Friday, June 19, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 8 "The Well" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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One thing we need to get out of the way up front with this review:  “The Well” (1x08) is the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. crossover with Thor: The Dark World.  And if you look at it as just being a movie tie-in, it stinks.  I mean, I really do not like how it crosses over with Thor: The Dark World.  However, if you leave out the first three minutes or so, it’s actually not a terrible episode.

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The episode opens like a Thor movie:  Simmons (standing in for Odin) gives a voiceover while we watch footage from Asgard and from the two major Asgardian visits to Earth.  This culminates with the team cleaning up the wreckage from Thor’s battle with Malekith and the Dark Elves.  While doing so, they banter about the battle and the existence of Asgard and Asgardians.  The funniest part of the whole scene is Coulson’s line that “It would be nice if, for once, Thor and his people sent down the god of cleaning-up-after-yourself.”  Beyond that, I wasn’t too thrilled with this tie-in—certainly not when you compare it to their tie-ins with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and even more when you compare it to “Yes Men” (1x15), which is a much better tie-in with Thor: The Dark World.  Mercifully, the whole episode is not the S.H.I.E.L.D. team taking out Thor’s trash.

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The rest of the episode is much more interesting:  a “Norse Paganist Cult” is searching for the pieces of the mythological Berzerker Staff, an Asgardian weapon from over a thousand years ago.  The two leaders of the Cult, Jakob and Petra, discover a tree in a Norwegian park which seems to match up with a rhyme they found in an ancient myth.  Jakob cuts the tree down, goes partway up it, and cuts out a section, revealing a piece of the Berzerker Staff.  When his girlfriend Petra touches the staff, the runes carved into it start to glow, and she starts shaking.  Finally she releases it and lets out a feral cry before giving a park ranger an open-palmed punch and sending him flying.  The S.H.I.E.L.D. teams responds to investigate, scans the residue in the tree, and discovers that the staff is Asgardian.  Fitz manages to print off a 3D model of half of the staff piece, which the team brings to an expert on Norse mythology whom Coulson had consulted previously when they first discovered Thor’s hammer.  The expert, Professor Randolph at the university in Seville, explains to them the “Legend of the Warrior in the Berzerker Army,” a warrior who came to earth wielding a weapon of immense power (the Berzerker Staff) with his army.  When the army left, however, he stayed behind because he had fallen in love with life on Earth.  According to the legend, he broke the Staff into 3 pieces and hid them.  He suggests checking along Viking raid routes.  This sends Coulson and his team searching for the other pieces, the first of which they suspect might be in Seville, Spain, under a church which goes back to the time of the Romans.  Ward and Skye enter the catacombs under the church to look, where Ward runs into Randolph himself, who is carrying the staff.   Ward accidentally touches the staff piece, which sends him reeling while Randolph escapes—only to be caught by the Paganists, who take the Staff piece before Coulson finds him.  I really like this episode premise as well as the character of the Professor.  The Paganist villains are rather shallow, but they aren’t the focus of the episode; that is the Professor.

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This episode also does a good job of developing Ward’s character.  After touching the Staff piece, he starts having uncontrollable rage-fueled outbursts.  The best descriptor would be that he is suffering from ‘roid rage as a consequence of an adrenaline spike caused by the Staff.  While Simmons is trying to test him, he lashes out at Skye and Simmons before turning on Fitz and calling him out as not a strong enough man to protect the team and save Simmons.  He leaves the rest of the team shaken when he goes off to try working out his rage on the punching bag.  While beating up the bag, Ward suffers repeated flashbacks to his little brother at the bottom of a well while he is at the top, helpless to save him.  He next goes to Coulson and tells him that he believes himself to be compromised by what happened with the Staff.  Coulson, however, says that because Ward told him, he trusts him to keep it together.

