Last night, on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we find the team tasked with cleaning up the mess left by Thor and his battle with Malekith and the Dark Elves, as seen in Thor: The Dark World. In an almost completely unrelated plot, when a piece of alien technology that was left behind thousands of years ago gets into the wrong hands, the team is in danger of being torn apart from the inside.
We’re given a unique look at the reality behind the epic battles and brawls in superhero movies, and see first hand the damage that gets left behind. We’re normally able to go ahead without giving the massive amounts of destruction any thought, but we’re now forced to see the “real” side of things. However, this story is quickly ditched, as we’re introduced to this odd couple of Norse mythology fanatics, who have managed to somehow find a ancient Asgardian staff, that grants some sort of rage-power, embedded in a tree in the middle of a forest somewhere in Norway. I really don’t understand what the hell this has to do with Thor: The Dark World; it actually has nothing to do with Thor, or the movie. The staff is obviously linked to Asgard, though, after the readings given off are similar to that Mjölnir.
This episode is very much about the Berserker Staff, and almost nothing about the team, save for Agent Ward (Brett Dalton), whose arc is centered on the aforementioned staff. After their discovery, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Ward make a trip out to see the guy who gave them a hand with the Norse mythology behind Thor’s hammer, back when S.H.I.E.L.D. found that in the desert of New Mexico. Now, instead of being actually helpful, the guy turns out to be a total douche, who is more concerned with his own research than keeping the staff away from the homicidal freaks that think they can use it to become Gods. Of course, he may have been able to keep it away from them, had he not left it sticking about 3 feet out of his bag, on display for the entire world to see; after we find a bit more about who he really is, it further defies logic that he’d lose it to a couple of low-level thugs to begin with.
We get to see a side of Agent Ward that we haven’t seen before, as his vulnerability is exposed in a series of flashbacks, which were fairly well done. After his run in with the staff, which causes him to have a series of flashbacks to a dark part of his life, he goes back to his normal badass routine, albeit one step further. During a Coulson-mandated check up, he even goes as far as insisting, “I don’t panic. Ever.” but, we know that isn’t the case. While he’s pretending that he’s the machine of a secret agent that everyone believes him to be, they simultaneously manage to make him more human, bringing his character down to our level even more, which is what makes this so much fun. Well, fun until he starts getting in everyone’s face, which actually starts with the makings of a pretty tense scene, only to quickly start feeling more and more synthetic. The problem is, his anger is hit or miss; in short bursts, the tension felt believable, but for just about the rest of the show, I couldn’t take it seriously. It went overboard pretty frequently, even crossing into cheesy territory at times.
With Grant falling deeper and deeper into his rage, we get to delve slightly deeper into his family history, which apparently everyone knows about but us, but I was happy to see it regardless. As the backstory unfolds, you really begin to understand why his character is the macho, Bond-esque ass kicker that we see today. It wasn’t all that original, but it got the point across, and managed to add another much needed layer to Ward, while, again, making him a more relatable character. Who hasn’t been bullied into doing something, only to wish that they were stronger, that they were someone like Grant, so that they could stand up to people who do wrong? This inspiration brings a lot to what we needed to know about this character to really understand who he is, and it’s great that we finally got to see that.
Agent Coulson drops some pretty good one-liners, and overall plays a very balanced and enjoyable role in the show. His involvement is by no means overkilled, but we get to see him enough here that his comedic style really gets to shine through. Simply from the way that he breaks down the situations the team is faced with, or how he lightens the gravity of an issue by saying something that someone at home would say, Coulson brings comedic relief, while being a believable commander over his squad, in a way that only he could do. That subtle, almost-not-even-a-joke way of delivery that Clark Gregg has is what I, as I’m sure is true with many other people, have always loved about Phil Coulson, and I either haven’t seen it, or haven’t really had a chance to notice it in the show until this episode. Aside from that, the development of Coulson figuring out just what the hell the deal with Tahiti is, is really turning out to be the next “Who killed Laura Palmer?” My favorite thing about this mystery, though, is that they aren’t shoving it down our throats; it’s very neatly hidden in the back of Phil’s mind, but it’s there, haunting him and everything he does.
The rest of the team was, unfortunately, overshadowed by the Asgardian story that we saw in last night’s show. Skye (Chloe Bennet) was obviously involved, ever so slightly, in Ward’s story, but that was about the extent of the team’s involvement. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) were relegated to their initial level of participation, not having even a minute of screen time to themselves, which was a bummer. I am, however, going to eat my words from these past 7 reviews, and admit that Melinda May’s (Ming-Na Wen) parts were freaking great. As predictable as she’s been thus far, I was caught off guard by almost everything she did; especially by her interactions with Grant. She’s clearly been my least favorite character since the start of the show, and yet, I’m actually more excited to see what happens next with her now more than anyone else on the show (yes, even more than Coulson). The note on which we left her in last night’s show has me dying to see what happens next week, so long as we get some sort of answers. She broke the mold that her character has stayed in, and had some memorable moments, even for as little as she was on screen. In fact, the only scenes that really stood out to me from the entire episode, aside from Agent Ward’s flashbacks, were featuring her.
While “The Well” was an interesting episode, it wasn’t close to the best the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had to offer, and I don’t think it was anywhere near the show’s full potential. I maintain that this show is at its best when it focuses all of its attention on the team, and not on the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming into this series, I thought that this show would only succeed if they made it about the superheroes; as we saw last week, which was clearly the best episode so far, it seems to be almost the exact opposite. When they introduce something to the show that’s directly linked to one of the films, they seem to get distracted by it, and forget that they’ve got their own show to worry about. Fortunately, “The Well” managed to handle the crossover without completely forgetting about the characters that they’ve built, even if some of them did seem more left out than they should have been. It’s given me hope that, as the show builds, they’ll be able to work in events from the movies AROUND the stories that they’ve got running on their own. Oh, and give us more Agent Fitz next week, yeah?