The only thing that’s tragic about this “sad” episode is how badly it fails.
Fzzt is the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be aired during the release of a Marvel Studios film. Since S.H.I.E.L.D. is set in the same fictional universe as the Marvel films, it is perhaps no surprise that this episode attempts to tie directly into Thor: The Dark World (which as of this writing is playing in theatres worldwide). Not only is this tied continuity a clever and subtle piece of film advertising, it could also help to strengthen the feeling that S.H.I.E.L.D. is one part of a larger ongoing story. However, other than a few effects concepts borrowed straight from the second Thor movie, the episode actually shares little to no connection to its cinematic cousin. Rather than being an exercise in continuity building, Fzzt is an attempt to explore the emotional makeup of the primary characters; forcing them to deal with their own mortality. The creators of this episode are trying so hard to make the audience care about the fates of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team that it becomes more than a little obnoxious. What is clearly supposed to be an “emotional” episode comes across as a futile exercise in sentimentality.
The setup for the episode is perhaps the most interesting so far in the series. Members of a small town fire dept are randomly dying; their bodies release an electromagnetic pulse that leaves them ominously floating a few feet above the ground (this effect is what ties the episode to Thor 2). After Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team investigate the fire-fighters’ colleagues, they discover that the deaths are the result of an alien virus that was brought to Earth during the events of The Avengers. When Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) becomes infected with the virus, the race is on the find a cure before she too becomes a floating corpse. The first half of the episode is actually one of the strongest portions of the entire show. Agent Grant Ward’s (Brett Dalton) frustration at not being able to counter a virus the way he can tackle an opponent offers a new insight into his personality. Coulson’s continued sense that something is wrong with him since his “death” in The Avengers culminates in an impressively written monologue in which he comforts a dying man about mortality: this scene also helps to remind audience members of the ongoing mystery of Coulson’s existence and whether or not he is even human. These scenes are appropriately underplayed and very poignant, which makes the overblown and rather melodramatic second half of the episode so hard to understand.
Clearly writer Paul Zbyszewski has a grasp of subtle character interactions during emotional moments— the first half of this episode is filled with such sequences. Yet once Simmons becomes infected, the quality of the dialogue and character interactions plummets drastically. What should have been a series of tender emotional exchanges in which the characters realise that one of their team is dying becomes a hammy, over-the-top mess. Clearly the moment when Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons are separated from each other by protective glass is supposed to be a heartbreaking, tear-jerking event. Instead it becomes impossible to invest any emotion into these scenes because of how overblown and artificial they feel. The weeping Simmons telling Coulson to inform her father of her imminent death is another example of a scene that should have packed an incredible emotion punch. Instead, it falls flat due to over-the-top performances and an overuse of stereotypically sad music. Far more emotional relevance would have been created by dropping the orchestral soundtrack altogether. This episodes’ producer, Joss Whedon, used a lack of music to excellent emotional effect in his own Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. There is something very juvenile about how the sequences of Simmons dying are handled. Underplayed performances would have been so much more powerful. Instead we’re treated to Fitz and Simmons crying at each other behind glass and Coulson angrily refusing to give up on Simmons despite her risk to the team. It all feels a bit histrionic and overblown, even for a superhero TV show.
The biggest problem with the episode’s attempt at emotional power is how insincere it feels. At no point do we truly believe that the characters are being torn apart by watching one of their own teammates slowly die. None of the cast exhibits the acting ability to make the audience believe the emotional trauma that they’re supposed to be undergoing. The result of this lack of quality is an episode that comes across as hollow and more than a little boring. This all culminates in an insultingly bad ending which features an action sequence that is so silly and poorly realised that any possible emotional investment is drained completely. As mentioned previously, Fzzt has a strong opening and some very intriguing ideas about the fact that some threats can’t be defeated. The problem is that everything falls apart as soon as the creators attempt to pull at the audiences’ heartstrings; they’re simply not skilled enough as storytellers to succeed.
Image from pastemagazine.com
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