After a two week break, tonight we get a new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I wasn’t terribly happy with how the last episode turned out, although parts of it were excellent, especially the action sequences shot inside the Centipede laboratory. Tonight’s cold open was released a few days ago, and it centers on a group of boy scouts sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories. The leader hears something that no one else can hear, and he tells the boys to stay while he checks it out. Strange electrical effects start to happen – a metal mug floats and has a current running over it – and then they hear the scout leader scream. The boys run for their truck, only to have something rip the vehicle’s battery right through the hood. Things calm down, and they go looking for the leader – only to find him floating in mid-air, apparently dead, electricity coursing over his body. Looks like a job for Mulder and Scully – but wait, they`re retired. Best bring in Coulson and team!
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E06 – “FZZT” – will discuss major plot points and events in the episode; read at your own risk!>>
We move to the bus where Coulson is running on a treadmill. “Working up a good sweat there, sir?” Simmons says to him, but he denies it – he doesn’t sweat, he “glitters.” Apparently, his doctors have ordered up a battery of tests to make sure he’s healthy. My first impression was that this was on the up and up – likely the doctors back at S.H.I.E.L.D. wanted to see how their clone/replicant/resurrected Coulson is holding together; turns out I was wrong, but I’ll get to that later. We move to Skye, Ward, and Fitz. Skye is whinging a bit about her security bracelet. Once Ward leaves she complains that she has been doing everything by the book; she still doesn’t seem to get exactly what she’s done to lose trust. She literally falls back on, “Yeah, but I was protecting my boyfriend.” Really? If the showrunners are trying to write Skye as an out of touch with reality whiner, then they’re moving in the right direction in this scene. Mitigating her behavior, however, is Fitz’s awkward attempts to flirt with Skye. He did make some moves in this direction in earlier episodes, and it looks like they intend to keep going with it. Skye is, of course, too self-absorbed in the moment to see any of Fitz’s clumsy signals. Both he and Simmons (she comes in a bit later) do impressions of Ward during this scene, and they are both quite funny. It’s a good human moment from two of the more endearing characters on the bus. Skye is at her best when she is sharing moments of camaraderie with these two, and I hope the writers keep giving them scenes together. The potential for a couple of unrequited loves are a little intriguing. Fitz is obviously falling for Skye; Simmons seems to have a thing for Fitz; and Skye…well, we have yet to see if the sparks she was igniting between her and Ward will show up again, or if her betrayal of his trust have shot that possibility down. After the three enjoy a laugh together, Ward returns and tells them to suit-up – they’re on a mission.
The team arrives and begins their investigation. Simmons approaches the body of the floating scout leader, still suspended mid-air the next day. A bolt of electricity arcs across and hits her, making her jump, and the body falls to the ground; remember this, as it is Chekhov’s proverbial gun over the mantelpiece and provides the set up for Act II. We move back to the bus, where Simmons is examining the corpse, focusing on an apparent entry wound on the body’s forehead. Fitz refuses to enter the lab, complaining about the smell, so Simmons is working alone. While they are trying to determine the cause of death, Fitz’s sensors detect a new electrical anomaly close to their location. Coulson, May, and Ward drive there as quickly as possible, arriving just after a massive EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) is detected at the same location. They investigate, and find a second body in exactly the same state as the scout leader.
Skye pulls files on the two dead men, and discovers that they share something in common: they’re both firefighters, and they were both part of a unit that went to New York following the attack on Earth by the Chitauri. When Coulson and team go to the local fire department, one firefighter comes out from the back of the firehouse looking rather peaked – he’s obviously unwell. Coulson follows him, and when a metal object floats up behind him, Coulson pulls his gun and tells the man to stop doing whatever it is he’s doing to cause the electrical anomaly. It quickly becomes obvious, however, that the man is not controlling the situation. In fact, he’s been infected. There’s a Chitauri helm the men brought back as a souvenir from New York, and three days before they decided to polish some rust off of it. “It’s not rust,” Simmons says over the ear mic – it’s an alien infection of some sort.
The scene between Coulson and the doomed fireman opens up some tantalizing possibilities regarding Coulson’s apparent resurrection and back story. He knows the man is going to die, and tries to comfort him. “I died,” he says. “Some say it was only for eight seconds, but I know it was more than that.” The firefighter asks what it was like on the other side: “It was beautiful.” How much does Coulson know? Is it even really Coulson at all? It’s really great to know that this otherwise super-wise and intelligent leader is not unaware of his own situation, and the paradoxes he faces in each realization that he isn’t exactly the person he used to be.
Once they’re back on-board the bus, they head toward Africa to the Sand Box – a place for highly dangerous and/or toxic artifacts where they can be studied in relative safety. Partway there, too far to turn back, they discover that Simmons has been infected with the alien virus. How? Remember when she was jolted by some static as she approached the body at the beginning of the episode? Apparently, that is how the infection is spread – through electrical conduction. Coulson is instructed by Agent Blake (Titus Welliver reprising his role from the Marvel One-Shot “Item 47,” available on The Avengers Blu-ray) to “discard any infected cargo” in order to protect the team. Coulson’s transmission suddenly seems to break up – there’s no way in hell he’s going to sacrifice a member of the team, no matter who’s giving the orders.
