After some delay, Secrets of SHIELD is back, and what an episode! We finally learn how Simmons survived – but where was she all that time?!

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Wow. Just, wow. That was an intense and focused episode. It’s refreshing to see an entire episode in an ensemble cast dedicated to a single cast member without a B or C story. More like this, please!

Spoiler-Light Recap: Jemma Simmons was stranded on an alien world for 4,722 hours. This is her story.

On with the comic connections

Opening six months ago, we see Fitz awkwardly asking Simmons on a date just before the monolith swallows her whole, depositing her on the other end of the universe. The most important item in her possession is a smart phone modified by Fitz to have an extended, long-lasting battery. Useful! Some practical matters: they keep referring to this location as a “planet,” and it is certainly a planetoid (with stronger-than-Earth gravity), but the giant orb in the skyline seems to imply either a system with a planet and moon that are very similar in size with a secondary moon caught in orbit (like Pluto’s system), or that Jemma is on a moon orbiting a larger planet. I’m no physicist, so someone, please correct me on this. Can you imagine if planets really were that close to Earth.

Much of Simmons’ time on this world is spent speculating on or lamenting the lack of sun. There seems to be a perpetual twilight about the place, and by episode’s end the audience learns this is due to Simmons being on one of the orb’s poles. In reality though, it sure looks like the entire episode was filmed in a rock quarry. It wasn’t, but a lot of British sci-fi (especially 80s Doctor Who episodes) were filmed in these kinds of locations to save money, a fact the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series made light of.

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By hour 81, Simmons is already talking to an imaginary Fitz, though this seems more like a coping technique and not full-on psychosis as Fitz seemed to suffer in Season 2 when he was seeing and speaking with an imaginary Simmons.

Cognizant that help is not coming any time soon, Simmons estimates that the average human can go three weeks without food and 100 hours without water. By hour 99 she is overcome by a dust storm, only to wake up a few hours later to discover a round liquid pool. She spends hours drinking and swimming in the pond before an animated plant tentacle grabs her. A few hours later, she eats a broke tentacle from what she dubbed, the monster plant. She spends the next several days luring, attacking and barbecuing the monster plant. Hungry peeps gotta eat. In the 1950s and 60s, Marvel had all number of plant monsters, so maybe this creature is related.

Things change after hour 752 when Simmons runs afoul of a trap door and wakes up trapped in an underground cage, watched curiously by a lone astronaut. She breaks out by hour 851, but she returns with him as the dust and the mysterious “it” menaces them. The astronaut believes “it” is Death. It can smell blood, travels via sandstorm, and can affect the region’s environment and geology. There’s a lot to unpack here. First, there is a Marvel character called It, and It is a giant statue animated by the mind of a paraplegic man. Second, Death is also a character at Marvel, and yes, it is the spirit of all death in the universe and, yes, that is the same “Death” that Thanos wants to “court.”

More to the point, the astronaut believes the planet itself is “evil” and has “moods.” This is big news to Marvel fans, as there are several living planets that have various moods, the first and most notable being Ego the Living Planet. That’s certainly possible, but this seems like a very lackluster introduction for a character that would more likely be used in a Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Still, Ego does have a barren-but-habitable surface that changes based on the moods of the planet, and man-shaped antibodies that will seek out and destroy intruders.

Now, on to that astronaut. His name is Will Daniels and he arrived as part of a crew of four in the Distant Star Pathfinder mission from NASA. While the others were scientists, Will’s job was to keep everyone alive. He failed. S. Austin threw himself off a rocky cliff, Brubaker set himself on fire, and Taylor disappeared after attacking Will in a fit of madness. Stretched to the breaking point, Will believes everyone will go mad eventually, if “it” gets them. Simmons suggests she serves as the voice of “hope,” while he is the voice of doom. Ooooooooookay, so much here. We have a crew of four travel into space on an experimental mission, but something goes wrong, and “doom” appears. I’m sure that could be a reference to something, but I’m not sure what. Plus, how strange would it be to have a superhero origin that involves sending the team through a portal to a desert world for a long time? More seriously, the names of Will’s companions seem to be nods to sci-fi past: Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man) and Taylor (Planet of the Apes) seem obvious, though Brubaker seems less clear. The internets seems to think he’s a reference to Capricorn One, and this makes sense as it was about astronauts who seemingly visit another planet. This OJ Simpson vehicle is not that well remembered, but I actually own a copy of it on VHS (though I’m not sure if that’s something worth celebrating). Heck though, it could be a less sly reference to Marvel writer (and Winter Soldier re-creator) Ed Brubaker.

The crew was stranded in 2001 after a small group within NASA pushed for the mission, making Will’s disbelief in Simmons believable (he hadn’t seen another human in over a decade). Sure, the film (and book) 2001 dealt with a strange alien monolith and an alien world, but interestingly, Marvel actually published an on-going 2001 comic initially inspired by the film but ultimately it was an outlet for some of Jack Kirby’s strangest ideas. Cavewoman superheroes, alien warlords, and Mr. Machine, or as he’s better known, Machine Man. It’s unfortunate this series has never been (and is unlikely to be) collected, because damn the art and ideas are amazing.

Will has a map of the strange world they’re on, which includes a mysterious area Will calls the No Fly Zone. The map, apparently made by Will’s team, has limited details, but still serves them well. Exploring the Zone, Simmons finds an old sword, a satchel, and a bottle of wine. Recently Marvel’s breakout
Secret Wars mini-series Weirdworld included a similarly sparse (but useful) map, which also helped people trapped on an alien world survive. Back in the world of sci-fi, the No Fly Zone seems very reminiscent of the Forbidden Zone from the original Planet of the Apes flick.

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Simmons also finds a sexton which she uses, along with Will’s outdated technology and Fitz’s superbattery, to estimate the portal’s next opening time and location. All their plans are for naught when even their message-in-a-bottle fails to make it through. Will blames “it” for changing the terrain.

A bit of background, Simmons reveals she had scoliosis as a kid, and while recovering from a surgery, her dad engendered a love of science and space within her. Go dad!

Will said he thought the planet may have been a Garden of Eden before “it” destroyed the world. Too bad Galactus isn’t part of the MCU. With their hope gone, Simmons describes the planet as “Hell,” and earlier Will had referred to the luminescent substrata as the “fires of hell.” By the by, did you know cast and crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation referred to the often-reused rocky alien planet set as “Planet Hell”? Not important, just a neat little factoid.

Throughout the episode, Simmons repeats the phrase “goodnight, Fitz,” each time with different connotations. Sometimes it’s lovingly, as in a mock date or as she goes to sleep, other times it seems more dire. Eventually, it seems like resignation, as she accepts and appreciates Will. With that in mind, the two go out to see the only sunrise for the next 18 years (based on Simmons’ calculations), only to see Fitz’ flare shot and be chased by “it” who appears in the form of a dead astronaut. Returning to my previous theory of the Cotati – their primary method of interacting with humans is the long-term possession of dead bodies. One Cotati has been inhabiting the body of deceased Avengers’ villain Swordsman for years. He even married another Avenger while in that body. Creepy man.

That brings us back to the present: Simmons escaped with Fitz’s help, but Will got left behind. The audience knows Will is alive, and Fitz, despite his reservations, agrees to help get him back.

Honestly, love or no love, would he really doom a guy to an eternity alone in space just to keep a girl?

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Next time: May’s back! And so is…