Jayme Woods

Writer. Geek. Adventurer.

The Power of Cliffhangers (a.k.a. FITZ LIIIIVES!!)



This post contains spoilers for Once Upon a Time, Castle, Sherlock, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Proceed at your own risk.


shield group

See there? Spoilers already.

So, let’s talk about cliffhangers. I have a love/hate relationship with these little devils. On one hand, speculating what’s going to happen next helps fill the time between novels, movies, or (for purposes of this post) television seasons. I mean, seriously, is there anyone who wasn’t stoked to get this little tease on Once Upon a Time:


Unfortunately, cliffhangers aren’t always just tantalizing glimpses of what’s to come. They often put characters we love in mortal peril. How did Castle escape that burning car? I DON’T KNOW, DANGIT! But I know he did. And I want to know how. It reminds me of a certain English detective who jumped off a building back in 2012. We all knew he survived. But how? HOW? Speculation kept the Sherlock fandom in full swing for two agonizing years.

As a writer, I respect a great cliffhanger. I still can’t hear the words, “Guys, I know Kung Fu,” without a twinge of jealousy that I didn’t write them.

And of all the cliffhangers this season, there’s none that’s got me more invested than the fate of one Leopold Fitz. For those of you who don’t watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz was last seen bobbing unconsciously in the ocean after being hauled up 90 feet by his biochemist partner, Jemma Simmons. If you don’t know why this hurts my heart, grab a tissue and hold on tight:

And that’s the last time we see him conscious. THE LAST TIME, people. No happy reunion where the whole team gathers around his hospital bed. No follow-up scene with Simmons holding his comatose hand and vowing to do whatever it takes to save him. Nope.

That’s not even the worst of it. Once Simmons hauls him to the surface, they’re rescued by Nick Fury. Nick stinkin’ Fury! Think how bummed Fitz’ll be he missed a chance to meet the man himself. It breaks my heart, really, it does.

What’s next for Fitz? We get a few hints. Fury confirms Fitz’s “heart’s still beating, just barely” but warns his amazing little brain went “without oxygen a long time.” At the end of the episode, when the team asks about him, Simmons merely replies, “he’s alive.”

Of all the times for the sunshiny little know-it-all to go laconic on us!

So what does it mean? Well, I did a little digging. Here’s the short version:



monkeys rejoiced


WARNING: I’m not a medical professional. Everything you’re about to read is the result of poking around on the Internet. If you are a nurse, diving instructor, or someone with expertise in the matter I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Here’s what we know:
> Ward jettisoned Fitz and Simmons into the ocean somewhere off the coast of Peru.
> Fitz says they’ve sunk “at least 90 feet.”
> When the window blew, water rushed in with enough force to “knock the wind right out of [them]”
> Fitz rigged a device to “let out a burst [of air] at very high pressure” that “force[d] a breath” into Jemma’s lungs

Okay, so let’s do a little back of the napkin math. Average swim speeds are surprisingly hard to come by, so I’m just going to assume Jemma swam 0.5mph, which seems conservative for someone swimming for their lives, even if they are hauling a soggy Scottish engineer behind them.

napkin math

Assuming my ballpark speed is accurate, Simmons made the swim to the surface in just over 2 minutes. This, my friends, is awesome news given the Survival Rule of 3, which says, “On average a person can only survive for 3 minutes without air.”

But Fitz said “at least” 90 feet? At least! What if it was farther? What if Simmons didn’t swim in a straight line? What if Fury’s helicopter exerted pressure on the water and made it harder for Simmons to break the surface? Curse you, Fury, and your stylish shades!

saved my ship

In that case, here are a few more interesting time frames to consider during a drowning situation:

30 seconds to 1 minute – the airway closes. Child’s lips turn blue.
1 to 2 minutes – the child looses consciousness.
2 to 5 minutes – the heart can stop. The child has a chance of survival if rescued now.
5 minutes plus – permanent brain damage is occurring as each second passes.

Whatever the variables, we know Simmons made it to the surface on a single breath without blacking out (while towing said soggy engineer behind her). For an untrained diver who “didn’t pass [her] field assessments,” it’s unlikely she lasted long enough to put Fitz in the danger zone.

But wait! That’s not all. During my research, I also happened across a bunch of other cool stuff like the mammalian diving reflex , the benefits of near-drowning in salt water versus fresh water , and this fun little gem from The Doctor Will See You Now : “About 75% of near-drowning victims who receive medical treatment survive. Of these, approximately 6% will be left with long-term neurological problems.”

Does that mean Fitz is looking at a 94% chance of full recovery? I don’t know. So why am I telling you all this?


There’s no denying I’m a fangirl, but first and foremost I’m a writer. And, as a writer, it’s important to remember readers today have access to an unprecedented amount of information. The above is what happens when you give a fangirl an hour alone with Google. An hour. That’s someone bored in the doctor’s waiting room or looking to fill the S.H.I.E.L.D. shaped hole in their Tuesday night. Let that soak in. It’s more important than ever for writers to do our homework!

