It was a surprise to see no new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last week, especially when it was rumored to include supernatural content that would hit just in time for Halloween, but for whatever reason Marvel held the episode until Nov. 5 for the series, which has slowly been declining in viewership since its pilot episode. If the strategy was to ensure that maximum viewers saw the episode (apparently there was a big X Factor show last week?), it was a good one to hold. Episode six, “F.Z.Z.T.,” was easily the strongest episode the show’s put out since its pilot, thanks to some unexpectedly poignant drama between the inseparable Fitz/Simmons duo—more on that later.
We start the show with a scout crew huddled around a campfire in Pennsylvania—further evidence that maybe this show was supposed to be seen last week—before experiencing what seems to be some for-real, supernatural, KIDS-THIS-ISN’T-A-CAMPFIRE PRANK, scary shit brought on by some sort of lightning force. But as everything in this side of the Marvel universe confirms, there’s more to it than ghosts or telekinesis or whatever. For this episode, the mystery is in the dead, electrified bodies, which start to pop up here at the camp site, all of which take on varying stages of decay and all of which are found floating in mid-air (Exorcist-style! But no draping nightgowns here…) after exploding outward from the head.
But the explanation, which isn’t quite as exciting as head-rotating Satanic possession, is that we’re dealing with some off-the-charts electromagnetic forces brought on by a power that “makes Captain America look like ‘The Dude,’” (Coulson either didn’t get the joke from Skye or was just pissed at anyone putting down his hero. But if Cap is The Dude, I guess that makes Coulson … Donnie? I wouldn’t like it either, and as “new Coulson” has proved, he’s almost never out of his element. Anyways.) After some digging, Coulson and his team come upon a fire station with firefighters who responded in the New York battle, many of them coming in contact with a Chitauri helmet that we now realize is the origin of this electro-virus. The ever-present Coulson picks out one sickly looking firefighter, who is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first contact with a still-living infected person. His end comes soon, and in true Coulson fashion, he leads him into the afterlife with class and dignity, bringing us a little more info on his time in the black: “It’s beautiful,” he says.
If that wasn’t enough for the first half of the episode—which so far has been more engaging than anything I’ve seen here, storywise—we learn that Simmons is also contaminated after conducting metal around her in her plane-lab. And while I didn’t really think I cared about the super-brainy duo Fitz or Simmons that much, the emotional weight gets heavy as they count down to what could be her last (explosive) moments. After several attempts at a serum, the two think they’re out of luck. Simmons takes it upon herself to jump out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane just as her counterpart discovers the serum worked on their test mice. Tough timing.
But Ward, the action-hero of the bunch who was mocked for it earlier, saves the day by taking after Simmons with a parachute. She’s injected with the serum mid-air, they get a harsh talking to from an emotional Coulson, but everything turns out just fine. (I found myself realizing just how much I’d miss it if the Fitz/Simmons duo was split up in this episode.) In fact, Coulson’s set of recruits comes out stronger from it.
If anything, this episode shows the greatness that’s only been hinted at in previous viewings, packed with high-intensity (and unexpected) drama, action, mystery, “the unexplainable” that needs to be explained. I loved that this episode kept me glued the whole time. That’s how the Marvel films do it, and if this is any indication, the TV version has finally hit its stride. But what’s also significant is that, without realizing it, the Whedon-led staff of writers has invested our emotions in this team. Now if only I could find a soft spot for Ward…