Wednesday, October 28, 2015
This was the episode that filled us in on Simmons' six months trapped on an alien planet -- first for a month in total isolation, and then with just one other person, Will, to keep her company. This sort of situation has been featured with its own small twists in many other science fiction stories, from Enemy Mine to Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Darmok" and/or "Second Chances" to the current hit movie The Martian. Supernatural did a run of episodes about purgatory that was almost exactly the same, minus the romantic angle.
And all that really didn't matter much, as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really found a way to make the idea their own. It started with their willingness to break from their format so completely. With a cast of ten regular characters, and a standard approach of juggling two or three story lines in every episode, the show wisely opted to spend an entire episode just on Simmons' plight. Phone footage of a birthday party aside, the only other character to even appear in the episode was Fitz, and even then only to set up the story and return for the potent ending.
They could get away with this because Elizabeth Henstridge could be relied upon to give an outstanding performance... and she did. The first act was her all alone, and by the end of it I was perfectly content to have the whole episode be that way. Simmons' slowly growing understanding of her situation, her attempt to keep madness at bay through dictation to Fitz, her triumph in procuring food, all made for really compelling moments.
But once another character did show up, the episode got even better. Even in just 30 minutes of screen time (or so), you believed completely in how the relationship between Simmons and Will developed. Even feeling it might be an elaborate contrivance to put an obstacle in the Fitz-Simmons romance, you absolutely could understand Simmons giving up on rescue in that situation. (And bravo to Fitz, who instantly went back to the lab to work on rescuing the new most important person in Simmons' life, no questions asked.)
The episode managed to present some incredibly personal stakes against an incredibly fantastical backdrop. In fact, it so completely drew me into the Simmons story line that I suddenly find myself not caring all that much anymore about Daisy and the Inhumans, Coulson butting heads with Rosalind's organization, Ward and Hydra and the quest for vengeance by Hunter and May... none of it. This seems more important, more pressing, more urgent.
I give this episode A-. The "minus" comes only for the more derivative aspects of the premise, and even then I hesitate to apply it. This was the best episode of the season for certain, and one of the best of the series.