9:05 pm EDT, June 21, 2019

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 6×06 review: FitzSimmons is dead, long live Fitz and Simmons

Can FitzSimmons survive a war against themselves in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06?

Following up on last week’s sacrifice play by Simmons, as well as some side-choosing by a divided Enoch, Fitz and Simmons face their greatest trial yet. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes a break from the action to decide whether FitzSimmons can come out whole after all of their trials — does the gambit pay off?

But first!

What happened on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 6×06′?

Simmons and Fitz wake up and reunite in a strange white room. Their joy is interrupted by Atarah, who explains the destruction of Chronica-2 and their role in her time travel plans. She informs them that within this space, every tool and memory they each posses will be available to them, and disappears.

Seizing the moment, Fitz proposes to Simmons, declaring that they are unstoppable together. She, of course, accepts, and the two chill out and catch up on their recent adventures over tea and cake. Fitz soon notices that Simmons is determinedly avoiding any discussion of her experiences in the future. Simmons gets upset as he presses the issue, and then Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06 reveals what kind of episode this is going to be, when Simmons turns into her seven-year-old self.

Buckle up!

Little Jemma flees into her mysteriously-adjacent childhood bedroom and hides under the covers. Fitz realizes that the prison is not the white room, but rather an infinite matrix of their own minds.

In the real world, Atarah, Malachi, and Enoch observe Fitz and Simmons as they lie in the Chronicom machine that melds their minds. Enoch is deeply concerned for their safety; Atarah is… not.

Fitz approaches little Jemma, who tells him that she is safe in her room, where she locks her troubles up in her music box. After a storybook (featuring the two of them, as well as cartoon-animal forms of Daisy, Piper, and Davis) becomes the Darkhold, Fitz freaks out and pulls little Jemma back into the white room.

An impatient Atarah confronts Fitz again, while in reality, Enoch continues to protest on his friends’ behalf, his pleas ignored by the other Chronicoms.

The adult Simmons returns (heartily disgruntled) when Fitz loudly muses that he’ll conjure up Aida to help them. They bicker over her secrecy, until Mack enters the room, telling her that “He’s back.” Against Simmons’ pained protests, Fitz follows Mack into the base where Mack, May, Elena, and Daisy stand vigil around a body bag. Fitz unzips the bag, and of course, finds his own body inside.

Simmons, simultaneously acting out her role in the memory and responding to Fitz, tearfully explains what happened. Things only grow more intense when Daisy gives Simmons Fitz’s wedding ring, but Fitz goes over the edge when Coulson enters, and Simmons is forced to explain that their Director is dead.

Another memory tips Simmons off to Fitz’s increasing fragility. She finds him in the memory of a pivotal night at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy — the night he grew comfortable with her, and the night she decided to consider him only a friend. Fitz grows agitated over their seemingly unsolvable problem, and Simmons confronts him with the fact that the Doctor is still a presence in his mind.

And lo, Leopold materializes on the base, flanked by Hydra soldiers.

Fitz and Simmons escape into Simmons’ bedroom, where Simmons has her own meltdown. The music box rattles violently and falls off her dresser, releasing a monstrous version of Simmons, dressed in scraps of her clothing from Maveth and her time as Cassius’s thrall.

Simmons and Fitz hide in her closet and tumble back into the base. Fitz attributes all of their collective misery to the memory of the day that Coulson recruited them. And indeed, that (adorable) memory turns out to be something of a trap. After Coulson makes his offer, the UnJemma finds them and attacks Fitz, while Simmons is captured by Leopold.

Back in reality, Enoch begs Atarah to remove them from the machine. She gives him an ultimatum: Work with the Chronicoms, or be dismantled.

Then the torture begins. Leopold straps Simmons into the memory machine and begins to painfully “hollow her out,” while the UnJemma ties Fitz upside down from the ceiling and literally cuts his heart out of his chest. Crying out in agony, both Simmons and Fitz remind themselves that they are going through this together. Not only that, they realize, they have their friends, too.

