Agents of SHIELD: 302 “Purpose in the Machine” Review
Reviewed by Ollie Gregory.
Making a second episode is always going to be a difficult task, even more so when the previous episode, the season premiere, was such a resounding success. People expect the second episode to answer all the questions asked by the first, but that just doesn’t happen. The first episode is where the season plays the most powerful cards in its hand, and then when next week rolls around, they try to pull together what they’ve got left.
So how does Marvel’s Agents of Shield deal with the unfortunate position all shows end up in? Well it delves deeper into some plot threads, and completely and utterly ignores the others.
You remember how last week Lance Hunter promised Bobbi Morse he was going to hunt down and kill Grant Ward and we all got super excited? Well this week Hunter went to hunt him down, and when I say hunt him down, he went away from the team and spent the whole episode doing literally nothing. He wandered outside people’s houses, he sat down a lot and he said a lot of “cool guy” things, but he was all bark and no bite. I’m not saying I wanted Hunter to get his revenge and kill Ward this episode, but a fight scene between the two, ending with neither men being victorious would have given us both a sense of satisfaction and a thirst for more.
Ward’s return was fairly interesting, albeit a little bit lacklustre. He’s completely evil and, alongside Werner Von Strucker, son of the late Baron Von Strucker, he’s trying to rebuild Hydra, but I’m still not completely buying into Brett Dalton’s performance. He’s certainly dislikable, and yes I went to see Hunter punch his smug face as much as Bobbi does, but he seems like more of a jerk than a monster. What the character offered in terms of action was rather intense though, with the boat scene showcasing both Ward’s talents, and willingness to take shortcuts.
The return which slightly overshadowed Ward’s was that of other former agent, Melinda May. Although May’s return didn’t offer all that much in terms of action or suspense, it did offer us a wonderful performance from James Hong, who plays May’s father. Sometimes her father’s messages were a little too on the nose, such as when he talked about how she got up every time she fell over, but it was nice to see a different side of May. As everybody expected her to, May joined Hunter on his quest for revenge, meaning it might be a while before we see Hong return.
The thread that the episode, rather surprisingly, decided to focus the majority of its attention on was that of Jemma Simmons. At first, the whole thing felt way to rushed and as much as I couldn’t wait to see Fitz-Simmons reunited, I wanted the series to make me wait, and I wanted to see more of mad Fitz who everyone just keeps telling me to move on. Fitz was one of the highlights of the first episode and even though Caestecker still does a great job showing his love for Simmons, he’s just not as engaging when everything is going his way.
Despite this, I will admit that during the whole sequence involving Fitz jumping through the portal and teleporting to an alien planet I was shoving my whole fist in my mouth. Yes, it got me. As I sat there watching Fitz stretch out his arm, desperate for Simmons to grab on so he could pull her out, I realised that the only thing in the whole universe that mattered was whether the two of them were going to get out. The music, the performances, genuinely spectacular, and then when the rock broke, I almost lost it. The whole thing was orchestrated to perfection and all of it worked. As Simmons’ rubble covered head rose upwards I completely emptied my lungs. I’d never been so relieved.
Again though, much like last week, the writers put far too many jokes in, and the characters just couldn’t handle them. Sure, again, there are a few really funny bits of bantering between the team and their associate, Elliot Randolph, who you may remember from season 1, but there’s too many not very funny bits. Elliot (played by Peter MacNicol) just doesn’t seem to work as a character. As much as the character is supposed to sound bored because he’s been alive so long, there’s a certain deadness to all the scenes he’s in, and as much as you feel you should like him and he should be funny, the scenes he’s in a much less engaging. I loved the Fitz-Simmons story, but forcing in a bored, can’t-tell-whether-he’s-supposed-to-be-comic-relief-or-not character, just makes the whole thing instantly less appealing.
It’s safe to say Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D’s second episode isn’t quite able to live up to its first. It’s not terrible by any means, but it feels like filler, and after the first episode being so fast, this unmemorable one has a bit of drag. Where I will give the episode props is for the parts on the alien planet. Those scenes alone make the episode recommendable. Other than them bits, the episode is fairly average, serving as a placeholder until the series picks up the pace again.