Coulson meanwhile had been interrogating Randolph to find out what he knows about the Berzerker Staff.  Randolph keeps spinning a tale of wanting to be the first to study it and prove that the Berzerkers were once on Earth, but Coulson doesn’t buy it.  Coulson tells him that he’s had previous experience with aliens, but that it didn’t work out well, to which Randolph’s reaction is a mixture of surprise and realization.  In the end, Coulson chooses to set Ward loose on Randolph and see what happens.  Ward attempts to stab him to get answers, but Randolph catches the knife barehanded and bends it into an unusable clump, at which point Coulson walks in with a knowing grin.  I suppose Randolph couldn’t possibly have expected to keep his secret from someone like Coulson who has spent time with Asgardians.  The rest of the team is watching on the monitor—leading to an interesting moment when Simmons excitedly talks about cutting Randolph open a little to take some tissue and fluid samples (creepy…).  Coulson and Ward push him to explain his story, which is actually pretty funny.  Eventually, Coulson coerces Randolph into revealing the location of the final Staff piece by threatening to reveal his identity to Thor himself.  I can imagine that Thor wouldn’t take too kindly to learning what Randolph had done—particularly letting the Berzerker Staff fall into the hands of evil mortals who want to use the Staff against the Asgardians themselves!

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Based on Randolph’s intel, the team goes to an Irish monastery, where he shows them a sacred Bible which has a picture of him as a saint.  He brings them to the box where he placed the final Staff piece, but Jakob arrives and attacks them with the final staff piece, stabbing Randolph in the chest and proclaiming that “to a defeat a god, you must become one.”  Ward grabs the Staff piece in Randolph’s chest, uses it to give himself super strength, grabs Jakob and sends them both tumbling over the balcony railing.  He defeats Jakob followed by a dozen of his followers, before collapsing to the floor, exhausted.  When Petra comes in with a couple more men, Ward resignedly starts to get up, but May tells him to stay down while she takes care of Petra.  May grabs 2 pieces of the Staff, defeats Petra, puts the Staff back together, and knocks Petra across the room.  The fight scene wasn’t the most impressive of the series; most of Ward’s fight was interspersed with his flashbacks to the eponymous “Well.”  May’s fight with Petra was painfully fast.  But I liked the way that they used the “Well” to flesh out Ward’s back story and how he got to be the way he is.  After seeing the horror in his past, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that he turned out the way he did.

While Ward and May dispatch the Paganists, Fitz, Simmons, and Coulson save Randolph’s life.  Coulson reaches into his wound and physically holds his heart together to give his body’s natural healing abilities a chance to patch him back up.  I’m pretty sure that scene was the most graphic of the season, though most of season 2 puts it to shame.

The episode ends with Ward sitting at the bar and telling Skye a little about his Staff-induced visions.  However, he leaves her there and instead goes upstairs to his room, where he makes a detour to May’s room.  At the time I thought that Ward hooking up with May was something completely unexpected, especially after all the hints they’d been dropping of Ward’s attraction to Skye.  However, after the fact I think it makes a lot more sense.  He tells Raina later on that he did it to give himself some leverage over May, who was the greatest potential threat to his mission.  And now, his fling with May has become a major driving factor for both of their characters, driving her to try to kill him every chance she gets (“Hell hath no fury…”) and driving him to try to take her out to prevent her from killing him—which led directly to Kara’s death in “S.O.S.” (2x21-22).

The biggest shocker of the episode may have been Coulson’s dream at the end of himself waking up on a massage table in Tahiti.  The masseuse tells him that “It’s a magical place,” and he immediately wakes up in a cold sweat.  At this point Coulson’s questions about Tahiti are at fever pitch, but they aren’t going to be answered for another 3 episodes.

This was not my favorite episode, especially the opening.  However, the rest of the episode is pretty interesting and introduces us to a character that I really want them to explore further in Professor Randolph.  I wonder if Coulson might coerce Randolph out of retirement to join Skye’s “Secret Warriors” team in season 3.  Doubtful, but it’s always a possibility.  The other option is for him to reappear in season 5 when Thor: Ragnarok comes out.

What did you think of this episode and its tie-in with Thor: The Dark World?  Do you want to see Professor Randolph again?

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