Tuesday, October 27, 2015

REVIEW: 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' - Simmons Figures Out How to Survive on a Distant Planet in '4,722 Hours'

ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Episode 3.05 "4,722 Hours"

After her dramatic rescue from another planet, Simmons is still reeling from her ordeal and reveals how she had to fight for her life in a harsh new world.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has many different characters and plots it needs to service on an ongoing basis. It has definitely struggled in the past with characterization - especially when it just needed to focus on building towards the big events in the various Marvel movies. The briskness of the show's plot can be very problematic if it doesn't feature characters the audience cares about. That's something the show still struggles with. This season has been better than the second half of last season. And yet, it still feels like a juggling act with too much going on with characters who are only broadly defined. It's gotten to the point where the show kills off characters that are suppose to be important but only get a very minor reaction. Even with that, it feels like a story point the show needed to hit in order to move onto the next one. Developing interesting characters should be more important than serving some big plot. "4,722 Hours" embraces that with so much enthusiasm that it's basically the best episode the show has ever done.

"4,722 Hours" breaks from the monotony that is the show's regular operating formula. This hour features one story - the six months Simmons spent on the distant planet the Monolith took her to. It never breaks away to something going on with Coulson, Daisy, Hunter or anyone else. It's Simmons telling Fitz about what happened to her during those months and why she needs to get back there. The singularity of its focus is really powerful. It gives the hour room to breathe and truly explore its premise in a way that the show usually isn't able to do. Yes, it crams in six months worth of time into one hour. But it also does some phenomenally interesting character work and world building.

Elizabeth Henstridge shines magnificently in this hour. She delivers a powerful performance. It's something that has always been there with the character. She has this strength and hope that allows her to survive when this incredible and terrifying thing happens to her. Those qualities are on full display here. With her having a whole hour of the show to carry, the character is explored and given more depth than she has ever had in the previous two seasons combined. It's terrific work. She has to call on these inner reserves of power and strength in order to survive. It's captivating to watch as she slowly has to find a way to survive on a planet that seemingly has no life to it. She needs to find water and food so that she is still there when Fitz comes to rescue her.

Simmons has an attachment to Earth with her cell phone that has a Fitz-boosted battery to it. She is able to talk to it in order to keep from going insane. It's the only way she is able to rationalize all of this. She is on a planet alone. The phone's battery won't last forever. But she keeps talking in order to summarize her journey and maintain a grasp on her reality. It gets bleaker by the day as time slowly passes by. But she never gives up hope that Fitz will find her or that she will find her own way back home.

But Simmons is not alone on this planet. She soon finds another human being in Will. He was an astronaut who volunteered to go through the monolith for NASA in order to research what this planet would be like for future space travel. It's a mission he went on in 2001 and has been stuck here ever since. The rest of his crew all went insane because of the way the planet messed with their minds. It seems this planet has nefarious plans for the people that visit it. It's just a vague tease of darkness and despair. But it's also an explanation that Simmons and Will lean on in order to make sense of their surroundings that seemingly change in order to stop them from leaving this place. Simmons revitalizes his sense of hope. He wants to be on Earth again and enjoy all the foods he has missed for the last decade. As a scientist, Simmons is able to make sense of this world thanks to the equipment Will's team brought to the planet with them. It affords them one chance to escape. One that comes crushing down in despair as it fails. This is an emotionally gripping hour that changes these characters in tremendous ways while building a connection between the two that explains why Simmons needs to go back to this planet.

Sure, the reveal that Simmons and Will formed a romantic connection feels like it could just be a way to create some tension between Simmons and Fitz. But it also feels very real given the situation the two of them were in. They spent months together in close proximity. They formed a build. They depended on each other in order to survive in this world. Of course, that closeness would lead to something more. But Will also knows how much Simmons cares for Fitz. When she runs after seeing the flare despite the peril it could mean, Will makes sure she reaches her destination and isn't killed like all the other previous visitors to this planet. It leaves an uncertainty for him but he gave her what she had been wanting ever since appearing on this planet. Now, she and Fitz have to figure their way back to him and get him back to Earth with the monolith destroyed. He gave her what she wanted. Now she needs to do the same for him. That's such a powerful story engine for the show in the immediate future. It will likely go back to telling many stories every week. But the simplicity of this one was so much more powerful than the norm that the show should embrace this style of storytelling more often in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "4,722 Hours" was written by Craig Titley and directed by Jesse Bochco.
  • It's going to be so disappointing when the show goes back to fighting against Ward and Hydra next week. The death of Andrew means it's still going to be important for the immediate future. But after this hour, the show should put all of its resources into this direction because it was simply fantastic.
  • Dillon Casey is also great in this episode as Will. His character arc was very impressive as he regained hope because he met Simmons. He only got his happiness for a moment though as he saw the sun for the second it appeared on this planet. After that, he is once again alone in this cold, desolate world.
  • Was Will successful in killing the creature that hunts during the big sandstorms on this planet? He tossed his gun away but that could only signal that he's out of bullets for it. Could Simmons accidentally bring this creature back to Earth as well when she tries to save Will?
  • Was anyone disappointed that Simmons just found a hot human on this planet and not an alien?