Previously on Femslash Friday: Jane Eyre.
On paper, there’s a lot that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD does right. It’s attached to the Whedon name, overseen by Joss’ brother Jed and his sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen and branded with the Mutant Enemy production label. Its cast is led by the utterly capable Clark Gregg, whose Agent Phil Coulson was so beloved after his death in The Avengers that the Marvel franchise felt forced to bring him back, however hackneyed the explanation. And—most impressively—its Bechdel-friendly ensemble features as many female characters as it does male, and all the women embody the strong female character archetype in radically different, largely original ways.
In reality, SHIELD got off to a rocky start. But once it found its footing—sometime after the introduction of Bill Paxton as the hammiest ham in Hamtown—the ardent fan following began to feel justified, the GIFs came fast and furious, and AO3 and Tumblr overflowed with fan fiction, some canon, mostly not. Predictably, on the show, more than one woman ended up involved with the blandly handsome Grant Ward, and his relationships with Melinda May and Skye, who doesn’t even need a last name, piqued enough interest among the fanbase to generate plenty of fic. But Ward isn’t what you’d call a fascinating character; he’s quite flat, even when the writers are grasping at straws to make something, anything about him interesting. Infinitely more fun than watching Ward stumble around the much tougher, more intimidating May or giggle and hold hands with Skye was the show’s most popular aspirational pairing: feisty self-described hacktivist Skye and Jemma Simmons, a charming, brilliant British scientist with more than a little bit in common with a previous Whedon sweetheart, Angel’s Fred Burkle.
Skye, the aforementioned hacktivist, is our Strong Female Character prototype, following in the grand tradition set forth by Buffy Summers, Dana Scully, and CJ Cregg (though, admittedly, not nearly as cool as any of them—she’s young, give her time). She begins the series as a quip machine with fabulous hair, sexy and surprisingly powerful, eager to see the inner workings of SHIELD and endear herself to Coulson and his crew. And endear herself she does; by the close of the season, she’s a bona fide member of their team—thus leading to plenty of interaction with Simmons and her platonic other half, Leo Fitz. Naturally, the hyper-intelligent but socially awkward Fitz is desperately in love with Simmons. In the back half of the season, when newly minted team member (and grandson of a Howling Commando, because that cannot be emphasized enough) Antoine Triplett shows up, he’s enamored with her as well. He’s both subtler and significantly cooler than Fitz in such a way that it would make sense for Simmons to reciprocate his feelings. Unfortunately for both Fitz and Triplett, Simmons isn’t pursuing a romantic relationship with either of them. In fact, she’s not pursuing any romantic relationships at all.
But it would be so easy for her to end up with Skye. Skye’s not the stammering geeky stereotype we see perpetuated with Fitz. Nor does she have anything in common with Triplett, the smooth-talker with combat skills and borderline obscene muscle tone. Instead, she’s sarcastic yet sincere and a crucial part of the SHIELD inner-workings; she’s the voice of the audience, the only one who’s naturally suspicious of SHIELD and its secretive nature, just as we were led to be post-Avengers. Simmons and the others trust SHIELD implicitly; they need someone like Skye to point them toward the more discerning path. Skye’s no scientist, but she’s every bit as brilliant as Simmons in her own right. She’s introduced as a nameless hacker who cracks SHIELD’s airtight tech without struggle and, instead of getting arrested, gets fitted for a tracker and assigned her own quarters on Coulson’s plane. She and Simmons are friendly from the start. Simmons never judges Skye for her tendency toward breaking the rules. More than anything, she just appears to be relieved that there’s another young female around, and who doesn’t want to read into that?
Their interactions are always tinged with flirtation. Part of that’s due to Skye’s naturally flirtatious personality, which is still subtle enough to be endearing rather than cloying. But a larger part stems from their natural affection for each other. Simmons is kind and gentle by design, and Skye, underneath the snarky exterior, is much the same. They both care deeply about their fellow team members, whatever the greater organization of SHIELD may look like. And how they feel about each other is never more evident than when they’re reunited after a significant absence. The hug the two of them share in the season finale isn’t a halfhearted, obligatory acknowledgment of their relationship; it’s a full-on embrace between two people who can’t imagine life without each other.
Plus, there are plenty of seemingly insignificant moments that the average viewer would overlook, but are sure to stop a shipper in their tracks and have them reaching for the remote so they can watch them over and over, to see the nuanced joy on Simmons’ face when Skye teases her about what a tough doctor she can be or join Skye in her outrage when Simmons proclaims Jasper Sitwell’s head gorgeous. It’s the little things—the shared smiles, the imitations of fellow team members, the expressions of relief when the other is found safe—that count with this ship. And that’s good, because such minor moments never seem to cease.
What’s truly exciting about the Skye/Simmons ship is that it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Because SHIELD comes from the House of Whedon, a queer relationship isn’t unheard of, and it’s far from unusual for an ABC show to feature an LGBTQ character, going as far back as thirtysomething. Plus, Elizabeth Henstridge and Chloe Bennet—who play Simmons and Skye respectively—are on board. In a post-finale interview, when asked about potential relationships for Simmons, they both voiced their support of Skimmons, as they’ve come to be known in the Marvel fandom.
It’s not surprising that Agents of SHIELD was renewed. It’s likely that’ll happen again. And maybe by midway through season three, we’ll see Skye and Simmons together. For now, though, there are plenty of GIFs and fanvids to get Skimmons devotees through the day.
“As like BFFLs—as BFFs for life—obviously Skimmons is at the top of my priority list,” Bennet tells Zap2it at ABC’s TCA 2014 winter press tour party. After clarifying to Henstridge what “shipping” means, she echoes the same sentiments. “I’m obsessed with Skye and I’m obsessed with Chloe,” she says. “Yeah, Skye and Simmons could get together. Why not?”