‘Agents of SHIELD’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 3, Episode 2: ‘Purpose in the Machine’
Agents of SHIELD is back on our screens, so we've invited our writers Ziah Grace and Chris Haley to share their thoughts about the show in our regular post-show analysis, Agents of Something. Neither of them have been keeping up with the agents in previous seasons, so they’ll offer a fresh new perspective, and they’ll probably have quite a few questions.
Episode two of season three, ‘Purpose in the Machine,’ was directed by Kevin Tancharoen and written by DJ Doyle.
Ziah: Alright, once again, I’m Ziah Grace and I’m here with Chris Haley to discuss the second episode of the third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Now before we continue, there’s a correction we have to make. Last week, a commenter mentioned that Agent Coulson didn’t fake his death, and that we were completely wrong about what we thought we knew.
So, I looked into it, and he was right! Instead of faking his death, Agent Coulson was actually literally murdered in Avengers, brought back to life thanks to the healing properties of Kree goo/Tahiti, and then had his resurrection effectively hidden from the Avengers, despite the fact that most of SHIELD, all of HYDRA, and now this new organization ATCU, all know that Coulson is alive and kicking. How silly of us to just say he faked his death.
Chris: How dare we try to keep things simple for the sake of brevity.
Ziah: More important, however, is the return of Agent Ward, HYDRA double-agent/pretty boy, and Agent May, team badass and bright spot in the show. Alright, Chris, let’s jump right in.
First off, a huge improvement over last week. Ward is honestly delightful as a handsome, smirky HYDRA leader, and his introduction by way of driving a car through a parking lot of trained HYDRA agents was a great set-piece. His performance actually kind of reminded me of The Guest, which, side note, is a really excellent movie, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him as a foil to SHIELD.
On the SHIELD side of things, we got Simmons back, and character development for May, hinting at her return. Coulson’s much more charming, and Skye’s impatience to actually start leading a team was a nice touch. Honestly, I think I would have preferred this episode to the first one for the premiere, or at least a double-episode. What do you think, Chris?
Chris: I don’t know that it was really an improvement over last week overall, but that’s only because I enjoyed last week’s episode too. People tried to give us some guff in the comments last week saying we gave the show a hard time because we didn’t know anything about it, but I thought we were really positive for the most part! Plus, in my mind, part of the fun of this is us not knowing what’s going on, and learning more and more about the show’s world and backstory as we go. Perhaps, I’m more open to whimsy than some of the commenters.
Ziah: Oh, absolutely you are. But more than that, I think the reason I took to this episode more is exactly the reasons you laid out: there’s a cleaner flow to bringing in past episodes. The Asgardian in prison clearly knows the team, and May’s relationships with Dr. Garner and Ward were brought up in ways that, if not organic, were at least relevant to the episode. I felt like I had a better grasp of the characters’ goals and desires in ways that the premiere didn’t give me. And more than that, this is a big season! It’s a sort-of reboot for the show, aiming to bring in some Inhumans hype before the movies, so it’s very reasonable for us to note instances where we’re lost, if they’re at all interested in gaining an audience bigger than the one they’ve had for two seasons.
Chris: I guess when you put it like that, this episode was a little more smooth and enjoyable. Screw that first episode! I don’t know if it would have worked as a season premiere, but I think it could definitely stand on its own as an episode someone could watch cold and kinda have their bearings by the end. Except for maybe the part where wavy lines start coming out of the lady’s hands. That might be confusing to someone who has no idea what they’re watching.
Ziah: I’d also like to jump back into the second big Ward set piece of the episode, wherein one of his minions interrupts a yacht party by dumping a bunch of rats onto the yacht to… distract the guards, I guess? Regardless, Ward kicks their butts, until he gets sucker punched by one of them, leading him to just straight up shoot the guy in the heart. This was probably one of my favorite moments in the show, because it gets across both how much arrogance he has to think he can beat up five or six different dudes without being touched, and how eeeeevil he is to just shoot anyone who actually does touch him.
Chris: I assumed the rats were to cause a distraction to the guards by sending all the people fleeing. I would hope Baron Strucker’s kid’s guards (who I have to assume are HYDRA or former HYDRA goons) aren’t afraid of rats.
Ziah: Well, that’s fair. I guess I was just confused cause he seemed to have a few minions, so why the need to specifically scare the girls with rats? Anyway, his quickdraw response to getting hit was ruthless and a really nice touch, but then he follows it up with, “Looks like you’ve got a rat problem. Don’t worry, I’m an exterminator”, which might honestly be my low point too. Did he have his minion drop rats on the ship just to say that? Is Ward that big a fan of puns?
Chris: Haha, I have no idea, but I do know that Ward was a welcome addition to this season. My only previous experience with him was in that pilot episode, where he was as bland as boiled lettuce. Is that a thing? Look, I’m not a chef, he was very bland is my point! But he really seemed to be enjoying everything he was getting to cut loose and do in his march towards a new, sleeker, stronger HYDRA. He also made a cryptic comment about his family that piqued my curiosity. Do you have any idea what that was about?
