Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Elizabeth Henstridge on Simmons' harrowing journey
Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Tuesday’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!
Well, now we know why Jemma Simmons is desperate to get back to that hellish planet. Tuesday’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showcased Simmons’ whole harrowing journey over the last six months, from being sucked into the portal to the realization that she’s on another planet with barren terrain, stronger gravity and no sun.
But, it turns out, Simmons was not alone. After literally falling into his trap, Simmons finds a fellow earthling named Will (Dillon Casey), a former astronaut sent through the portal by NASA in 2001. But his fellow astronauts were one by one killed by “it,” a mysterious monster that appears within the planet’s giant dust storms and is attracted to the scent of blood — hence Simmons using dirt to cover up her cut, as we saw in the premiere.
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Will and Simmons spend months trying to figure out the location of the next portal opening, only to miss it because the monster doesn’t want them to leave — which is what finally breaks the usually optimistic Simmons. Succumbing to the realization she’s never leaving, Simmons and Will share a tender kiss and seem to settle into this life together. But when they go out to enjoy the very rare sunrise, Simmons sees Fitz’s (Iain de Caestecker) flare and sets off in its direction. When “it” tries to stop them, Will basically sacrifices himself so Simmons can escape, which is why she is so desperate to get back to the planet to save him. What’s next? EW caught up with Henstridge to get the scoop:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you find out that Simmons was not alone on this planet?
ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE: Maybe it was a couple weeks before getting the script. The EPs sat me down, which can go one of two ways — sometimes it means you’re dying, and other times, it’s really good. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. They said the idea about the episode, and they did say at that point that there was going to be somebody else there and what was going to happen. I was kind of overwhelmed by the whole concept, just thinking it was so cool and I was very honored to be tasked with something like that, but I just didn’t think it was going to happen. I just felt it was too risky, or at some point, they’d try to break it down and it was going to be too different, too expensive or too something. We just kept moving forward with it. There was a script, there was a schedule and then it happened. I was, and I still am, just worried about how FitzSimmons fans are going to react.
How difficult was it for you to shoot this episode?
It was definitely very challenging. I always expected it to be challenging. My thought was, “Oh my gosh, Kerry Washington on Scandal, this is what it must be like for her every week! She’s in most of the scenes!” It’s a different mindset. I remember hearing an interview with her that said she was speaking to Ellen Pompeo from Grey’s Anatomy, and she advised Kerry to treat yourself like an athlete. I was like, “I’m one of these women now! I need to treat myself like an athlete.” I just took very good care of myself. We took good care of each other, all the crew and everyone. We were all in the trenches together. We shot it in the desert somewhere in a couple different locations and it was always over 100 degrees. We managed to time it with a heat wave in Los Angeles. It was just crazy shooting conditions. It was cool. It just added to the whole thing. We felt like we had the chance to make something very special, and we were trying to make it as good as possible. We asked a lot of the crew this episode and they just did not disappoint.
Between Grey’s Anatomy and You’re the Worst, so many shows are doing these bottle episodes right now. Why do you think it was important that this episode followed suit? Was it about feeling that seclusion?
Yeah, I think so. To tell the story of six months, I think it lends itself to being submerged in this world. A lot of the story lines that are going to come from this episode, it’s important to really give the audience a sense of what that was like to explain future decisions. It’s really important to see the explanation and to feel the different stages she’s in. Everything that happens in this episode will impact the rest of our show. It is in isolation, but going forward, it will be very much intertwined with where our season goes.
Let’s get into her feelings for Will. Is there part of her that truly cares for him, or do you think it was just the fact they thought they’re die together on this planet?
That’s where it came from, the fact that they had to survive. But no, she’s loves him. It’s a very different type of love than what she has for Fitz. It only turned romantic when she had lost all hope, and she was ready to just fall off the edge of that cliff. She gets back, and she’s just done. She’s never been this way before. She’s never been in a situation where she didn’t think she could intellectually solve it. He lifts her up and that moment is so pure and primal. That’s the basis of their romantic relationship. From then on, it’s more about survival than getting back, because they think there’s no hope for that. She does love him. It’s a very different love. Whether it’s a love that would survive in the real world, I don’t think they would’ve fallen in love in the real world.
