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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1x8 - "The Well"

So, who saw Thor: The Dark World? Pretty great, huh? Action-packed, humorous, cosmic, just about everything you could want in a Marvel movie. Unfortunately for the denizens of the Bus, they missed the boat on Thor: The Dark World and drew clean up duty in Greenwich, England, site of the big conflagration between Thor and the Dark Elf Malekith (who is never mentioned.) Fitz complained that any monkey could pick up shards of alien metal and place them in secure S.H.I.E.L.D. casings for future analysis and storage -- and he would be correct. Why is Coulson's team doing this dirty work, exactly? Maybe Coulson just wants to be riding on Avengers coattails for old time's sake, you know, to stay on the cusp of the big leagues? Exposition from Simmons and Skye as to the nature of Asgardians as aliens and whether other cultures' gods ("Vishnu. Gotta be, right?" says Skye) are also aliens quickly and rather expectedly segueways into how handsome dreamy Thor is. May and Skye agree on this point, just like every woman I know in real life who has seen any or all of the three movies starring Thor. But if we're expecting to see Thor (besides footage of his boots in a montage) or any of his Asgardian buddies from the movies -- Odin, Sif, Heimdall, Loki -- nay, verily, look elsewhere, mortals of Midgard. The God of Thunder is officially "off the grid."

Not to say there is nothing Asgardian in "The Well," which turns out to be not so much influenced by any Thor movie. Rather, "The Well" strangely resembles The Da Vinci Code. Besides the globehopping -- Greenwich to Norway to Seville to Ireland -- and the presence of a mysterious academic who is not who he seems to be, there are also, in an attempt to shine a light on the torment buried within the action figure man named Agent Grant Ward, flashbacks to his most deeply buried memory of a child being trapped in a well. (Just like how Dan Brown's tweedy hero Robert Langdon was trapped in a well as a child.) There are also the villains of the piece, a fanatical "Norse-pagan hate group" who could be stand ins for the religious fanatic Silas, all chasing after the MacGuffan of the story, in this case the three pieces of an Asgardian Berserker staff instead of a mysterious Codex. But I mean, close enough. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is definitely playing in Da Vinci Code territory here.

So Dark The Con of S.H.I.E.L.D.

One piece of the Berserker staff was found by a couple in the forests of Norway, leaders of the aforementioned Norse-pagan hate group. These Norse-pagan haters (meaning that they are Norse-pagans who are full of hate, not that they hate Norse-pagans -- because wouldn't the latter definition make almost everyone else in the world a Norse-pagan hate group?) are fearful and envious of the aliens and superheroes now appearing in this Marvel world and want to cause riots to take the world back, or something. Point is, with the Berserker staff, they are violent and fancy themselves gods. All of the exposition about Norse mythology and the Berserker staff is provided by "one of the world's leading experts in Norse mythology," and before anyone gets excited about seeing Thor's friend, daffy nudist scientist Dr. Erik Selvig, in this episode, no, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn't get him either. Nope, instead we get Dr. Eliot Randolph (guest star Peter MacNichol), who takes an immediate shine to pretty, skeptical Simmons, and regales the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a tale of an Asgardian warrior who arrived on Earth in the 10th century, fought many wars, but fell in love with Midgard and never left. Instead, this mysterious warrior broke his Berserker staff into three pieces and hid them in three places in Western Europe.

The Berserker staff, when touched, elicits rage. It makes the holder see bad stuff within them and then gets them to, in Marvel terms, "Hulk out." (But not anywhere even close to the level of rage Bruce Banner reaches when he Hulks out.) This is exactly what happens to Ward when he and Skye are in the dungeons beneath Seville searching for the second piece of the Berserker staff and Ward runs into the mysterious Dr. Randolph, who absconds with the piece before running into the Norse-pagan haters. While Randolph is held captive on the Bus for interrogation, for the ladies watching who are still hoping for a glimpse of Thor, Ward tries to fill Thor's shoes by losing his shirt. But Ward is infected by the lingering effects of the staff and the madder Ward gets, the... er... madder Ward stays...? Point is, Ward's angry, and no attempts by Skye to reason with him with how cute she is seems to help. Ward is aware of his condition - now haunted as he is of flashbacks to the little boy trapped in the well - and he asks Coulson to be relieved of duty. Instead, the two of them savvy the mysterious secret behind the mysterious Dr. Eliot Randolph.

