Agents of SHIELD TV Reviews

TV Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “FZZT” (S1/E6) – Do We Like Fitz and Simmons Now?

To read our other Agents of SHIELD episode reviews please go here.

  • Original Airdate: 11/5/2013
  • Director: Vincent Misiano (Medium, Third Watch, The West Wing)
  • Writer(s): Paul Zbyszewski (Lost, Day Break)

After going with a re-run last week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned last night with a brand new episode, “FZZT.”  It’s been a rocky first five episodes for the show, but in such a short time span there has been gradual improvement.  What these handful of episodes have indicated is that the more S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes an ensemble show and less the “all Skye” power hour the better it will be.  After the previous episode revealed Skye’s big secret is a yawn-inducing “search for her birth parents” storyline, “FZZT” thankfully back-burnered that noise.  Instead, we got our first showcase for Fitz and Simmons, the Irish guy and British gal who to this point have mostly seemed like something you get when Joss Whedon jokes about splitting Q from 007 into two different characters and nobody was brave enough to argue that this might make the resulting two characters seem redundant.  

Agents-of-S-H-I-E-L-D-1-05-Girl-in-the-Flower-Dress-Promotional-Photos-agents-of-shield-35785106-500-333
Fitz is doubly challenged as his skillet overlaps with Skye’s enough that in some episodes he’s done little more than stand and watch as Skye hacked to save the day.

These problems are too big to be solved alone in “FZZT.”  However, “FZZT” is a step in the right direction, not only getting around to focusing on Fitz and Simmons but also finally exploring some new character pairings (Fitz and Skye, Simmons and Grant).  It de-emphasized the show’s signature action sequences and focused on character, turning in its second half into a bottle-episode set entirely on the plane (the second episode this season to do so; likely a budgetary concession).  For all of the episode’s attributes, though, was its happy ending a cop-out?  Hold that thought.

–>Plot Recap (Use the comments section to let me know if you wouldn’t mind if I stopped featuring these recaps in my reviews)

The cold open? A troop of boy scouts gain a new scary campfire story about that one time their troop leader left to investigate a strange noise only to be found dead and floating in mid-air after a mysterious electromagnetic pulse cascaded through the camp.  This sounds like a job for…

The stuff on the plane? Coulson has Simmons give him a physical, though Simmons is unclear why.  Fitz, Simmons, and Skye bond over behind-the-back mocking of Agent “Frowny Face” Grant.  Skye, for one, doesn’t understand why it’s taking Grant longer than two weeks to forgive her treachery from the last episode.  Plus, Skye totally fails to notice Fitz’ attempt to flirt with her.

The investigation? On scene, Fitz and Simmons have no idea what could have caused a weird electric shock and dead floating guy who appears to have exit wounds with no corresponding entry wounds.

The action? Grant, May, and Coulson follow Fitz’ electrostatic readings to a nearby farm where they find another dead, floating victim.  Skye’s computer hacking links both the victims to a volunteer firefighter regimen who acted as first responders during the Battle of New York.

The first plot twist? This is not something being done to people by a villain.  This is an alien virus three firefighters contracted days prior when they cleaned a Chautari helmet they kept as a souvenir from the Battle of New York.  The third victim dies at the fire station, but not before Coulson gives him a “I died, heaven is great, you’re going to love it there” pep talk.

Agents Shield FZZT Electroshock
The third victim having no idea that he is the one making that pan float in the air next to him.

The second plot twist? Back on the plane, Simmons works to come up with a vaccine (anti-serum) as they transport the Chautari helmet to a SHIELD facility in the desert.   However, the virus is transmitted person-to-person by electroshock, and Simmons contracted the virus when she touched the first victim when he was still floating in air.  She now has less than 2 hours to live.

Fitz and Simmons, So close yet so far away
Fitz and Simmons, So close yet so far away

The character drama? Grant channels Steinbeck in railing against the perils of battling a foe you can’t see while Coulson continually ignores orders to basically throw Simmons off the plane before she dies since the accompanying electromagnetic pulse will destroy the plane.  Fitz says to hell with the quarantine and works alongside Simmons to perfect an anti-serum.

The action? With the last anti-serum an apparent failure and time almost completely run out, Simmons knocks out Fitz and jumps off the plane, attempting to sacrifice herself for the good of the team.

Agents Shield FZZT Simmons
An effective moment made less effective for anyone who saw this shot in the episode’s trailer.

Fitz quickly figures out the anti-serum actually works, and Grant manages to catch Simmons in air and administer the anti-serum to her just in time.  Parachute away.

The one-on-ones? Simmons gives Fitz a friendly kiss on the cheek for helping to save her, and Coulson admits to May that he ordered the physical himself because he didn’t feel normal anymore.  The physical indicates he’s fine, but May has him bear the scar on his chest as a way of emphasizing that he literally died; of course he’ll never feel the same ever again.

The pre-credits stinger? Agent Blake from Marvel’s Item 47 short film that inspired the creation of this very show arrives to collects the Chautari helmet.  He foreshadows potential conflict down the road for Coulson with the higher-ups at SHIELD if he continues to ignore direct orders.

–>End Plot Recap

In some ways, this episode is a darker flipside on the promise presented by Item 47, thus making the return of Titus Welliver’s Agent Blake not only welcome but perfectly timed.  In Item 47 (it’s a special feature on The Avengers Blu-Ray), a young couple uses a salvaged Chautari weapon from the Battle of New York in a series of bank robberies.  Once neutralized by SHIELD they are recruited to the organization as a reward for their ingenuity. “FZZT” takes the same central concept of the discovery of a Chautari artifact from the Battle of New York in The Avengers and explores a darker set of circumstances where an innocent item like a mask could hold within it an alien virus.