Second take-away: Once you’ve done your research, remember this is a creative decision, not science class. The perfect storm of awesome could bring Fitz back to our screens (unharmed) in the first episode next season. Or the perfect storm of suckitude could give him a whole checklist of near-drowning complications that spur Simmons to perfect GH-325. Or any scenario in between. As long as the writers deliver an equally awesome payoff when the bill comes due, I don’t think anyone will complain.

In the meantime, it’s fun to speculate. What do you guys think? Will Fitz make an immediate recovery? Or does he have a longer road ahead of him? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and theories) in the comments.

Author: Jayme

Hi, I’m Jayme. I write MG adventures, adore glitter, and watch way too many Disney movies. If you like pirates or robots or aliens or ninjas, we’ll get along just fine.

10 thoughts on “The Power of Cliffhangers (a.k.a. FITZ LIIIIVES!!)

  1. I’m a physician and Fitz should have little to no permanent brain damage. I got involved on another blog with another fan of the show regarding Fitz and this episode. Here’s how it went:

    “Huh? People are often brain damaged by being submerged in water.”

    That’s true but that depends on whether 1) the person has been submerged for less than 75 minutes, 2) the person was a trained free diver or if not, he’d been unconscious (people who are conscious generally do worse), and 3) the people treating him recognize the condition and correct the hypoxia and metabolic acidosis and maintain the mammalian diving reflex (MDR).

    “True, sometimes if the water is very cold they can come out of it with little damage,” because the MDR gets triggered AND the water doesn’t have to be that cold 70F/21C or lower..

    “… but that happens more often in children than in adults,” because children haven’t developed the higher learning centers to override the MDR while conscious adults have.

    The MDR is a primitive primarily spinal reflex that shunts blood from the periphery so that the brain and heart receive almost all of the oxygenated blood at the expense of all other organs. Based on diving studies in adults, it can be triggered normally by training in free diving (pearl divers) tadpoling (like the Navy SEALS) or by going unconscious before breathing in the water or self induction.

    “…and is still the exception rather than the rule.” Because people unfortunately failed to recognize it or failed to maintain the MDR. In drowning survival studies sponsored by and published by the National Institutes of Health and found in their library 96.8% of victims had the surrounding water in their lungs, the rest had their own body fluid in their lungs and people asked why..

    That led to a number of studies showing that in a select group of adults the MDR was triggered and could be triggered quite easily as I noted above. In 1977, Linus Pauling proposed the mechanism by which it worked biochemically and after several refinements the Dobkin technique. And MDR induced hypothermia was advocated by the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute as an adjunct to CPR in the late 1980s, those who had it done showed minimal to no heart or brain damage.

    BUT for policy reasons it was ignored in the US until 2003 but picked up by the UK in developing their Emergency and Trauma Support System in the early 1990s making its way to France AFTER a traffic accident ended in the death of the mother of a UK Prince in the mid-1990s. That led to advances in induced hypothermia and in 2003, because it saved lives in heart attack and stroke (?) victims the European cardiologists endorsed it as part of the initial care to limit the extent of heart and brain injury. And in 2010, the US did likewise though some places don’t do it right.

    So, Fitz should have no permanent brain or heart damage from drowning. His main problem should be the bends (Caisson’s Disease)…

    Anyway, from what we were told in the show, Fitz was 90 feet underwater when the water rushed in and knocked the wind out of him rendering him unconscious. At that depth the water chill factor (it’s the perceived temperature based on the movement of the water currents– trivia note: wind chill factor was discovered by divers noting the difference between the actual and perceived temperature and the math used was applied to wind currents) and the water temperature would be at least 70F/20C. So, the MDR should trigger IF Fitz is a mammal and 3 processes should occur: 1) his metabolism will change so he effectively maximizes oxygen use: his breathing will decrease, his heart rate will decrease, his blood flow will be shunted primarily to his brain and heart and microscopically his metabolism will be shift to anaerobic from aerobic, 2) his limbs will go numb as the blood vessels constrict and 3) his lungs will filter his blood and become porous allowing the normal saline to fill his lungs squeezing out all the oxygen– the process takes a little over one hour– and permanent brain injury occurs when the brain is denied oxygen for more than 15 minutes; thus, Fitz has 75 minutes before permanent brain injury occurs.

    From what Fury told us, Fitz’s brain was without oxygen for a long time OR appeared to be so– the lungs might be filled with fluid but the blood going between his heart and brain will be loaded with oxygen. So, from a purely medical perspective Fitz should get out of it with at most temporary memory loss but that would almost surely be psychological. \

    But, don’t let this get around too much. I’m curious to see if the writers take this as an opportunity to fulfill the “Great Television Doctrine” that writers like Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry, and TV pioneers like Sarnoff, Paley and Disney believed was the transformative virtue of television. As I noted above, if the MDR is induced– and it can be quite easily– it really helps in saving lives in strokes and heart attacks and I’d be curious to see if the writers do what Star Trek:TOS did in “The Paradise Syndrome” as a public service.

    • Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to construct this thoughtful response! I’m still a little worried Coulson said Fitz “may never been the same again,” but hopefully that was just to make the cliffhanger a little more dramatic. Or perhaps Coulson just meant Fitz would never be the same emotionally because of Ward’s betrayal. I guess we’ll find out this Fall! Thanks again! 🙂

  2. Well, if the writers are consistent with the show, they foreshadowed it in TRACKS where Skye is shot and placed in a hyperbaric chamber. Simmons then goes through the process of induced hypothermia to reduce core body temperature by the rapid decline in temperature while compensating of the decreased pressure by increasing the chamber’s pressure but she gives the wrong impression that she’s doing it by reducing the peripheral body temperature. Yes, the writers had a chance to render a public service but failed that time because decreasing the core body temperature is the bedrock principle for treating in an emergency situation heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or heat fatigue and could save lives.

    Anyway, here’s a modification of the Dobkin technique I found on line to prevent heat stroke or heat exhaustion– oddly, the website doesn’t mention Dobkin:


    The first 3 Steps affect peripheral body temperature and won’t do much to the core temperature. It’s Step 4, that will.

    The Dobkin technique advocates placing a cold, wet towel approximately 10C /50F directly on the face and neck. The equally or more effective modified Dobkin uses a cold, wet towel approximately 21C/70F or less over the forehead, eyes, and the bridge of the nose. Either way, all you need to do is to fold a wet wash clothe around some ice cubes apply to the head and let the cubes melt into the cloth– if there are still cubes present after 15-20 minutes– to avoid damage to the tissues get rid of the ice but keep the wet cloth over the eyes, bridge of the nose, and forehead. The goal is to get the Forehead’s external temperature below 30C/86F.

    And, of course for those with summer stroke, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, have the person sip cool– not freezing water– hold it in the mouth for 15-30 seconds before swallowing– it’s another reflex to keep people from drinking in too much water at one time, by quenching the thirst centers in the portion of the brain called the hypothalamus which should prevent a truly bad illness from occurring like seizures.

    As for Fitz never being the same, I took that to mean that the writers will have Fitz become so embittered by the incident with Ward that Fitz becomes less trusting and more suspicious of everyone but Coulson and covertly designs more and more deadly devices to counter threats from friends and foes. And healing those emotional scars becomes a task for the team and opens the door for Ward’s redemption. But while that occurs, something happens to Coulson and Fitz gets recruited to build and design weaponry for the Sentient World Ordnance Readiness Division of SHIELD following the events of Avengers 1 and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll get this fall.

    • Another great response, Mike! It definitely feels like they laid important groundwork in TRACKS. Simmons even appeared to be in a similar tube in the final episode. Thanks for sharing the awesome article! I feel like I’m learning so much. I’d never heard of the Dobkin technique, but I did find this article about a man who was fully resuscitated in high pressure oxygen after 25 minutes without oxygen: http://www.wwltv.com/news/Man-survived-without-oxygen-for-25-minutes-thanks-to-controversial-rescue-111899454.html

      It’s amazing what science can achieve! I agree Fitz might have a rough road ahead of him emotionally, but hopefully the team brings him back to the light. I love his optimism. ❤

      Thanks so much for your insight into the Marvel universe! I'm mostly just familiar with the movies and show, so I've never heard of the Sentient World Ordnance Readiness Division, but it'd be great to see Season 2 tie in with Guardians of the Galaxy! 😀

  3. It sounds like the Fisherman triggered the mammalian diving reflex by negative pressure on the eyes making the productive of the volume and pressure low. In chemistry there’s this thing called the universal gas law: Pressure* Volume= number of molecules *a gas constant * Temperature. All this means is if you decrease temperature as in the Dobkin, you should get the same effect by lowering the pressure or the volume of the eye. And, the eye does have pressure receptors, just like the nose and teeth.

    BTW, the R in SWORD has meant in the past research, response, readiness… They’ve been rivals and allies of SHIELD for years.

  4. From the San Diego Comic Con, it won’t be SWORD on the show but maybe STRIKE. In the comics, it’s the UK version of SHIELD. Season 2, there’ll be a character: Lance Hunter and in the comics, he’s the director of STRIKE. Anyway, I’m looking forward to Season 2 this September.

  5. I saw Season 2 Episode 1. If you’ve seen it, it seems things are almost just about the way you thought regarding. That sets up a nice story line for the season and hints that Fitz’s current problems are psychological. So, I would’t be too concerned about Fitz, it’ll be a nice background story regarding PTSD.

    • I hope you’re right! Don’t want to spoil anything, but the promo for next week makes it look like Simmons is willing to do anything to find a cure. Excited to see where the season goes.

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