This review contains spoilers.
After a two week break, Agents of SHIELD returns with an episode that finally attempts to widen its dramatic focus beyond Skye the smart-talking computer hacker. Unfortunately, in doing so, it switches its attention to Fitz and Simmons. Is anyone else thinking about how green the grass back over the other side of the fence was?
In fairness, the main problem with Fitz and Simmons thus far has been their painfully utilitarian position in the cast. This episode gives them a little more material to work with than the expositionary guff they’ve been subject to in the previous five episodes as the pair set about finding a cure for an alien virus under increasingly dire stakes. In the process, we learn a little bit more about who the characters are, where they came from and what’s going on inside their heads.
The most rewarding thing about the episode is that Iain De Caestecker (Fitz) really seizes the opportunity, demonstrating that he does have a solid emotional range and thereby allowing Fitz to undergo the long-overdue transformation from prop into character. By the end of this episode he’s become convincingly two-dimensional. It’d be nice if we could have three dimensions, but considering we’re only a quarter of the way through the season run there’s still time for that to improve.
Unfortunately, on the other side of the equation, Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons) manages to demonstrate that the monotony of her performance isn’t the fault of the material she’s been given, but a conscious decision. Maybe she’d do better work with better material, but right now she’s the weakest link in the cast. It’s probably the case that the accent she’s trying to act through doesn’t help. Somewhat tellingly, the first episode that she gets called upon to convey a demeanour other than prim-but-enthusiastic is the first in which her natural accent starts to show through (I guessed Rochdale, Wikipedia says Sheffield).
Although it fleshes them out considerably, “Fzzt” doesn’t spend all its time on Fitz and Simmons. Skye, May and Ward get to inch their respective plots forward (does anyone on this show NOT have a traumatic past?) while Coulson’s takes something of a leap forward. It’s not a disappointing development, as such, but if this is the end of that particular mystery it does have the potential to be quite lame. For now, though, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. There’s got to be more going on here.
Six episodes in, we do have to take a moment to appreciate that the references to the Marvel films haven’t got any more subtle. This week’s plot trinket is a Chitauri helmet, and that, at least, is a good idea: a loose thread that can be worked into the plot in a way that feels natural and organic. But the writers can’t seem to stop there. Characters once again reference the likes of Iron Man and Captain America for throwaway lines that serve zero purpose other than to send a giant wink the audience’s way. It’s a device which reached the limits of acceptability in episode two, and by this point it’s just making everyone involved look desperate. Even comic fans don’t talk about Captain America and Iron Man as much as the Agents of SHIELD do.
To give this episode the credit it deserves, while the start was slow and dull, the tension really ramped up in the second (better) half. Crucially, the final act was the first time (for me) that Agents of SHIELD has elicited the emotion it was actually aiming for, and it did feel as though no-one was safe. I genuinely thought Simmons might die. Then I thought Fitz might. Then I switched back. The fact that no-one actually died by the end of the episode is immaterial: there was jeopardy here, in convincing amounts. That’s what happens when you shift the focus away from the cast members who are clearly bullet-proof.
As for whether this episode continues the show’s upwards trend, that’s debatable. It could’ve been worse, but there wasn’t the leap forward that we saw from episode three to four, or four to five. I’ll say this for an episode: it was better than I thought a Fitz & Simmons episode would be. That’s progress, of a sort.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.