To read our prior Agents of SHIELD episode reviews please go here.
- Airdate: 11/19/2013
- Director: Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Roswell, Leverage, Castle, Burn Notice, and NCIS: Los Angeles. He also directed the Star Trek movies First Contact and Insurrection)
- Writer(s): Monica Owusu-Breen (Alias, Brothers & Sisters, Fringe)
This is it. This episode of Agents of SHIELD is exactly the kind of thing that must have given the people at Disney and Marvel Studios joygasms at the thought of doing a live-action TV show in the first place. You can use your programming block on TV to help promote your latest movie, and then once that movie comes out and makes ridiculous amounts of money you can continue the story back on your TV show. You cross-promote your product across multiple platforms. It makes business sense (it’s synergy), and from an artistic standpoint could create some fan-boy fantasy level storytelling.
So, “The Well” was SHIELD‘s first real chance in its young history to deliver on the potential promise of being a Marvel TV show on the air the same time that a huge Marvel film like Thor: The Dark World just came out. As it turns out, they mostly insisted upon doing their own thing, using unique-to-the-show Asgardian plot elements to showcase Agent Ward’s background and advance Coulson’s increasing concerns over the truth of his existence. The result was disappointing, perhaps more for what it wasn’t (an Item 47-like follow-up to The Dark World) than what it was.
THE MAIN PLOT
Our grunt-like team of SHIELD agents … and Skye … get called in to clean up after the carnage wrought by Malekith and the Dark Elves near Greenwich University in London, England, in the climactic battle of Thor: The Dark World. They are tasked with sifting through the debris in search of any alien remnants from Malekith’s spaceship. Sounds like a pretty good start, right? It emphasizes how street-level our agents are in comparison to the god-like players of The Dark World while also providing an enticing potential start to a story – what strange thing might they find in the rubble? Will someone from the movie show up, maybe a low level person like Darcy’s intern?
Yeah, forget about all of that. The real story is about a Norse paganist hate group (who hate what, exactly?) which has located one-third of a legendary Asgardian staff hidden in an ancient tree in Norway, their actions spurred on by the actions of The Dark World. The staff grants temporary super strength to those who merely touch it just once, but it forces them to re-visit their worst memory and causes a chemical reaction which heightens their adrenaline and rage. The hate group use their new powers to cause rampages on the streets, leaving behind messages like “We are gods!” on the ground behind them.
While the pagan group search for the other two parts of the staff, our team meets up with an expert on Norse mythology (Peter MacNicol). According to him, they’re dealing with what is known as the Berserker staff, which belonged to an Asgardian soldier who stayed behind on Earth after a battle due having fallen in love with life on the planet. He broke the staff in three, and hid it across the world thousands of years ago.
It turns into a chase for the two final parts of the staff, a chase our SHIELD agents lose badly on both occasions. Grant is exposed to one-third of the staff in the process, making him stronger, more rage-filled and broody than usual. Mr. Norse expert professor guy (MacNicol) turns out to actually be an Asgardian – in fact, the Asgardian soldier of the Berserker staff myth. In the end, Grant fights off an entire room full of similarly rage-filled members of the Norse hate group before Melinda takes out the final two members, contracting the powers/rage from all three parts of the staff. Skye attempts to comfort Grant by being there to talk to about his experience. He pretty much says “thanks, but maybe later” and then ends the episode in an implied dalliance (you know-hot, angry sex) with Melinda May.
WHAT I LIKED
–The “he’s actually an Asgardian” twist could have been predicted by some, but it was a well-conceived idea. It played against what the audience thought they knew about Asgardians since MacNicol in no way resembles what we’ve seen in Asgard on film. Plus, it made sense for the temperament of this show. Thor, Loki, Sif, the Warriors 3, or any other Asgardian showing up would make less thematic/tonal sense than a fallen Asgardian who was but a mere grunt back home. Our characters on SHIELD are those who clean up after the superheroes, and he was a soldier sent into battles by the gods.
–At first, I didn’t know what to make of Brett Dalton’s friendly early scenes with Simmons. Once he became rage-filled I realized they had gone out of their way in the first half of the episode to present Grant with sympathetic moments in which we saw him at his best. He was patient and sweet – for him at least – in inspiring Simmons to overcome her fear, and in the field he picked the scarier path to investigate allowing Skye the slightly less scary one. It emphasized the ways in which he tries to protect his teammates, not just with his fist in combat. This paid off when he was mean and impatient with them later as well as tied into his back story of apparently having failed to protect a sibling (?) from an older sibling (?), perhaps leading to that little brother’s death by drowning. Plus, his climactic fight sequence was a bit of fantastic editing, although the choreography was mostly of the variety where they hope you don’t ask “Why don’t they all just bum rush him at the same time and overpower him with their strength in numbers?”
