Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 5, "4,722 Hours" REVIEW (SPOILERS!)

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You know, I think “4,722 Hours” (3x05) was exactly the episode I wanted to see. The focus was entirely on Simmons and her experiences on the planet. We learned exactly how she survived 6½ months on the planet and why she needs to get back. And along the way this episode offers some incredible character development for Simmons. All of the acting was superb throughout the episode, and aside from a very few things I loved just about everything about the planet. After several episodes with an enormous number of plots going on at the same time, I think that an episode with a laser focus on a single plot was exactly what we needed.

The episode begins slightly differently from other episodes: instead of the “Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” segment, it picks up right from the ending of the season 2 finale, “S.O.S.,” with Fitz and Simmons having their “dinner” conversation right before she gets sucked into the Monolith. From there we see her appearing on the unknown alien planet and panicking a little. However, she quickly collects herself and begins analyzing her situation like a trained scientist. She starts off by using her phone to take dictation of her observations and analysis. However, it is not long before her “log entries” turn into her talking to Fitz and looking at his picture on her phone. At this point she is still hopeful that Fitz will find a way to reopen the portal and return her home, but you can see some cracks forming.

She finally has to leave the wormhole site after about four days because she needs to find a source of water. However, she leaves a marker at the site showing which direction she went so that Fitz will be able to find her when he reopens the wormhole. That’s definitely a hopeful gesture; if she didn’t think there was any hope of rescue, she would never have gone through the effort and exertion. And yet, at the same time you can tell that she is starting to lose hope, especially as she keeps traveling and can’t find water anywhere. When the sandstorm came through and covered her in sand, I wasn’t entirely sure what would happen, as while we knew that she was going to survive, she was really not in good shape.

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Simmons finding the pool was another fun scene, especially the way they handled the reveal of the giant plant monster. That plant monster wasn’t my favorite part of the episode, though in giving it more thought it did look pretty consistent with my experience of underwater plants. Once she found a source of food and water, it made a lot of sense for her to stay there for as long as she could. However, it was pretty clear that something would have to get her to move sooner or later. That thing turned out to be wind rustling giant reeds. She went to investigate, and fell into a trap.

Will is a very interesting character, particularly for how he related Simmons. We don’t know a ton about Will, but from what he said, he’s a former Air Force test pilot who was recruited to N.A.S.A. and volunteered for a special mission: traveling through the Monolith (in 2001) as part of a plan to explore space on a budget—I wonder if Rosalind has some connection to this plan, as she spent some time at N.A.S.A. Regardless, Will went on the mission with 3 scientists (Easter Egg: one of the scientists is named “Brubaker,” after Ed Brubaker, a comic writer who has worked on a number of important Marvel characters, including Captain America, Daredevil, Iron Fist, and the X-Men), and he was intended to be their security guy to keep them safe for the year or so before N.A.S.A. would bring them back to Earth. However, the other three astronauts all died well before Simmons arrived. There is a lot here that needs to be unpacked—everything about him is screaming “comic book character” to me, but I can’t figure out what comic book character he could be.

Having been on the planet for 14 years already, Will serves as Simmons’ guide in understanding the planet. He explains to her that there is something on the planet which caused the deaths of the other astronauts and which can smell blood. This thing, “Death,” has killed everyone who passed through the Monolith, and has some sort of connection with the planet itself, such that a sandstorm indicates its approach. Though Simmons does not believe him at first, she quickly becomes a believer when she sees “Death” herself while exploring a “graveyard” where she found the remains of many previous human travelers (including the sword carried by the British gentleman in the season premiere, “Laws of Nature”). In contrast to Simmons’ hopefulness—she is convinced that Fitz will find a way to get her home—Will has become bitter, believing that there is no way for them to return and they are going to die on the planet. They play off each other quite well, with her offering to be the “voice of hope” in contrast to his “voice of doom.”