But, at the same time, throughout all of it, she’s still so connected to Fitz. At the end, when they’re going to see the sunrise and it’s a romantic time for them, as soon as she sees that flare, she’s right back to Fitz. She knows it’s him. She’s so deeply entrenched in everything about him that she can be in love with Will, but she belongs with Fitz. When she comes back, it’s just so complicated. She’s never experienced feelings like this. It’s messy and it’s human. As an actor, it’s great to play, but for her, I feel bad for her and I feel bad for Fitz and Will. It’s not a fun set of emotions for any of them.
Fitz is still willing to help find Will, but is there a part of him that is unhappy about it?
Oh yeah, there’s a huge conflict there. Essentially, at the end of the episode, they’re agreeing to put their feelings aside and work together on getting Will back. From Simmons’ point of view, it just compounds how much she loves Fitz that he’s willing to do that for her. Yes, without a doubt in his mind, he’s just on this mission, and that’s because how much he loves Simmons, and he’s just a stand-up guy and wanting to do the right thing. That just complicates Simmons’ feelings and that’s definitely something that will come up. They work best together, so they have to work through this together, but the biggest elephant in the room, at some point, they can’t ignore. It’s just a brilliant set-up for great scenes. We get some really good moments coming up. It’s just such a complex situation. Their feelings for each other are still right there, and that never went away for Simmons, she just also has feelings for someone else. They’re not used to this either. They’re naïve about relationships.
What’s their next step in trying to get Will back?
They’ve got a big task, really, because they destroyed the portal. We don’t know that there is another way back. Really we’re starting over. There’s so much other stuff going on as well with Hunter trying to chase down Ward, the ATCU, Daisy trying to put together this group of Inhumans. We can’t give all the resources to try and get Will back. Simmons is really the person who wants it. It’s not like lives are in danger. It’s a really hard task and there’s no obvious answer, and that creates more conflict between Fitz and Simmons. The longer they leave it, the more danger Will is in. She doesn’t even know if Will is alive. Who knows if the monster got him? They let the tension drag out.
Is there a worry that if they do get Will back, it’s actually him or could it be the monster?
That’s always a possibility. It’s definitely a worry. We’ve seen in the episode that Will hints that it drives people insane. We don’t know if the Will that we could get back is the same guy.
Do you think the Simmons we got back is the same girl?
Yeah. I mean essentially. She’s changed emotionally with everything she’s been through, but yes.
Will we get more of a sense of what was chasing them and where exactly they were?
Yes. We’ll learn more about that. It will have an impact going forward.
Is there anything you can tease about why the monster appeared to her as an astronaut?
How we’re setting it up is it manipulates you and uses what will sway you. It wanted Simmons to think that NASA had come back so that she would go toward it.
Will Coulson and the rest of the team be filled in on the mission?
Are there any naysayers about this mission?
It’s going to be going on in the background a little bit. It doesn’t pose any danger as yet. No, there’s no naysayers, really.
Is there a possibility they might turn to NASA for help?
No. We research it, but it seems that Will was a part of NASA and he didn’t know he was going to go on this mission. It’s an avenue and we’re going to be exploring every avenue. The more we explore, the more we unravel.
Will Simmons try to look up Will’s family to let them know he’s alive?
That’s a really good point. No, she doesn’t do that. [Laughs] I don’t know why she doesn’t do that. That’s pretty funny. I feel like maybe they chose people that wouldn’t necessarily be missed, that maybe don’t have family ties here. I never even thought about that. Maybe if we get him back, we will!
What is Simmons dealing with emotionally moving forward?
She’s just all over the [place]. She still loves Fitz. She never stopped loving Fitz. She used him to survive and to stay mentally stable. But she’s in love with this other guy. She feels a tremendous amount of guilt for that now being back, and guilt for asking Fitz to do something she knows is so painful for him and might completely sever their friendship. The thing that trumps all of that is, at the end of it, this man saved her life, and now she needs to try to save his. She’s still adjusting being back. It’s better now that she has this task. Fitz figured out how to open the portal from this end before, so it’s really on his shoulders. She’s struggling because she loves two men at once. It sounds like quite a good scenario in many ways, but she’s having a hard time.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
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