Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What Happens When Typical Whedon Meets Typical Marvel? “FZZT!”

The Good: Entertaining, Finally uses Simmons in an interesting way, Cool concept
The Bad: Unremarkable acting, Plays the character elements safe as opposed to compelling
The Basics: “FZZT” is not a bad episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it opts for the safe, network, approach instead of an audacious Whedonesque vision.

As U.S. audiences eagerly await the theatrical release of Thor: The Dark World (reviewed here!), the buzz is already being generated for the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. follow-up, which is incredibly important for continuity as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. happens contemporaneously with events in the Marvel Phase Two movies. As we wait on the edge of our seats for the movie and its Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. tie-in, the producers of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. continue to burn off episodes that belabor fleshing out the full cast of the show. The latest effort is “FZZT.”

“FZZT” is notable in that it immediately challenges the preconceptions of two visions that are often exceptionally different: Joss Whedon and the Marvel Universe. Joss Whedon is notorious in his productions for killing off characters, even early in a series, and then wrestling with the consequences of those deaths. In fact, only Darla and Spike in the Buffyverse are successfully resurrected and the consequences of those resurrections were Whedonverse shaking (though Spike’s resurrection was built in to his death). At the other end of the spectrum is the Marvel Universe. In pure pulp tradition, few characters die and stay dead in comic books. Resurrections happen all across the Marvel Universe and usually the only characters to stay dead are human sidekicks or love interests to the super heroes.

So, with “FZZT” where one of the six main cast members are facing a death sentence where the chance for a heroic, permanent death exists, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has its first big opportunity to make an emotionally resonant episode . . . or play the comic book play. To be fair, Joss Whedon did not write “FZZT,” so the result cannot be blamed on him (though he is an executive producer of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) (and to be further fair to Whedon, odds are if Simmons were killed off in “FZZT,” all the Whedon fans would be bitching about how she died a heroic death in a remarkably similar fashion and first-season timing, to Doyle in Angel - man, that Joss Whedon cannot catch a break . . . except by getting attached to some of the biggest projects of the last few years).

After a Boy Scout troop witnesses an anomaly – which results in one of the leaders suspended in midair – Agent Coulson has his physical. Simmons performs the physical until S.H.I.E.L.D. is called to investigate the electrostatic event. While Ward continues to keep his distance from Skye, following her betrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson and scientists investigate the dead scoutleader, bewildered as to what happened (or who might have done it). When another event occurs, May, Coulson and Ward check out a farm with another levitating body. Simmons becomes convinced that the levitating bodies have been infected with a virus, a virus she soon discovers is transmitted via electrostatic discharge.

Coulson and his team realize that both victims were first responders to the New York attack from the alien Chtari. Investigating the fire department in New York, May finds a Chtari helmet and another victim detonates. Realizing that the electrostatic discharge is how the virus is transmitted, Coulson seals Simmons off in her lab. Quarantined, Simmons desperately searches for a cure to her infection before she, too, detonates. Risking his own life, Fitz enters the lab to try to help Simmons and together they search for a cure, though it looks like the clock might run out before she succeeds.

Peppered throughout the episode are more clues to what happened to Coulson after The Avengers (reviewed here!) in order to allow him to come back. Clark Gregg carries his scenes well as Coulson moodily reflects on the time he spent dead. The Avengers is pretty much essential to getting the most out of “FZZT.” Given that no Chtari are seen in the episode and there are no flashbacks to the Battle Of New York – or Coulson’s death in The Avengers - viewers who have not seen The Avengers are likely to be left in the dark as to the magnitude of the alluded-to events in “FZZT.”

That said, “FZZT” has a remarkably cool concept. The idea that a dormant virus was reinvigorated by static electricity is clever and the transmission method of the virus is neat and presented well.

Elizabeth Henstridge presents Simmons well and, given how little has been done with Simmons up until now, “FZZT” offers her the chance to have Simmons go out like a hero. Simmons is presented in a marginally different way than she has been up until now; her character growth largely comes in Simmons rising to the occasion. She has been a “lab rat” and in “FZZT,” she makes a sacrifice to save lives in true, heroic, fashion. This follows scenes with Fitz bitching about how she pulled him out of the lab, so it is presented more as a continued characterization, as opposed to genuine character growth, but it is presented well in “FZZT.”

Even so, Henstridge’s performance is pretty straightforward; she is not given a big, dramatic, beat to dismiss Simmons on (as opposed to Doyle in Angel) and so the episode’s resolution feels far less surprising than fans might hope. “FZZT” marks a missed opportunity in that Henstridge does not make the viewer truly become invested in Simmons and her fate one way or the other. Her sacrifice is not presented with enough gravity and her salvation is equally inconsequential. Sadly, Ming-Na Wen does not help out the acting batting average as she is stiff in scenes with Gregg’s Coulson that demand her character be softer and vulnerable.

As well, “FZZT” suffers from a forced sense of emotionalism. Skye treats the resolution to the episode as a huge personal victory and one strains to think of scenes that she and Simmons shared in the prior five episodes (they were in a van together in one episode . . .?). Similarly, Ward talks about how much distance he is keeping from Skye since “Girl In The Flower Dress” (reviewed here!), but that distance is hardly palpable when Brett Dalton and Chloe Bennet share scenes.

In short, “FZZT” has a cool concept, and a few more clues to Coulson’s resurrection for those who have not already figured it out, but it is a missed opportunity for an early character death . . . probably because Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has not yet created a character whose death would resonate with the audience enough to make the effort.

For other works with Titus Welliver, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Man On A Ledge
"Equinox, Part 2" - Star Trek: Voyager
"Equinox, Part 1" - Star Trek: Voyager
“Darkness Falls” - The X-Files

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment