Dammit, Agents of SHIELD! Don’t Toy With My Emotions Like That!

For a moment there on last night’s Agents of SHIELD, I thought I was going to have to throw my TV set out the window and possibly set fire to some stuff.

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Spoilers ahead...

Luckily, everything turned out okay. But this was very nearly a “burn everything down” situation.

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The big fakeout in “Purpose in the Machine,” as immortalized in the gif above, is that you think that Fitz has come within a hair’s breadth of rescuing Simmons from the evil alien planet where she’s been trapped since the end of season two. The team is pulling Fitz back, not realizing he’s actually got a tenuous grip on Simmons, and you see him torn away from her. But phew—it’s okay. They got Simmons back, after all, after the alien monolith thingy explodes into a million chunks.

But at what cost? Is Simmons really going to be okay, after being trapped on an alien planet for months and months? (However much time passed on that other planet.) The last we see of her in this episode, she’s waking from a nightmare, to find Fitz sitting by her bed. And then she curls up with her head in Fitz’s lap, which is incredibly sweet. But I’d be amazed if we don’t see some long-term fallout from her getting stranded.

And even though Fitz pulled off an incredible miracle, he did it by taking a huge, crazy chance, on top of all the longshot chances that he and the rest of the team took to get him there. (Something that Andrew, the team’s resident shrink, keeps pointing out.)

And there’s a sort of theme running through the episode: That you can do great things if you push yourself to your limits. But that doing this, over and over again, can turn you into a monster. This theme gets explored through a bunch of different characters. Let’s run through them one by one:

Leo Fitz. As we saw last week, he goes half-crazy in his insistence that Simmons is alive, and his determination to get her back by any means. This time around, he actually comes back with real evidence—some alien sand that came through the portal—and gets everybody on board the “rescue Simmons” bandwagon at last. But he still goes kind of overboard once they find the magic castle in Britain where there’s a secret basement that contains a steampunk machine that controls the monolith, then Fitz completely loses it and jumps into the portal instead of sending the camera probe they wanted to send. He’s lucky that he manages to pull Simmons out, instead of getting trapped there himself.

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Illustration for article titled Dammit, iAgents of SHIELD/i! Don’t Toy With My Emotions Like That!

Phil Coulson. As Andrew keeps saying, Coulson is kind of pushing it and seems somewhat desperate for a victory—any victory—to justify everything he’s doing. (He did save that Joey guy last week. That’s something, right?) As Professor Randolph, the Asgardian that Coulson helps bust out of prison, says, Coulson seems different. He’s no longer quite as easy-going as he seemed back in season one, and it’s not just because he lost a hand. As Coulson says, “things got messy.” He’s also willing to send Lance Hunter out on a mission to assassinate Grant Ward. Not capture, kill. He’s very keen on that particular kill order. (And Lance is perfectly happy to carry out that order, after what Grant did to Lance’s once and future wife, Bobbi.)

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Illustration for article titled Dammit, iAgents of SHIELD/i! Don’t Toy With My Emotions Like That!

Daisy Johnson. She seems pretty desperate to recruit that Joey guy to her new “Secret Warriors” team (the words are actually spoken this week!), even though Joey is new and freaked out and he can’t touch a doorknob without melting it. Daisy works Andrew pretty hard to get Joey cleared for action, but Andrew is used to pushy spies. Daisy is convinced that she needs to do better than her mom at providing a place for the Inhumans where they can be safe—but also useful. Her mom provided a kind of “halfway house” for the superpowered quasi-mutants, but Daisy thinks they’ll be happier if they can actually make a difference, by working for a covert non-governmental agency that’s been outlawed for its past association with evil terrorists. As Andrew points out, she risks turning her Inhuman friends into monsters if she pushes them to use their powers too quickly and recklessly, without training and assessment—and her human friends, also, risk becoming something terrible if they move recklessly.

And then, of course, Daisy pushes her powers to the limit, keeping the portal open so Fitz can rescue Simmons, and nearly dies in the process.

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Melinda May. She sort of hides out with her elderly father in Sun City, AZ—which is a sort of town-sized retirement community—and helps him play golf. Her dad dispenses lots of wisdom that boils down to the idea that Melinda is like her spy mother and she can’t just walk away from her life with SHIELD. And then Lance Hunter shows up, wanting to recruit Melinda for Operation Kill Grant Ward, and introduces the idea that Grant could have been responsible for the hit-and-run accident that injured Melinda’s father. Melinda seems like she’s personifying the end-state of what happens if you allow yourself to become a monster in the pursuit of duty, and she’s horribly burned out. But then she changes her mind and joins Team Lance... because killing Grant is always a fun time.

And finally... Ward. In an episode that’s all about the danger of becoming a monster as a result of taking extreme actions, Ward is someone who’s embraced his inner monster. Ward makes a huge demonstration of how the new Hydra will be a leaner, meaner machine, by putting a former Hydra bigwig on top of his expensive sports car and driving around a garage with a bunch of his new recruits standing motionless next to support pillars:

And then Ward goes to a lot of trouble to track down Werner von Strucker, the son of former Hydra head Wolfgang von Strucker, to recruit him for the new Hydra. But he doesn’t want to offer Werner a role in Hydra until he proves that he’s willing to be a total psycho freak, like Ward. So he stages a whole complicated operation, with rats on a boat, to capture Werner and pretend to extort him for information on his bank accounts. When Werner finally turns the tables and beats up one of his captors, Grant decides he’s proved he has what it takes to be a Hydra goon.

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Illustration for article titled Dammit, iAgents of SHIELD/i! Don’t Toy With My Emotions Like That!

So the other theme in this episode is control, as seen in the above clip where Grant exults in the superb handling of that Italian sports car. And Fitz figures out how to use the ancient steampunk machine to control the monolith (until Daisy can use her powers to do the same thing). And Melinda May, of course, wants to be in control of everything, all the time, even though she claims she left ice-skating for martial arts because she wanted to fall on a padded floor instead of hard ice.

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And in the episode’s kicker, the guy who has spent the whole hour giving out sage counsel about not getting devoured by your demons—Andrew, May’s ex—gets a brand new student. Werner von Strucker is going to be taking Andrew’s psych class. Wonder which one of them will have more to teach the other?


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com and follow her on Twitter @Charliejane

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DISCUSSION

Cool_Breeze
Cool_Breeze

NOBODY MAKES ME BLEED MY OWN BLOOD! NOBODY!

Welp, Ward is a straight up villain now, isn’t he?

I like how this season most of the characters this season are embracing what they’ve become. Ward? Villain. Sk...Daisy (Dammit!)? Leader. Coulson? Gotta’ do what you gotta’ do, because things get messy. Fitz? THE MAN. Hell, even Mack is embracing his role as the team’s teddy bear.

Doc Mock is still sidelined, but she’s coming into her own as a scientist while she heals, and May is on the lam, taking in the sun in Arizona with pops. These are about the only two characters this season without any clear focus or acceptance of the new status quo. I have a feeling now that Simmons is back (YAY!) and May is working with Hunter (OH GOD YES), this won’t last long.

1. A while back (and even last week!) I had speculated that the Monolith was in fact Eldrac, an Inhuman with ties to the royal family. I mean shit, IT HAS A FACE. I sure hope I was wrong, though, because that’s one hell of a way to get rid of a character. THANKS A LOT DAISY. I don’t think it was ready for that jelly.

2. Speaking of the Monolith: It couldn’t give a shit when Fitz was shooting at it with a shotgun, but as soon as Daisy got into the room, it got all excited. Know who else got it excited? Dr. Randolph. When Coulson and Amazon Woman showed our favorite Earth-bound Asgardian the Monolith, Daisy was nowhere to be found. So Inhuman isn’t necessarily the only trigger, is it?

