Thursday, October 29, 2015

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 5: 4,722 Hours

This week's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was quite a departure from the usual, and just a damned fine hour of television. Instead of the typical spy shenanigans, we spend the entire episode (well, 99.99% of it) seeing how Agent Simmons survived her ordeal on the alien planet.

Kudos to actress Elizabeth Henstridge (as Simmons), who puts in an awesome performance in this episode. The first half is pretty much a one woman show, as she goes from patient to analytical to panicked as she tries to survive in a hopeless situation.

This episode was just the latest to throw a monkey wrench into Fitz's efforts to win back SImmons. He rescues her from an alien planet for frak's sake, only to find out she met another guy there! I bet poor Fitz didn't see that one coming! 

When I first heard the title of this episode-- 4,722 Hours-- I was afraid Simmons might get her arm pinned under a boulder and have to saw it off. That was a joke, son.

By the way, 4,722 hours equals 196 days, or about six and a half months. Which is exactly how long Fitz said Simmons had been gone. Someone did the math!


The Plot:
Most of this episode is a flashback, as we start with Simmons getting pulled into the Monolith. She's then unceremoniously dumped on the surface of a harsh, seemingly sunless alien planet. The portal she passed through closes, leaving her stranded who knows where.

She dutifully explores the planet and reports her findings for a while on her cell phone. Eventually she realizes help isn't coming right away and begins searching for food, water and shelter. She finds a pool of water and begins drinking and bathing in it, until she's attacked by some sort of tentacled plant thing. She fashions a crude weapon, kills the plant and eats it.

A few weeks later she's exploring when she falls through a hole in the sand. When she wakes up she's inside a bamboo cage. A shadowy figure watches her from a distance, saying he has to make sure Simmons is "real." Eventually the figure reveals he's human and his name is Will. 

Will's an astronaut and has been on the planet since 2001, when NASA sent an expedition through the Monolith's portal. Unfortunately his three crew mates were driven crazy by "It," and died. When Simmons asks what "It" is, Will says, "Death." He says the planet is evil and has "moods."

Simmons figures out when and were the next portal will appear, and she and Will hike to the location. Unfortunately there's a deep, impassible valley between them and the portal. In a last ditch effort to let someone know they're still alive, Will throws a literal message in a bottle across the valley at the portal. Unfortunately it closes before the bottle goes through.

Simmons is devastated. She has no way to know when or where another portal will open, if ever. She's trapped here, probably for the rest of her life. Will tries to console her, and they kiss.

Weeks later, Simmons and Will, now quite comfortable with one another, hike to a location where they'll be able to briefly see the planet's once-every-eighteen years sunrise. As they wait for it, Simmons sees a flare in the sky. She realizes it's Fitz and S.H.I.E.L.D., come to rescue her after six months.

They run toward the flare, but "It" shows up and blocks their way, taking the form of a space suited figure. Will tells Simmons to keep going, and he'll hold "It" off. He fires his one bullet at it, which does no good. Simmons makes it over a hill, where she sees Fitz tethered to a portal, reaching out his hand to her.

We then cut to the present. We've already seen how Fitz rescued Simmons, and how she's struggled to adjust to life back on Earth. And now Fitz knows why she wants to go back to the planet. Because she left someone she loves behind. Fitz taks a deep breath and says, "Right. Let's go get him."

A couple of weeks ago when Simmons first said she had to go back to the planet, I guessed it was because the planet was some sort of penal colony and someone there (most likely an alien) helped her escape, and she wanted to rescue them as well.

Well, it wasn't a penal colony, but I was right about someone helping her while she was there. I just didn't expect it to be a human astronaut from Earth!

 We don't get the usual title sequence this week. Instead, as a way to emphasize Simmons' hopeless predicament, we get a silent title card superimposed over the desolate planet.

 I liked this episode quite a bit, as it may be the best hour of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet. That said, it's not without it problems. The main one: it doesn't quite line up with the behavior Simmons has exhibited since she got back,

In the season premiere, we see Simmons seemingly running for her life, masking blood on her forehead with mud to confuse whatever's chasing her. Her eyes and terrified manner made it seem like she'd seen horrible things during her time on the planet.