Ziah: I think it he had an even more evil brother from a past season? Commenters, fill us in, and let us know whether Ward’s evil brother faked his death, had his death faked for him, or any other details we should know.
Chris: Speaking of new additions, Werner von Strucker. What did you think of this kid, and are you at all familiar with him from the comics?
Ziah: When you first mentioned him, I thought he was one-half of those Strucker twins from the Jim Lee/Chris Claremont X-Men arc, but that is actually the other two Strucker siblings. This guy’s apparently just a minor Punisher and Daredevil villain, so the show should have some freedom to play around with him. I’m pretty pumped for this trust-fund baby to get beaten up by SHIELD, but other than that, he didn’t leave much of an impression. I did like his H belt, which I assume stands for HYDRA? Or maybe he was just in the 4H club in boarding school, I don’t know. If Ward’s gonna be the HYDRA version of the cool uncle, though, that could be a good vein to tap. Honestly, I’m just pretty stoked to have an actual charismatic villain for the show after last week’s blue-per.
Chris: I see what you did there. Speaking of, did you notice there was no Lash or even any mention of Lash this episode? I thought surely at some point everyone would be asking, “Where’s Lash?”
Ziah: Well, to be fair, there was little mention of the Inhumans at all. A lot of the episode seemed more interested in clearing up some (I assume) lingering plots from past seasons. Joey Gutierrez got mentioned briefly, but that was about it.
Chris: That’s Melt-Man?
Ziah: Yep. Or, I’m hoping, the Melter, fourth-rate Avengers villain, but maybe the first canonically gay man in the Marvel U can be a heroic Melter instead.
Chris: There was no Dr. ..uh Inhuman Doctor this episode either, but we did get a guest appearance from two other doctors! And one was an Asgardian played by Peter MacNicol!
Ziah: Maybe the doctors were able to resuscitate the show. I did like Peter MacNicol, playing an Asgardian who’s basically just there to point them to where they need to go to rescue Simmons. I’m guessing he’s from a previous season, but either way, he had some good lines. His response to being told there was an underground bunker beneath the Louvre was fun, and I generally like those kinds of selfish, sarcastic characters in genre TV.
Chris: My very first note for the episode was literally, “Peter MacNicol is a delight.”
Fun Fact: Peter MacNicol and Robert Downey Jr. were both on Ally McBeal. I assume they’ll get into explaining where she fits into the Marvel U at some point.
Ziah: I will pay at least a few dollars to anyone who makes the marketing for a She-Hulk show, “Ally McTeal”, but that is the closest I can get.
The low moments for me were really just the same kinds of exposition and characters explaining their actions to each other that always bother me about these types of shows. Things like Bobbi telling Hunter that he actually likes it when she’s injured and out of play, or a psychiatrist analyzing a character for the audience’s benefit, are old tricks, not necessarily bad, but not quite as polished as I’d like them to be.
Chris: Yeah, it also doesn’t help that a lot of those scenes suffer from “everyone talks fast.” It felt like there was a little less of it this episode, but the times when it did show up were rough. Especially when characters have accents on top of talking fast. Sigh... is it just me? I just want to know what you’ve bothered to write for these characters to say!
Ziah: You are totally right about the accents. I’ve taken to prepping myself extra hard whenever I hear Hunter or Fitz cause I know this is gonna be a tough one if it’s a fast-talky scene. Also, again, the best character moment in the show is dialogue-free when Ward gets punched and then kills the guy. I think letting moments breathe a little bit would really help the show and open up characterization.
Chris: Couldn’t agree more.
Ziah: The show definitely does benefit from not showing the kinds of special effects that were around last episode, though. Between a bit of clunky exposition or two characters waving their arms at a live-action Sonic as the SFX team fill it in with blasts, I’ll take the former every time. And again, it’s not as if we want to be missing out on superhumans duking it out, it’s just that if action is shot in a static, boring way, I’d rather it not be there at all.
Chris: Some people fighting in a crowded hallway can be great when you shoot it with some movement and energy (see that episode of Daredevil), but just plunking a camera down and having two people wiggle their arms and grimace is.. not great.
Alright, May and Simmons both make dramatic returns this week. One decidedly more dramatic than the other. We got a little bit of character development as well as childhood backstory on May, and I’m always happy to see James Hong in anything.
Ziah: James Hong is a consistent delight. Oh, and Simmons came back! I kind of forgot about that. I’m looking forward to her being around, but the rescue itself was kind of forgettable. I kind of thought that was a plot point that would last longer than two episodes, but it’s probably for the best.
Chris: I was sure Fitz was going to get yanked away and we were going to be watching them try to find her all season, but I was pleasantly surprised they just went ahead and brought her back, even if I have no idea who this character is really. I mean, she and Fitz seem to like each other, so I guess that’s nice. I assume the same as with May, this episode was just to whet our appetites for the larger arcs they’ll be going through this season.
Ziah: “______ and ______ seem to like each other, so that’s nice”, is honestly my reaction to most of the characters’ relationships on the show so far, but that could change with time! Maybe I’ll be hard stanning for Fitz and Simmons and their little SHIELD babies in a few weeks, who knows?
Chris: Fingers crossed!
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