'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Review: "FZZT"

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Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its sixth episode “FZZT,” as the investigation of a mysterious Chitauri virus takes a personal toll on Fitz and Simmons, while Coulson begins to investigate an unusual feeling he's had since the near-death experience in 'The Avengers.'

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Girl in the Flower Dress” saw Coulson and the team tracking a pyrokinetic who fell into the hands of the mysterious “Centipede,” while Skye’s loyalty to the team came into question, so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series keep us marveling at its inaugural season?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s sixth episode, “FZZT!”

Two cub scout leaders in rural Pennsylvania tell their young group a scary story, before one hears a faint humming and wanders off, seemingly part of the prank. Soon, the other leader notices a cup floating in mid-air, sending the group racing to the truck, whose battery forcibly leaps through the hood. Just outside, the first scout leader Adam Cross floats in midair, dead, his body surging with electricity.

Back on the bus, Simmons puts Coulson through a physical, but finds him in surprisingly good health for his age. Meanwhile, Fitz attempts to bond with Skye over their amusement at the icy Ward, who seems not to have forgiven Skye for her earlier betrayal. Shortly after, the team is brought to the site of the still-floating Adam Cross, who drops the moment Simmons touches his mysterious head wound, as Coulson resolves to call Agent Blake (Titus Welliver) on the matter.

Back on the bus, Skye finds that Cross’s background checks out clean, while an “interrogation” of his scout partner reveals no foul play. Coulson points out to Ward that he seems especially hard on Skye, something he justifies by her betrayal of the team. Suddenly, the group are alerted to another electromagnetic disturbance at a local farmhouse, for which Ward, May and Coulson race to the scene. The trio find the floating body of a man named Frank Whalen, whom Skye finds to have served as a volunteer fire fighter with Cross on the day of the Chitauri invasion.

After retrieving the body, Coulson travels to the firehouse in search of other men present for the attack, finding that another of them, Tony Diaz, has begun to display the same symptoms as the others. Tony denies that he used any kind of weapon on the others, though May finds a discarded Chitauri helmet the group kept as a souvenir, which Simmons identifies to be the source of an alien virus that infected the three firemen. Coulson clears out the building as Diaz begins to show further symptoms of his impending demise, though Coulson remains behind to comfort the man with his own experience of death, which he acknowledges to have been a closer call  than 8 seconds.

S.H.I.E.L.D. quarantines the firefighters and helmet, tasking Coulson’s group with transporting the artifact to “The Sandbox” facility across the globe, while May asks Coulson how he'd been feeling since his earlier physical. In the air, Simmons summons Coulson (heh) to the lab to discuss the virus’ fascinating transmission properties, before Coulson notices an instrument floating behind Simmons, and reluctantly quarantines her for the infection. Now given approximately two hours to live (and 3 until the plane’s destination), Fitz and Simmons put their heads together for a cure, though divided by the quarantine.

The first attempt at a cure kills the lab rat, while Ward laments to Skye that he can’t save the team from problems he can’t see or understand. Meanwhile, Coulson calls Agent Blake to learn the priority dictates they eject Simmons from the plane if she threatens the mission, though Coulson fakes a bad transmission to avoid dealing with the order. Downstairs, Fitz and Simmons argue about dragging one another into such dangerous work, though Fitz soon realizes that in each instance Simmons tellingly made sure to be by his side. The pair then realize that the only way to find a cure would be from someone immune to the virus, specifically a Chitauri warrior, the cells of which would be inside the helmet itself.

Fitz retrieves the helmet and races downstairs, breaching the quarantine to be with Simmons in a show of support. The pair work diligently to find a cure, but soon find that the result still kills the lab rat in the same floating manner. Resigned to her fate, Simmons gives her last requests to Coulson, and asks for a moment of privacy with Fitz. Fitz goes to continue working, but Simmons knocks him out and opens the plane’s cargo bay door for herself. When Fitz awakens, he sees that the rat actually survived the cure and was only momentarily stunned, though he fails to alert Simmons in time before she leaps from the back of the plane to her death.

Fitz prepares a vial of the cure and a parachute, but Ward beats him to the punch and leaps out after Simmons, just barely managing to catch her in time and inject the cure. Afterward, Coulson chews a recuperating Simmons out for her little stunt, but praises her bravery. Ward even breaks a bit, admitting to have overheard their earlier impressions of him, while Skye offers a hug as well.

Later on, Coulson confesses to May that he hadn’t actually been ordered to undergo a physical, but rather requested the tests on his own, feeling unlike himself. May asks to see Coulson’s gaping scar, reminding him that deathly experiences have a way of changing people no matter what, and he should embrace whatever change he feels. Downstairs, Simmons thanks Fitz for his almost-heroic efforts in saving her, kissing him on the cheek.

After the credits, Coulson meets with Agent Blake outside “The Sandbox” to deliver the helmet, though Blake reminds him that his near-death experiences doesn’t give him license to disobey orders. Telling Blake to get used to his newfound confidence, Coulson watches the agent back down and leave, tapping Lola along the way.

OUR REVIEW:

Before we get started, a brief mention that ABC news interjections about today's elections interrupted a small portion of the opening minutes, between Adam Cross's body and Coulson on the treadmill, so hopefully we didn't miss anything all-too-crucial to the plot.

That notwithstanding, we were given a bit of a breather from the series last week in rerunning the pilot, one which many around the internet used to point out 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.''s problems across the first five episodes even more than they had. Suffice to say, no one would be wrong in assessing that the first five episodes left quite a bit of potential unfulfilled, though it was nice to have a week away, and a few promising announcements in between to get the optimism flowing again. Our own analysis of the series' inaugural difficulties read like a checklist of items slowly crossed off week after week, something "FZZT" seems to have come the closest to fulfilling.

(Mostly) putting aside Skye's backstory and her troubles between Ward and Coulson for the week, "FZZT" finally gave us a bit of insight into Fitz and Simmons, arguably the two most neglected characters to date, and not a moment too soon. We'll admit to re-watching Fitz's behind-glass revelation once more for the feels, a minor, if surprisingly quick development to both humanize the characters, and justify Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge's place on the cast. It's too early to tell if the dynamic between the pair has been genuinely altered going forward, but for a moment we were transported back to the days of Willow and Xander, feeling that old Whedon magic flow again.

The actual plot made better use of its 'Avengers' connections this time around as well, even if the obligatory namedrops of Captain America and Iron Man still land with unfortunate weighty thuds. We don't always necessarily have to see a super-powered being to enjoy the series, but feeling the Chitauri's presence in the aftermath of the invasion with real first-responders felt surprisingly honest, and heartfelt as Coulson stayed behind to comfort a man whose only impulse to help his fellow man eventually cost him his life. As with Mike and Dr. Franklin Hall in previous episodes, 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' does its best work in exploring the human reaction to larger world events, rather than feebly attempt to replicate the scale itself.

That said, Ward's skydiving save of Simmons felt surprisingly high-budget for a TV series, no? Question the realism, or the cop-out of a genuinely heart-rending moment all you like, we'd rarely have expected a TV series to demonstrate that kind of action, at least this early into sweeps. We also got a bit of forward momentum along the Coulson mystery as well, as Phil seems at least aware that something about him has changed since his deathly experiences, even as May tenderly encourages him to embrace it. The episode didn't necessarily need Titus Welliver's Agent Blake to reinforce the idea either, but a little bit of world-building is always appreciated.

Certainly not the sublime perfection we might have expected from 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' once, but definitely a step in the right direction, and the promise of a more solid grasp of the material to come.

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “FZZT” sell you on the series?  What did you think about the big drama between Fitz and Simmons? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and join us again next week for another all-new recap of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest episode “The Hub” on ABC!

http://youtu.be/wMJOJDCa8rg

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