But as we see in this episode, things weren't all that bad. Yes, she was attacked by a plant monster, but other than that, she and Will carved out quite a nice little life for themselves there.

She did see "It" right before she was rescued, but it didn't seem all that terrifying to me.

Also when after she got back, she was all twitchy and would jump at the tiniest noise. Again. I didn't see anything in this episode that would account for such behavior.

 I wonder... this episode first aired while the awesome film The Martian is still in theaters. Both tell the story of a lone character marooned on a hostile alien planet. Was it just a coincidence that the two coincide, or did Marvel plan it that way?

 Like all women in sci-fi and horror, Simmons is incapable of running more than a few seconds without falling and twisting her ankle. Must be a genetic thing.

 After searching for several days, Simmons finally spots a pool of water and immediately begins drinking from it. You'd think a top notch scientist like Simmons wouldn't do something that rash without somehow testing it first. How'd she know it was really water? What if it was contaminated, or poisonous to her system?

Maybe at that point she was just too thirsty to care. 

 Everyone and their dog has commented on the amazing battery life of Simmons' smart phone. Eh... it didn't bother me. Simmons mentioned that Fitz altered it somehow to give it ridiculously long battery life, so that's good enough for me.

This is a world full of super soldiers, gods and men in flying suits, so a smart phone with a six month battery shouldn't be that hard to believe.

 A couple of weeks ago Mockingbird stated that Planet Blue had no fauna, only flora. So I guess the tentacled thing that attacked Simmons in the pool was some sort of carnivorous plant, and not an animal.

 All the exterior scenes on the planet are tinted a harsh blue. It was a simple but very effective way to simulate an alien environment. It makes me wish they'd done the same thing on all the various Star Trek series.

 Will says he's been on the planet since 2001. Is that a 2001: A Space Odyssey reference? He left in the year 2001, and went through a portal in a monolith to get there.

 Does time flow differently on Planet Blue? Will looks like he's in his early 30s, and has been stuck on the planet since 2001. That's fourteen years. Did he really become an astronaut when he was somewhere between 15 and 20 years old? Seems like he should have looked a bit older and more grizzled. Maybe the lack of a sun on Planet Blue preserved his youthful looks.

 So NASA's had the Monolith and been studying it since at least 2001. Too bad there must not be any interdepartmental cooperation between government agencies. S.H.I.E.L.D. could have saved a lot of time and effort if they'd had NASA's Monolith research.

 Will has a map of the planet, which features a "no-fly" zone. It's a place he never goes because "bad things happen there." Simmons of course immediately sneaks off to explore the no-fly zone. Among the things she finds is an old sword, several hundred years old.

It's the same sword we saw a few weeks ago, when a group of wealthy noblemen living in 1830 England sent one of their own into the Monolith!

• So what exactly is Planet Blue? Will says it's evil and has moods. It kind of sounds like he's trying to say the planet is alive.

Is it possible this is Ego, The Living Planet? Ego is a character in Marvel comics, and is... well, a planet that's alive, and has a consciousness. 

Planet Blue doesn't look much like Ego, who had an enormous face formed out of mountains and valleys and such. But there are some similarities. Ego could alter the shape of its surface. Planet Blue did the same thing, when it created the huge valley between Simmons and Will and the portal.

Ego could also create "antibodies" to rid its surface of infections (read: unwanted inhabitants). These antibodies often took humanoid form. Planet Blue does the same thing, with "It." The first time It appears it looks like a black hooded figure, but when Simmons sees it, it looks like a weird astronaut.

Did Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. just introduce Ego The Living Planet to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Possibly, but I wouldn't count on them actually calling it that, nor would I expect to see a giant face on its surface when Simmons goes back for Will.


  1. This episode just aired in the UK. I noticed the NASA astronauts who died were named after other well known functional astronauts:

    Austin - Steve Austin, Th Six Million Dollar Man
    Brubaker - Charles Brubaker, Cmdr Capricorn One
    Taylor - George Taylor, Cmdr, Planet of the Apes


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