“4,722 Hours” makes it clear that, though she may not seem like the best candidate to survive on an alien planet, Jemma Simmons has some pretty mad skills. When “4,722 Hours” began with the flashback to the scene where Simmons got pulled into the Monolith and taken to the other planet, I wondered “Wait, is this episode going to only be about what happened to her?” And then the title came up – and it wasn’t the usual logo on the black screen, with the big sound effect. It just quietly appeared over the desolate, blue landscape Simmons was trapped in. And it was clear that yes, this was going to be a very different episode… The story is one long character study giving Elizabeth Henstridge the opportunity to show off the depth of her acting ability, and the rich development given to Simmons this week makes me wish every member of the cast could get teleported away for a terrifying extraterrestrial experience.
Obviously the concept of a character marooned by themselves is not a new one – the writers utilized Enemy Mine (an excellent SciFi film) for their inspiration and there is also the not as excellent Cast Away featuring Tom Hanks. Series like Galactica and Star Trek have told similar stories of this sort, among others. But this is Agents of SHIELD, a big, Marvel/ABC network TV series with a specific, (Earthbound) vibe and feel to it. So for them to take this show in this direction, even for a week, was bold and exciting.
When Simmons first arrived on the planet, she realizes that she is not in the same solar system as Earth by the stars she sees. Remembering her S.H.I.E.L.D. training, she decides to stay stationary until an extraction team can find and rescue her. After 13 hours, Simmons decides to go to sleep. Awakening eight hours later, Simmons realizes that the sun has not arisen. She begins to cry and screams for the sun after being on the planet for 71 hours. At 79 hours, Simmons decides that she must find food and water in order to survive; a normal human can survive without water for a hundred hours. Twenty hours later, as she climbs a ridge, Simmons sees an approaching sandstorm. Simmons awakens after 101 hours on the planet and discovers a nearby pond; she laughs as her thirst is quenched. For quite awhile, it was only her onscreen and she was excellent showing Simmons try and approach the situation with an optimistic, even scientifically curious perspective, before the true direness of what was happening set in. Now on the planet for 109 hours, Simmons swims in the pond; suddenly, she is grabbed from below. Fighting for her life, Simmons cuts a tentacle from the creature and drags it ashore. Two hours pass before Simmons finally decides to eat the tentacle. By 492 hours, Simmons’ hunger is so great that she decides to fight the underwater foe; she wins the battle, makes a fire, cooks, eats, and burps. Watching sweet, wide-eyed Simmons go almost feral, killing and eating that creature, was a sight to behold and it was emotional seeing her leave her messages for Fitz as time went on and things got worse and worse (that phone lasting at all is also a miracle, but hey, SHIELD tech, right?!).
Simmons has now been on the planet for 752 hours when she hears movement that she does not recognize. She goes to investigate; falls into a trap and sees a man close it as she faints. Nine hours later, the man goes to check on Simmons; she is awake but fearful. At 783 hours, the man realizes that Simmons is not a hallucination. Simmons introduces herself to the man as the 824th hour passes; he brings her a bowl of food. Twenty-seven hours later, Simmons feigns a stomach ache and asks the stranger why he has poisoned her. As he enters the cage to investigate, Simmons hits him with the bowl and escapes. She runs but injures her leg. Her captor grabs her; he says that It can smell blood and will soon come. He takes Simmons to his cave and hides as a sandstorm roars above. He tells Simmons that his name is Will. Simmons stitches her leg while Will asks what year it is. At hour 853, Will Daniels reveals that he has been on this planet since 2001. As an aside, I assume it was likely a purposeful nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey having Will trapped on that planet since the year 2001 (given we already had a Monolith in play), though given Dillon Casey is 31, let’s just assume he was playing a few years older than his actual age – or else Will was the Doogie Howser of both the Air Force and NASA, considering his history.
