MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Ep. 8: The Well (T.V. review)

SHIELD Level 7

In a tie-in to Thor: The Dark World, Coulson and company sweep up Dark Elf debris after the film’s events a la Damage Control, a Marvel comic about a crew of specialists who do likewise after superhuman combat.  This leads to a global adventure steeped in Norse mythology, which leads to an episode better than the movie itself. (For my Dark World review, click here.)

Unlike a lot of comic book big event crossovers, this tie-in doesn’t seem like just a money grab. (“If you read Civil War, then you must buy all 107 tie-in issues!”)  Don’t get me wrong, it is a money grab, (“If you liked the show, then see the movie.  Ideally in pricey 3D!”) but it also happens to be the best Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode to date.

While on clean-up duty in London, the agents discover a plot to acquire broken pieces of an ancient Asgardian staff once owned by a Berserker warrior.  The staff infects its wielder with super strength (yay) and out-of-control Hulkster rage (nay).  Negatively affected by the staff, Agent Ward is forced to relive a childhood trauma involving his brother and a wishing well, hence the episode’s title (minus the wishing).

What is this?

“Okay, now everyone on my left point to the stick.”

A neo-Paganist hate group unearths the first piece of the staff of Ra in a Norwegian national park whose own clean-up crew was apparently infected by the worst acting in Norway’s history.  In a race against the Nazis neo-Paganists to obtain the one true Ark relic’s remaining pieces, Coulson and his team globetrot via a plane superimposed over a map supplemented with a John Williams score to Ireland and Spain.

They do so with the help of Dr. Elliot Randolph (Peter MacNicol), an Asgardian expert who is unveiled as — SPOILER ALERT! — Asgardian. (Hmmm, I wonder how he got that job.)  Randolph, a former mason turned warrior turned pacifist professor — natural progression for near-immortals — fell in love with Earth (technically Earth’s women) centuries ago and has secretly lived here ever since.  After deserting Odin’s army, Randolph scattered the pieces of the magical staff across the globe in an ill-fated attempt to keep it from ill-tempered hands.

Agent May helps Ward defeat the Paganists after reassembling the staff and, unlike Ward, controlling her rage.  This leads to a surprising bond between the two.  Later on, Coulson has a nightmare revelation that his recuperation in Tahiti, “a magical place”, was not real, which is the perfect excuse for the obviously fake Tahitian background.

Could Peter MacNicol give Thor a run for his money?

Vigo the Carpathian or Vigo the Asgardian?

What makes this episode so good?  Is it the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity?  The direction by Jonathan (Star Trek: Next Gen) Frakes?  Perhaps it’s finally learning more of Agent Ward other than that he has abs of steel.  It’s all of these reasons, plus more.

With a few quick flashes of Thor courtesy of footage from his feature films, the series continues to show the Avengers in brief glimpses only, much like obstructed views of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  This reinforces how godly Thor and his super friends are compared to the common man embodied not only by Agent Coulson’s team, but by Dr. Randolph as well — someone who shunned his otherworldly heritage for more earthbound pursuits, i.e. chasing tail.

The deepening of Ward’s character is a major step forward, as is the implied behind-closed-doors “bonding” of Ward and May, surprising given that preceding verbal bonding took place between Ward and Skye.  Couple this surprise with Randolph’s true identity and we have story beats more reflective of past Joss Whedon projects.  Want further proof?  Check out the subtle reference to Whedon’s Dollhouse in this use of that short-lived show’s popular dialog exchange:

COULSON: “Did I fall asleep?”

TAHITIAN MASSEUSE: “For a little while.”

This occurs during a memory of Coulson’s that may or may not be fake, just as the dolls’ memories were fake.

Another reason this episode soars is MacNicol’s skilled performance.  Equal parts menacing, innocent, funny, and perverted, Pete delivers the script’s needs on all counts, making his Asgardian a guest star whose presence is welcome in the series’ future.

It may have taken 8 hit-or-miss episodes, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may finally be hitting its creative stride.  Do you agree?  Then go see Thor 2.  Ideally in pricey 3D.


NEXT UP: Repairs



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