–Simmons is British. So, of course she might have some personal stakes at play in Thor: The Dark World‘s climactic battle in her backyard. As it turns out, though, it’s mostly just that her parents keep calling, and she keeps not answering. This could have been so much more, but was instead a minor element of the plot that really had nothing to do with The Dark World and more with Simmons overcoming her fear. Luckily, Elizabeth Henstridge is growing into the role. I enjoy how they keep making joking references to her almost-death since the experience was so intense them joking about it to ease the tension rings true.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
–A Norse paganist hate group? Really? You looked at everything you could do with Thor: The Dark World, and decided to have some random people go cut down a magic metal stick from an ancient tree in Norway? Who are these people? How is it that they keep beating our supposedly well-funded, highly trained operatives everywhere (or at least getting there at the same time)? Why are they even doing this in the first place other than becoming obsessed with it ever since Thor showed up? What’s the story behind their two leaders, Petra (Erin Way) and Jakob (Michael Graziadei)? And did you really just cast Erin Way, aka Kat from the last season of Alphas and completely waste her? No disrespect to Chloe Bennett, but based upon Way’s performance in Alphas she would have been a far better Skye. Wait. Now I’m just talking about Alphas for no good reason, although that show was good enough you don’t need much of a reason.
–The realization that I just do not care at all about Grant, his dark past, or any potential romance he might have with Skye, Melinda May, or even Simmons. Brett Dalton is not horrible; he’s just incredibly bland. They’ve now given him a tragic backstory, added a Hulk-like element in which he will now constantly have serious anger management concerns (although I fully expect them to drop that), and introduced an out-of-nowhere romance with Melinda. They are at least clearly trying to improve upon his earlier characterization by throwing new story elements at him.
–I went into this at great length last week, but I believe their treatment of the Agent Coulson mystery has been a colossal mistake. The more interesting angle to take and the one which would more empower Coulson as well fall more in line with how much the audience knows would have been for him to almost immediately suspect something was amiss with his survival. Thus, you turn it into a search for the answer as opposed to taking way too dang long to even pose the question as they have here. They are finally getting to the point where he is starting to question things, but they should have started at that point to put us on equal footing if maybe even a little behind our apparent main character. Instead, they continue to just keep dragging it along. The model they should have followed is Torchwood, where Captain Jack revealed his big secret – he can’t die – at the end of the pilot. The audience already knew that from Doctor Who just as everyone knows Coulson died in The Avengers. You reveal the end result – the character knows they should be dead – to the audience right away while making that character’s search for an answer the mystery.
–They might have mentioned Thor one too many times. By the end, I had reached a point where when they mentioned him I thought “fine, you’ve insisted on reminding me how great he is, and now I’m going to stop watching your episode and watch The Avengers instead.” There is a point at which their references to other elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes from fun little eye-winks at the audience to unfortunate reminders that the characters of Agents of SHIELD just aren’t as interesting as the various Marvel elements to which they keep referring.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The great, awaited Thor: The Dark World tie-in episode saw our heroes….fighting a vaguely defined hate group who cut an Asgardian staff out of a thousands-year-old tree in Norway. It’s slightly unfair to criticize the episode for not tieing into The Dark World more directly. The show does, after all, need to have their own identity as well as consider those viewers who have yet to see The Dark World. Fine, but at least give us a story and villains that make sense. They didn’t even do that. Instead, this was mostly dependent upon our enjoyment of the show’s characters, an understandable approach sabotaged somewhat by how mostly bland these characters are (even when infected by an Asgardian rage … thing).
1. Agent Coulson Hint(s) of the Week
Agent Coulson admitted he actually has no recollection of every being revived or spending time in a hospital. He appeared to have taken a nap while on lookout with Fitz, referring to the process as pleasant. This makes more sense considering the ending. We closed with him asleep and dreaming of Tahiti, a pleasant experience. However, in the dream it was said Tahiti was too good to be true, and the “magical place” line was repeated before Coulson awoke looking startled.
Coulson deserves a better storyline than this.
2. Have You Looked at the Ratings Lately? – An Update
SHIELD has been renewed for a full season. However, its ratings have been incredibly alarming. After debuting to over 12 million overall viewers in overnight ratings, the show is pretty much free falling. The ratings have declined with each new episode, as opposed to the more common week-to-week fluctuation. Last week’s episode, “The Hub,” was the lowest viewership total yet at 6.6 million people. Granted, these are just overnight ratings and might simply indicate audiences are time-shifting their viewing to DVR, Hulu, On Demand, etc. However, that overnight audience is still the one advertisers most care about, as indicated by ABC’s repeated assertion in their advertising that we watch Agents of SHIELD live (instead of time-shifting). Will “The Well” manage to break the trend, and enjoy a bump in viewership from its Thor: The Dark World connection?
What did you think? Like it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments section.
- Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01 E08: The Well (biffbampop.com)
- TV Club: “The Well” (avclub.com)
- Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 8: “The Well” Recap (sidekickreviews.wordpress.com)
- TV Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ep. 8 – The Well (graphicpolicy.com)