This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … The team hunts for the missing pieces of an Asgardian Berserker Staff. Ward struggles to deal with a repressed childhood memory. And Coulson performs some messy first aid.
This week’s mission
Coulson’s team races against a Norse paganist hate group to recover the remaining pieces of an Asgardian Berserker staff, which taps into an individual’s anger to confer superhuman strength on its holder.
Stepping over to the dark side
This, along with Eye-Spy, is the darkest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet and ranks alongside it as the most impressive story since the pilot.
We see the negative impact that knowledge of godlike aliens can have on people, with anti-Asgardians rioting in Oslo. The staff’s ability to tap into and amplify an individual’s rage causes a dark episode from Ward‘s childhood to resurface. And Coulson increasingly questions the circumstances surrounding his return from the dead.
Alias-style, the mission sends the team hopping all over Europe, from London to Norway to Seville to Ireland, giving the story a sense of grand scale (even though the episode is shot primarily in LA-based interiors).
For a one-off guest spot, Peter MacNicol‘s Elliot Randolph is pleasingly well drawn. His secret identity as the centuries-old Asgardian soldier who stayed on Earth is telegraphed but neatly executed, as we learn he is essentially a working-class conscript who wanted to travel and fell in love with life on Earth. It also gives Coulson someone new to bounce off rather than May or Skye.
The staff’s effect sheds light on Ward’s previously referenced troubled family history. It appears he defied his older brother’s command not to rescue his younger brother, who had fallen (or been thrown?) down a well. He may have deeply buried the scar, but it has clearly shaped his instinct to protect and save others.
May is also affected by the staff but is able to control and focus her anger rather than being overwhelmed and traumatised by it in the way Ward is. She rationalises this as being due to her seeing her darkest moment every day rather than repressing it. Is this a hint about her previous withdrawal from active duty? Or could it even be, as some have speculated, a suggestion that she is related to Skye? (I suspect it’s the former, and the latter feels too much like a soap opera plot to me.) Either way, it feels like the writers are teeing up a May-centric episode to reveal more of her back-story.
The end result of their contacts with the staff is to bring the team’s two soldiers closer together, with Ward ignoring Skye (who all but throws herself at him) and following May into her hotel room.
As a story, The Well works effectively. It’s a nicely constructed episode which ties neatly into the Marvel universe without resorting to excessive nods and winks, even if the heavily hyped link to the current Thor movie is somewhat gratuitous – this could easily have been a standalone episode even with the Asgardian link. It’s not all serious, but the humour is sprinkled lightly to underpin rather than overwhelm the episode’s dramatic elements.
The opening of the episode in London picks up from the climactic events of the current Marvel movie Thor: The Dark World, with this week’s mission centering around an artefact – the Berserker Staff – belonging to soldiers from Thor’s world, Asgard.
Coulson mentions having met Thor himself personally – in both Thor and Avengers Assemble – and being stabbed in the heart (by Loki in the latter film).
Skye likens Ward’s staff-induced anger and super-strength to “Hulk-rage”.
Outside of the Marvel universe, the coda’s exchange between Coulson (“Did I fall asleep?”) and his Tahitian masseuse (“For a little while”) is a direct echo of the short-lived Joss Whedon show Dollhouse, whose principal character was named, er, Echo.
It’d be nice if, for once, Thor and his people sent down the God of Cleaning Up After Yourself.
Coulson laments his team’s clean-up duties after the events of Thor: The Dark World.