by Thom Yee
1×08: “The Well”
As the various marketing outlets and channels should have made clear to you by now, this week’s episode directly ties into Thor: The Dark World. And just like the writers in the comics try to do with their crossover events, you don’t need to have seen one to understand the other, but your experience should be richer for having seen both.
There’s something about “The Well” that just feels different. It’s a little off in a way that you can barely see. Everything about the episode feels better than normal, a little more accomplished, just that bit closer to the show we had imagined than the one we’ve gotten so far. I think it started with some of the simple banter between our agents. Somehow, it all felt natural as our Agents discussed the Asgardian relics they’d discovered as the subject of this week’s episodes. Maybe it’s just that we’re past a lot of the character work from earlier episodes by now and are just that much more free to head straight into the show. We may have gotten to this point through more clumsy and banal writing than most viewers would’ve liked, but it’s still work that’s now done, and the character’s are finally starting to gel.
So in the aftermath of Thor’s battle with Malekith in Greenwich, our team is playing clean-up duty, where they discover… well nothing, really. Instead, they’re called away to a different site where they must overcome an extremist group that’s found and is using the Asgardian Berserker Staff that enhances a user’s strength by a factor of 20 while throwing them into a nigh-uncontrollable rage. Consulting Professor Elliot Randolph (played by the underrated Peter MacNicol), the team learns that the group has one of three pieces, and so the team departs in pursuit of the remaining two. Along the way, Agent Ward comes into direct contact with one of the pieces and, therefore, acts like a dick for most of the rest of the episode. So far, this is the closest we’ve come to any serious character work for Agent Ward, and what’s done in this episode is surprisingly strong, offering insights into his motivations and modus operandi without going overboard on detail or forced meaning.
The strengths of this episode lie in a few different places, and they all land much more strongly than usual. Peter MacNicol is a strong, quiet, yet charismatic guest star, and the twist in his story this episode both caught me off guard and was executed well. The action was more abundant and more convincing than usual. The bits of character exploration we got through Agent Ward’s (and later Melinda May’s) use of the Berserker Staff were revealing without being heavy-handed. And the way the episode ended was truly shocking, not so much that what happened happened (or appears to have happened) behind closed doors, but that this show is now allowed to go places like this. If “The Well” is an indication of the future of this show, we may finally be seeing the seemingly artificial restraints placed on Agents lifting in the name of actually making a good 42 minutes of television.
One thing that seemed a bit at odds in this episode is the purpose of Coulson’s team. Initially, I thought they were superhuman specialists, first to contact, first to investigate superhuman weirdness. This episode, though, they were just there with a bunch of other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, on clean-up instead of specialist work. True, soon enough they’re off to adventure, but clean-up seems like a job for regular S.H.I.E.L.D. crews.
Ultimately, it really didn’t matter that this episode tied into Thor, except, of course, for the potential ratings bump. Given its world, the events and links seen in “The Well” are the type that the show should have been using all along to help hold viewer interest anyway. Nevertheless, “The Well” is easily the best episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the pilot, and I hope it marks a turning point in the series.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “The Well” final score: 8
Items of Note:
-Skye: Do you think other deities are aliens too? Vishnu for sure, right?” I thought that was hilarious, and it was the first time in the show’s history that I genuinely laughed.