Plot: In a Norwegian National Park, a couple finds a piece of an ancient staff within the trunk of a tree. It imbues them with superhuman strength on par with an Asgardian God. Now Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team must find the remaining pieces and stop this Norse Paganist group before they become too powerful.
Thor: The Dark World is currently the number one movie in the world. It has already surpassed its predecessor in terms of overall sales and it still has a few more weekends left on the market. Seeing as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exists within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was safe to assume that the two would be connected at some point. Sure enough, last night’s episode was marketed as that very connection. The weeks leading up to “The Well” promoted it as the follow-up to this incredibly successful film. My mind especially was racing as to what “The Well” would have in store for its connection to The Dark World and it made me very excited. So imagine my disappointment when “The Well,” despite having some incredible action, an amazing guest star, and more character depth, didn’t have much of a connection to Thor’s recent journey at all.
The story last night reminded me quite a bit about the Centipede centered episodes we have had prior. The antagonists last night were a group of normal people who were wielding powers beyond their control. What helped “The Well” stand out in a more compelling fashion was how the source of their powers was an Asgardian staff and how it brought some legitimate personal turmoil to the stoic Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). While the team is busy cleaning up the destruction in London following the fight between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), a man named Jakob (Michael Graziadei) and a woman named Petra (Erin Way) cut down a specific tree to take the staff it holds. What exactly the staff is remains a mystery for the first half, but we quickly see what it can do when the Petra gains super strength and kills a forest ranger. This naturally puts the team on high alert. It’s when Agents Leo Fitz (Ian De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) discover the staff is Asgardian that the episode really gets moving.
Coulson desperately needs to find answers, so he turns to his own personal Asgardian expert Professor Elliot Randolph (Peter MacNicol). While he’s had roles in hits like 24, Ally McBeal, and Grey’s Anatomy among many others, I mainly remember MacNicol from Ghostbusters II so it was fun watching him play the consultant. Randolph tells Coulson everything he knows about the staff, which basically boils down to it belonging to a Berserker God that decided to stay on the Earth. He gives the team a few riddles as to where the two remaining pieces are and it doesn’t take them very long to find number two. However, Randolph is found taking the second piece, raising some big questions as to who he really is. Ward touches the piece too which allows him to see some of his darkest memories.
One of my favorite parts of the night was easily how changed Ward became upon touching the Berserker’s staff. We honestly know very little about Ward other than him being a massive “boy scout” so any revelation into what makes him tick makes me happy. Last night, his personal turmoil from his childhood took center stage as he kept seeing a boy drowning in a well. We later learn that Ward was bullied as a child and was threatened to be thrown into the well too if he saved the drowning boy. While we didn’t explicitly see any resolution to this memory, it’s obvious that it laid the groundwork for present day Ward’s desire to save everyone. While I would have liked a bit more peeling away of the layers, I’m glad to see that progress is starting.
As for MacNicol’s character Professor Randolph, I thought he was one of the best guest characters this show has had so far. As a Professor alone the character was interesting, but the later reveal that he’s the very same Berserker that stayed behind was really cool. It even lead to some pretty humorous moments with the team as people like Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Simmons wanted to ask him so many questions. The real highlight though was how unassuming Professor Randolph was as a person despite him being a God. He naturally has superhuman strength but instead likes to be a professor at a school. Plus, him stating that the Berserker myth started because he slept with a woman in the 1500s who liked stories and how he doesn’t know Thor but Coulson can introduce him was amazing.
The final battle was particularly awesome as well. Fueled by his desire to save the team and quell the rage, Ward fully embraces the staff’s power to kick some major ass. It was the closest we’ve come to a superhuman battle on this show and it was spectacular. Combined with Ward combating his personal demons and you’ve got something special. What made it that much better though was how Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) picked up the completed staff to finish the job. She was able to do it without all the visible personal turmoil too which Ward addresses later on. While it wasn’t revealed as to what May was talking about when she says that she sees her biggest fear everyday (Coulson finding out the truth?), it’s the first time we’ve actually gone into a little bit more detail about what makes her character tick so I was happy. Ward entering her room at the episode conclusion was an intriguing moment as well. I hope that’s expanded on in more detail.
As for the marketed connection to The Dark World, “The Well” was an utter disappointment. Only the first few minutes with the team cleaning up London had any real connection to what happened in that movie. Everything else like the Berserker staff that was placed there over 1000 years ago to the constant Thor and Asgardian name dropping could have easily existed without The Dark World ever happening. You didn’t even need to see the movie to understand this episode either. You really can’t call this a follow-up when Malekith, the Aether, or the fact that the Nine Realms were almost completely obliterated weren’t even mentioned.
When you think of “The Well” as a standalone episode, it was really enjoyable. The action was great, the humor was spot on, and the slowly increasing depth into Ward, May and Coulson was welcomed. Coulson in particular was great as we now see his actual survival haunts his dreams. He knows he shouldn’t be alive and that will slowly ruin him until he finally figures out why he is. But when you put this episode up to the context that it was promoted, as a follow-up to The Dark World, it’s a complete bust. I hope they can make this work out better for Captain America: The Winter Soldier next year.