When Simmons stumbled upon Will (Nikita’s Dillon Casey), yeah, you could see where this was going – that she would bond with him and maybe even get romantic with him (as was indeed the case) – and he’d be the reason she needed to go back to the planet. The journey is more important than the destination, though, and the bond between Simmons and Will develops organically as their hours together turn into days, then weeks, then months. For most of this time, Simmons is still intensely devoted to Fitz. When she first finds herself stranded, she keeps her composure by thinking like a scientist, but once it starts to sink in that no one is coming for her, she starts to get more emotional and turns to her memory of Fitz for support. She imagines the date they’re supposed to go on and worries that their bond won’t maintain in a romantic context, and Henstridge does great work showing how Simmons’ relationship with Fitz gives her the strength to press on. Throughout the first half of the episode, Simmons records voice memos for Fitz detailing her fear regarding the scarcity of food and water, her insecurity about her chances of making it through this alive, and her pride when she discovers what she’s capable of accomplishing when survival is her one and only goal. It allows Henstridge to vocalize all of Simmons’ turbulent emotions, and she fully captures all the desperation Simmons feels as she spends more time alone on an alien world. The thing that keeps her motivated is the hope that she’ll one day make it back to Fitz and the rest of her friends, but when that hope fades, her romantic commitment to Fitz fades with it.
By 3,010 hours, Simmons decides that she wants to go to the “No-Fly Zone” despite Daniels’ protests that that is the place where “It” lives. Going there nonetheless, Simmons finds a bottle of wine and a sword, along with a mass graveyard. Observing the stars, she realizes a way off the planet. Suddenly a storm approaches; Simmons sees a figure in the dust and runs. She places dirt on the cut she gets and peeks from behind a boulder. Simmons returns to Daniels, who was watching her through binoculars, and tells him that she now believes. Twenty-two hours later, Simmons explains to Daniels her plan to find a portal that will return them home; she can use the battery from her cell phone to power his computers to calculate the stars and their movement. She watches the video of her friends for the last time. The battery dies at hour 3,183, but Simmons has accumulated enough data to determine that in eighteen days a portal will open in a canyon that is thirty meters wide. Weeks pass; by 3,561 hours, Daniels has created a way to get them across the canyon and Simmons has put a message in a bottle to drop in the portal as a back-up plan. On the 3,575th hour, the stranded ones arrive at the canyon to discover that it is now over a hundred meters wide and impossible for them to cross successfully. The portal opens and Daniels shoots the bottle to the opening. He misses by one second. Hell, we knew for a fact that Simmons would safely make it home eventually, but it was still heartbreaking when she and Will tried to get Fitz a literal message in a bottle and failed, because we’d seen just how desperate they were and felt their pain in that moment.
Simmons and Daniels have become a couple when hour 4,720 arrives. Simmons has calculated that a once-every-eighteen year sunrise was to happen in a couple of hours. The couple celebrate the occurrence with the bottle of wine that Simmons found; it tastes like vinegar. Suddenly Simmons sees a flare streak across the sky. Daniels and Simmons run to the spot of the flare, but “It” comes for them. Daniels tells Simmons to continue, but she refuses to leave without him. Simmons then sees an astronaut coming and thinks that NASA has come for Daniels; he tells her that it is a trick as the sand becomes blinding and separates them. Daniels fires his only bullet at the figure as Fitz calls to Simmons. Simmons is rescued. Daniels is once again alone as the sun rises at hour 4,722.
There’s a noticeable change in Simmons’ disposition once she and Will kiss and start sleeping together (at least that’s what we’re led to believe by the shot of their two beds now side-by-side), and showing Simmons at her bleakest point earlier makes it easier to accept this new relationship by showing how it drastically improves her outlook. Her romance with Will significantly complicates the one she has with Fitz, but Fitz doesn’t let jealousy take over when Simmons finishes recounting her experience. The final scene between them — the only one not on the alien planet — was terrific, as Fitz processed what she’d just told him and decided he would do everything he could to help her (because of course he would) and save Will. And Henstridge got one more terrific moment showing Simmons tear up as she realized what he was doing for her. He rushes out of the room, but it’s not because of anger. Instead, he rushes to the lab to start figuring out how to bring Will back because Fitz is that good of a friend.