Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns this week after a brief hiatus to give America Boston plenty of time to soak up the World Series. In that time, I’m sure a lot of viewers made the decision to either delete AoS off their DVRs or stick with it after the news of a forthcoming Thor: The Dark World crossover. I’m happy to say that even after some reservations regarding the series, this loyal viewer shall continue to flash his S.H.I.E.L.D. badge as the season progresses. This week’s episode, FZZT, definitely helped sway my wavering attitude in favor of keeping with the series, showcasing all the right characters, pacing the story beautifully, and exploring just enough of the extended Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The latest mystery to plague the agents begins around a campfire as a small troop of boy scouts are regaled with a ghost story. While the tale does little to instill fear, it’s the sudden appearance of an electrical disturbance that gets the kids all riled up. This is when any comic fan starts running through their mental rolodex of electricity-based characters. Electro? Owned by Sony. Aftershock? Possibly. Static Shock? Get out. When the scout leader is zapped and suspended lifelessly above the ground, the rest of the troop freak out and scatter.
Aboard the Bus, Coulson straps an iPhone to his chest and hits the treadmill for a vitals check with Simmons. We are treated to another not-so-subtle hint at Coulson’s status as the word “rusty” is thrown out again, leaving fans to jump freely to the LMD conclusion. But keep in mind, Tahiti is a “magical” place. The guessing game continues. Elsewhere, Ward reminds us that he’s a highly trained soldier, capable of discerning the ideal heft of a firearm, much to Fitz’s frustration as he is then tasked to remove one ounce of weight from the “Night-Night” pistol. Upon Ward’s departure from the lab, Fitz and Simmons treat Skye and the audience to their over-the-top impressions of Ward, exaggerating his Eastwood-esque scowl and MacGyver–like résumé. It’s an amusing moment that proves the technobabble-spewing pair have a sense of humor that doesn’t involve microbes and microchips.
When the call comes in, the agents make their way to the site of the electrical disturbance, finding the body of the victim still hovering in the air. Working her interweb magic, Skye conducts a background check on the victim, learning nothing particularly remarkable, but also starting the long journey back into Coulson’s good graces. While Phil is encouraged by her efforts, Ward is not so easy to forgive, citing her betrayal on the last mission. Meanwhile, Agent May works her own skill set and interrogates the junior scout leader who witnessed the shocking phenomenon. In a moment similar to Fitz-Simmons briefly shedding the nerdiness, May’s intimidating visage is amusingly dismissed as she icily offers a plate of cookies to the petrified young scout.
Back in the lab, we are clued into the fact that this episode is shaping up to be very Fitz-Simmons-centric. As Coulson checks up on the pair’s progress, the eggheads act more like a married couple as they bicker about having the body of the dead victim in the lab. Fitz fires off a pretty hilarious line regarding a past experience with some feline organs in close proximity to his lunch. What struck me the most at this point in the episode was how the writers were treating Fitz and Simmons – they aren’t so much the babbling source of exposition regarding the complex nature of the weekly threat, but instead are being given the chance to shine as entertaining characters, and therefore, as likeable members of the team.
Shortly thereafter, a second electrical event is detected. Coulson, May, and Ward hit the pavement to investigate the new scene hoping to get some answers about the mysterious occurrences. Upon finding a dead farmer in the same state as the scout leader, Skye does some research and the connection between the victims comes to light. Turns out both men were firemen who were among the first responders to the Chitauri attack on New York. With this revelation comes a well-placed cutaway to a fireman polishing a Chitauri helmet and putting it on a shelf. Cue ominous music and commercial break!
The Chitauri Strain
After identifying the men and their unit, the team heads to the firehouse in question, looking for either answers or the culprit. Upon arriving, Coulson discovers both in the form of Tony Diaz, a man who looks like he’s just had some bad shawarma. After flexing the ol’ brain muscle, Simmons concludes that the cause of the electrical discharges and subsequent deaths are the result of a virus that caught a ride to Earth on the aforementioned Chitauri helmet. Knowing Mr. Diaz’s fate is sealed, Coulson shares an amazing moment with him, offering him comfort in what will now be his final moments. It’s a fantastic scene, providing a unique look a Coulson as he bares his soul for this man, a complete stranger, and shares his own experience with death. Whether his glimpse of the afterlife was merely a story to ease Diaz’s mind or Phil’s actual account, it’s still a brilliant moment that is as painful as it is moving.
With the threat identified, the helmet must now be transported to The Sandbox, yet another cleverly named S.H.I.E.L.D. installation where they keep the weird stuff. On the way, we revisit the subject of Coulson’s physical exam as he and May share a tender moment between friends/colleagues. This is the point where you start to wonder if we might get some answers about Coulson’s resurrection in this episode.
