This review contains spoilers.
Although its title is more reminiscent of a certain James Franco-starring arm-chopping-off movie, this week’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. reminded me of one thing – Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Of course, the film is too recent to have overtly influenced the episode (although Andy Weir’s book could have), there were some big, undeniable similarities.
Primarily, we are presented at the start with the idea of Elizabeth Henstridge’s Jemma Simmons trapped on a barren and remote planet with nothing to keep her sane but conversations with herself. We know from earlier episodes that it’ll be a long time until her earthly colleagues find a way to rescue her.
For twenty minutes or so, this made for a uniquely engaging episode. Moments like Simmons shouting “what did you do with it? I need the sun!”, fighting her way up the food chain in that weird pond thing and proclaiming “you’re dinner, biatch!” allowed Henstridge to showcase an impressive range that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t really made room for before.
There were smaller moments that hit the right buttons, too. A smash-cut to Simmons lobbing stones around in pure boredom after 13 hours raised a chuckle, as did the shot of her face-palming the planet after a sandstorm. Although you could argue that the script added in a few too many “Fitz… Oh, Fitz” moments, Henstridge was more than holding her own as the sole character in the episode. She was Mark Watney and Ellen Ripley fused together, and I was already planning my superlative praise for what I believed was becoming a sensational single-hander episode.
Except, then, it wasn’t. Simmons met Will the astronaut – a fellow stranded spacefarer who may or may not have killed all his NASA friends, depending on your reading of the episode. Nikita‘s Dillon Casey provided fine ‘is he an everyman, or is he a nutter?’ charm to the role, but what felt like an immensely brave solo-episode for Simmons had suddenly become the grandest method of introducing a new love triangle that you’re ever likely to see.
Yep, Simmons couldn’t just be stranded on her own. She had to be lumped in with a potential new love interest. This rankled a bit, just simply because it felt more like a plot device than a real driving force for the episode. Will’s introduction took the wind out of 4,722 Hours’ sails a bit. And – although being stuck in space for months would surely make you do strange things – Simmons and Will’s romantic entanglement towards the end of the episode felt out of character for Jemma.
Simmons formed a symbiotic friendship with Fitz for years before considering dating him, but a man who put her in a cage and poked her with a stick became a successful suitor in the time between season 2’s finale (when Simmons left) and season 3 episode 2 (when she returned). Going forward, when the rescue attempt for Will takes place, we’ll likely see friction between him, Simmons and Fitz. But we’ve seen enough comic book love triangles over on The CW, do we really need one on ABC, too? I hope to be proved wrong with some strong future episodes, but this is one strand I’m not particularly excited about at the moment.
But still, Team Marvel deserves praise for giving us half a single-hander episode. It was a brave decision, and another example of how Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t afraid to entirely abandon its status quo for a week. These episodes away from the usual dynamic are always welcome, even if this one did ultimately fall off the rails a bit.
High praise must go to Elizabeth Henstridge, as well. As the only member of the core cast in 99% of the episode she more than held her own. She brought life and energy to the blue-filter planet, proving that she could handle more heavy-lifting within the show. If the right movie executive was watching, she might even get some big screen work out of her performance here, which wouldn’t be undeserved.
So, two questions to finish with:
a) What do we think that evil thing – for want of a better term – is?
b) That new logo was pretty cool, right?