There are three things that prevent the otherwise brilliant “4,722 Hours” from getting a full five stars.
The first is that given what we learned in this episode, Simmons behavior on her initial return from the alien planet in previous episodes doesn’t quite gel with what is revealed here. The second is that, regardless of what enhanced technology S.H.I.E.L.D. have at their disposal, the fact that her phone battery lasted three months on a hostile planet is utterly ludicrous. The third is the fact that astronaut Will Daniels (Dillon Casey) lasted 14 years on the planet without putting a bullet in his head seems a little too convenient.
Let’s backtrack. “4,722 Hours” is the episode that finally shows us what Simmons endured after the mysterious Monolith snatched her away at the end of season two – the consequence is one of, if not, the stand out episodes of the whole series so far. Doing away with the entire main cast apart from Simmons herself – and even the shows regular title card – the episode is an isolated character piece completely breaking away from the regular AoS format. If, at the beginning of season one, we’d have been told two and half years later we’d have a whole episode dealing with a character stranded on an alien planet we’d never have believed it!
We pick up at the exact moment Simmons appears in the alien desert with an on screen timer at ‘0 Hours’ and in typical Simmons fashion her initial scientific curiosity and optimism comes to the fore; after all, for her, this is an exciting new prospect for learning and discovery – all she has to do is fill the time until Coulson and the team realize she’s missing and figure out a way to bring her back. Except they don’t.
After a few days alone and frightened, her optimism and curiosity begin to waver and what follows is a desperate struggle for water, food and fire with nothing but a photo of Fitz on her phone to address her audio logs to. The days and weeks pass, within which Simmons is attacked by sentient, fleshy, water weeds – which she successfully hunts; beaten by violent sand storms and hunted by a strange, ominous force roaming the planet; that is until she is eventually caught in a trap by the planets other lone survivor – MIA NASA astronaut Will Daniels.
It’s here we learn that the Monolith in indeed an alien relic and that it was formally in the possession of NASA; discovering what the Monolith was capable of, NASA’s top dogs sent Will and his team through the portal to explore the planet beyond, and in a sadly unoriginal piece of writing they naturally all went crazy and died leaving Will stranded and alone. For some reason he’s managed to endure the 14 years since spending every moment terrified and hunted by the planets sole other occupant, the unseen ghost-like entity that Will has dubbed “Death”. Whilst using Will’s cave as a research base, Simmons discovers that the portals activation responds to the planets orbit and alignment, meaning that our early theory of Simmons being Inhuman was in fact, wrong. Darn it.
What follows after Simmons and Will meet is a by-the-numbers montage of problem solving, failed return attempts, and eventually a growing romantic interest. Unfortunately, as we already know, Fitz and the team manage to rescue Simmons but it’s here, on the other side that we see Will is accidentally left behind to ensure Simmons return – with not even a bullet in his gun. Now we understand why Simmons was so desperate to return – she has a new astronaut boyfriend. Time to move over, Fitz: your three month restaurant reservation isn’t worth a dime now.
Fitz and Simmons have evolved into the shows most beloved characters and for a long time we thought Elizabeth Henstridge was the weakest member of the cast and her presence on screen was often a source of irritation – however she’s improved immeasurably over the last two seasons and 4,722 Hours is a great showcase for her ability not only as a performer but shows that she more than capable of carrying an entire episode herself. Kudos.
The drastic shift in tone and style coupled with Henstridge’s strong performance are what earns this episode its stars. The ending too, where Fitz offers to help get Will back despite the fact he’ll probably lose Simmons to him in the process is wonderfully played and a beautiful moment showcasing how much her well-being means to him. More of these two, please, but just them – Will can stay stranded.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently airing Sundays at 9pm on E4.