[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 6, "F.Z.Z.T."

Courtesy of Marvel Television Productions
ABC really shouldn't have skipped last week. Now we're aware that a certain upcoming episode had to align with the release of Thor: the Dark World, but F.Z.Z.T should have aired last week and this week should have been the breather. Why? It's all about momentum, something that SHIELD is in desperate need of, considering that each week it loses more viewers. It's also about making a statement. The series has introduced itself, presented the potential of what we can expect moving forward, and made a reasonable argument as to why we should stick around. This is the sixth episode, representing the end of the "try out" period. By now, viewers are either interested, hooked or gone.

Behind the scenes, after six episodes the actors should be comfortable in their roles, and the writers can start adapting the characters to the actor's strengths and personalities a bit more, where as before they were working from a framework. And, there should be a clear idea of where the series is going, in terms of tone, in terms of scale and in terms of ability. It is a rare beast indeed that is fully formed straight out of the gate, but by the end of six most of the inconsistencies should have been smoothed away. That, any way, is the hope.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that were really bothered by how no two characters pronounced Chitauri the same way.

Whedon has built up a very nice looking writer's room. Which, I suspect wasn't hard. He's always surrounded himself with talent, and I suspect talent are desperate to work with him. We've had episodes from the Whedon family, former Angel showruner Jeffrey Bell, future episodes will be coming from various LOST, Chuck, and Fringe writers. And this episode came from Paul Zbyszewski, a former LOST writer and writing partner with Jeffrey Bell. He's also run his own show, the short lived Day Break. And if you take the time to notice such things, there is a difference in the writing of someone who has thus far been exclusively a staff writer, and someone who has run their own show. There is a... I guess, a deep understanding. A focus, but also a far sightedness. The importance of staying in the moment, letting the episode live for itself, and knowing that the best connective threads that can be woven are through the characters rather than through the plot. A mystery might be interesting for a while, but a well developed character can be immortal.

We're not there yet. In fact, Coulson's reputation might have taken a hit since SHIELD debuted. But this episode, really for the first time, showed an emotional maturity and a willingness to be daring and human with these characters, rather then just let broad character archetypes govern their behaviour. For the first time, several of these characters seemed like people. And if Coulson's end of episode promise holds steady, that might be more the norm from here on out. Perhaps most importantly, nearly all of the characters have suffered some form of trauma (be it physical, emotional or psychological) within these first six episodes, something that will hopefully allow them to bond as a group, and will stay with them and effect their decisions moving forward.

But before we go further, I had a thought concerning Coulson. Clark Gregg finally was given some material to work with here, and in his two big scenes, comforting the firefighter, and unburdening himself with May, we were shown a human fragility that we've never seen with Coulson. Even in the Avengers, when he was bleeding out, he still stood up to a God. He's been a firm hand, stoic man of business, but here it was made very clear that under all of that bravado, he's still just human. And that made me think, everyone is so focused on the mystery of how Coulson survived, maybe all of that is just misdirection. Maybe the explanation of how Coulson survived is as simple as we've been told: he died, and was brought back. No mysticism, no cloning, no Life Model Decoys. As Coulson said, maybe it was 8 seconds, maybe it was more. But what if the secret is just that he experienced trauma, and came back a little wrong. Not evil, not magical, just off. Unsettled. Scared. It's a thought.

The episode felt like an extension on the Avengers short, Item 47. An item from the Battle of New York (in this instance, a Chitauri helmet) was taken by civilians, and it causes havoc as SHIELD tries to contain it. Titus Welliver even reprises his role as Blake (very sadly, Lizzy Caplan is nowhere to be seen). The means: a virus that uses electrostatic energy to jump from host to host. While the science doesn't really hold up (though, none of the science has really held up on this show), it's more the means for the emotional journey the characters are going to be sent on while they search for a cure. To my mind, the most successful moment in the episode was when Coulson realised Simmons had become infected, the look of irrepressible grief on his face as he calmly walks out of the room and isolates her. It also meant that, by putting one half of FitzSimmons in peril, we got to focus on, and learn more about these still illusive characters. So much attention has been on Skye (and to a lesser extent, Grant, though he's still a blank slate for different reasons), the rest of the team are still largely unknowns. I think we knew more about every member of the crew of Serenity by the end of the pilot then we know about Coulson's team at the end of six.

And I'll be honest here, I completely bought the idea that Simmons was going to die. Whedon's tendency to kill characters without warning, for the emotional impact on the others, was used in an excellent bit of expectation manipulation. And the precedent of Doyle on Angel, establishing then killing a character early on, convinced me that Simmons would not survive. Or, if not Simmons, then someone else sacrificing themselves to save her (which, when Grant grabbed the parachute, I momentarily thought he might bite it in her place). So kudos for not only undermining that expectation, but using the episode to finally reveal a character who by episode's end I didn't want to die, and was relieved that she survived. But her survival has to mean something, just as her death would have. True peril cannot be wasted, and now the character has to be used, as do the rest of them, to the maximum of their potential, not just as exposition machines (the clunkiest bits of this episode belonged to Skye's terrible recapping of the previous episode).

May remains the only character whose story is still full of holes, though we got a big hint in her scene with Coulson. Clearly, there is a past between them, based on how open and comfortable they are with each other. And clearly, something truly terrible happened to her. I don't think I'm alone in wanting to know what that was. May has potential to be a very interesting character, far more interesting then her mad ninja skills. At thins point, I'd say the only lost cause is Grant, as he's just too... bland. He's a perfect solider, and in fiction, perfect in analogous to boring. And unlike others that have written off the series in general, it has been imperfect, but it also hasn't been overly interesting. It's possible that that is about to change.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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