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Tonight’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aimed for the heart, and it hit. Fitz and Simmons have been due for a bit of time in the spotlight and they got it with “F.Z.Z.T.” In absence of an actual villain, the focus of the episode shifted from a strange occurrence involving electromagnetism and a bunch of firefighters, to the group in peril as one of their own fell ill. And in the end, numerous characters proved their bravery and willingness to put their lives on the line for each other.

What a roller coaster this one was. The episode began at a campfire where a troop leader named Adam died due to what appeared to be some kind of strange lightning attack. Given that he ended up dead and hovering feet above the ground with what looked like a gunshot wound to the head, S.H.I.E.L.D. was brought in to investigate. As it turns out, the troop leader was a firefighter, and one of three exposed to a helmet that turned out to be a remnant of the Chitauri invasion — The Avengers tie-in! The helmet carried a virus, which infected the three firefighters who decided to clean the thing, causing them to die one-by-one. There just wasn't time to save the third guy, though they'd figured out by that point that the deaths were due to a virus and not some kind of external attack.

By this point of the episode, we're left to assume something much bigger is coming. We were barely at the half-way point when it seemed like they had most of the answers, all except how to cure the virus, which the firefighters might have contracted.

Coulson and his team were jetting off to the Sandbox with the helmet, while Fitz and Simmons worked in the lab to find a cure. Well, Simmons worked in the lab. Fitz couldn’t stand the smell, which might have kept him from catching the virus. It’s a mark of Simmons’ enthusiasm for her work that she was so excited to learn that the virus can move from person to person, that it didn't seem to occur to her that she was vulnerable. And sure enough, just as she was relaying this information to Coulson, one of her tools began to hover nearby, indicating that she was infected. It’s at this point that the pace of the episode shifted drastically. What started as a mystery-of-the-week turned into a race against the clock, not to take down a villain or crack a case, but to find a vaccine antiserum to save one of their own. And it was down to Simmons to figure it out, though Fitz was able to create the device to administer the cure from outside Simmons’ quarantined lab.

One of the things I’ve been trying to be patient about with this show is arriving at the point in this series where I really care about these characters. It takes time for that to happen, and if we’re comparing SHIELD to other Joss Whedon series, a handful of episodes isn't really going to do it. And an issue I’ve had with SHIELD so far, is that so much attention has been paid to Skye that we’ve barely gotten to know Fitz, Simmons and Melinda. But again, I've been reminding myself to be patient. Tonight’s episode may have gotten a bit touchy-feely at times, but it’s moments like the one between Fitz and Simmons where they spoke, bickered and brain-stormed with one another through the glass that takes this show a big step ahead in its character development progression. We got a slightly better idea of their history together — and I’d like to submit a request for some kind of pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. flashback of these two — and we saw what they meant to each other. There's so much potential for a bigger story with these two, and I'm not necessarily suggesting a romantic one.

I thought Fitz would come through the door a moment after he said, “You’ve been beside me this whole damned time.” It seemed like it just had to happen. And it did, but not until they figured out that they needed the helmet to find the antibodies to make the cure. Fitz got the helmet and he didn’t hesitate to let himself into the lab so they could work with it, putting his own life at risk in the process. It was a duo-defining moment for these two. As was Simmons’ decision to drop herself out the cargo door when she thought the antiserum they made didn’t work. But as it turns out, it did work. And because the jet is such a great opportunity for thrilling moments, we got a skydiving scene featuring Ward diving head first toward the ocean to rescue Simmons before she hit it. Fitz gets credit for being about a second away from taking the dive himself, but I’m thinking if anyone had any chance of actually catching up with Simmons and snatching her out of the air and vaccinating (antiserumming?) her in time, it’d be Ward.

So, all’s well that end’s well. I would’ve been shocked and disappointed if Simmons died so soon into the series, but I wouldn’t put it past those Whedons. Alas, everyone survived the episode and we now know that the lab geeks are just as brave as the agents.

Other stuff

Coulson had a pretty fantastic moment tonight as he sat with the third firefighter, who was moments away from dying from the virus, and managed to calm the guy down and maybe even ease his fears of his inevitable death. Coulson’s been dealing with his own issues lately, in fact, as he and Melinda discussed Coulson’s recent physical examinations. At first, Coulson made up some story about his physical therapist ordering the test, but he later admitted that he ordered it himself because he feels different. He knows he was dead longer than a few seconds and he’s trying to figure out what his deal is. Aren’t we all?

Melinda reminded him that dying would change anyone. And it’s true. But I feel like her words were more for comfort than anything, as they don’t explain what Coulson doesn’t know about the situation. Unless that’s going to be explained away eventually.

Skye’s story was addressed a couple of times in the episode. When they were investigating the first firefighter, Ward pointed out that people always appear clean on the first sweep. The look he and Skye exchanged indicated a bit of tension there. It seems like it was necessary to at least point out that not everything is all clear with that situation. She’s going to need to earn people’s trust back.

And tonight’s episode had a little fun with impersonations, mainly at Ward’s expense. There are moments when Ward’s clean-cut alpha-man act seems almost goofy, and then there are moments when the show acknowledges that by having the characters each do their own impersonation of him, which Ward is apparently aware of. I also loved Fitz’s impersonation of Simmons.

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