"Purpose in the Machine" is the second episode of the third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
In 1839, a group of English gentlemen draw rocks out of a bag. One, Lord Manzini, draws a white rock, and is locked in a room with the Kree monolith. While the others wait for him to return, the monolith swallows him.
In the present day, Coulson's team pulls Fitz out of the monolith's container before it can liquefy and swallow him. Fitz has sand on his finger that once dated is revealed to be a billion years older than the Earth. He comes to the conclusion that the sand must have come from some place the monolith is a portal to, some place that Simmons must be. Since the monolith has been studied for centuries, Coulson decides to have Professor Randolph, an Asgardian who's been living on Earth for centuries, help them study it. Before they leave, Hunter also leaves for his own personal time which he plans to use to take down Ward. Bobbi asks him to not die out there while Coulson asks he make sure Ward does. Ward, however, has been busy rebuilding HYDRA and trying to get his hands on a kid. Coulson, Fitz and Bobbi go to Norway to get Professor Randolph, he however is in a Norwegian prison for damaging property while he was drunk. Randolph rejects Coulson's offer, preferring to keep a low profile in light of all that's been going on in the world recently. But when Coulson threatens to tell the ATCU about him, Randolph rips the bars off his cell and leaves with them. Elsewhere, Ward and Kebo find the kid on a yacht in Ibiza. The two of them sneak onto the boat, take out the kid's guards and abduct him. Meanwhile, Agent May has been with her father, William May in Arizona. He was recently injured in a hit-and-run that she thinks Ward might have been behind.
At The Playground, Randolph takes a look at the monolith and watches it collapse and take back its shape. He asks Fitz what would trigger its change. Fitz says it's completely random, but Randolph assures him it must be synchronized with something, even if it relates to another planet. Bobbi shows him the scroll that Fitz found in Morocco. Randolph recognizes the lettering from an English castle he visited in the 1850's. In Arizona, William and may are reminiscing about May's childhood, she sees someone outside come to the door. May grabs a knife, goes to the door, and before she can see who's there she grabs him and puts him in a hold. However, it wasn't some assassin there to kill her or her father, but Lance Hunter. Fitz, Randolph and Bobbi fly to England to investigate the castle. Inside, they find a secret passage that leads to a room with a large machine. They hear movement beneath them, and after tampering with the machine they uncover a whole in the middle of the floor filled with a black liquid. Fitz realizes the hole must have been used to hold the monolith. Coulson calls the Playground to tell Daisy and Mack to load up the Zephyr One and meet them there. Ward take the kid back to his base, where Ward forces him to give up his bank information even if Kebo has to torture it out of him. Back at Arizona, Hunter and May talk in the backyard about his plan to take down Ward. Since Ward never met him, he plans on going undercover as a potential HYDRA recruit. Although May is reluctant to get involved in Hunter's mission, she agrees to help him after talking with her father. At Ward's base, Kebo starts to rough up the kid when he refuses to give up any information, but the kid stabs Kebo with a razor he found on the floor and viciously beats him. The kid asks, "Do you even know who the Hell I am?," only for Ward to come into the room and reveal he knows his true identity, Werner von Strucker, son of the recently deceased HYDRA head Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. This whole thing was a test to prove Werner's worth to Hydra, and he passed. Ward brings him into his organization, showing him a world his father rarely let him see.
In England, Fitz gets the machine running shortly after they arrive. The liquid reacts to the powerful vibrations the machine produces, but they also cause Daisy to collapse. Fitz shoots a flare into the liquid and watches it vanish. The machine falls apart before Fitz can conduct any more tests on it. Coulson helps Daisy recover, and she finds out no one heard the pulse but her. Fitz thinks the machine didn't activate the liquid, but that it's purpose was to vibrate the room at a frequency that would cause it to react, a frequency Daisy could probably use her powers to reproduce. After they stabilize the area, Daisy starts shaking the room. The liquid starts reacting again, and Fitz ties a cord around his waist and jumps in. He arrives on the windy alien planet and starts calling out to Jemma. Miraculously, she can hear Fitz and starts calling out to him. They crawl towards each other, but as they get close enough to touch Coulson orders his team to stop the test and pull Fitz out of there. He tries to stay on the planet long enough to grab Simmons. Daisy stops the vibrations, and the liquid erupts, covering the room in black dust. Fitz made it through the portal and sits up in the bottom of the pit, and pulls Simmons up with him. Some time later, Professor Randolph asks Coulson what Daisy is. When Coulson tells him they call themselves "Inhumans," Randolph says he hasn't heard that word in a long time. May gets a call from Andrew about Simmons' recovery, news that Hunter wants to celebrate over.
For his first mission, Ward has Werner go to Culver University disguised as one of Dr. Garner's students.
- Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson
- Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May
- Brett Dalton as Grant Ward
- Chloe Bennet as Daisy Johnson/Quake
- Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz
- Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons
- Nick Blood as Lance Hunter
- Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi Morse
- Henry Simmons as Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie
- Luke Mitchell as Lincoln Campbell
- Blair Underwood as Andrew Garner
- Peter MacNicol as Elliot Randolph
- Daz Crawford as Kebo
- Alex Hyde-White as Lord Thornally
- Daniel J. Wolfe as Lord Manzini
- Piers Stubbs as Younger Lord
- James Hong as William May
- Darius Cottrell as Moe
- Spencer Treat Clark as Werner von Strucker
Continuity and References to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
- Sokovia is indirectly mentioned.
- Elliot Randolph returns.
- The Bifrost Bridge is mentioned.
- Kree are mentioned.
- Asgardians are mentioned.
- HYDRA are mentioned.
- Wolfgang von Strucker is mentioned.
- Secret Warriors is mentioned.
- Inhumans are mentioned.
- Werner von Strucker is introduced.
- Randolph refers to Bobbi as "Amazon woman". Adrianne Palicki, who plays Bobbi had previously played the Amazon warrior Wonder Woman in the pilot for a Wonder Woman TV series which was never made.
- The American flag on the wall in the squad's recreational area is an old American flag having only 48 stars on it instead of the modern 50 stars.
- James Hong (who guests as Melinda May's father) and Ming Na Wen (Melinda May) both starred in Disney's Mulan; Wen, as the titular heroine, and Hong as Chi-Fu, envoy to the emperor.
- This episode features two actors who worked (albeit separately) with legendary director Ridley Scott. James Hong played Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner and Spencer Treat Clark played Lucius in Gladiator.