Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “F.Z.Z.T.”: A Shocking Situation

Donovan Bertch

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Episode Grade: B

“F.Z.Z.T.” shouldn’t have been one episode. It would have worked so much better as a two-parter.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad episode. The story is solid, the acting is phenomenal and the writing is improved over the past couple of episodes with a lot of character development for Fitz and Simmons as well as some haunting moments straight out of Wes Craven’s horror playbook.

However, “F.Z.Z.T.” feels rushed, and with as much as the writers put into the episode, it makes you wonder what they left out.

After a prologue where we are teased with the unseen threat-of-the-week terrorizing a group of unsuspecting camping boy scouts in Wrigley, Pennsylvania, the show cuts to Coulson (Clark Gregg) getting a physical with Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). They make a lot of comments with the word “iron” in them, even bringing up Iron Man himself at one point. Either they’re trying to push that the solution to the Coulson mystery is a mechanical one, or they really wanted an excuse to talk about Iron Man.

After the events of “The Girl in the Flower Dress,” Skye (Chloe Bennett) is under house arrest, with her every move — at least, technology-wise — monitored by S.H.I.E.L.D. Fitz (Ian de Caestecker) and Simmons are fiddling around with new tech for Ward (Brett Dalton), who insists that the high-tech gun they made for him is “off by an ounce.” As soon as he’s out of the room, however, the other three start impersonating him, making fun of his stone-cold super spy personality. This is the funniest scene in the episode and it really illustrates the closeness between Skye, Fitz and Simmons.

This episode also confirms that Fitz is crushing pretty hard on Skye, with him awkwardly flirting with her to hilarious effect the instant Simmons is out of the room. When she mentions Miles, her hacker boyfriend (still unclear if Miles and Skye are still an item), Fitz insists on calling Miles her “ex-boyfriend.” It’s pretty funny, especially with Skye being seemingly oblivious — or just unresponsive — to his advances.

The team gets brought on to investigate the death of the campers’ scoutmaster, whose corpse was found floating in the air with electricity pulsing around him. Soon enough, a second victim pops up dead in the same manner, with Skye quickly discovering that both were members of a volunteer firefighting team that was in New York during the events of “The Avengers.” The agents realize that they have a killer on their hands, and move to end the threat before any more lives are lost.

 

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

 

Well, they think they have a killer. In actuality, the team has an alien helmet from the Battle of New York that spreads a killer virus, and the first two victims were killed after finding and cleaning the helmet. Unfortunately, it’s too late to save a third fireman who also contracted the virus. The fireman’s death is hard on Coulson, as he’s still reeling from his own unexpected death during the Battle of New York. The helmet is brought onto the Bus for examination and it’s case-closed for this episode.

But wait, there’s still 20 minutes left on the clock and that means there’s still drama to be had.

After analyzing the helmet in her lab, Simmons informs Coulson that the virus can transfer from person to person via electric shock. Coulson realizes too late that Simmons has become infected after coming into physical contact with the victims, and is forced to quarantine her. The race is on to find a cure before Simmons meets the same fate as the firefighters.

This episode was a masterpiece of manipulation by the writers. It tricked everyone who watched it into thinking that it was just another good guys vs bad guys story (hell, the freaking episode description on TV Guide made it seem that way), when it was really an episode about coming to grips with death. Coulson addresses the details of his death — or what he knows of it — to the infected firefighter. Simmons spends the second half of the episode fearing her impending death. Even May (Ming Na-Wen) gets in on the death-discussing action, comforting Coulson in a way that opens up a whole new slew of conspiracy theories for the show (but more on that in a bit).

This episode was also very terrifying. The opening scene was definitely ripped from “Friday the 13th’s” style of horror, for one, with its location and eerie atmosphere. Similarly, the floating, electrified corpses themselves are pretty scary. Their expressions are frozen in place, eyes wide in terror as their jaws hang open, legs and arms to the sides like a body in a casket.

