Were you eager to find out what happened to Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood’s character) on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ last week? Well, hold your horses. We’ll have to come back to that later. This week, the series takes a detour and is entirely The Jemma Simmons Show.
Almost the entirety of episode ‘4,722 Hours’ is a flashback to six months earlier (the math just about adds up) immediately following Jemma getting sucked into the Kree monolith and transported to an alien planet. We still don’t know the name of the planet or where it is, but we at least find out what she did there and how she survived.
Jemma gets dumped into the middle of a blue-tinted desert and the portal immediately disappears. The planet appears to be stuck in a perpetual state of night with no sunrise. At first, Jemma follows protocol and remains where she is, waiting for extraction. When it becomes clear that nobody’s coming for her, she heads out in search of food and water. She also starts going a little crazy and talking to herself. Fortunately, she can record her thoughts and observations on a magical iPhone with a battery that lasts for months. (To be fair, the episode explains that it was a Fitz invention with extended battery life.)
Just as she’s on the brink of dehydration, Jemma finds a pool of water. Personally, if I were trapped on an alien planet, I wouldn’t immediately drink the first liquid substance I came across without any way of validating that it’s not toxic, but I suppose she’s desperate. She also gets grabbed by a tentacle monster, but overcomes it and makes it her first meal. (Again, she’s damn lucky it’s edible to humans.)
Jemma hears a strange noise and goes to investigate, only to fall into a pit and land in a cave. It was a trap. Knocked out by the fall, she wakes up later imprisoned in a bamboo cage. Her captor keeps himself hidden at first, but eventually reveals himself to be a human man (Dillon Casey from ‘Nikita’). He even speaks English. How convenient! He’s wary of Jemma and thinks she’s come to harm him. It takes a while, but she convinces him that isn’t the case.
The man’s name is Will. He’s from Earth. In fact, he was a NASA astronaut who traveled through the monolith in the year 2001. (Real subtle. I’m surprised the show’s writers didn’t name him “Dave.”) He was sent as part of a team on a secret mission to investigate the planet. It was to be “the affordable future of space exploration.” They came packed with supplies, most of which were based on solar power, and unfortunately the planet gets no sunlight. Over time, the rest of the crew went crazy and either killed themselves or tried to kill him. Soon, he was the last survivor. He’s spent most of the last 14 years alone.
Will is convinced that the planet itself is an evil force that deliberately drove his team mad. He tells Jemma about a dark presence that travels in sandstorms, and warns her to stay away from a “No Fly Zone” where only bad things happen. She naturally assumes that he’s gone batty from isolation.
Jemma sneaks away to the No Fly Zone anyway. There, she comes across an antique sword, a sextant, and several human skeletons. It seems that other people from Earth have been here in the past. (This falls in line with what we learned in a prior episode about the secret society that sent explorers through the portal.) Suddenly, a sandstorm approaches, and Jemma sees a scary robed figure standing in the middle of it. Terrified, she runs back to Will’s hovel. Maybe he’s not so crazy after all?
Nonetheless, Jemma is excited. She has determined that the location and opening of the portal is not random at all, but rather based on the lunar cycle of this planet. Using the sextant and Will’s old NASA computer (powered briefly by the last juice from her phone), Jemma believes she can calculate where the portal will appear next.
Once that’s complete, Jemma and Will set out to find it. In case they can’t get through the portal themselves, Jemma prepares a message in a bottle to toss through, with notes that will allow Fitz to find her.
Sadly, their path is blocked by a canyon that’s much larger than Will says it used to be. He’s certain that the planet has done this to spite them. As they see the portal open on the other side of the canyon, they try to launch the bottle into it using a pneumatic doohickey that Will rigged up, but the portal closes too soon. The bottle smashes on the rocks.
All hope appears lost. With no more phone battery, Jemma can’t calculate the next portal location. They’ll be stuck here forever.
As the only two people alive on the planet, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Jemma and Will fall in love. We see them kiss, with the implication of more happening as they resign themselves to their fate and try to make a life together.
One morning, however, Jemma sees a flare in the distance. She’s sure that it’s Fitz, who has come through the portal to rescue her. She and Will run in the direction it came from, but are overcome by a sandstorm. Jemma sees the mysterious figure again. It appears to be a man in a raggedy space suit. She tells Will that NASA has come for him. He says that it’s a trick and warns her not to trust it. Will sends Jemma ahead to the portal while he stays behind to fight the figure. He as a gun with one bullet left, that he’d been saving for himself in case things looked too bleak. After she’s separated from him and can’t see anything, Jemma hears a gunshot ring out. She can’t tell what has happened, but suddenly hears Fitz calling her name. She crawls toward him and… well, we know the rest.
Back to the present day. Jemma finishes telling the whole story to Fitz. She isn’t sure how he’ll react. Will he feel betrayed? Fitz stands up and walks out of the room. Jemma chases after him. She finds him in the lab, preparing his equipment to figure out a way to create a new portal. “We’re going to get him back,” Fitz says. Awww… his love for Jemma is unconditional!
In a brief epilogue, we see that Will is still alive on the alien planet, alone once again. Out of bullets, he tosses his gun into the sand.
I have one nitpick here, and it may seem kind of petty. Will is remarkably well-groomed and fit and healthy for someone who’s been stranded alone for almost a decade and a half. His clothes don’t seem any worse for wear either. I think something more like Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’ would be a little more plausible.
Beyond that, this is easily the best episode of the season so far. The focus on a single storyline is a lot more compelling than anything else we’ve seen this year, and Elizabeth Henstridge does a great job of carrying the episode without the rest of the cast around.
Although we now know why Jemma is so desperate to get back to the planet, the episode still leaves plenty of questions open. Is Will really who he claims to be? (For an astronaut, he doesn’t seem very knowledgeable about science.) Is he telling the truth about the figure in the sandstorm? Could it be possible that he’s really a HYDRA agent (or at least someone from that secret society) and killed the NASA team himself?
I look forward to finding some of these answers, but I wonder how long it will take the show to return to this storyline. I doubt that will happen next week.
A couple of comments to Josh’s questions:
1. It seemed to me that Will went as the mission leader. Many astronauts started as military pilots and then apply for the space program. Someone who was accepted to the program this way most likely has test pilot experience and is very intelligent/educated, but is there to lead missions and fly the Space Shuttle (this was 2001), not be a scientist/mission specialist. Will would have had a great deal of background/training on the experiments that were to be conducted, but not all the education in the science behind them.
2. In a blink and you missed it moment, I thought they showed Will sitting with a pair of scissors trimming his beard. I assumed that was why he didn’t have the “Cast Away” look.
While the episode was pretty good, it seemed to contradict (too strong a word?) some of the character development Simmons has been experiencing since her return.
1. Why is she so super traumatized when she comes back? Sure, she was on an alien planet, but she was hardly there alone fighting the elements and local fauna for survival the majority of the time. She meets Will relatively quickly (I can’t remember exactly) and they seem to get quite cozy for a while as far as living on an alien planet goes.
2. Why is she so reactionary to loud noises and technology when she comes back? I mean, wind can get loud, but geez. And she used her science brain to geek out with the tech available while she was over there. So, it wasn’t as if she had been away from such things for years and years.
It seems like they needed to have this script done and shot before they wrote the stuff with her after her return. Maybe they’ll clean it up as they move forward to the inevitable return to the planet when we’ll learn the truth about ‘Will’.
Or maybe we just watched her biased account of the events as delivered to Fitz, where she has intentionally left some of the more horrific stuff out…..