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Simmons comes up with a plan for them to get back to Earth by predicting where and when the portal will open. While the science is unclear, the concept is fairly straightforward: she believes that the wormhole itself is constant, but it opens in different locations because the planet itself is rotating (how that works without the wormhole being left drifting in space for most of the year is unclear). Based on the locations where they both arrived on the planet, Simmons believes that she can determine the rate of rotation. And because the wormhole seems to be controlled by the planet’s moons, she may be able to determine the circumstances which cause the wormhole to open and predict when it will happen again. It’s actually a brilliant idea, though they fail in the end when “Death” somehow makes the canyon separating them from the wormhole site much wider than it had been. They still have hope, however: Simmons put a message to Fitz in a bottle and wants to launch it through the wormhole using an improvised launcher to give Fitz the knowledge necessary to open the wormhole. Unfortunately, Will lines up the shot too late and the bottle lands just after the wormhole closes. This is the moment when Simmons finally loses hope.

Simmons losing hope may have been the most powerful moment in the episode: through all of this adversity she never lost hope. She was stranded on the planet and didn’t lose hope. She was nearly killed by a killer plant, but didn’t lose hope. She was imprisoned by the first human she met, and still didn’t lose hope. But now she’s lost her one tenuous connection to her friends—her phone—because she used its remaining power to boot up the N.A.S.A. computer and calculate this one last chance to return, and without that final connection, it’s like she no longer has anything to hope for. Her only reason for optimism now is Will.

The relationship between Will and Simmons was also very well done. At first she is all about Fitz (it’s her favorite word) and distrusts Will. Even after meeting Will, she still seems to be holding out hope for Fitz to find her. However, it is very clear that after months of living and working alongside Will, Simmons is starting to warm up to him, though not to the point of caring for him as much as she cares for Fitz. This all changes when their escape attempt fails and she is left with nothing to connect her to her friends. That is when she finally kisses Will—I think she’s finally lost all hope of returning to Earth. From a psychological perspective, this episode and particularly Simmons’ psychological state is very well constructed.

After putting all that effort into trying to get home, Simmons seems to have completely given up on home and decided to make a life on the planet when she sees Fitz’ flare and the two of them immediately run towards it. “Death” tries to prevent them from reaching the wormhole, but Will attacks “Death,” using his final bullet on it, to give Simmons a chance of reaching it the site. At this point the episode syncs back up with “Purpose in the Machine,” when Fitz jumped through the portal and grabbed Simmons to pull her through.

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It isn’t until now, at the very end of the episode, that we finally jump to present events: all of this is set as Simmons’ explanation to Fitz of what happened and why she needs to go back. Fitz doesn’t really respond—even on discovering that Simmons had seemingly moved on with Will—and silently leaves her room. She chases him to the lab, begging for him show that he understands, and discovers him at the computer bringing up everything they have on the wormhole. I think this is what finally hits you “in the feels”: even though Simmons wants to go back to find the man she’d met on the other planet and with whom she became close, Fitz is still going to help her do it, knowing full well that he may be losing her for good. As an aside, at this point I really don’t think that Simmons and Will are going to be in a permanent relationship; I think most of the attraction stemmed from the fact that they were alone together on the planet. Further, I think that Fitz-Simmons is a well-enough established relationship that they are going to be together at the end of the season, though it may be rough getting there. As another aside, I really do not consider this to be a love triangle. If they rescue Will and the focus shifts from there to Simmons having to choose between Will and Fitz, then it will be a love triangle. As it is, Simmons’ and Will’s relationship doesn’t really appear to be about more than convenience and close proximity.

All in all this is an excellent episode, perhaps the best of the season so far. The complete focus on a single plot was a welcome change from previous episodes (and a bit unexpected, as well). The acting, specifically from Elizabeth Henstridge, was excellent; Dillon Casey (Will) wasn’t great in places, though that may just have been due to playing a character who was alone in inhospitable conditions for the better part of 14 years! I really want to know if Will is based on a comic book character, and if so, how much of that story will carry over into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

What did you think of this episode? Were you expecting her to meet someone on the other side? Were you expecting the romantic angle? How do you think this whole plot will resolve itself in a couple episodes? Let me know in the comments!

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