There are too many universes in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Once upon a time, by which I mean the pilot six weeks ago, that was supposed to be a strength of the show. The “Battle of New York” had laid bare to the world the existence of gods, aliens, super-powered mutants, and half-robot kajillionaires, and the normies peed their pants in response. They became afraid, or jealous, or both. It was a scared new world. I want those people back, because they were smart enough to be frightened. Instead, we got a bunch of dum-dums this week in “FZZT” (W.T.F.?) who should know better than to bring back souvenirs from an alien invasion but didn’t, so they died.
The highlight of last night’s hour was the cold open, which ended in the kind of semi-cheesy ironic reversal The X-Files loved to indulged in. A Boy Scout leader fails to scare his young troops with an ineptly told scary story, then inadvertently traumatizes them for life by turning up dead just a few moments later. His glowing corpse lies peacefully a few feet above the ground, looking like he’s undergoing the universe’s slowest UFO abduction.
When S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives on the scene to investigate, that’s when the episode falls apart. And it’s for a pretty simple reason, really: solving the mystery is no damn fun. It’s never fun on this show. With a detective story, or, really, any police or lawyer procedural, we the viewers get little clues as to who’s really the killer or what the actual murder motivation was. Collecting the clues with the show’s dot-connector – or, if you’re a know-it-all, trying to outguess the writers – is the point of watching the show.
But in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there are too many possible answers. It could be a medical experiment gone awry. Or a crazy libertarian scientist with his own island. Or Samantha from Bewitched and Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie working together to bring forth the events of the Book of Revelations. Or, in this episode’s case, an alien virus. It makes watching the show about as fun as reading a stranger’s mind, because that’s exactly what the viewing experience ends up being.
Writer Paul Zbyszewski seems to realize that, because he quickly wraps up the mystery and tries to manipulate us into feeling something for the jabber-nerds. Fitz and Simmons are easily the most annoying characters in the core cast because most of the time, their dialogue doesn’t mean a damn thing. When Dr. House recites a string of medical terminology, we at least have some idea what a liver is. But Fitz-Simmons’ combination of physics and biology jargon and comic book mumbo-jumbo is just plain gibberish. Again, there are too many colliding worlds – the scientific, the science-fictional, the extraterrestrial, etc. – and therefore too many reference points. That multiplicity doesn’t open the world of the show to us; rather, it makes the show appear as though it doesn’t exist anywhere but on paper.
Overall, the Simmons-suicide plotline was manipulative gimmickry, but there were some good moments in there. Fitz’s bravery in breaching the lab and helping his boobed counterpart find a cure for the alien virus was cute to watch, as was the organic transition from bickering to solemn silence to his determination to find a cure. I was rooting just a little bit for Simmons to die since that would mean the end of the Fitz-Simmon jibber-jabber, but by the time she got swept out of the plane – as opposed to diving off it – it was clear she’d be saved. Boo.
By the end, ”F.Z.Z.T.” fizzled out like its title. May and Coulson have a heart-to-heart about his brief and wondrous death, which he’d described to the dying firefighter earlier in the episode as “beautiful.” Coulson admits, ”I don’t feel fine. I feel different,” but he doesn’t explain different how. So what exactly is death in this universe? And what is its significance if it’s “beautiful”? Do people go to heaven or rainbowed up to Asgard or doomed to go live with the mole people at the core of the Earth or what? The lack of structure in the show’s universe makes its characters, their actions, even their deaths as weightless as the firemen floating in the air.