Review: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D – “The Well”

Spoilers

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D looked to bounce back the other night from one of its worst episodes last week. This time they have Thor: The Dark World to piggy back on in an attempt to stall the ratings freefall. How did they do? Thoughts:

-It’s a tie in! Except not really. “The Well” opens with the team cleaning up the aftermath of Thor’s battle with Malekith, and then moves on to its own story. That’s not a tie-in, it’s an expanded reference to other Marvel media, and advertising this episode as a tie-in was grossly inaccurate.

-I mean, the plot is still about Asgard alright, but there is nothing here really about the movie that just came out. And the opportunities were there. How about something regarding Dark Elf survivors trapped in London that S.H.I.E.L.D has to contain? Maybe it was beyond the budget.

-What was almost certainly beyond their budget was tidying up the post-credits scene of The Dark World, which showed the Johtenheim monster that got sucked through a portal to “Midgard” still bounding around London. Even just a throwaway reference to it being dealt with would have been better than not acknowledging it at all though.

-At least they had a competent sci-fi director in Jonathan Frakes.

-Barely two minutes of this episode went by, and I already had six complaints totted up. First and foremost, it is not “Greenwich University”, it’s the Royal Naval College. It’s a freaking UNESCO site, at least give it the courtesy of naming it correctly. It would be like calling Trinity College “Dublin University”.

-Second, Ward dismissively refers to Fitz as “our monkey” which I thought was overly offensive really.

-Third, Skye gets the clumsiest dialogue to give the viewers the lowdown on Asgard and its place in the Marvel universe, barely 60 seconds after Simmons did the same thing in a more effective opening narration.

-Fourth, Coulson quips that he wishes Asgard would send down the “God of cleaning up after yourself” after they engage in battle. Hilarious! If you’re brain damaged.

-Fifth, Skye and May both use the term “dreamy” in a non-ironic way to describe Thor, which sounded awful coming out of their mouths.

-Sixth and last, a brief mention to the introduced and then ignored sub-plot about Simmons and her parents. What was the point of even mentioning them when the episode did nothing with the idea?

-Thus ended two minutes of shame, and the next scene wasn’t much better. Two terrible actors play Norwegian park guards, who are like villainous goons on a weekend job.

-The bad guys in this episode are a fairly one note Scandinavian couple who are pagans and looking for ultimate power for some reason. Lamely developed, I’ll be back on this point later.

-Skye flashes up news reports of “riots in Oslo”. I didn’t pay too much attention to the stock footage but, as I learned after watching, this footage actually shows Dublin’s aforementioned Trinity College and the top of O’Connell Street during what I can only presume was the Love Ulster riot of 2006, not Oslo. I imagine they failed to find any stock footage of riots in Oslo and just looked for something vaguely similar. An odd coincidence though, given how the rest of the episode went.

-Coulson says that he doesn’t have Thor’s number to ask him to help with the growing problem in Scandinavia. Only, Thor is on Earth, from what we saw of the end of The Dark World. Does no one in his group of human friends notice the rioting in Oslo with the clear Asgardian elements? Does no one in S.H.I.E.L.D get word of an incoming bifrost portal being opened in London and think to contact Jane Foster? Just small plot holes like that bug me.

-And there’s Peter MacNichol as the Professor character. Always liked him, as far back as Ally McBeal, and his appearance starts to turn the episode back to a better point.

-Liked that whole opening scene with him, as he outlined some important Norse myths that would be interesting plot hooks later.

-The pen thing was weird. Seriously.

-I was baffled as to the thought process of the team, who just pick a random Viking site, out of hundreds I presume, with no other reason than “we’ll just start there”.

-Coulson’s “digging” pun, followed by a “See what I did there” was as dumb a moment as the series has had. This kind of throwaway, tension-killing, out of character humour is the shows biggest weakness.

-So, with Ward’s exposure to the “berserker” staff, “The Well” becomes an exploration, to a point, of fear and anger that can be created from that fear, which is a good avenue to take, if only a little Yoda-ish.

-Having the Professor apparently be some form of turncoat seemed like a predictable plot twist, and I figured it would turn out he was the leader of these Neo-Asgardians. Glad I was wrong there.

-“Leave it alone.” I really liked that line from Skye as Fitz and Simmons question Ward. It showed that she and Ward have grown closer, to the extent that she can recognise when Ward is being pushed too hard.

