The “4, 722 Hours” episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. provides 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. Since her dramatic rescue from another planet, Simmons has been emotionally distraught, but she is now ready to open up to her best friend, Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker).
While the second part of Collider’s exclusive interview with showrunners/executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon will provide deeper insight into why they wanted to dedicate a full episode to Simmons’ story and the aftermath of its emotional impact, this portion talks about the events of the season, up until now. During the interview, they talked about establishing tent poles of what will happen in each season while also exploring what develops organically, balancing so many storylines for so many characters, the dynamic between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the A.T.C.U., the fun relationship between Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Mack (Henry Simmons), the chemistry with Daisy and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), Bobbi’s (Adrianne Palicki) continued struggle, and which characters have grown the most over the seasons.
Collider: How much of what we’re seeing now was always a part of the plan for Season 3, and what’s the biggest aspect of the story that you’re telling now that you never saw coming?
JED WHEDON: That’s an interesting question. We always move with tent poles of what we think will happen. We think of it as we’re a bunch of people in the desert and we have to make sure that there’s a pyramid in the distance that we’re all headed towards, or we’ll all head in different directions. But this was one aspect (with Simmons) that fell out organically when we were talking about what was in the hull of that ship, last year, and why they had to protect it, we landed on the monolith and the story behind it.
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: And when we leave you with a giant cliffhanger of one of our beloved characters being sucked up into a black rock, we’re obviously going to answer what happened to her. It’s just a matter of how we were going to do it, and this came up in the beginning of the season, as far as how much we want so show her on the planet. And then, we were like, “Hey, let’s just dedicate a whole episode to it.”
WHEDON: Partially because we want her on the show. We didn’t want to spend too much time without her on the show, but you also don’t want to just buy back a big cliffhanger like that and have it feel worthless because she’s back and she’s fine. We thought this was a way to answer both of those problems and give it the due it deserved.
This season, you have a lot going on, with the Inhumans, the A.T.C.U., and with Ward and his group running around, and everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to have their own individual stories, as well. With S.H.I.E.L.D. and the ATCU constantly clashes about how to deal with the Inhumans, but also cautiously trying to work together, is there a tipping point, one way or another, where that’s all going to blow up in their face?
TANCHAROEN: That’s a keep watching!
WHEDON: One of the things that’s fun for us, in terms of playing in the Inhuman world, is that obviously we’re protecting certain assets, in case of future endeavors, but we have a new world that we’re opening up and creating, really. We’re pulling from the comics a fair amount, but we’re also generating new ideas. For us, it’s a very liberating season, in that way, because the world is much broader and there’s a lot more to deal with. It’s easier to hit the metaphor of what is it like to be different, how do you treat someone who’s different, can you accept it in yourself, should you fight it or should you embrace it, and those sorts of things. We feel like there’s plenty of story there, to support our many, many, many characters.
It’s so fun to see the dynamic between Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) because their approaches are so different. What have you enjoyed about watching the two of them play off of each other?
WHEDON: We’re in love with both of them, as actors and as people, so that’s fun, on its own. We just love giving Coulson that banter.
TANCHAROEN: She’s someone who is his equal, and it was really important for us to bring in a female counterpart that is of the same level as Coulson and keeps up with him and one-ups him. She keeps him on his toes, and Constance Zimmer is excellent at doing that.
WHEDON: We’ve always tried to write Coulson as the guy who, if he’s not the smartest guy in the room, he at least knows the most about what’s going on. So, it’s fun to have her as his equal, in that way.
TANCHAROEN: And also, up until this point, Coulson has always been a father figure in the dynamics that we’ve set up. It’s been interesting to explore him with a little bit of flirt going on in their dynamic. That’s fun.
Have you found advantages to having these agents off doing their own thing or working in pairs, so that you can explore so many more storylines with them, or is that just a whole new challenge, in figuring out how to give everyone enough time?
WHEDON: It’s a blessing and a curse. We have lots of different stories, so we work hard to make sure we don’t feel like we’re ping-ponging around. But, there’s a lot to generate.
TANCHAROEN: Some characters take a backseat to others in certain episodes. We try to highlight everyone equally, but there are episodes where they’re just a little light.
WHEDON: Or in this case, a bunch of them are very light.
TANCHAROEN: They’re so light, you can’t even see them.
WHEDON: There’s also the production side of it, which is that there are reasons that it’s easier to shoot a two person scene than a ten person scene. When we informed the actors that in Episode 5, we were planning to do this with Simmons, we thought some of them would like, “So, you mean the whole thing is going to be around her?,” and have questions about it. But almost all of them were like, “Wait, I get a week off?!”
TANCHAROEN: They also thought it was awesome that it was just going to follow Simmons.
The dynamic between Daisy and Mack is so fun and funny to watch. When you decided to pair them up, did you know that they would play so well off of each other?
TANCHAROEN: It hit us during the season finale last year. We tried it out after we decided to put them together and the chemistry was just off the choice, so we wanted to have the dynamic play during the course of the season. They’re just great together. Henry [Simmons] is this giant hunk of a man, and you’d never know that he’d also just be a comedic genius. He’s really funny.
WHEDON: We’re loving their dynamic. We’re also loving writing Mack being scared. Henry is so physically imposing. He is gigantic. We love the scene when they’re in the dark and he’s a little hesitant to take point.
We got to see some real chemistry between Daisy and Lincoln before they were torn apart. Will we get to see more of them together and where that relationship could go?
WHEDON: One would hope. He’s not going anywhere and she’s not going anywhere, so we will see what develops.
Will we continue to see Bobbi struggling to get back into the field, or will she reach her required physical condition soon, so that she can go back to kicking some ass?
WHEDON: It would be nice if she got off the bench and got into the game soon. That would be nice, yes.
With so many characters on the show now, which character or characters do you think have grown the most or come the furthest from who they were when we first met them?
TANCHAROEN: Daisy has clearly evolved. Another one is Fitz, especially this season. He even has a new posture that’s very striking to see. Simmons being taken away from him, instead of mourning that or moping around, he just became more focused and more driven. It’s very clear, from the beginning of the season, that he’s definitely matured and evolved.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Tuesday nights on ABC.