What Worked? – The creepy tone at the crime scenes; Coulson and Melinda’s final mystery-laden conversation; Clark Gregg’s acting during his conversation about death with the third firefighter victim; the way the two big plot twists unfolded; the acting from all involved once Simmons became symptomatic; the argument between Fitz and Simmons through the glass before he decides to break quarantine and join her; May interrogating by giving cookies

What Didn’t? –  Skye’s “Jeez, it’s been like two weeks.  Why is Grant still made at me for having lied to him every day since I’ve met him?”; the regrettably slow pace at which they are stretching out the “how on Earth is Coulson actually alive?” mystery.

Overall, “FZZT” took a familiar television storyline, i.e., the disease outbreak, and gave it a nice comic book spin while sticking the landing with all of the expected story beats – orders from leaders looking to protect the many but not the few we actually know, first couple of vaccines don’t work, someone breaks quarantine because without them a cure won’t be reached, helpless onlookers rail against the idea of being helpless, loved ones talking to one another through quarantine glass.  But did they need the happy ending?

NOTES

1. The Argument for Killing Simmons

Angel-DoyleabdAngelfromCityOf
Angel on left, Doyle on right. Too much brooding for one screen, or so Joss Whedon thought.

Let me tell you a story about a man named Doyle.  As played by Glenn Quinn, Doyle was a supporting character for the first 9 episodes of Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off.  His function on the show was to provide levity and be a story generator for cases-of-the-week, as Angel often identified his clients as a detective based off visions the half-demon Doyle would receive without warning.  However, show co-creators Joss Whedon and David Greenwald decided that casting Quinn had been a mistake, as the tortured quality he brought to the part overlapped too much with David Boreanaz’ intense brooding as Angel.  So, they killed Doyle off at the end of the 9th episode when he sacrifices himself to save the day.  Though not by design, this shocking death unnerved audiences who could no longer trust that the hero would actually win in the end on Angel.

VampJesse
Joss Whedon pulled a similar trick in the pilot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer by giving us a character who appeared set to be a full-time cast member and then killing him off in the pilot’s climax.

Doyle was replaced with a more traditional comic relief presence who initially better balanced the show.

Killing off Simmons in only SHIELD‘s 6th episode could have fulfilled the same function, eliminating a redundant element in the cast while disrupting audience complacency by daring to actually have the heroes lose (granted, Fitz is arguably more redundant than Simmons).  Simmons’ death would introduce juicy material for Fitz and Coulson, the latter open to obvious self-doubt as perhaps the pre-Loki version of him would have never even let Simmons on his team in the first place (she’s not field-ready, and is therefore a liability).

2. The Argument Against Killing Simmons

Angel managed to grant Doyle an entire story arc across his 9 episodes involving his maturation into a hero in his own right who not only saves the day but also finally comes clean to supporting character Cordelia about his crush on her and the truth about his status as a half-demon.  He’d also had his own showcase episode in which the audience got his full back story.  Doyle went out affirming Angel as a heroic character who not only did the right thing despite all odds but inspired those around him to do so as well, even at their own peril.  Doyle’s death also had a profound impact on Cordelia, who inherited his curse of visions which gradually turned her into a better person due to repeat exposure to the suffering of others.

Simmons, um, doesn’t have any of that.  She’s had no character development until “FZZT” and precious little backstory.  Heck, some viewers probably thought she and Fitz were actually related until “FZZT.”  Her death would ultimately mean nothing and rob us of getting to know a character we’ve pretty much only just met.

3. Will we ever see Lola fly again?  

Agents of Shield Back to the FutureI’m find if we don’t, but they had a falling girl and a car that can fly and was right there int he cargohold.  Instead, they sent Grant.  Probably the right move for time and tone, but I do wonder if Lola’s Back to the Future-style flying at the end of the pilot will go the way of Rose Tyler’s ultra-handy gymnastic skills from the first episode of the revived Doctor Who, i.e., that helpful attribute that is never again referenced?

4. New Pairings..Finally!!

To this point, these have been the relationships this show cares about: Coulson and Skye, Coulson and Melinda May, Skye and Grant (and Coulson and Grant to a lesser degree).  That has left no room for Fitz and Simmons or alternate pairings.  As such, it was genuinely exciting seeing Simmons actually have a one-on-one scene with Grant at the end of the episode, and although a bit odd also intriguing seeing Fitz have a crush on Skye.  Why?  Because it was something different.  Keep mixing it up, show.

5. So, How Are We Interpreting That Kiss Simmons Gave Fitz?

Agents of Shield FZZT kiss

It wouldn’t have been so weird were it not for the unexpected total dead-eyed reaction Ian De Caestecker gave after Simmons kissed Fitz’ cheek.  Others have argued they are clearly dipping into the Buffy the Vampire Slayer playbook and establishing Simmons as Willow to Fitz’ Xander, i.e., she loves him but he only has eyes for the hot new girl on the block, which in his case means Skye but in Xander’s case it meant Buffy.  This may be true in the longterm, but we know from the preview for next week that the next episode features Fitz and Grant on an undercover mission which goes poorly.  The intent of Fitz scene with Simmons was establish that Fitz feels emasculated by having needed Grant to save Simmons, a conflict which will be better enunciated next week.  What this means about his feelings for Simmons or nascent crush on Skye are open to interpretation.

What you think?  Did you not like “FZZT”?  Couldn’t care less about who has a crush on whom in the Fitz-Skye-Simmons triangle?  Just like that Melinda served cookies to little kids? Let us know in the comments.

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