Triggered by their memories, Daisy rescues Simmons while Mack comes to Fitz’s rescue. The two escape their captors (though Mack falls prey to the UnJemma) and find themselves back where this all really began — locked in a containment pod, together.

Ragged and raw from their trials, Fitz and Simmons unleash every last ugly scrap of their emotional baggage. Their other loves, their darkest tendencies, and their most destructive coping mechanisms all spill out in the small white space. Triggered by another memory, the pod begins to fill with water as Leopold and the UnJemma stalk the perimeter, eyeing each other and their quarry.

Finally, the deepest truth is dragged to the surface. Fitz and Simmons have caused each other awful pain; each is bitterly determined to save the other; and, they realize, despite all of the damage and hurt and resentment and fear, they are deeply in love.

The water stops abruptly. Simmons and Fitz clasp hands and resolve to face their horrible alter-egos together. After all, they are unstoppable.

They exit the pod, braced for battle — only to find the UnJemma and Leopold engaged in violent lovemaking, leaving the genuine article bemused, but free to go.

Back in the white room, Fitz and Simmons tell Atarah that they will not build the time machine. She is about to threaten them with separation when she emits high-pitched dolphin noises and collapses. Simmons and Fitz wake up from their mind-meld to find that Enoch has taken care of Atarah and Malachi. As Enoch sweeps them away, Simmons tells Fitz that he is a grandfather.

Mazal tov!

On Earth, Daisy tells a thrilled Mack that Fitz is, in fact, alive. He has every confidence that they’ll return home soon, but tells Daisy that she can’t return to space to find them; the world-destroying creatures that obliterated Chronica-2 are…

Yep, they’re here. They’re on Earth. Yup.

Daisy absorbs this information.

“Okay,” she says.

Takeaways

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06 is one of those episodes. You know the ones by now — the installments that break the rules, and break our minds in the process. A step back from season’s particular action, a chance to meditate on the the characters and themes that most deeply define the series.

“Inescapable,” though, is particularly unique in that it is not only an exploration, backstory, or climax; it represents an entirely new phase of existence for Simmons and Fitz. Helped along by the boundlessly potent mechanism of the mind-meld (and some truly genius creative insight by writer DJ Doyle,) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06 would have been a delightful jaunt into psychology even if it had left nothing fundamentally changed in the status quo.

But growth and change are the goals of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06, and that’s what is delivered, with agony and loveliness and tears of laughter. The true brilliance of “Inescapable” is in the way it chooses to embrace Fitz and Simmons as whole, real, and flawed individuals — who, crucially, are not bound to each other in the way they believe themselves to be.

Throughout Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the pair have existed in a state of desperate symbiosis that played out like love. Dependency can hold the seeds of love, but it is not analogous to devotion. Having love is not being in love; until now, Simmons and Fitz have never had the chance to learn the difference.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06 tackles this problem by, quite literally, creating a FitzSimmons — one collective brain, with the boundaries between the individuals erased. The episode deliberately calls back to the early days of the series, with “FitzSimmons” being treated as one person, each an incomplete half of a better whole. As with the most compelling horrors of personality, the FitzSimmons phenomenon was well-intentioned, and apparently quite helpful in their youthful experiences at S.H.I.E.L.D. No one means for this kind of thing to go as terribly wrong as it inevitably does.

But existing as half a person is an inherently toxic state of being. And Fitz and Simmons have, for six seasons, been driven by nothing so much as the need to preserve that state, be it through sacrifice or intergalactic travel or marriage. Fitz thought he needed to be fixed; Simmons thought she could fix herself by fixing Fitz. Being FitzSimmons would save them when nothing else could.

As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06 illustrates with lurid creativity, they were both wrong. The only flaw in FitzSimmons that could not be fixed was the fact of FitzSimmons. Leopold was only a threat to Fitz as long as he saw himself incapable of controlling the blade of his alter-ego; Simmons could only be prey to her terrifying id-self while she refused to acknowledge the weakness she represented.

Hence, the final showdown of “Inescapable” is not a pitched battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. It takes place between Fitz and Simmons themselves, flawed and angry and utterly exposed, locked in a truth-box with nowhere to go. Whole Person Simmons and Whole Person Fitz can’t fix each other, or save each other from their own trauma. They simply have to exist in their resentments and scars, brew in the pain they have caused each other. FitzSimmons is going to die one way or another; in the containment pod, where their bond first veered into unsustainable toxicity, they must decide if Fitz and Simmons, uniquely and of themselves, can love, and are worth loving.

They are. They really fucking are. Not because they must be, or because they are each other’s path to salvation. Because they have observed and evaluated and chosen each other, psychopathic tendencies and robot girlfriends and astronaut boyfriends and all — and chosen to be worth loving anyway.

Terrifically, this episode’s best visual gag also bestows a bow of truth on this choice. Leopold and the UnJemma devouring each other in a lustful frenzy isn’t just hilarious, it’s a direct product of Simmons and Fitz choosing to be complete with each other, and finding synchronicity in their mutual completion.

As innovative and funny and revealing as it is, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06 ultimately succeeds because it honors this reality. “Inescapable” isn’t a story of genius and excellence, of horrific flaws, or of shattering trauma. It is the story of two people, finally allowing themselves to be real people, even as they exist in a purely representational space.

Touchingly, the episode also uses its mechanisms to honor the other important individuals in Simmons and Fitz’s lives. Coulson’s appearances are as impactful as they are brief. The contrast between the fading leader with his last, most important order, and the bright-eyed agent calling children to a vast adventure is a beautiful bookend for this episode’s cascade of memories. The genuine love between Fitz and Mack shines as well against the darkness of long absence, and of course, Simmons’ faithful reliance on Daisy receives a lovely light.

Overall, “Inescapable” is another outstanding example of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. functioning at the height of its creative and emotional powers. It may occasionally need a break from standard operating procedures, but there’s really nothing quite like this little Marvel series when it decides to spread its wings and soar on such strange and glorious winds.

Best quotes

Little Jemma: I’m not afraid. I’m observing. From a distance.

Enoch: Humans have emotional problems! Don’t you understand?
Malachi: You seem to be developing some of your own.

Coulson: He’s out there, isn’t he?
Simmons: Yes, sir.
Coulson: Then get to work.
Simmons: Yes, sir.

Fitz: What the bloody hell is that thing??
Simmons: Listen, I would remind you that we came in here because your Hydra fascist shadow was trying to kill us.
Fitz: Oh, so you unleashed the bloody Rengu monster you keep in a box! I don’t hold a candle to you, you psycho!

Fitz: I had no idea. I had no idea you were holding onto all that.
Simmons:: That’s the point! Don’t let anyone know, that’s the whole idea.
Fitz: You are so English.

Simmons: Look, the Powers That Be didn’t believe an algae-biofuel hydrogen cell could power a quintet, so…
Coulson: Well, they do now.

Fitz: Simmons! Hey! What are you doing?
UnJemma: Biology. I like dissections.

Fitz: And then you get taken away by some rock, only to fall in love with some bloody astronaut —
Simmons: I was alone on a desert planet!
Fitz: Who turned out to be Hive, by the way! Oh, and also, are we sure that that happened after you slept with him —
Simmons: Oh my God.
Fitz: Because hey, the jury’s still out on that one!
Simmons: Oh, you want to go there? At least he was a PERSON! You built a robot girlfriend!

Simmons: Why would you design this thing without any internal controls??
Fitz: Because it’s a containment pod!

Fitz: Didn’t know you liked that.
Simmons: Didn’t know you do that.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×07, “Toldja,” airs on Friday, June 28 at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.

What do you think of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 6×06, ‘Inescapable’?

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