Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns after a week’s break seemingly determined to directly address complaints that a) the stakes aren’t high enough and b) no one knows which wonder twin is Fitz (Iain De Castecker) and which is Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge).
Let’s bitch it out…It seems like everyone’s favourite new game of the season is “how to fix S.H.I.E.L.D.” as countless posts offering unsolicited advice to the show have popped up all over the internet in the last few weeks. To say that this show hasn’t been successful misses the point in some regards; despite dropping in the ratings each week throughout its run, S.H.I.E.L.D. remains one of the top rated new shows of the season. And yet creatively there’s no denying that the show has struggled to satisfy audiences both critical and commercial.
I can personally attest that one of my biggest issues thus far has been the series’ narrow focus on Skye (Chloe Bennet), Ward (bland Brett Dalton) and – to a slightly lesser extent – Coulson (Clark Gregg). It’s a nice surprise then that two of the three are banished to the background in ‘FZZT’ and the two junior scientists on the team are brought front and centre. Anyone who has been reading these reviews knows that I’m not a fan of the inseparable pair, who thus far have failed to demonstrate the trademark wit or charmy goofiness that has made Whedon’s other geeks so memorable (Willow, Fred, Topher and Wash, less so Book). Now whether it’s fair to compare S.H.I.E.L.D. to Whedon’s other shows is debatable considering it has yet to air even half as many episodes as his least successful venture (Firefly clocked 13 episodes, although only eleven aired). All of this to say that Fitz and Simmons were definitely at the bottom of the totem pole heading into this episode.
Does ‘FZZT’ rescue them? Not entirely. But it does come close. After a relatively routine case investigating a series of electromagnetic deaths linked to a Chitauri helmet, Simmons is infected with a virus that will kill her in hours unless she can find an anti-serum. The depth of the friendship between Fitz and Simmons is demonstrated when he refuses to give up on her treatment, even when it seems all hope for her survival is lost. In the end, it truly is Fitz and Simmons coming together – as they always have – that prevents a fatal incident from ripping the team apart, although the climax still involves Agent Ward skydiving to the rescue (is it in Dalton’s contract that he gets to be the guy who saves the day regardless of what else is happening in the episode?)
Watching the episode, it’s hard for me not to compare this to a classic Whedon episode, Angel 5×15 ‘A Hole In The World’. That’s the episode when Fred (Amy Acker) is exposed to a deadly alien virus as her friends desperately rally to save her. The key differences are that the emotional stakes are much higher: it is revealed that her ex-boyfriend, J. August Richards’ Gunn, is responsible for her exposure, and she has only just confessed her love for Alexis Denisof’s Wesley. Plus, you know, Fred actually dies. There was never a chance that Simmons’ near death experience would yield the same results; after all Fred was killed after four years on the series. In comparison, ‘FZZT’ is only the sixth episode of the series and the first to give Henstridge anything substantial to do.
With that said, I’ll admit that by the time her situation seemed hopeless, I did come around a little to both Simmons and Fitz. I’d be lying if I said that a part of me secretly hoped that S.H.I.E.L.D. would have the balls to actually kill off a member of the team (Side Note: is it cold of me to say that I liked Simmons a great deal more when I actually thought she would die than when I realized she wasn’t going anywhere?). Regardless of your preferences for Simmons’ survival, any emotional investment involved in her sacrifice is almost immediately compromised by her ridiculous last-minute mid-air rescue (Side Note: shouldn’t Simmons have still gone PZZT before eventually recovering? The mouse used to test the anti-serum did)
At the end of the day this is another step in the right direction for the show. If nothing else, viewers should now be able to tell the two scientists apart…something the writers seemed to be mocking early in the episode when Coulson asked for an explanation of them as a single unit and they promptly spoke over each other. Is S.H.I.E.L.D. much improved as a result of this particular episode? No…many of the points of the lists of improvements spread across the web remain applicable. But let’s not forget that this is also only episode six of 22. We still have a lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. to come, so let’s see if the quality continues to improve as it has in the last few outings.
- Another great leap forward: Coulson acknowledges that something about him is off. It would have been nice if his confessional scene hadn’t ended with Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) pacifying him with trite reassurances that changes inevitably follow a near/actual death experience, but I’m glad that the writers have moved beyond the wink-wink asides that we got in earlier episodes. What’s interesting is the hint that Melinda’s reservations about going back into the field stem from a similar experience. There’s still a great deal about her to unpack
- Another week, another shout-out to The Avengers. This week’s murder spree is tied to one of the aliens who attacked New York in the big screen adventure. I’m curious to know if any viewers who have not seen the film find these plotlines hard to follow?
- Speaking of Marvel alumni, genre vet Titus Welliver reprises his role as Agent Blake – a ruthless A-hole we’re meant to dislike because he tows the corporate line. He was previously in a Marvel One-Shot ‘Item 47’, about a regular couple on the run with a dangerous alien technology (almost a precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s everyday heroes approach). If you haven’t checked it out, it stars the always amazing Lizzy Caplan, which is reason enough to track it down
- There’s a nice moment when Ward confesses to Skye that he hates feeling helpless because he’s used to fighting people. It’s a nice acknowledgement that the brawny action star does have some emotional depth, even if that’s almost immediately shelved so that he can jump out of a plane to administer the anti-serum
- Floating bodies makes me nostalgic for Fringe (although at least there’s this). Lame-o campfire stories and stupid children? Umm…pass, even if it does offer the delicious visual of Melinda May threateningly offering a terrified boy Scout a cookie
- Ward (when Skye suggests the victim is innocent): “Everybody looks clean on the first go around” Snark!
- Skye (as Simmons examines a decaying body): “What are you looking for?” Fitz: “A scented candle” Skye: “Not you!”
What are your thoughts: do you wish Simmons had died or are you glad that she’s stuck around after possibly making you care a bit about her? Are you happy that Coulson’s “different” nature has been formally raised? Do you want Ward and Skye to hang out on the sidelines a little more often? Should the series take a few more pages from Fringe‘s handbook? Hit the comments below
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 8pm EST on ABC