Simmons works alone in isolation, trying to develop a anti-serum. Several failed experiments and dead rats leave her almost hopeless – none of the victims, whose tissue samples they have, were strong enough to fight off the infection, so they are thus poor candidates to provide a cure. Fitz and Simmons realize at the same moment that the Chitauri must have been a carrier – and thus immune. Fitz grabs the helmet, and breaks quarantine to help Simmons. They mix up a new batch, while the entire crew gathers around to watch. At first it seems to cure the rat…but a flash of blue, and the rat floats into the air. Another failure. Simmons puts a brave face on things, and asks for a moment alone with Fitz. However, once everyone is gone, she smacks Fitz in the back of the head with a fire extinguisher. Interesting thematic connection with the earlier part of the story. Fitz comes to, and sees that the rat is alive; the new anti-serum simply knocked it out, but it has survived and is healthy. He calls for Simmons, but realizes in horror that she is standing at the open cargo bay door. As he screams for her to stop, she tumbles out into the void.
Upstairs, alarms tell the rest of the team that the door has opened. Ward rushes below, and grabs the serum and a parachute from the struggling Fitz (he was about to do the jump himself), and dives out the open door after Simmons. He tracks her down, applies the serum via shock, and holds Simmons tight as he releases his parachute. We smash cut to Coulson’s office, where he’s dressing the two of them down for their actions – but his softer side shows through a little as well. May comes to speak with him, and he speaks about his physical. He admits that it wasn’t his doctors that ordered it after all. No, he ordered it himself, as he hasn’t been feeling quite right. May makes him open his shirt, and pointing to his scar, tells him that these things change you – it takes a long time to come back from them. Is this an allusion to how long he was actually dead? She also alludes to something she, too, had to come back from, but Coulson cuts her off before she can get too frank about it. As touchy-feely as Coulson has become with his team, he is still hesitant about true openness. Is he afraid of being hurt, or having to make decisions that hurt others? We now know that he is really aware of just how deeply the Chitauri spear touched him, and the degree to which he has changed is yet to be weighed and measured.
There was a very touching moment as Ward and Simmons leave Coulson’s office. Skye sees Simmons, and nearly breaks down, rushing over and crushing her in a hug. This was pretty genuine emotion, and I felt myself really liking Skye’s vulnerability in this moment. More of this version of Skye, and she can be redeemed for me. After, we see Simmons in a quiet moment with Fitz. Fitz is trying to tell her about how he was about to jump out after her, but couldn’t get the clip on. He’s very eager that she know how hard he tried to save her before Ward came to the rescue. She points out that it wasn’t Ward inside the quarantine trying to save her life: Fitz is the real hero, she says, and kisses him on the cheek. It was again, very sweet without being saccharine-y, and showed some nice character development for our resident scientists. It’s nice to see their closeness being given some real teeth and more background, as to really bond with these characters it is important that the audience be given concrete examples of why these two are so close, to sympathize with their relationship, and eventually to connect with it themselves.
The stinger shows Agent Blake and a couple of field agents arriving to take the helm to the Sand Box. Blake chides Coulson, saying, “Technical difficulties is the best you could do?” He warns Coulson that the order to dump Simmons came from high up, and that he risks having the team taken away from him if he continues to ignore orders. “I’d like to see them try,” he says, and it isn’t an idle threat. This is his team through-and-through, as he has built if from the ground up, and earns their loyalty through his actions every week. Blake tells him that this doesn’t sound like the Coulson he knows. “No, I suppose it doesn’t,” Coulson replies. Perhaps he is coming to terms with his internal changes.
This episode dealt with electricity both through the device of the illness transmitted via shock, and through the connections between various characters. Any kind of sparks between Skye and Ward seem dead at the moment, and I feel that is a good thing. Simmons seemed on the verge of confessing…something…to Fitz on a couple of occasions, but didn’t, as did May when she was speaking alone with Coulson. There are more secrets within the team than Skye’s admissions from last episode, and it’s a good way to increase viewer interest. Now that the series has been picked up for a full 22 episodes, it should give the writers some space to play with these connections, and to increase the empathy the audience is already starting to develop for several of the characters. I truly hope that they can make Skye more sympathetic. Tonight, while she whined a bit about her restrictions, it was at least a nice change of pace from her nascent Mary-Sueisms as seen on the first five episodes. Even making her a little more annoying is actually a positive move, as it also makes her just a little more human. And the nicest aspect of her role in tonight’s episode? She was just another part of the team, doing her part – she was never singled out as the hero at any point, nor did she save the day. She did her job, she did it well, and the team worked together wonderfully.
Steve’s Grade: B+
Sparks flew in tonight’s episode, as Coulson pondered life and fate a little, while Simmons managed to face down her own mortality and come through on the other side – changed, chastened a bit, but alive. Good character development and one of the best episodes so far for the team, as a team.