This week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is so good that it leaves me in a state of pessimism. Because I can’t see any way to follow it up that gives a satisfying resolution to the story it so beautifully presents.
Since Jemma Simmons’ abduction by the Monolith in last season’s finale, we’ve followed the efforts of her soulmate Fitz to retrieve her. We shared the triumph when he and her fellow agents finally succeeded in doing so, and the heartache that followed when Fitz learned her time away left her…changed. In this week’s episode, we learn why. “4,722 Hours” is told entirely from Simmons’ perspective, from the moment she was taken from her lab and deposited on a strange planet in a different solar system. It’s a fascinating character study, in which we witness her initial shock displaced by her level-headed reasoning as a scientist, followed by her sheer terror at being stranded in a hell where the sun never shines, and finally, her will to survive rising to the fore as she finds a means of both physical and psychological nourishment. The latter is obtained through recordings she makes during her exile to Fitz, a photo of whom she turns to repeatedly as a reminder of why she wants to get home.
It’s almost a relief to see her caught by a strange figure and help captive, since at least her basic human need for companionship might be satisfied. But when it’s revealed that her captor is Will, a hunky astronaut sent through the Monolith’s portal by NASA (in 2001, naturally), I was almost disappointed. Would this Castaway-like tale of survival turn into some kind of Six Days, Seven Nights nonsense? Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, given what we know), this doesn’t prove to be the case, though the two do develop a romantic relationship, after failing to get a message in a bottle through the portal, once Jemma calculates where it will next appear. (Luckily, as we saw a few episodes ago, a piece of the bottle did make it through the portal, where it was found by Fitz.)
The relationship between Will and Jemma is nicely handled, and Elizabeth Henstridge and guest star Dillon Casey complement one another marvelously as two determined people who realize they can best keep each other sane by providing what the other lacks — the voice of hope or doom. (There’s a lovely shot of their cots pushed together to indicate when things have gotten serious.) By episode’s end, their dynamic changes to the point Jemma, initially the optimist, begins to despair and Will encourages her to stay positive. Case in point, he seemingly sacrifices himself to the evil force that claimed the life of his fellow astronauts so she has a chance to run to Fitz once the intrepid agent makes it through the portal to rescue her.
Cut to the present day — and Simmons finishes telling her tale to the silent scientist. It’s not easy to hear the love of your life has fallen for another. But Fitz again demonstrates the depth of his character when he quickly agrees, to an again joyful Simmons, to help retrieve Will.
This brings us back to my concern. Because I’m struggling to think of a way in which this ends well for the characters or the viewer. At best, they’ll find a way to bring Will back, and we’ll get an unwelcome love triangle. At worst, someone’s heart is going to break into a million pieces. For the time being, however, I’m just gonna take pleasure in one of the very finest episodes S.H.I.E.L.D. has given us, and one of the few a viewer with almost no prior knowledge of the show can fully appreciate.
- “You should make him dinner tonight. That seems like a good idea. Then you should stop talking to yourself.”
- 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t the only piece of vintage science fiction that gets referenced here. The names of the doomed scientists who accompanied Will on his mission? Taylor, Brubaker, and Austin. All astronauts who ran into trouble, in Planet of the Apes, Capricorn One, and The Six Million Dollar Man, respectively.
- Without question, my favorite shot in this episode is the one in which the red light of a flare gun is reflected in Jemma’s eye, piercing the perennially blue landscape in which she’s been trapped.
- “I’m glad that thing sent you over here. Not the janitor.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).