Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1 Ep8: The Well

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.

AAAAAAAAAAAA (Image: Marvel Movies Wikia)

Professor Elliot Randolph (Peter MacNicol) turns out to be more than he at first appears (Image: Marvel Movies Wikia)

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.

Marvel mentions

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.

Best line

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.

Rating: 8/10

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reviews

Preview: Can Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work without Avengers?

1.1 Pilot

1.2 0-8-4

1.3 The Asset

1.4 Eye-Spy

1.5 Girl in the Flower Dress

1.6 FZZT

1.7 The Hub

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6 Comments on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1 Ep8: The Well

  1. Sorry. I thought this was dull. I still don’t care about any of the characters, and I’m not sure the cast do either. Even the Dollhouse callback annoyed me, as (a) it was part of yet another ‘Tahiti’ reference; and (b) it was a reminder of a better show.

    • I guess opinions on SHIELD are pretty set now. For me the show is steadily improving although I think it’s clear that it’s unlikely to be more than merely decent. I completely get that it’s missed the mark for many though. As you say over on unpopcult, it compares unfavourably when set against the downright silliness of The Blacklist.

      • Oh, I dunno; I’d say that for silliness the anti-capitalist terrorists are comprehensively trumped by the Asgardian staff and the thousand-year-old alien.

        • Fair point. But was I the only one who, upon seeing the staff, thought of the (badly dubbed) 1970s Japanese cult classic Monkey?

  2. I liked Peter MacNicol, and Ward and May hooking up, but they might as well have had everyone wear t-shirts with “THOR FILM OUT NOW” emblazoned across them in neon. It would have been about as subtle.

    I thought it was better than last week’s but still not very good.

    • I quite liked that they didn’t link the episode too heavily with the film but it did all seem like an hour-long advert for the film. Just in case anyone watching this wasn’t already aware of it!

      At the outset of the series I was convinced that the Marvel links would really benefit the show. Now, if anything, it feels like the show is hamstrung by having to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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