Dalton was in fine form this week. His clear character changes as Ward discovers and decides who he really is have been fascinating to watch. It's not easy to pull off a villainous monologue explaining your nefarious plans, but Dalton manages to keep Ward from becoming a stereotype. God help me, I'm still rooting for him.

Finally, let's talk about Agent Phil Coulson. He is making a lot of very questionable calls here: sending Hunter off on a carte-blanche kill mission, even though they don't have much proof of HYDRA's reemergence, risking his entire team's life to save one agent who was presumed dead, transporting a giant alien object based around a few archaic symbols. Risky? Yes. The actions of a sound, capable leader? Um, that's pretty debatable.

What I will say is that these choices exemplify who he is, and who he has been since Loki stabbed him through the heart. He plays the million to one odds –– he bets on the underdog. It's why S.H.I.E.L.D. investigated him for keeping Skye on the plane in season one, it's why there was a coup in season two. It's why we like him.

Maybe he's not the world's best director, but most of the time he seems like the world's best boss.

Highlights and Lowlights:
  • Everything about Mack is working for me. He's consistent, he's funny and he has charisma for days. 
  • Tortured-Lincoln is back next week, and they are playing up his romance with Daisy. Which is too bad for me, since I've just begun shipping Daisy and Mack (Dack? Maisy?). 
  • May and her father talking about her falling while ice-skating was some heavy-handed, junior league dialogue nonsense. We've all seen Batman Begins. We get it.
  • How does Dr. Garner tie into HYDRA's plans? I don't know, but they better not kill him off. 
  • I loved Daisy's emotional development as a leader, and how that's actually being shaped. She continues to grow, but in a believable, incremental way.
What did you all think of this week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode? Let us know in the comments below!


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