It’s always darkest before the once-every-18-years dawn.
After juggling multiple plot lines all season, SHIELD tries its hand at a single, streamlined story, going back in time to detail Jemma Simmons’ six months on the Desert Otherworld in one fell swoop. It’s a solid narrative decision all things considered, as an SF survival story is different enough from the rest of the season’s events that trying to intersperse it through episodes would likely have made it disjointed and tonally jarring. Telling it all at once keeps the pace from dragging, and Elizabeth Henstridge is talented enough to carry an episode more-or-less on her own. As for the decisions made within that narrative … well, your mileage may vary.
Jemma spends the first quarter of the episode alone, first waiting for extraction and then figuring out how to survive until her team can come find her. She uses the memory of her SHIELD family and her upcoming date with Fitz to stay calm and focused, and what field training she has to stay alive. She’s resourceful, optimistic but practical, and kind of a badass, diving into a watering hole with a makeshift spear to chow down on the world’s saddest-looking tentacle monsters.
Jemma is fully capable of surviving on her own, it’s great that the series took time to establish this, as it keeps her from devolving into a sad maiden waiting for someone to come along and save her. Even so, she’s not ready for the possibility of other human life on this planet, and so she stumbles into a pit designed by a fellow English-speaking earthling, who is… uh-oh. About her age. Attractive. And an astronaut.
His name is Will (Dillon Casey), and while my knee-jerk instinct was to dislike him for his convenient arrival and unreasonably well-coiffed hair and inevitable role as a love interest, he’s actually a pretty compelling character, I guess. He’s been trapped in the Desert Otherworld for 14 years, most of that time alone, much of that time running from some spooky, sandstorm- and mind-controlling predator, and is understandably rough at the whole communication thing. He softens up once he realizes Jemma’s not a hallucination, and frankly it’s impressive he’s as stable as he is after all that time in isolation.
He and Jemma agree to team up, with her as “the voice of hope” and him as “the voice of doom,” to keep each other in check. They work well together, by which I mean that Jemma sciences her butt off to find a way home while Debbie Downer over here keeps telling her it’s impossible, and to stay out of the no-fly zone, and why can’t we, like, live underground just the two of us forever and ever?
To which Jemma responds:
In Will’s defense, he’s been here a long time, has more experience with the terrain, and is likely terrified of losing the only human contact he’s had in years, but he’s trying to coddle someone who so does not need to be coddled, and Jemma lets him know it in no uncertain terms. And hey, he gets the message and learns to trust her judgment, so good on him.
She goes exploring, finds a cool sword and a sextant, and has a Eureka Moment: The portal technically opens at the same point, but the planet rotates beneath it, making it appear to move. (The mechanics of this start to get a little wonky if you think too hard about it, so, you know. Don’t.) If they can figure out the planet’s movement by tracking the stars above them, they can predict where the portal will open next. To make her awesome plan work, Jemma sacrifices her phone battery, along with her last connections to home.
Unfortunately, Evil Planet is evil, and apparently very lonely, so it turns a 30-meter-wide canyon into a 100-foot one so they can’t traverse it in time. (A part of me thinks Will is under the planet’s control and lied about the length of the canyon, but given the way the episode ends I’m just gonna tuck that theory into a pocket and leave it there for the time being.) Despite some impressive quick-thinking and a jerry-rigged cannon, the portal closes right before they can send their message through, leaving them stranded and with no way of tracking the portal’s location again.
Well. Guess there’s only one thing to do now, isn’t there?
And. I mean. I get it. They’re stuck here all alone. Jemma is an adorable and brilliant human being. Will is a sexy astronaut. A sexy astronaut, people. And they actually do have solid chemistry and a fun, let’s-push-each-other-to-be-better sort of dynamic. I just… their romance is just… it’s so damned predictable, you know? And SHIELD has usually been pretty good about swerving away from the obvious story lines, especially when it comes to character relationships. I’ll be curious to see how this develops in the coming weeks, particularly if the Evil Planet has gotten all up in Will’s mindgrapes somehow.
But back to the story: Jemma and Will make a life together, and actually seem kinda happy about it. They plan a romantic outing to watch the planet’s incredibly rare sunrise, which is when Fitz’s flare goes off and the two make a mad dash for the location. The Desert Otherworld whips up a sandstorm to keep them trapped, Will distracts the blood-splattered astronaut illusion long enough for Jemma to find Fitz, and the rest is history.
Back in our current timeline, Jemma asks Fitz to help her reopen the portal so they can rescue the sexy astronaut from the evil planet. Fitz looks… conflicted, to say the least, and I braced myself for a jealous love triangle tantrum. Instead, we get this:
So, to conclude: Beautiful Cinnamon Roll is still beautiful, and we can add “Desert Otherworld rescue mission” to the list of plot lines SHIELD will be juggling this season. Man, those days of this show being a monster-of-the-week-style episodic spy series with almost no central story line just keep fading further and further into the distance, don’t they?
This, That, and the Other
- I love that we’ve reached a point with SHIELD where I can type a phrase like “reopen the portal so they can rescue the sexy astronaut from the evil planet” and not even think twice about it.
- In other, cinematographic news, I quite enjoyed the dual color schemes this week. The shift from the cold, harsh blue of the planet to the warmer, earthier tones of the bunker made for nice transitions both aesthetically and tonally, creating a sense of home and safety in a very short amount of time.
- Hulu’s subtitles typo’d “mass grave” as “masquerade,” which really makes me wish we’d spent more time partying in the no-fly zone.
- “Eat, shower, sleep” sounds like a particularly bizarre version of “marry, boff, kill.”
- Jemma doesn’t believe in evil planets. And she calls herself a Doctor Who fan.