With the “4,722 Hours” episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. providing insight into what Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) had to do to fight for her life in the harsh world that she was transported to, it also bared her soul emotionally to her best friend, Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker).
During this exclusive interview with Collider, showrunners/executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon provided deeper insight into why they wanted to dedicate a full episode to Simmons’ story and the aftermath of its emotional impact. They talked about getting to branch off and do an episode like this, why it was so important for Simmons to share this with Fitz, that the world is getting bigger and becoming more of a global problem, why Lash is so scary, what Ward’s (Brett Dalton) goal is now, Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) relationship with his hand, what Powers Boothe will add to the show, and the possible connection to Captain America: Civil War. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: This episode, “4,722 Hours,” was so interesting to watch because it’s definitely not what we’re used to seeing from this show, and the acting performances were so strong.
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: Right?! Elizabeth [Henstridge] did an insanely wonderful job. And the conditions that they were working in, on location in the sand, was not comfortable. She’s such a trooper.
JED WHEDON: It seems like it was all night and cold, but it was like 98 degrees.
It’s so rare, when you have an ensemble like this, to have an episode that’s entirely focused on one character.
WHEDON: We were excited about it. We have a lot of people on the show and we felt like this year was the year to start branching off into things like this. So, we just committed wholeheartedly, which we’re proud of.
Simmons has been so emotionally lost since being back, and this episode definitely shed some light on that. Was it always important for you to have her share exactly what happened to her with Fitz?
WHEDON: We wanted to make sure that there were certain answers that you didn’t get until this episode. That was very important to us. We’ve seen that maybe there was a moment where she was going to open up to Daisy, but Daisy is on mission. She’s a different person now, and she’s out in the field with a lot of responsibilities, so she didn’t really have time in that moment. There was actually a moment where she was going to say it, but it didn’t happen. It really came down to there only really being one person who this would emotionally impact, and that’s Fitz.
TANCHAROEN: Also, it’s another element to the Fitz and Simmons love story and their unrequited love. It’s so unrequited that we swept her off to a different universe, right as they were about to go on their first date. The fact that she shared what happened to her and that she met another man who saved her life and that she wouldn’t have survived without, and the fact that Fitz says, “We have to get him back then,” it’s just prolonging them ever being together. It’s painful and it’s complicated, but of course, she’d share it with him. He’s her best friend and someone she loves with all of her heart.
WHEDON: Our main goal of the episode is to have you walk away from it feeling for everyone involved. There’s a huge danger that you would walk away not liking her because you’re rooting so hard for the two of them. So, what we tried to do, and we think Craig Titley, the writer, handled it very well, was to make sure that we built something that felt earned, and that you had a new thing that you were rooting for, before reminding you that, at the end, it wasn’t a story about the two of them on this planet, but a story about Fitz hearing this and how he will respond. He breaks your heart, at the end, she breaks your heart, and hopefully, you’re feeling for all three involved.
After waiting for so long for Fitz and Simmons to share a romantic moment, they finally get that date, and then you’re so cruel with the end result of that.
TANCHAROEN: Right. When she first meets Will, I know there was a huge part of our audience that was like, “No, stay away from him! You belong with Fitz!” But through the course of the episode, he grows on you a little bit because he’s a good man and you can see that he’s helping her and that they’re helping each other. You can understand why she fell for him. Given their circumstance, if they’re going to be there for the rest of their lives, what other choice did she have? And then, she hears Fitz’s voice and sees the flare, and that’s it. He’s been looking for her the whole time. It’s one of those things that makes me go, “Aww,” and hopefully, it made a lot of people go, “Aww.”
Obviously, you’re going to continue to explore this storyline, since we don’t know if this man will make it back home and we still don’t really know exactly what’s going on with this planet.
WHEDON: Yeah, that’s a safe assumption.
You’ve already had so many big moments this season and you’re only a handful of episodes in. What can you say about what’s to come next, both for immediate storylines and for the larger arcing story that you’re telling this season?
WHEDON: We can never say anything.
TANCHAROEN: You pointed out earlier that there are a number of different foes that we’re facing, and how that will all come to a head will be answered.
WHEDON: The world is getting bigger and it’s becoming more of a global problem. You’ll start to see that the problems our team is facing are becoming much more personal and much larger in scale.
Lash is such an interesting and scary character because he’s an Inhuman who’s running around killing Inhumans, and we don’t really understand why.
TANCHAROEN: He’s just a big teddy bear.
What was it about that character that made you want to explore him as an adversary, and to not have it just be for one episode?
TANCHAROEN: We were interested to see what it would be like to have an actual monster on the show and to go full-blown with it. In these first few episodes, he is that mystery. He’s our Jaws.
WHEDON: He’s our shark in the water. We touched on it last year with Raina and Inhumans that don’t look like us. We’re going to have a fair amount of Inhumans on our show who are very easy on the eyes. Attractive young people seem to get lots of powers. But we felt comfortable, after Raina, that we could pull this off. We don’t want to do anything like that, if we don’t feel like we can pull it off with our time and our budget. But we felt confident that we could create this monster, have him genuinely be scary, and have him genuinely be a menacing presence on our show. He’s just a monster in the water that we’re fighting.
TANCHAROEN: And we will find out why he’s doing what he’s doing.
After the reveal that he can also take human form, have you been tracking the guessing that the fans are doing?
WHEDON: He can also be someone who we haven’t met yet. So, all of the guesses are everyone who’s on the show, and then there’s a whole string of guesses that they’ll have coming when they meet new characters.
We saw May and Hunter make one go at trying to take out Ward and failing at that. Now that they’ve lost the element of surprise, will we see that escalate?
WHEDON: That’s correct, they had one shot at sneaking in. They’ll have to find another way at him.
TANCHAROEN: Also, Ward has now gone after May’s love, so that’s not good.
What can we expect from Ward, in the future? Will we learn what his actual goal is now?
WHEDON: At the core, he’s still looking for closure, and that’s a moving target for him. But that’s what driving him, at this point, and what that means can change shape.
TANCHAROEN: He has his own version of what that means, according to what’s in front of him. But he has a goal, you’ll discover.
WHEDON: He’s legitimately scary, at this point. Andrew was a shot to the gut. He’s not pulling any punches anymore.
It seems as though Coulson’s hand could be an endless source of humor, but will we also start to see its limitations, as well?
WHEDON: I don’t know how to answer that without spoiling anything. Right now, he doesn’t identify with it. It feels foreign to him. Part of that is not a problem with it, as much as it’s a problem with him. His relationship with his hand will change over time.
What does bringing someone like Powers Boothe onto the show add to things?
TANCHAROEN: Gravitas. First of all, his name is Powers. And the second you see him on screen, you’re well aware that he’s a commanding presence. He’s someone with authority.
WHEDON: And if you’re playing the home game, you’ll recognize him from the first Avengers movie. We know that you would know, right away, that he’s in the universe.
Obviously we know that everything in the Marvel universe is connected, and we’ve seen it with the previous films. Should we expect the same with Captain America: Civil War?
WHEDON: Yeah. There’s more powered people in our show, and there’s clearly different opinions on how they should be dealt with. So, I think it’s fair to assume that.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Tuesday nights on ABC.