4,722 Hours Plot Summary:
When Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) noticed the monolith’s container door was open, it liquefied and brought her to another world. Now she must survive indefinitely on a planet desperate to kill her while holding out hope that Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) will find her.
There’s no question that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a group focused show. The name itself is even pluralized. Since the very beginning, this wasn’t just about Phil Coulson being alive again. It was also about this team he created to fight the small level threats (now to introduce even bigger ones). Events occurred and the people have changed, but one constant factor is that everyone has a focus. To date, we’ve only have a few absent characters in a single episode. There had yet to be a story that drew exclusive attention to a single character. It’s not hard to see why too. When a show is entirely about a group of people, it’s risky to completely throw everyone else away for a week. This could very easily backfire, especially if the chosen focal point is boring as hell.
“4,722 Hours” was definitely not boring as hell. This episode was fantastic. Completely destroying the series ingrained formula, last night focused entirely on Simmons. I had believed that the promos were only showing her story to get people excited and were totally going to go back and forth between her telling Fitz what happened and everyone else. That thankfully was not the case. Once Simmons got transported to this unnamed planet, that’s where the night remained (with a slick new title card for the occasion). We saw nothing else about Earth until the very end. It was an awesome change that allowed one of the show’s best characters to shine in a completely unique way.
All praise goes to Henstridge who absolutely crushed her traumatic performance. From the moment Simmons realized what happened to her, she embarked on the classic grief stages that any normal person would encounter. It all began with her cheerily denying that this was a permanent thing. She records her findings, like a good scientific professional, and repeatedly tells herself that Fitz is going to save her. Then hours go by without a single word. By the time Simmons realizes the sun might never come, after nearly three full days, she begins her anger fueled meltdowns. The rest of the episode was a crucial fluctuation of emotions that expertly conveyed how our heroine viewed her predicament. This is probably the most range any actor has had to cover on a single episode for this show, and Henstridge made it look so easy.
This was all definitely out of Simmons’ comfort zone. The woman is a scientist, not a fighter, so she’s not expertly trained on how to survive in these types of hostile environments. That, however, is what makes her continued life more exciting. She adapts to each changing situation and works out new solutions. She needs water and comes upon a lake filled with some plant monster. Makeshift ax later, and that monster is food. Rub a few sticks together and she now has fire too. Later, she uses her phone battery to create a portal tracking computer. She may not kick everyone’s ass in normal life, but she easily knows how to keep going better than anyone else.
Introducing Will (Dillon Casey) was an excellent narrative move too. We know that the monolith is centuries old and people have passed through it before, so it only made sense that someone else would be there. Of course, it had to be a NASA astronaut because how else would we get a giant American flag in a cave, but this also provided some delicious backstory. NASA knew about this place in 2001 and actively tried to research it. It looked like the government was fully prepared to deal with unnatural issues like this long before superheroes became common. Will being trapped here for 14 years completely avoided any self-discovery made by Simmons as well, saving us a ton of time. In a few minutes we learn all key features: there is a mysterious force killing anyone, the planet is likely alive, and help just isn’t coming.
Their inevitable romantic relationship was more believable than anything dished out between Lincoln and Daisy. For over 3,500 hours, Simmons held on to the idea of seeing Fitz again. She had his picture and constantly said his name (her “favorite word”). When she sacrificed her phone in a last ditch effort to go home, and the plan failed due to a planetary shift, she lost that tether and all hope of ever returning. Accepting her fate, Simmons became intimate with Will, which is exactly what a regular person would do if they were stranded indefinitely with someone of the opposite sex. This is hardly a betrayal to Fitz because her reality was exceptionally bleak. She had exhausted all resources and adapted to her new life. Fitz never let go of Simmons because he had many more resources at his disposal and couldn’t move on unless he exhausted all of them. Clearly, Fitz’s willingness to grab Will is proof that he understands, and is the best damn friend imaginable. Have I mentioned that they’re the best pair?
Keeping the evil force ambiguous was smart too. The only thing we know about Simmons’ visit to this world is that it lasted several months. Everything else must be taught through her, and if there’s something she didn’t know, it’s unreasonable for us to have that information. So her learning about this alien threat was really important to the viewer as it really sold the impossibility of her situation. How can you defeat an enemy that can take on any form and causes people to go insane? You absolutely can’t and Will wasn’t wrong for avoiding this monster completely. No doubt we’ll see more of this….thing later. Also, since I only know of one living planet in the Marvel library, my money is on this being Ego.
It’s up to the viewer though to really accept if Simmons’ reactions to returning to Earth were accurate compared to what we actually experienced. Yes, the planet was an absolute nightmare, but it’s clear her and Will developed quite a happy lifestyle. Not sure why she would get so jumpy at vibrating phones and red wine because of this, but it’s possible these stemmed from her otherworldly antagonist. Maybe Simmons could believe it’s still around her even though she’s back safely. At least her mission to rescue Will is clear enough.
“4,722 Hours” was unlike any previous episode. There were no massive explosions or insane set pieces for us get behind. The vast majority of the cast didn’t even show up either. It was all about Simmons surviving in a world with very little to offer outside of death. Yet that is what made this hour so compelling. It’s an entirely different S.H.I.E.L.D. that allowed a fan favorite to really stretch her acting muscles. It was a risk that paid off in spades. This show shouldn’t lose any of its action, but clearly these character centric stories aren’t that bad of an idea.