Warning: Spoiler Alert
Last week’s season premiere stepped up the stakes and the scope for Coulson’s team. Working with what seems like a skeleton crew, the showrunners and actors seem to deliver on a mark they had not yet reached. Especially Fitz (played by Iain De Caestecker), who may have delivered the single greatest acting scene in the genre’s history. I only mention this to see exactly where “Purpose in the Machine” stacks up.
We begin with a flash back to England 1839. A long table with Victorian dressed men. They reach into a bag and pull out a small stone each. Most of the stones are black. One is not. The possessor of the white stone has the misfortune of venturing into a room with what looks like the exact same Monolith as the one in SHIELD’s possession. Screams can be heard while an elder man explains to a younger one that in the history of mankind, no one ever returns.
Daisy and Mack discuss the status of their team as undermanned as it is when Hunter burst through the door yelling “It’s Fitz!” At this moment, Fitz is still down in the Monolith containment room loudly, and still, challenging it to a fist fight. The team gets down there in time to pull him away and close the door a mere heartbeat before it liquefies. Fitz takes a moment to realize the risk he just took when he discovers something on his fingertips. Sand.
The sand, while generic by appearance, predates earth by a billion years. Fitz believes the Monolith is a portal to another dimension or wrinkle in time. This was the smallest shred of evidence the team needed to jump on Fitz’ bandwagon. While it’s not the number one priority, finding Simmons just shot up the to do list. Fitz now needs an expert on quantum mechanics, an expert on the Rosenbridge Theory, and sandwich. I know what the Marvel fans are thinking. But slow down. AoS operates independent of the MCU, or so Fiege keeps telling us.
Bobbi finally gets to do something outside the lab. Coulson needs to get to Dr. Randolph (the alien that’s been on earth forever played by Peter MacNicol-is Vigo). Randolph is refusing to assist. Too much heat on those he calls ‘not locals’. This time around, Coulson is not pulling any punches. He threatens to make certain government agencies away of a certain Asguardian’s location. The mood changes and Randolph agrees to help.
Randolph: Well…you’ll have to cover my release. And, if there is a portal, which I will have to see to believe, you are diving into very dangerous waters here.
In a parking garage, Ward monologues while driving what appears to be a high prices European sports car exceedingly fast with the car’s only holding onto the hood as if his life depended on it. Ward wants the owner of the car to prove he’s not dead weight, by telling him “where the kid is”.
The team returns with Randolph. He walks with caution around the Monolith, confirms its real, and asks how often does it do that (liquefy)? Despite Fitz’ assumption, the liquefying event is not random. And Fitz has spent his time working the elements that could cause it on THIS planet. Randolph makes only one promise. They will find her (Simmons), then Coulson must give his word that they will destroy it and not let anyone else pass through. A promise Coulson will be glad to keep. Bobbi hands him the parchment with the Hebrew word for Death.
Fitz: …before the Napoleon era it was moved again, lost track of it somewhere in…
Fitz: Yeah, how’d you know that?
Randolph: Because I’ve seen this word carved into the walls of a Castle in Gloucestershire, England. In 1853. TO THE PLANE!
(He stops short and slowly turns around)
Randolph: Am I allowed to say that?
Coulson: Let’s all go to the plane, I guess.
At the aforementioned English castle, Randolph makes a slight correction. The Hebrew word on the parchment doesn’t mean “death”. It means “death by punishment”. Yet even with that word etched in store throughout this castle, Coulson finds a secret entry way and decides with little hesitation to walk down the path. Even if it says death by punishment. Down the path, they find a room that resembles a torture chamber.
The “kid” Ward is after appears to be nothing more than an entitled trust fund baby. Ward aims to take everything. And falling in line with Ward’s previous monologue, moving forward if the kid wants something, he’s going to have to earn it. And earn it he does. Facing torture for banking passwords, the kid eventually fights back taking out Ward’s #2. Ward comes in from the shadows enlightening us as to the meaning of the kid’s namesake. He is the son of the most celebrated leader in Hydra history. The name doesn’t merit respect, taking out Ward’s right hand does.
Mack reluctantly delivers the Monolith to the castle in England. They lower it into a hole they believe was designed for it. FItz turns on ‘the machine’. The Monolith instantly liquified. Just as Fitz’ excitement builds, Daisy shows signs of pain. Intriguing as one theory is that the Monolith is Kree in origin. The machine is overworked and quits, solidifying the Monolith. Just in time as well, as Daisy’s pain grew into a nose bleed. After empty theories and Mack insisting that Fitz take a minute to breathe, Fitz figures it out. They don’t need to fix the machine. Daisy can open the portal by herself. They’ve constructed a rig to suspend a probe with a camera. The idea being if Daisy can hold the portal open, they can get a visual of the other side.
Daisy, using her powers, tries to tune to the correct frequency. With no one paying attention, Fitz attached the wire cable to himself and not the probe. Fitz jumps in with no regard for his personal safety. On the other side he begins yelling Jemma’s name amidst the harsh environment of this foreign planet. As the rig falls apart in England, Jemma’s voice can be faintly heard in the distance. Then we find ourselves at the edge of our respective seats as Fitz and Simmons reach for each other against the harsh elements of the planet. Back in England, everything is falling apart. Coulson demands they pull Fitz back. Don’t you dare do what you’re about to do.
Fitz is yanked back. Simmons appears to be pulled in the opposite direction. They find a way to get a solid grip. Then that grip begins to weaken as Fitz is pulled back harder. In one swift move we see the Monolith reduced to playground chopped tire material. In the hole we see Fitz emerge from the black rubble. He looks up. There is an expression that I confused for the pain of loss. He reaches into the blackness and…pulls Simmons up.
On the plane, all seems to be well. Both sides of the deal were held up, but Randolph has a question regarding Daisy. What is she? Coulson drops the “Inhuman” word and Randolph is not confused, bewildered, or shocked. “Now that’s a word I have not heard in a very long time.”
Throughout the episode tonight, we have seen May for the first time this season. Looking particularly melancholy. Acting as if her father (played by the wonderful James Hong) needs her when he clearly doesn’t. May has been hiding from her ‘unfinished business’ and its clear. Hunter finds her and tells her what she needs to hear. He also finds a way to say just enough to join him on his mission to put Ward six feet under.
Back at SHIELD, all might not be well. We still don’t know what Simmons went through on the other side. She startles awake holding a shard of metal like a prison shank. Fitz is asleep in a chair across the room. Simmons repositioned herself to fall asleep with her head in his lap.
Side note. I know that the romantic tension between these two is intentional and even necessary. But has any man done more to win the heart of a woman in the history of fiction? From the escape pod to bringing Simmons back from a harsh planet on the other side of who knows what, Fitz makes any normal mortal’s romantic gestures look like fart jokes.
The final Marvel-esque tease scene has ‘the kid’ requesting to take Dr. Garner’s psych class. Garner hints at the idea that most people take psych classes to figure out their family. The kid smirks and says, “You got me there”.