Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Everything It Needed To Be! "4,722 Hours" Is A Strong, Character-Focused Episode Of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Acting, Character development, Pacing, Most of the direction
The Bad: Some predictable lines
The Basics: "4,722 Hours" recounts the story of Simmons on the alien planet where she was stranded and it makes for a damn good hour of television!

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is in a precarious place. The cast is sporting a dozen regular characters at this point and the first four episodes of the third season have been annoyingly fractured trying to service all of those characters in each episode. Unlike a show like Lost (reviewed here!) that had a big cast and kept adding characters, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has attempted to develop plots that use all of the characters and none of them have actually been growing or developing adequately. This is both a disservice to the cast (none of the actors have a chance to wow with complex emoting because each performer is given only three to four minutes apiece each episode). The best chance Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had to break that unfortunate momentum was with the episode "4,722 Hours."

"4,722 Hours" refers to the amount of time Agent Simmons spent on the alien planet between the second season finale and when she was rescued early this season. The pressure the show had going into "4,722 Hours" was to explain just why Simmons wants to get back . . . in a compelling way. Set after "Devils You Know" (reviewed here!), "4,722 Hours" actually begins with the final moment of "S.O.S. Part II" (reviewed here!) and it, smartly, directly, tells Simmons's story chronologically.

After Fitz proposed dinner with Simmons, she is pulled into the Obelisk and thrown into a desert on an alien world. Simmons uses her cell phone to document her stay and tries to wait out her stranded time. After 40 hours of night, Simmons begins to go stir crazy and she soon makes the difficult choice to abandon her initial position in order to find water. Surviving a sandstorm, Simmons discovers water in the form of a small pond. The pond has a lifeform in it, which attacks Simmons. After finding some bamboo-like wood, Simmons fashions a spear, kills the beast in the pond, starts a fire and eats the vegetable monster. Unfortunately, soon after her meal, Simmons is lured into a trap where she falls into a cage built by another denizen of the planet.

The person is Will Daniels, a human who speaks English. After Simmons flees his cage, she gets hurt and the planet - according to Daniels - reacts. In Daniels's bunker, Simmons learns that Daniels was on a NASA mission and has been trapped on the planet for fourteen years! Simmons and Daniels talk and Simmons clings to the hope that Fitz will find a way to rescue her. Daniels tells her the story of the NASA mission which deposited him on the planet. Daniels doesn't want Simmons to go to an area he calls the "no fly zone" because bad things things happened there before everything went wrong with his people. Simmons goes there, though, and discovers artifacts from prior humans who were trapped on the planet. In going there, Simmons appears to trigger a sandstorm and sees a person there. But the discoveries she makes there allows her to figure out where the portals might open and she and Daniels make the dangerous trek to find where a portal will open to try to escape the planet.

Jesse Bochco directed "4,722 Hours" and he was given an interesting task which was unfortunately problematic to execute. The planet Simmons and Daniels are on is trapped in perpetual night. As a result, Bochco uses a blue filter for most of the episode - even after Simmons gets fire. That makes things like the creature in the pond being a plant impossible to visualize. So, viewers find out that Simmons has been fighting an alien plant squid only after-the-fact, as she eats it.

Even so, Bochco and the episode's writer manage to make the episode compelling. Almost instantly, I found myself engaged in making theories about the episode. Curious about why Simmons wanted to get back, I found myself asking "why?!" Right away, it seemed pretty obvious that the planet was alive (the plant creature reacted like an immune system) and the moment Daniels appeared in the story, it seemed clear that Simmons wanted to go back to rescue him. It takes something special to keep the viewer engaged - is the twist that Daniels is HYDRA? How much of his NASA story is true? How did Simmons convince Daniels to go back to the site where the Obelisk deposited her?

"4,722 Hours" is entirely focused on Agent Simmons and Will Daniels. The main cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. sits out the bulk of the episode to afford Simmons a truly deep episode. Outside a video on her phone and the pictures of Fitz, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents do not appear until the final act - and then it's only Fitz. This affords Simmons a compelling character arc. Simmons is initially perky, as one might expect for a woman who is smitten and planning on a first date with a guy she really likes. The longer Simmons is there, the more introverted and unsettled she gets. When she encounters Daniels, it gives her an entirely different conflict to explore: to power Daniels's equipment, Simmons must use her smartphone battery and give up her connection to Fitz.

Elizabeth Henstridge delivers an amazing performance as Jemma Simmons. The relationship between Simmons and Daniels might evolve in a very predictable way, but Henstridge makes it work. What she truly does well is play the moments alone in interesting ways. Henstridge plays the emotion of hope exceptionally well and that is needed to offset the bleak performance Dillon Casey delivers to embody Will Daniels. Despite knowing from the title that the attempt to send a message through the portal must fail (they were in the 3000 hours for that attempt), "4,722 Hours" is entirely engaging to watch.

"4,722 Hours" is a solid hour of television that gives Agents Fitz and Simmons a solid direction for subsequent episodes. It's enough to give viewers hope that the show has switched gears and will continue to deliver character-driven episodes from this point on!

For other works driven strongly by a single character, please visit my reviews of:
"Duet" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Martian
"Blink" - Doctor Who

[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 Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the third season here!


For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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