The best scare, however, came during the reveal that Simmons had the virus. She’s babbling about the scientific implications of the virus as, like with the other victims, metal items in the lab start floating and gravitating around her. Simmons is utterly oblivious to it, cheerfully chatty as signs of her coming death are literally right behind her. She just keeps talking and talking as if nothing’s wrong.

The instant she turns around and sees Coulson locking the door — with a quiet “I’m sorry, Jemma” to boot — realization and fear set in as her equipment drops to the floor and her excited expression vanishes. Simmons’ quiet “oh no”, coupled with her face frozen in fear, cap off the terrifying scene. It’s a slow, emotional horror that works well for S.H.I.E.L.D. where a jump scare wouldn’t have had the same kind of dramatic effect.

Unfortunately, despite the individual pieces working, the whole package felt rushed. The supposed suspect in the “killings” was shown about 10 minutes in with no sense of mystery. The storyline itself was wrapped up quickly after.

There could have been a whole hour dedicated to the mystery behind who — or what — was behind the killings, finishing with the infected Simmons reveal as a cliffhanger for the next episode to pick up on. It would have felt a lot more complete of an episode, instead of two episodes crammed together.

Henstridge does a superb job as Simmons in this episode. She plays the character off as a human being instead of an exposition-spewing plot device for once. Before the reveal, she seems genuinely ecstatic at the idea of an alien virus, glee in her voice as she talks about the science behind it. After the reveal, Simmons’ fear and anger come loud and clear through Henstridge’s shaky movements and cracked voice. By the end of the episode, it really feels like Simmons has developed beyond the TV nerd stereotype and into her own.

De Caestecker plays off Henstridge’s performance well, having Fitz go from hot-blooded anger (particularly at how Simmons “caused” the whole situation to happen by agreeing to join S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place) to contend acceptance that he may die while helping her find a cure at the snap of a finger. Earlier on, his awkward flirting with Bennett’s Skye really makes me remember why I liked this character in the first place: he seems real. A great character never really feels like an actor playing a role; Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from the main Marvel movies is another example of this.

Bennett and Dalton don’t really make much of an impact in this episode — which is a welcome relief, considering it’s been mostly the Skye and Ward show for the past few episodes — but their scenes do show considerable character development.

Dalton shows off both his dramatic chops —in Ward’s quiet but emotional reaction to Simmons potentially dying, for instance — and his comedic stylings — Ward’s impersonation of himself at the end of the episode.

Bennett showcases Skye’s guilt for her previous actions well, and really plays off the idea that Skye is a lonely kid trying to get back in the good graces of the friends she betrayed, staying mostly quiet during the episode while retaining her snarky attitude in a few select scenes.

Gregg doesn’t steal the show this time — that honor belongs to Henstridge — but that doesn’t stop him from trying. While everyone else is worried about future death, Coulson keeps holding onto his own death (and yes, it is established that — at least in Coulson’s mind — that he did indeed die in the medical sense of the term). This leads him to be very vulnerable this episode, and Gregg makes sure the audience sees every emotion Coulson goes through. When the last firefighter is revealed as infected, his grief and sorrow are on display. When Coulson realizes that Simmons is infected, his horror is plain as day as his face contorts in fear. I’ve mentioned time and time again how Gregg’s facial expressions really make Coulson work as a character, and this episode really puts them to work.

My only issue is that the show seems to be relying on Coulson a bit too much. He’s a great character, and Gregg a great actor, but there can be too much of a good thing.

Na-Wen doesn’t get much to do this episode except give us a new mystery to worry about. During a scene with May and Coulson, May very offhandedly mentions how she knows what Coulson is going through because she went through it herself. This adds a whole new dimension to the character and opens up a lot of avenues for great plotting… except, it doesn’t really work, because the reveal comes utterly out of left field and is said so unmemorably that it just leaves you going, “huh?” instead of “whoa!”

“F.Z.Z.T.” gets a B. There’s a lot to like about the atmosphere, acting and writing in this episode, but some things just don’t get across as impactful as they should. The show can’t keep relying on two or three characters alone to get by, and they should try to not rush their episodes.