In the comics, Asgardians know about the Kree, and have even dealt with them. Asgardians feel that the Kree are savage and deceitful. Did you see Dr. Randolph’s reaction when Coulson said “Inhuman?” He (much like Sif who could just rattle off multiple blue-alien races) knows the Kree history and what they are capable of. He knows the Inhumans were made to be weapons, and now I wonder if the Kree ever unleashed early Inhumans on Asgardians in the past?

Also: I wonder if Thor acknowledges Ronan in Ragnarok. If Asgard knows about the Kree, and in Thor’s quest to learn about the recent spike in activity around the Infinity Stones learns of Thanos’ dealings, I bet Ronan’s exploits on Xandar are at least mentioned in Ragnarok. Hell, if Thanos doesn’t make an appearance to collect on Loki’s failures in Avengers, Marvel will have missed a great opportunity to show off how bad Thanos really is.

3. Speaking of Asgardians: Dr. Randolph is one ornery Asgardian, isn’t he? I mean, from what we’ve seen so far, they can be mighty arrogant (ahem THOR), but Dr. Randolph almost has contempt for Midgard. I wonder if his sentiments are shared with most average Asgardians, or if he’s just one salty bastard.

It was fun to hear Dr. Randolph’s stories of the past, checkin’ out the stone work, fire dancers, etc. He’s been on Earth for a long time, and made some good use of it. I loved his banter with Doc Mock, especially when she told him the bunker reminded her of the bunker beneath the Louvre. God dammit Doc, now he has to go check!

Who is going to stop him? He could literally go through anyone.

4. How old is Hala? I don’t think that the planet Simmons was sent to was Hala, but rather, one of it’s moons (Hey, I was wrong before). But still, the sand that came through the Monolith was a billion years older than Earth. Earth is about six thousand years old (I KID. 4.5 billion years old), so Hala has to be much older than that. If sand is 5.5 billion years old, that means that planet’s system is closer to 9 billion years old. The observable universe is something like 13 billion years old, so the Kree potentially had a long head start. Makes sense.

Also, that planet seemed deserted. Was it somewhere Inhumans were sent to be punished, or was it somewhere Inhumans were sent to be trained? With the Kree, who knows. Maybe when Inhumans were first created, that planet was used to refine their skills for use in the various Kree wars. Since then, maybe it was just abandoned along with the Inhuman program, and when Inhumans were found, used as exile?

But like I said before, the Monolith triggered for both Daisy (Inhuman) and Dr. Randolph (Asgardian). Maybe that planet was more like a prison, and the Monolith was created much later as an attempt to corral Kree enemies, whoever they may be.

5. This episode had some interesting callbacks to other movies as well. Dr. Randolph made the requisite reference to Sokovia, but Fitz also asked for an expert on Einstein-Rosen Bridges. That is Jane Foster’s specialty. I know it’s a pipe dream because she probably wouldn’t do it, but how cool would it be if Natalie Portman made a quick cameo? Maybe a skype call of some kind with FitzSimmons, who let her know there are other ways to get across the universe other than the Rainbow Bridge. WE CAN DREAM.

6. Coulson is the absolute best Avenger, but Hunter is one of my favorite characters on any television show right now. God damn he is awesome. He’s suave (“the rest of you makes a bloody statement”), he’s funny (“Neighborhood Watch!”), and he is down to earth (his reaction to May telling him Simmons was back was GLORIOUS).

Something this show does well is mix and match certain characters and give us teases of team ups that could be. Coulson, Fitz, and Hunter are all separately awesome. Put them together? GOODNESS GRACIOUS I NEED MORE (I still want a Marvel One Shot showing us how Fitz got out of that bathroom). May is stone cold, and Hunter is a goofball, but put them together to infiltrate Hydra? HOLY SHIT THIS IS THE SHOW I DID NOT KNOW I NEEDED. I love May and I want her back with the team, but great googly moogly please take your time getting there. I want to see as many Hunter/May antics as possible.

