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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1x6 - "F.Z.Z.T."

"F.Z.Z.T." (besides upping the ante on making the recapper type even more capital letters with periods) introduces two welcome items into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: a Chitauri helmet left over from The Avengers and, more importantly, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast's acting shoes. They all wore their acting shoes this week, delivering a series' best-thus-far apex of dramatic performances and emotional gut punches. Perhaps recognizing, six episodes in, that the audience may not feel much more than a certain weary fondness for the brainy combo of Fitz-Simmons, "F.Z.Z.T." introduces the possibility of losing Simmons this early in the run. We don't lose her, of course, because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't that kind of show about spies (like, say, Homeland is.) Even for a jet setting crew of young superspies facing unheard of dangers in a world were superpowers and aliens exist, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. maintains a level of safety, to the chagrin of some of us who want more risk. Risk! Risk is their business! But in exploring the steely core of heroism buried within the cheery, chatty Agent Jemma Simmons, we do end up liking her more, even as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. performs contortions of logic and believability to make it so.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. investigate a series of bizarre circumstances involving a dead scout leader floating in mid-air emitting tendrils of electricity. Skye and Fitz-Simmons are correct: this is kind of cool. The show introduces this in a spooky opening but then gradually abandons the horror angle as the Agents discover another floating body in a barn. Skye's investigative work reveals a connection: both victims are firefighters and were first responders after the Battle of New York. A trip to the fire house concludes the investigation upon meeting a nervous third firefighter also about to blow (what is it with this show and people who are going to explode - first Extremis and now this?) and learning the firefighters are in possession of a Chitauri helmet, a souvenir from New York. The helmet comes complete with an alien virus that infected the firefighters.

Coulson has S.H.I.E.L.D quarantine the helmet and The Bus flies it back to The Sandbox, a S.H.I.E.L.D biohazard containment facility in West Africa, but they soon learn that Simmons has contracted the alien virus when things start floating in their lab. She has two hours to live. Also, when she explodes in two hours, she'll destroy The Bus and kill everyone on board. So of course, much of that time is wasted with her sitting forlornly against the glass of the containment wall back to back with Fitz. But this is all right, she's young and only human dealing with her circumstances. It's drama. But what is not all right is how, in a circumstance where your best friend is dying, Fitz did not at any point press his palm against the glass so Simmons can match it, nor did Fitz-Simmons have The Conversation You Absolutely Must Have When Your Best Friend Is Sealed Off From You In A Biohazard Quarantine And About To Sacrifice His/Her Life. That conversation begins with, "Ship... out of danger?" Fitz-Simmons' running joke of his saying "vaccine" and her correcting him with "antigen" probably won't be aped in a J.J. Abrams movie in reverse thirty years from now.

As the other Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cope with the possibility of losing Simmons and dying themselves, and the terrible option of preventing the second thing from happening, Coulson video conferences with a new bigwig from S.H.I.E.L.D. we meet for the first  time: Agent Blake (please let his first name be Donald) played by Titus Welliver! Awesome to see Titus Welliver, although, while S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly is a giant organization, between Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Agent Blake, and whomever Robert Redford plays in the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a little clarification on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s top brass and who outranks whom would be welcome at some point. Agent Blake informs Coulson of orders: if Simmons' is about to blow, he's to dump her in the ocean and save The Bus. Logical. Coulson pretends the equipment doesn't work, a move straight from Spock's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country playbook, and ignores orders in a completely irrational move that justifiably earns a frown and glare from Melinda May.

Meanwhile, Fitz-Simmons realize the obvious solution: that the Chitauri who wore the helmet is immune from the virus and a vaccine/antigen can be manufactured - in minutes! - from its DNA residue. Fitz risks his own life by entering the quarantined lab and helping create the vaccine/antigen. When it doesn't work and the lab mice keep floating, hope seems lost. So Simmons does the noble thing: she bonks Fitz on the back of the head with a fire hydrant. What? And then she opens the landing bay doors and jumps. What? Also, physics? First the rubber raft and now this: what is it with the physics on The Bus where air pressure doesn't work right and creating a hole a plane in mid-air doesn't cause everything and everyone to be sucked out? Upon realizing Simmons has de-planed, Fitz grabs a parachute to make a rescue, but Ward does it instead and pulls off a highly unlikely, perhaps impossible by the laws of physics, James Bond in Moonraker (referenced by Fitz) rescue of Simmons. Who, by the way, is cured. The antigen did work, it was just a little slow. Crisis solved. Our team is still intact and remarkably no worse for wear. ("She's resilient," is how Coulson writes off Simmons, someone who should be undergoing weeks of S.H.I.E.L.D. counseling.) Finally, the deep, true, yet bizarrely unspoken of sexless friendship between Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons is reaffirmed, with the series basically stating "We are not dealing with that yet, if ever." But I am glad Simmons is okay. I mean, killing her would have been a ballsy move, but okay, don't. That's fine too.

There's more drama going on with the other Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. After being revealed as a traitor in the previous episode, it's bluntly explained Skye made the requisite rounds of apologies and is pretty much okay with her fellow Bus-mates, except Ward. (And possibly Melinda, but Skye's not as worried if Melinda doesn't like her. It doesn't seem like she likes anyone.) Skye chafes under Ward's coldness, his willful ignoring of her when she's being cute, and his passive-aggressive digs at her. His meanest one, "Everyone checks out on the first pass" made her cry and yeah, it really was pretty mean. Skye is also chafing from the bracelet she's forced to wear that monitors her "every keystroke... and cholesterol." Plus Ward totally didn't laugh at her Captain America joke. Also mean. But when Simmons was dying and their lives were all in danger, Ward softened a bit and let Skye stay in the room with him while he broods about how he can't protect them from things like alien viruses, revealing that Ward sees himself as the team's protector.

As for Coulson, he ordered a total physical workup on himself, inviting a different set of suspicious glares from Melinda (who also may have died and come back in the past the way Coulson did. Did she also go to Tahiti?) S.H.I.E.L.D.'s physical reports say there's nothing wrong, besides his iron being a little high (cue Iron Man joke), but Coulson feels different. Also, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s medical report could be lying. That has to be taken under consideration. Melinda makes him open up his shirt and for the first time we see what's behind Coulson's suit: a pretty gnarly scar from Loki's scepter. Whatever may or may not be wrong with Coulson, bottom line is that he did die (he even told the fire fighter with the Chitauri helmet what it's like when you die) and now he is back. That, by definition, makes Coulson a different person, as Agent Blake found out when Coulson told him off Wild West-style after Blake threatened to take his "dream team" away. Phil Coulson will ignore any order he damn well chooses to. It's really no different from Nick Fury ignoring the Jedi Council and firing rockets at his own plane when they told him to nuke Chitauri-invaded New York and he balked. Ignoring S.H.I.E.L.D.'s orders seems to be the mandate of an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to Skye's delight, we learn that Fitz and Simmons both do impressions of Ward. And so does Ward, for that matter. Ward impressions are Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s version of the Bluth family each having a chicken dance on Arrested Development. I bet Melinda May's Ward impression would bring The Bus down.