Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back and this week’s episode, titled “F.Z.Z.T.” (damn this series’ love of acronyms) is simplicity itself; an episode in which one core story is carried out over the entire episode, and, aside from the opening sequence, we pretty much stay on the plane throughout the entirety. The problem lies in this being an episode devoted to making you find some redeeming quality in the most annoying characters on the series: Fitz and Simmons. Thankfully, the dark subject material prevents them from being their cutesy selves and actually shows they can act! A rather well-done, subdued episode which replaces story with genuine emotion. Why is this a difficult formula to replicate every episode?
The episode opens with a camping trip from Hell as two little boys hear ghost stories before their adult supervision disappears. Cut to the Shieldies (is that an official moniker because I’m coining it) who discover floating adults who are infected with a bizarre virus causing them to blow up and emit electromagnetic energy. I was a bit confused on the whole thing, for reasons I can’t explain because I paid attention; suffice it to say, once you’re infected with this virus you’re dead.
Coulson, who’s on a quest for self-discovery after his near-death experience, has been doing medical tests on himself and has to come to grips with his resurrection during this virus crisis. The group discovers a team of firefighters who responded to the Battle of New York might have taken home a Chitauri souvenir in the form of a helmet. Coulson goes to the firehouse where one of the members is infected. There’s a rather touching sit-down between the two men as the firefighter realizes he’s going to die. He tells Coulson he’s scared and asks what Heaven is like. Coulson, who say it for a few minutes, says “it’s beautiful.” This was a highly emotional scene with Clark Gregg delivering the line in a heartfelt, but devastating way.
When the team reassembles on “the bus,” Simmons tells Coulson about how the virus spreads, via electric shock. She finds the whole thing amazing until Coulson realizes Simmons is infected. He’s forced to quarantine her and reveals the quintessential conundrum to the rest of the group: The only one smart enough to find a cure for Simmons…is Simmons. Yes, its cliché and sets up the rest of the Shieldies to step back and devote the entire episode to Fitz and Simmons but there you have it. Simmons and Fitz start to figure out how to find an antiserum and the only way to do is by scraping for cells in the Chitauri helmet. Fitz grabs it and throws himself into the quarantined lab with Simmons. The two believe they’ve found a cure, but to no avail. With little time left, Simmons is fairly resigned to death, even telling Coulson to pass the news to her father. I give Fitz and Simmons a lot of shit for being annoying characters, but the two actors have something brewing under all that annoying cuteness. Elizabeth Henstridge, in particular, was affecting and serious as a woman facing death.
With time running out, Coulson talks to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, in this case Agent Blake (Titus Welliver) who tells them to “dump” the dangerous cargo, aka Fitz and Simmons. Normally, I would be incredibly happy about this, and really the entire episode is a gimmick to get you to say, “No, we need to keep them.” I can’t say I wouldn’t have been happy to see one of them exit the show, especially to be unpredictable and tell audiences “Yes, in these types of situations people die.” For all the show’s set-up about death and confronting it, it’s a bit of a cop-out not to kill one of the infected characters. Simmons is prepared to sacrifice herself and opens the cargo hold to fall to her death. Of course, it coincides with Fitz realizing an antiserum has been found. He’s forced to get Simmons before she goes splat and thus we re-enact the “Barrel of Monkeys” scene from Iron Man 3 (still available on DVD and Blu-ray. Perfect to watch before going to see Thor: The Dark World Friday).
With Fitz and Simmons safe and virus-free it’s time to turn to Coulson. All the episodes prior have led up to this grand mystery: What happened to Coulson? Is he a robot? A clone? Coulson agrees that he’s different, and Melinda May tells him it’s because he died and was brought back. He isn’t the same person anymore, and has to let go of the past. His scars are there to remind him he’s come back a different man. Wait, that’s it! Essentially, he’s experiencing what Buffy did when she was resurrected from the dead? I really hope that’s not the end on this plot, especially once Agent Blake arrives on the bus and takes note of Coulson not being the “old Coulson.” I’m all for unpredictability, but to build up this plot and then say “Well he is different…he was dead for a bit and brought back,” something we knew from the outset, is stupid.
Overall, this episode was probably the most dramatic and emotional of the entire series. Skye didn’t take center stage, which I appreciated, and harsh decisions were confronted in an adult manner. The problem is why can’t this consistency happen regularly? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to have an issue blending character driven stories with action ones, and please don’t let tonight’s answer close the book on Coulson’s mystery.