-And angry recriminations abound, as Ward flies off the handle, bringing up Fitz’ inferiority complex thanks to his over active anger problem. A bit of “Once More With Feeling” creeping in there, with the similar ideas of unintended honesty hurting people.

-I liked the scene between Coulson and Ward. They have never had that good an interaction on this show, but Coulson showing that he still has trust in Ward despite his problem was a good way of showcasing their relationship.

-So, Coulson is able to identify the Professor’s true heritage because of…a pen. Right.

-The actual twist was great, and not at all one that I saw coming. MacNichol as a lesser Asgardian was an inspired choice, and really added something to the episode, as did the idea that the “myth” was actually about him, a story he told to get laid over 400 years ago.

-Not least because he is just an ordinary Asgardian. In a universe where we see nothing but Kings, Princes and demi-gods, meeting a run of the mill denizen of the higher plane is a bit refreshing, exemplified in MacNichol’s dismissive “Sure, I spend all my days palling around with the future King of Asgard, no I don’t know Thor!”

-I loved that his reason for becoming a soldier was also just “to travel”. That an Asgardian could become bored with his existence, in a way very relatable to many humans, brings a wonderful bit of realism to this universe.

-And the team is off to…Ireland!? Colour me surprised, and suddenly apprehensive of atrocious Hollywood “Oirish” accents and borderline racist portrayals, as has happened before (looking at you Heroes.)

-It didn’t come to pass, thankfully. In fact, there’s nothing really of Ireland in this episode, bar the appropriated riot footage, which is almost disappointing.

-In fact, now that I think about, a consistent problem with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D so far has been its tendency to send the team to exotic places – Peru, Malta, Stockholm, Hong Kong, South Ossetia, Norway, Spain– and just barely try to actually make it seem like they are actually in those places, bar establishing shots and the odd ethnic one-line character.

-Case in point: the church/monastery that the team travel to in Ireland. My own investigation would indicate that it is not actually located here, and judging by the streetlights might actually be somewhere in America. A tiny detail really, but immersion breaking for me.

-Coulson puts his freaking arm inside the Asgardian. What the hell was that?

-Ward’s flashback is a bit illustrative for his character I suppose, tying in to the stuff we learned in “The Asset”. I liked the way it was blended into things here.

-Ward’s fight scene with the Neo-Asgardians was something I enjoyed, even if the combat was actually a little bland. It lacked a spark I suppose, something I’ll talk about at the end, but was acceptable enough.

-And Melinda gets to do something, probably because she got nothing to do in the rest of the episode. Her fight scene was also entertaining though, a fitting end, though her unsubtle way of making clear how the rods had no power over her added nothing to her character.

-Nice send off for the MacNichol character between him and Coulson, and their discussion on temptation and relocation. I hope he becomes recurring.

-The “hotel” where Ward drinks, much like the church, does not appear to actually be in Ireland, judging from the black cab outside and the British flag hanging up. Possibly Belfast I suppose.

-The Skye/Ward ending was just fine, a nice way to round of their episode and tie back in to the previous scene. Ward and Skye are both damaged people, and the love plot between them is inevitable, but at least in this episode it evolved naturally.

-At least until the next scene. The implied hook-up of Ward and Melinda was more than a little jarring and very out of character for those two. Not sure where that plot thread goes.

-“Did I fall asleep?” “For a little while…” Did we all catch the Whedon reference? Frakes, coincidently enough, also directed an episode of Dollhouse.

-It was obvious that there was something up with the Tahiti backstory, and the ending was just more confirmation. But it didn’t really provide any more details to work off of. I suppose Coulson’s fear of what happened in that period of time tied back into themes for the rest of the episode.

-One of the things that struck me about this episode is that it had enough good elements, and enough potential, to be a two-parter. Double the running time would have had its advantages, with the possibility of fleshing out the villains to a much better level being the primary one. That would have given the finale a greater kick for the audience, with much more investment in the powered up beatdown. Plus, more time with MacNichol’s character, a chance for a greater spinning out of the Simmons/her parents sub-plot, a perfect twist to serve as a half-way cliffhanger and all as part of a tie-in to a recent movie. A chance lost there I think.

Overall, a better episode than the dire one that preceded, thanks to the great guest star mostly. But still plenty of problems that won’t go away. Ratings stabilised for this episode, but you can’t help but wonder if that was due to the Thor tie-in – a very forced and dishonest one. We’ll see if the numbers remain as they are next week.

To read my thoughts on other episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, click here to go to the index.

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6 Responses to Review: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D – “The Well”

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