Back in the lab, Simmons makes the unfortunate discovery that she has been infected with the Chitauri virus. With 2 hours to live and 3 hours before they can land, Simmons is her own best hope for finding a cure. The story quickly turns into a race-against-the-clock hospital drama…but in a good way!
While under quarantine in her own lab, Simmons works with Fitz to synthesize a cure. Like earlier, Fitz is on the opposite side of the glass, but this time he’s traded the bickering for focus, devoting every ounce of energy to helping Simmons. It’s touching as the two colleagues squabble playfully over whether to call it a vaccine or an anti-serum, but the fear is still evident, a testament to Elizabeth Henstridge and Ian De Caestecker’s portrayals of their characters. Elsewhere on the Bus, Ward silently watches Fitz-Simmons’s efforts via camera. He is joined by Skye, who, thankfully, has had a reduced role this episode, but the two share a moment of their own, refusing to be outdone by their cast mates. Ward, the ever-vigilant soldier, voices his frustrations about the threat looming over the whole team, wishing it was a person – someone he could punch, shoot, or simply protect his team from. It’s yet another great character moment that sums up one of the most basic ideas behind the show. It’s not always going to be a super villain in a costume who wants to take over the world. There will be artifacts, technology, and even microscopic organisms that will pose the threat; a reminder that while the superheroes are fighting the battles and defeating the villains, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are the ones in the trenches saving the world from the threats no one sees.
Meanwhile, Coulson receives a call from Agent Blake who many fans will remember from the Marvel One-Shot, Item 47. When he receives the order to dump anything contaminated by the virus, Coulson pulls the old “bad connection” routine and gives his team the time do what needs to be done. As Fitz-Simmons continue to work tirelessly, Simmons’s failed attempts begin to discourage her, motivating Fitz to remind her that the two of them have been together ever since they were in school, working side-by-side in classrooms, labs, and now aboard the Bus, and there is no way they, as a unit, can fail. This is why we refer to them as Fitz-Simmons. With their resolve renewed, the inevitable eureka moment occurs, prompting an examination of the Chitauri helmet in order to find some DNA from the carrier. Cue the familiar montage of lab work, slow fades, and worried onlookers behind glass!
When what is supposed to be the cure is unsuccessful, Simmons accepts her failure and her fate, choosing to sacrifice herself for the good of the team. However, just as she opens the bay door to jump to her death, Fitz realizes the cure works. Unfortunately, he is too late to stop Simmons from jumping, and in an exciting, Bond-esque moment, Ward is able to spring into action, heroically grabbing a chute and the cure, and diving out of the bus after Simmons. Full disclosure: it was a pretty badass moment.
Get Used To It
The threat is contained and Simmons is rescued, but that doesn’t stop Coulson from giving her a stern talking to. It may sound like a reprimand, but Phil makes it clear that despite the reckless stunt, they’d hate to lose her. Ward echoes the sentiment and even let’s his guard down for a moment as he acknowledges the impersonations the team enjoys so much by doing one himself, Eastwood squint and all.
As we check back in with May and Coulson, Phil confides in his old friend, admitting that he has felt different ever since his death at the hands of Loki. Is this it? Is this when we get some answers?! No such luck, but instead we get another great scene shared between the two as May reinforces the idea that Coulson is different, but after what he went through, it’s not unexpected. It beautifully parries the looming mystery of Phil Coulson, but we all know there’s an unexplored truth behind his feelings of unease.
In the final moments of the episode, Agent Blake takes possession of the Chitauri helmet at The Sandbox. He calls Coulson out on the “bad connection” move and states that the Phil Coulspon he knows wouldn’t have pulled something like that. Fresh off his conversation with May, Coulson embraces his changed attitude, letting Blake know that he should “get used to it.” #smarmysmirk
I have nothing but good things to say about this episode. If I had a rating system, I’d give it 5 out of 5. Actually… Let’s do that!
Boom! FZZT gets 5 out of 5 S.H.I.E.L.D. Badges for its great balance and stellar character moments, of which there were plenty. Many of the MCU references have been fairly blatant up to this point, but while harkening back to the Chitauri invasion from The Avengers may seem pretty heavy-handed, it took on a life of its own as something completely new and unexpected, propelling this episode’s story forward without having to truly use what came before as a crutch. FZZT also took the opportunity to further explore what happened to Coulson, keeping it from his perspective, yet still manage to keep it a mystery. Rather than acknowledge what brought him back (a revelation for a future episode, I’m sure), Coulson, with the help of May, chooses to acknowledge that while he feels different, it was the experience that changed him, a notion that he is clearly embracing as he moves forward with his team. And we had a lot less of Skye this week. Can we keep that going? Just sayin’…
Check back next week for our next recap of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!