Lessons For Writers From Agents Of Shield – Part 6

by J.J.Foxe on November 12, 2013


This is the sixth part in an ongoing series following the Joss Whedon produced series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  If you’ve not read the earlier instalments in this series for writers you probably should.  You can find Part 1 here:


And Part 2 is here:


And Part 3 is here:


And Part 4:


And Part 5:



You’ll get the most value out of this article if you’ve already seen the first three episodes.  If you haven’t, I recommend finding them on the Interwebz and watching them.  In the UK you can find them on the Channel 4 website.  In the US you can find them on the ABC website.

A Précis Of Episode 6 – FZZT

FZZT starts with a group of campers in the woods and a lame ghost story. And then the leader of the campers dies in a strange fashion– and his body is discovered, sizzling with electricity and floating in the air.

The Shield Team is dispatched to investigate this mysterious death.   And when they arrive at the scene they have never encountered anything like this before. Skye asks if this could be someone from their index (a reference to Episode 5).

As they continue their investigations Fitz detects a build up of the kind of electricity that caused the death 20 miles from their location.  Ward, May and Coulson go to investigate.

Before they can reach the source of the build up it pulses and disappears.  When they arrive at the location – a barn – the find another body floating in the air.

Skye discovers that the second victim shares a connection with the first – they were both part of a volunteer fire fighter unit that attended New York in the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion in Avengers Assemble.

So Coulson, May and Ward go to the fire station where the victims were based.  Here they find that there is a third fireman acting strangely – and May discovers a Chitauri helmet.

Simmons tells her not to touch it – originally she thought that the victims were killed with some kind of weapon. But the discovery of the Chitauri helmet confirms a theory she’s been building – that the firemen were infected with a virus.

Sure enough, the third fireman dies.  The Shield Team are charged with taking the Chitauri helmet to a Shield Containment Unit called ‘The Sandbox.”  Coulson tells Simmons that there may be a pandemic…the other fire-fighters may be effective, so she needs to work on a cure.

Whilst en route Simmons discovers something about the virus, and calls Coulson to show him.  As she is explaining to Coulson what she has discovered, some metallic objects float in the air behind her. And Coulson realizes she’s been infected and effectively quarantines her.

Based on the info they have, they estimate there is 2 hours or so before she will be killed by the virus in the way that the fire-fighters were.  So it’s up to her to find a cure – an anti-serum as she insists on calling it to Fitz.

The first two attempts at the anti-serum don’t work – and Simmons is about to give up. In an argument with Fitz – which we’ll look at in more detail shortly – she comes up with an idea.  Fitz agrees with her and they attempt to create an anti-serum by scraping cells from the inside of the Chitauri helmet.

The rat that the anti-serum is administered to appears to die…and all hope appears lost.  Simmons tells Coulson she knows what the protocols in this situation are, and asks him to tell her Dad first.  Then she asks for a moment alone with Fitz.

The rest of the team leave them alone. And then she hits Fitz with a fire extinguisher (we’ll also talk about this in a moment), knocking him to the ground.  When Fitz comes to, he is dazed.  But he sees that the rat is fine and was only rendered unconscious by the small electrostatic pulse the virus caused.

He stands up to tell Simmons – and she has opened the cargo door of the plane.  Before he can tell her that the anti-serum works she half jumps/is half sucked from the hold.  And she has no parachute.

Fitz gets a dose of anti-serum and is trying to strap on a parachute when Ward arrives, strips the parachute from Fitz, takes the anti-serum and dives out of the hold.

Ward skydives after Simmons, reaches her, administers the anti-serum and then opens their parachute.  That’s the main resolution of the episode story line.

The Continuing Story?

The main threads that run through this story and beyond concern Coulson.

At the start of the episode Simmons is monitoring his physical activity, and there is talk of his physical condition.  Which Simmons says is perfect ‘for a man his age.’

Then when the third fire-fighter is about to die, Coulson takes a moment to talk to him, to help him.  Coulson says that he died…and the 8 seconds and 40 seconds figure (see Episode 1) is mentioned again. But Coulson reassures the fire-fighter that ‘the other’ is beautiful.

May tells him that he did all he could for the fire-fighter.  And at the end of the episode May and Coulson talk about death and the fact that Coulson feels different, though that all his physical signs indicate that he is normal.

And May says something that tells us that maybe something similar happened to her.  Hopefully we’ll get some character revelations about this in future episodes.

Other than that, this episode has little ongoing story threads- but there are some well written scenes where the members of the team interact and deepen their relationships.  The scene I’d pick out is where Ward is testing the heft of the ‘night-night’ gun – and Fitz and then Simmons mimic him.  It’s a simple scene, but humanizes Fitz, Skye and Simmons with humour.  And then there’s a reprise at the end of the episode after Ward has saved Simmons that humanizes him.

Writing Lessons From Episode 6

There are three writing lessons I want to take from Episode 6.

The first is the moment in the Episode when the second rat dies after being injected with anti-serum and Simmons loses hope.  This is a neat little scene that can be categorized as a dark night of the soul moment.

Whilst explaining to Fitz why she can’t make an anti-serum that’s strong enough to fight the virus, Simmons says:

“There’s no-one to create an anti-serum from. Because no-one’s actually survived this.  Except…

Then Fitz and Simmons both say: The Chitauri.  And that triggers the mad scramble to create the anti-serum that eventually works.

If you get the chance I highly recommend watching this scene carefully – it starts with the second rat dying, and then Fitz and Simmons arguing.  And culminates with the lines quoted above.

What I really liked about this scene is the dialogue in their argument – it’s really true to their characters, and at the same time reveals who their characters are.

And that brings us onto the second writing lesson from Episode 6.

In order to save everyone else on the plane – because the static electricity blast caused by the virus would be enough to destroy the plane – Simmons chooses to sacrifice herself.  She gets everyone bar Fitz out of the way by asking for a moment with Fitz.

Which everyone respects.  Because it seems totally in character.  Then she has to get past Fitz – because she knows he would try to stop her.  And to do this she disables him by hitting him with a fire extinguisher.

To me this screamed out as lazy writing.

Firstly it’s totally out of character.  Not only because Simmons is a total science geek.  But also because she has a genuine relationship with Fitz – and she must know that the potential trauma that could be caused to Fitz by a blow to the head with such an instrument.

The writing would have been far stronger if they had found an alternative way for Simmons to temporarily disable Fitz.  (There was another instance of lazy writing shortly after – when Simmons opens the cargo hold – and bear in mind I’m not an aeronautical expert! – but from everything I’ve read that would cause far more problems for the plane than are shown.)

The final writing lesson to take from Episode 6 is a simple one – and illustrates a common story principle often called The Rule Of 3.  The Rule Of 3 is found in folk tales (e.g. Goldilocks And The 3 Bears) and is used to show two ways that don’t work, before a third way that does work is discovered.

The Rule Of 3 is applied by the storywriters here to the lab rats that Simmons is testing the anti-serum on.  And it’s combined with a brilliant visual of the dead rats floating in their see through cages.  The floating rats signal death – note also that there were three fire-fighters who cleaned the Chitauri helmet and triggered the virus.

When Fitz comes to after Simmons hits him with the fire extinguisher, the first thing he sees is the third rat no longer floating.  And so we discover at the same time as he does that the anti-serum works.


Episode 7 – which is called The Hub – airs tonight in the US and airs on Friday here on our side of the pond.  I’ll post an article after that episode once it’s aired.

If you’ve got any writing lessons – whether story oriented or otherwise – from this series, don’t hesitate to share by dropping a comment.




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