The team has been through a lot lately on Agents of SHIELD. May is missing, Simmons was eaten by sentient goo and everyone still low-key distrusts Inhumans despite Skye’s Daisy’s best efforts to make her people feel at home. In this episode, “Purpose in the Machine,” something finally goes right, but not without many future conflicts being alluded to.

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Coulson Makes Questionable Choices, The Pope is Catholic

The episode opens in old-timey England with gentlemen making a ritualistic and unsuccessful attempt to conquer the Monolith. In the present day, everyone realizes that Fitz has decided to conquer the Monolith himself by punching it, and they pull him away just before it melts and eats him too. His temper tantrum is not without success, though; he comes away with sand on his fingers. Carbon dating shows that the sand is about a billion years older than the Earth, suggesting that the Monolith is actually a portal to another world. The entire team, who had completely written off Simmons’ life, is reinvigorated and eager to find her. I wonder how mad she’ll be when she realizes that they were all ready to let her go.

Coulson decides to make Operation Retrieve Simmons his primary focus. Skye Daisy, Mack and Bobbi join because Bobbi is still not well enough to go hunt for Ward, and Dr. Garner has refused to clear any Inhuman recruits for Skye’s Daisy’s new team. She’s frustrated, but it’s completely the right call; Joey from the season 3 premiere can’t even look at metal without melting it, let alone do anything productive with his powers. 

In a quiet moment, Garner and his voice of reason outline the character arcs we’ll be seeing this season on Agents of SHIELD. Skye Daisy is stepping into more of a leadership role, largely because she wants to give fellow Inhumans the chance to channel their outsider status into something good. Garner also mentions that Coulson is making questionable decisions, which is like saying that water is wet. Making questionable decisions is kind of Coulson’s M.O. Are we really going to have another season of wondering whether or not he’s fit to lead?

Simmons is Back!

To his credit, Coulson does know some helpful people. He finds Randolf, an Asgardian hanging out in a Norwegian prison. Randolf knows a thing or two about portals and alternate dimensions, and just so happened to have been at that 19th century British gathering from the episode’s cold open. It pays to be friends with aliens.

The team takes Randolf to the Gloucestershire castle where he last saw the Monolith. The same Hebrew word from the scroll is carved in the castle wall, though Randolf tells them that it means “death by punishment” and not “death.” Somehow, that’s actually worse. They find a room built a few years after Randolf’s last visit, containing hydro-electric machinery and a hole in the ground designed to house the Monolith. Not knowing what this centuries-old machinery does, or if it even works, Coulson decides to bring the incredibly dangerous, friend-eating stone of death out and see what happens. Coulson, this is why Garner questions your judgment.

By some steampunk miracle, the machines actually work. They send out some kind of frequency that only Skye Daisy can hear, which triggers the Monolith’s melting cycle. Everything breaks down before they can send a probe into the portal, but Fitz does manage to shoot off a flare. And they don’t have to worry about getting the machinery working again because Skye Daisy can recreate the frequency herself. It has extremely adverse effects on her health, though, so she can’t hold the portal open for long.

Of course, Fitz takes this opportunity to jump through and try to find Simmons himself. He does, and they both manage to come back through the portal just as it explodes. We get a few lovely moments of the FitzSimmons bond as he struggles to pull her through the portal and as they react to being together once again. 

This is a much quicker resolution than I expected but does seem to set the stage for some future conflicts; Randolf is extremely alarmed to hear that Inhumans are back, and Simmons seems physically fine but emotionally traumatized. I was hoping that the Monolith would turn her into a supervillain, so we’ll have to see just how much I am disappointed later.

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May on Vacation

Meanwhile, we finally get to see where May has been for the past few months. She’s in Arizona with her father, who’s recovering from injuries sustained in a semi-suspicious car accident. May, we learn, is extremely terrible at being normal. She can’t even cut vegetables non-aggressively. Yet normalcy is all she wants. Her trip to Hawaii with Garner doesn’t seem to have gone as well as she hoped it would, and she wants to see if she can make a life for herself outside of SHIELD.

Not helping in this pursuit is Hunter. He tracks May because she, like him, has been making inquiries about Ward’s whereabouts. He wants her help finding Ward and killing him. Since his plan is to infiltrate Hydra by becoming one of its members, he really, really needs it. May initially turns him down, but some father-daughter pep talks help her remember that her purpose in life is to kick ass. And nobody, nobody, deserves to have his ass kicked more than Ward.

Spoiler: Ward is Still Awful

Speaking of Ward, he’s off in Jackass Land, being terrible. His daily schedule now includes casual murder, kidnapping young women and torturing rich kids to gain access to their bank accounts. I like Ward as a character and a villain, but how anyone can defend him and his actions is beyond me. He is the certified worst.

To be fair, though, the rich kid had it coming. He’s Warren von Strucker, son of now-deceased Hydra member Wolfgang von Strucker. We last saw old Wolfy turning Pietro and Wanda Maximoff into Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch before being murdered in Avengers: Age of Ultron. His son has inherited all of his Nazi-ism and lack of empathy. In fact, Ward was really just using violence to test Warren. When Warren’s lust for murder allows him to pass with flying colors, Ward sends him undercover as a student in Garner’s psychology class. I can’t wait for May to kill them all.

Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Mary Kate Costigan

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV