Photo: Mitch Haaseth (ABC)
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Has Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever done an episode as purely goofy as this? Sure, there have been some lighthearted outings, like season four’s “Hot Potato Soup” and its Koenig brothers silliness, but that was deep into a season already marked with severe emotional beats. We’re still feeling our way through the cosmic stakes of this new iteration of the show, and there’s nothing yet to really ground our sense of connection to the storytelling. There’s obviously a deep affinity for these characters built up over the seasons, but given how radically changed some of them are by the new circumstances, it’s fair to wonder if we don’t need more time to establish the baseline nature of their relationships before trying to wring goofball laughs out of them. Jemma starts this episode by threatening Daisy, of all people; maybe we need to take a moment.

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It brings me no joy to deliver this verdict on an episode that has, pound for pound, the most absurd, consequence-free laughs arguably ever delivered on the series. I’ll never complain about Chloe Bennet getting the opportunity to perform comedy, and in having Daisy go on the acid trip from outer space (or more specifically, the physical effects of brightly-colored Wonka-esque hunks of some unknown substance), the actor (along with the equally game Elizabeth Henstridge) gets to revel in delivering broad nonsense, with no real consequences to the action. But to invert the show’s usual metier for such a silly riff requires setting up the situation in a plausible manner, not to mention creating a thematic arc and story progression that gives meaning and emotional relevance to the action—all of which “Fear And Loathing On The Planet Of Kitson” largely fails to do. It squanders the excellent comedy in service of a flawed and undercooked installment.

For evidence of the episode’s half-baked setup, look no further than the forehead-slapping way it gets everyone to ingest the hallucinogenic substance—Davis literally just grabs it from the aliens they’re threatening and essentially goes, “Down the hatch, right?” If the moment of Fitz previously thinking about consuming them, only to be stopped by Enoch, was meant to justify such an out-of-nowhere and idiotic move, it failed. And thematically, it doesn’t resonate for the characters. Daisy is rightfully pissed at Jemma for hijacking their ship, but even after diplomatically backing the move in front of Piper and Davis, Jemma has the temerity to threaten the Inhuman. These two are not in a good place, in other words; Jemma in particular seems notably changed from the previous season, a much darker character, and the narrative hasn’t even gone near that development yet. They weren’t even really in the second episode, meaning we’ve had no time to register the changed state of affairs. Put plainly, this season hasn’t created the emotional building blocks necessary to ground any sort of dramatic resonance for a wacky interlude like this. It’s built on air—light and fun, but devoid of weight.

Screenshot: ABC

The stuff with Enoch and Fitz fares better, if only by dint of maintaining consistent characterization and pushing their story forward. It’s more of a showpiece for Enoch, really, given the Chronicom’s evolution as a character. He’s undergone the traditional “learning how to care” arc so common to robots or emotionally neutered beings (though as he’s quick to remind us, he’s not a robot or android—he’s a chronicom, of course), and the show plays his flat admission to Fitz that he considers him his “best friend” for easy, Pixar-like sentiment. But even within the episode his progression is significant and strong. First, he’s the confident analyst, assessing the casino games and making logical bids to rack up their winnings. Next, he’s the surprised and naive innocent, realizing the concept of deception can apply to anyone with whom he’s talking, even Fitz, pulling Enoch up short when he loses all their winnings to a charming liar. And then, after being remotely decommissioned, he loses all motivation, suffering some (very funny) existential despair until Fitz reassures him that, for all intents and purposes at the moment, they actually are best friends. It’s a winningly self-contained narrative that moves things along while enriching character.

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It also starts to lay out a larger adventure for our interstellar travelers. The hunters going after our heroes turn out to be other Chronicoms, and these ones aren’t so disinterested and passive as our friendly anthropologist. (Though Enoch’s new status as best friend means he’ll happily do anything for his compatriot—“Even murder.” “What? No, that’s a really worrying thing to say,” Fitz replies.) As the villain who comes aboard our ship informs Jemma, Earth is where Fitz died, implying the temporal shake-up generated by the events of last season have put them on somebody’s most-wanted list. And hey, I said last week you only get so many “just missed you!” moments with Leo and Jemma, S.H.I.E.L.D.! So while I understand the desire to continue doing the easiest thing that generates frisson and raised emotional investment for the audience—keeping Fitz and Simmons apart—this is starting to get ridiculous.

The stinger here has Sarge/Coulson firing the weapon into the sky which presumably begins that worrying process we saw in the video last week, so it seems fair to say we’re going to keep the team fractured for the foreseeable future. Having what’s basically two separate shows going is getting messy, even if it’s the most efficient tactic (albeit in a soap-opera sense). This is a weird start to the season, though I admire the series’ gamble in potentially flying off the rails with the intergalactic Star Wars-isms. And episodes like “Fear And Loathing On The Planet Of Kitson” are welcome experiments; they just tend to require a little more patience and planning to elevate the material.

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Stray observations

  • So many good lines with Daisy and Jemma this episode, it’s hard to pick out my favorites, though this is probably the top:
    Jemma: “I think my parents are mice.”
    Daisy: “That makes sense.”
  • A nice tweaking of the old Las Vegas motto: “What happens on the planet of Kitson is contagious...and burns.”
  • I see we’re continuing to torture others to get information, this time with Daisy breaking fingers. Cool?
  • Of all the silliness, little monkey Fitz is probably the most daffily unexpected.
  • Enoch’s warning to Fitz during what should be a simple round of hit-or-hold is good: “Also, make sure you do not get a 14.”
  • Good on the show for having Daisy phrase their experience exactly the way we all would. “I’m tripping balls!”

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