Ready for it?

Dr. Eliot Randolph is Asgardian! Didn't see what coming, did you? Why in the world would you, conditioned as we are to seeing Asgardians looking like Thor, Loki, and Sif, all beautiful, perfect physical specimens? But no, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have us willingly accept that Peter MacNichol's nebbish was the Asgardian warrior who remained behind on Midgard and then moved silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, no one ever aware for a thousand years he is an Asgardian god in our midst. To help explain, Eliot was a mason on Asgard who answered a call to battle on Midgard, and no (as our hearts sink further), he doesn't know Thor nor ever palled around with the future king of Asgard. This creates an opportunity for Coulson to feel big since he does know Thor, even though he can't call him or get him to appear on his show. Later, after Randoph is stabbed through the heart with a piece of the Berserker staff, with Fitz-Simmons fretting about not knowing Asgardian anatomy (how different could it be besides probably not at all?), Coulson plunges his hand into Randolph's chest and keeps his heart from bleeding, or something. What's important is Randolph is able to regenerate (Asgardian healing factor) so that Coulson can commiserate that he too was once stabbed through the heart by an Asgardian weapon and came back to life. Coulson now makes a regular thing of telling strangers his "I died in The Avengers and woke up in Tahiti and I don't feel right!" sob story.

Randolph reveals that the third missing piece of the Berserker staff is hidden in a monastery in Ireland so off the Bus whisks to the Emerald Isle. Wouldn't you know it, the Norse-pagans beat the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to it! And pause for a moment to ask, "What? How?" Instead of being distracted by tales of Asgard and magical rage rods, why aren't the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. remotely curious about how these Norse-pagans, who are all over the news as terrorists, are able to instantly travel from Norway to Spain to Ireland? (My explanation? Heimdall was watching and was bored and opened some Bifrosts for them to travel. Hell, it's better than no explanation.) After Randolph is stabbed through the heart, Rage Ward takes on the Norse-pagans in a super fight. But Rage Ward is overwhelmed by the rage of the Berserker staff as the Norse-pagans' cavalry arrives. Luckily, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have their own cavalry, The Cavalry: May grabs the Beserker staff, assembles it into a whole, and then provides a serious Rage May beatdown on the rest of the Norse-pagans. How did May not get overwhelmed by the rage of the Berserker staff? May answers it's because she sees the things that enrage her every day. ("That's the secret," Bruce Banner once said before the Battle of New York, "I'm always angry.") If they had the budget, May punching a Chitauri giant space worm in the face would be pretty cool.

Instead of recruiting Randolph as an asset for future Asgardian incursions, Coulson lets Randolph off scot free to reinvent himself and live some other new life. Whatever, there's no room for that guy on the Bus anyway, and S.H.I.E.L.D. can keep tabs on him. Meanwhile, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. earn some downtime and a rare overnighter in a bed and breakfast. Simmons is finally able to speak to her mum and dad after ignoring their calls for weeks, in perhaps the most banal of C subplots. Despite putting out all of the signals, Skye completely bombs in picking up Ward in an Irish pub. Ward retires to his room but sees May enter hers with a bottle of wine, leaving the door open for him. Ward follows her in. What's this? Rage May horny? Rage Ward and Rage May getting it on, mayhaps? So much for all of the online Skye-Ward 'shipping, which apparently is named Skyward. Looks like Mayward is the 'ship. That actually makes more sense, the two older, mature, action figures on the team knocking boots. Someone else not getting any sleep is Coulson, who dreams about his relaxing days in the magical place called Tahiti and wakes up in a cold sweat. Oh, and all that stuff about the kid in the well? The swerve was that it wasn't Grant Ward in the well, it was Grant who put his little brother in the well. Either way, this is for the Ward in The Well.