7. This episode felt like it was about reputation, and to a smaller extent, branding. Dr. Randolph had a reputation as not being a local, and was laying low. Coulson was acting outside of his norm with his willingness to turn Dr. Randolph over to the ACTU. Daisy wanted to repair SHIELD’s reputation with the Inhumans, and vice versa. Ward was all about bringing Hydra back to its roots. Hell, Coulson even acknowledged the fucking BRANDING on everything pointing to SHIELD. His reaction to Doc Mock pointing out that there was a BIGASS eagle on the top of Zephyr One was on point: Sometimes he can’t help himself with the cool.

If that plane doesn’t have a fish tank that we just haven’t seen yet, I will be disappointed.

8. I mentioned it above, but holy shit Ward is a straight villain now. Did you notice how during his little test drive of the gluttonous Hydra agent’s car that he made the rest of Hydra line up next to the pillars he was using as obstacles? Not only was he showing this particular goon the new, discreet Hydra, but he was also making the rest of those doofs prove their loyalty to him. HOPE I DON’T HIT YOU LOLOL.

And THEN he unleashes fucking RATS on that yacht. WHO DOES THAT? I’ll tell you: villains. Not just bad guys, but villains. I bet by the end of the season Hydra gets some volcano lair or something. It’ll be appropriate.

AND THEN AND THEN, when Ward is clearing the goons from the yacht, he shot the dude for getting a good hit in. NOBODY MAKES ME BLEED MY OWN BLOOD! NOBODY! He reveled the fight until one guy got in a punch. He could have cleared that yacht in half the time with the gun, but chose to go all UFC on them. He’s having fun with this, too. Villain.

AND THEN AND THEN AND THEN he let his top goon take “teeth, eyes, a finger, whatever it takes” from Strucker Jr. He’s a straight villain. I hope he has plenty of Vaseline handy.

9. Special shout out to Coulson’s quip about Dr. Randolph’s drunken stumble through history. Nice. Asgardians are known for holding their liquor. Dr. Randolph tried to hold all the liquor. I was rolling.

10. May? Yes. May golfing? YES. Please take note, because that was not going to last long. Did her dad call her Mili? Much like the Cavalry, if Hunter calls her that, expect him to lose an eye.

11. Wait, I just skipped right over this: Another shout out: BABY STRUCKER! Much like the Hydra agent with the flashy car, baby Strucker was old Hydra - rolling in money and not really being bad, just living the life. Ward is bringing them all down to earth, Baby Strucker included. Von Strucker was the head of Hydra after Winter Soldier, and baby Strucker thought he was royalty. Nope. Ward knocked him down a peg quick.

12. Hunter is right: No one is ever truly out of the game if they keep looking over their shoulder. Coulson learned it the hard way in season one when he couldn’t tell the cellist that he was alive. May is learning it now even though she’s at home with her dad. She went to make sure his “accident” was really an accident, but still carries a gun everywhere and cuts vegetables like they were Ward’s appendages. Papa May was right: She does cut those veggies as a warning.

13. Again, this show has awesome humor. From Ward’s Taco Tuesday to Daisy telling everyone what Mr. Melinda May said about them to Mack ragging on Coulson’s office, I was cracking up. I loved how Coulson got all flustered when Daisy told him what Dr. Gardner said, and how Doc Mock self analyzed. Daisy’s “He didn’t mention you ... okay yeah he did and that’s exactly what he said” was freaking hilarious.

14. Something eerie I noticed: When May was talking to her dad, he brought out the picture of little May ice dancing. That was eerily similar to Black Widow’s ballet background with the Red Room program. It showed a profound difference between the two super spies who are friends: Widow was forced into the life, May embraced it after falling on her ass on the ice too much. May chose this life, and can’t get out. Widow was forced into it, and is perfectly at home.

15. FITZ IS THE MAN. That whole scene where he jumped into the Monolith soup and almost didn’t get Simmons back was fucking intense. I aged like a week just watching that scene.

This show has kept up the pace from last season, and doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down. Simmons was on the OTHER SIDE OF THE UNIVERSE and we got her back in two episodes. Oh, think of the possibilities!