“4,722 Hours,” is the kind of television episode that frustrates me to no end because it is absolutely deserving of an Emmy (or two… or three… or four), but because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a genre show, and said show’s genre is superheroes, this episode and the people behind it likely won’t get the recognition or accolades that they most certainly deserve.
Let’s make one thing very clear straight off the bat: very few actors can successfully carry an entire episode of television by themselves and Elizabeth Henstridge is without question one of them.
It’s been obvious since the Pilot that Henstridge is one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s biggest strengths and I can’t even properly articulate how ecstatic I am that she was finally given this long overdue opportunity to show off her seemingly endless list of talents. The range of emotion in this episode is rather astounding, with Jemma Simmons weeping and begging for the sun in one scene and belching with a giggle in the next, and it’s a testament to Henstridge’s skills as an actress that I was laughing and (okay I admit it) tearing up along with her.
Putting Henstridge’s phenomenal performance aside for a brief moment (because I will be delving into it as this review continues) it should be noted that the cinematography, writing, and the so-often overlooked makeup, in this episode took, “4,722 Hours,” to another planet (literally) in terms of how it stacks up next to much of the other shows currently on our TV screens.
Re: The makeup. The increasingly chapped lips and ever-darkening circles beneath Jemma’s eyes as the episode progressed was a much-needed visual indicator of how she was faring on [insert planet name here]. Knowing from the start of the episode that Jemma survived whatever she faced, one would assume that her journey would be relatively easy to watch. It wasn’t, in more ways than one, and much of that is a credit to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s makeup team. Without the subtle shifts in Jemma’s pallor, the aforementioned dark eyes and dry lips, her struggle wouldn’t have been quite so believable. It was a physical indicator that, though capable of surviving, Jemma truly had to fight to do so. Many kudos need to be sent to the makeup artists for this one (and for all the episodes that they should receive praise for but often don’t) because they managed to take an already stellar episode and give it that extra touch that sent it into the stratosphere and separated it from most others.
“4,722 Hours,” is unlike any episode of television I’ve seen, due large in part to the fact that it was a bottle-episode that took place on another planet, and I can only imagine the insane amount of effort and devotion required by cast and crew alike to create this, quite frankly beautiful, installment of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Hitting pause on my gushing over those responsible for what’s probably one of my most eagerly-anticipated episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. to date, let’s get into the recap of the actual ep so you can better understand just why I think, “4,722 Hours,” was such a Grade A piece of entertainment. Spoilers ahead!
We begin with the ominous closer of last season’s finale and once again watch as Jemma gets sucked into the monolith, only this time, instead of cutting to black, we see just where that portal took her: the barren planet that we’ve only caught glimpses of thus far. Simmons, being a logical scientist first, recites S.H.I.E.L.D. protocol and determines that her best option is to stay where she is to await extraction.
It’s a good idea except no extraction comes.
Instead, after X number of days, ever-resilient Jemma decides to try and find food and water, leaving a trail of rock structures in her wake. Find water she does and the only problem is the fact that there’s something in the water that seems just as excited to see her. Simmons manages to successfully fend off a particularly creepy tentacle creature, cooking it for dinner and happily munching on it as her first real meal.
Jemma hears a noise and, doing the opposite of what one should do in the situation, she moves to follow it into a weird, alien, bamboo forest. Of course, in said forest is a hidden trap-hole, which Jemma promptly falls into, and just before blacking out she sees a mysterious figure cover up the hole. When she comes to, Jemma’s locked in a cage and finally sees the face of her captor. After accepting food he’s given her, Jemma pretends she’s been poisoned and effectively tricks said captor into opening the cage so she can hit him over the head and make her escape.
Eventually we learn that said captor is actually more ally than adversary, and that his name is Will. Poor Will has been stuck on mystery-planet for 14 years thanks to a NASA mission gone wrong and is only certain of one thing: the planet is evil and someone or something is responsible for all of the deaths that have occurred on it. Jemma naturally scoffs at this preposterous notion, explaining the scientific reasons for the sandstorms, and doesn’t believe Will until she herself ventures into the, “No-Fly Zone,” and comes face to… shadow(?)… with the, “it,” Will keeps referring to.
Despite the brief scare, Jemma’s trip left her with a plan and a way to figure out just when and where the portal will open next. She and Will work tirelessly to map the coordinates until they figure out that the portal is opening just over a canyon in the, “No-Fly Zone.” The two make the trek to the spot and realize that there’s no way they’ll be able to cross the chasm to get to the portal before it closes. Luckily, Jemma Simmons always has a plan B and brought along a literal message in a bottle to shoot across the canyon into the portal. Will has perfect aim but the bottle hits the dirt just after the portal closes, finally breaking Jemma and causing her to lose hope.
Her dejected, “There’s no hope on this planet,” back in the cave naturally gives Will the perfect opportunity to say he thought the same thing until she showed up, and the two share a kiss by the fireside. Some time later, after the two have seemingly coupled up for real, Will and Jemma head out to see the first sunrise in apparently more than 14 years (considering Will’s never seen one) and this is when Jemma spots the flare that Fitz shot through the portal in episode 2. The two run towards it but are stopped by the mysterious, “it,” and Will tells Jemma to run. The two get separated and then…
We’re brought back to the present where Jemma is telling Fitz everything. She doesn’t know whether Will is alive or dead but she has to find out since he’s the only reason she survived. We get a quick glimpse of an understandably heartbroken Fitz before he stands and briskly walks out of the room, leaving a teary Jemma in his wake. She follows him into the lab, pleading with him to talk to her, before he wordlessly points to his computer and reveals all of the data he’s found regarding the monolith. The sight once again brings tears to Jemma’s eyes, which fall when Fitz promises her, “We’re gonna get him back.”
Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D first aired, there’s often been the argument that Phil Coulson is the heart of the show. On the surface, this seems legitimate and unquestionable. He’s the main character (though lately Daisy is starting to give him a run for his money) and he’s a leader who predominantly follows his gut and emotions when making decisions.
Despite this, I’ve disagreed with this notion since Season 1’s, “FZZT.” Coulson is certainly the soul of the show, bringing the much beloved characters together and fusing the gap between the MCU and Marvel’s television endeavors; however, it’s FitzSimmons who are the real heart of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We’re always rooting for them, both individually and as a unit, and their emotional triumphs over the years have often carried more weight than any others. They’ve undoubtedly faced more than much of their fellow agents and, despite this, there’s an unyielding goodness and determination in each of them that seems to constantly trigger something in viewers.
This is only further confirmed with, “4,722 Hours,” as we watch Jemma’s latest struggle, rooting for her every step of the way, and then see how Fitz reacts to her rather monumental request of him. Jemma made decisions that were best for her, accepting that she likely wouldn’t find her way home and understandably seeking comfort in the only other human around. It’s logical, understandable, and makes sense, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch for viewers who know just how far Fitz had gone during Jemma’s time away to bring her home. No characters seem to be responsible for quite as much fist-pumping and broken hearts as FitzSimmons, and it’s clear that will remain true as the rest of the season progresses.
So what really made this episode such a stand-out?
Jemma Simmons is often in the sub-plots of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s episodes and is very rarely the predominant focus, which is why this episode was so necessary for the character as well as the show itself. Having a Simmons-centric episode is something that S.H.I.E.L.D. has needed for quite some time: Firstly because, despite the gaining of some independence while at Hydra in Season 2, Jemma is still perceived by many as simply being one half of FitzSimmons, and secondly because why wouldn’t you want to fully utilize someone like Elizabeth Henstridge if she’s a part of your cast?
“4,722 Hours,” allowed both Jemma and her portrayer to grow and be seen as unstoppable forces. The lab-ridden Simmons of Season 1 is seemingly gone for good, morphing into a true survivor who’s willing to do anything for one more day on Earth- rather, one more day on the still unnamed planet. We’ve already seen that she can handle herself (one doesn’t just waltz into Hydra unless they’re capable enough to get out) but this episode pushed Jemma to the limit and, in doing so, made certain that anyone and everyone knows that she’s more than just the latter half of the FitzSimmons portmanteau. Her decisions and emotional transparency in this episode were both heartbreaking and triumphant, and by the time the hour was up I was left wondering just how much more Jemma Simmons (and by proxy, Leo Fitz) can truly take.
…which brings us back to: Elizabeth Henstridge gave the performance of all performances in this episode.
Let’s be honest for a minute, Henstridge has never not given a solid performance but she’s simultaneously never really been given the opportunity to completely obliterate audiences with her abilities. Granted, she still does, but with, “4,722 Hours,” she was finally given more than a few minutes to do so.
Her subtle nuances and minor facial ticks never fail to floor me but in this episode in particular she was given free-reign to expand and to go big in order for Simmons to go home. Henstridge didn’t waste a second of the 42ish minutes she was allotted to bring audiences in on the 6 months Jemma spent away from the Playground. The transformation of Jemma from hopeful optimist to utterly hopeless pessimist was tough to watch, namely because Henstridge made it feel real.
It didn’t feel like an episode of television. It didn’t feel like a fictional character going through a tough time. It felt like watching a friend we’ve spent every week with for 2+ seasons shift before us and become the antithesis of the person we were first introduced to so many years ago. And that wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the fact that Henstridge has played Jemma Simmons in a way that makes her a person rather than a mere character.
I can only hope that this episode left every single viewer singing Henstridge praises, because said praises have needed to be sung for three years now.
I also hope that this means the remainder of Season 3, or at the very least the remainder 3A, will continue to shine a light on both Jemma and Henstridge. A Simmons-centric arc has been a long time coming for S.H.I.E.L.D. and, further confirmed by this episode, it’s abundantly clear that Henstridge will absolutely crush it and make it well-worth watching.
Episode Grade: A-
- It goes without saying but I’ll say it (again) anyways: Elizabeth Henstridge
- Fitz is loyal to a fault, even when he has every reason not to be, and this episode highlighted once again that, first and foremost, he’s willing to do anything to help his best friend.
- “You’re dinner biatch!”
- “I’m going to eat in the shower and fall asleep while doing it.”
- I understand that two people stranded on an alien planet will undoubtedly grow close, but the Will/Jemma pairing does seem like a bit of an unnecessary wrench to throw at the already precarious FitzSimmons relationship. Love triangles are never something people like to watch so I can only hope that this new dynamic is meant to actually further the plot of the show rather than just amp up the (already astronomical) angst between our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists.
- For an episode about what it’s like being on an alien planet, we actually learned very little about said planet or the significance it has to the show. Is it linked to the Inhumans? Is it some sort of Kree or Asgardian place? Couldn’t tell ya. Because, again, zero information was learned about it other than the fact that it rarely if ever gets sunlight and has, “moods.”
- Does Jemma’s past behavior since returning from the planet (clear signs of PTSD, tactile affection with Fitz) really match up with what we saw her go through in this episode? It could just be me but it seems that what we saw in, “4,722 Hours,” wouldn’t exactly result in the Jemma seen in 3X03.
- Just how in the hell are Fitz and Simmons going to manage to get back to that planet? And just who do you think they’ll tell their plans to? (My money’s on Bobbi if anyone)
- I’m pretty sure Blue went from being my favorite to least favorite color on the spectrum.
- If Will has been on that planet for 14 years… was he a child astronaut? Did NASA send a child astronaut through a portal to another planet? Seriously… how old is this dude supposed to be?
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