‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: “The Well”
Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its eighth episode “The Well,” as the aftermath of 'Thor: The Dark World' leads the team to discover an ancient Asgardian relic that grants a terrorist group super-strength, while Ward's encounter with the mysterious object brings to mind painful memories of his past.
Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “The Hub” saw a classified Level 8 mission strand Ward and Fitz in enemy territory, while Skye struggled with the S.H.I.E.L.D. secrecy inherent to the organization, and Coulson came to a disturbing realization, so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series keep us marveling at its inaugural season?
Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s eighth episode, “The Well!”
For all the knowledge that the gods of Asgard are in fact alien beings, Coulson and his team find themselves stuck with the cleanup after Thor's battle with Malekith through Greenwich. Simmons ducks a call from her concerned parents, while Coulson laments that Thor never sticks around after the destruction, and Skye expresses her excitement and intrigue of learning about the Asgardians as alien beings. Elsewhere in a Norway national park, a couple follows directions to a mysterious tree, chopping it down to find an Asgardian staff that grants the woman rage-filed strength by touching it, which she then uses on a park ranger.
Later at the scene, Ward helps Simmons through her reticence to investigate the downed tree, using her tech to create a 3D model of the staff for Fitz to print out. The analysis reveals the artifact as Asgardian, while Skye sees over the news that the couple, Petra Larsen and her boyfriend Jakob, have been connected to several ongoing Norway riots as part of a Norse hate group. In order to identify the item, Coulson suggests they contact the same professor he used for Thor’s hammer, a man named Elliot Randolph.
Coulson visits the professor in Spain, who identifies the artifact as one of three pieces of the Berserker staff, a rage and strength-inducing weapon used by an Asgardian army long ago. The warrior who used the staff supposedly elected to remain on Earth, and hid its three pieces around the world, though the manuscripts leave dubious clues as to their location. Several investigations fail to bear fruit, though Skye eventually tracks another potential location to a church, coincidentally in Seville.
Ward and Skye investigate the ruins of the old church, where Ward encounters Professor Randolph attempting to abscond with the staff piece himself, though touching the item forces Ward to double over in pain. Randolph manages to escape, as Skye quickly finds that Ward is not himself, seeing flashes of a boy in a well. Outside, Randolph encounters the hate group, who manage to overpower him and take the staff piece before Coulson arrives to intervene.
Simmons tests an increasingly irate and snippy Ward, while Coulson learns little from interrogating Randolph, with the professor claiming he merely wanted to study the artifact before S.H.I.E.L.D. could lock it away. Ward angrily shrugs off Skye’s questions about the memory flashes pertaining to his brother, while Simmons dismisses his actions as an adrenaline spike. Ward attempts to work through the anger with a punching bag, continually seeing images of the boy struggling in the well, as May offers to lend a hand in quelling his rage. Elsewhere, Jakob and Petra continue building an army by recruiting others to touch the staff.
Ward admits to Coulson that he feels compromised by the staff, and the painful memories it dredges up, but Coulson wonders if they might put his aggression to good use in interrogating Randolph. Ward enters the room to begin his questions, drawing a knife to the man in anger, though Randolph easily deflects and destroys the blade, revealing himself as the Asgardian in the story. Randolph admits to never liking the power that came with the Berserker staff, abandoning his lowly Asgardian life to live on earth throughout the ages, accidentally recording his own myth. At the very least, Randolph admits to storing the third section of the staff in a monastery in Ireland.
Arriving in the emerald isle, Randolph assures Ward that his rage will subside eventually, though the staff has a way of shining a light on unpleasant memories, in Ward’s case his first experience with hatred. The group arrive to the monastery and find the piece’s hiding place, but not before Jakob and his forces have arrived, stabbing Randolph in the heart and forcing Ward to fuel up on rage again to fight the group. Jakob and Ward battle it out on the monastery floor, while Fitz and Simmons attempt desperately to save Randolph’s life, Coulson plunging his hands into the Asgardian’s chest to stop the bleeding, and start his advanced healing.
During the fight, Ward relives the full memory from his youth, revealing himself not as the boy in the well, but as a boy up top whose brother bullied him into withholding a rope from the drowning youth. Back in the present, Ward allows May to take over, assembling the full staff as she fights off Petra, before ridding herself of the artifact without difficulty. Upstairs, Randolph regains consciousness.
While Simmons finally accepts a call from her parents, May admits to Ward that she relives some of her worst memories daily, hence the staff had little effect on her. Coulson ponders picking up the staff, admitting his death and resurrection to Randolph, before advising the outed professor to move to Portland for a means to stay out of the limelight. That night, Ward apologizes for his behavior with Skye, returning upstairs to his hotel room, before accepting an invitation to join May for a drink in hers. Could sexy times ensue?
After the credits, Coulson dreams of his magical beach in Tahiti, waking up in a panicked sweat.
We’ll save you the trouble. You in no way needed to see ‘Thor: The Dark World’ to gain a stronger appreciation of this episode (we did anyway), though it certainly feels more on par with the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ we’d come to expect with the initial announcement of the series, parlaying a bit of Marvel and Asgardian mythology into a more human-scale story. No, there aren’t any end-credit cameos from major Marvel figures (Coulson’s Tahiti dream seems surprisingly pointless by end credit standards to date), and there doesn’t seem to have been any significant spike in scale, or action budget.
Admittedly, that’s okay. We’ve said from the very beginning that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ was never intended to measure up to its cinematic counterparts, but would succeed on a basic level by using movie events for a deeper exploration of the Marvel universe. We even get to meet an Asgardian along the way (the always welcome Peter MacNicol), though those looking for any spectacle displays of his power will find themselves sorely disappointed. In that way, we even appreciated the workaround logic, in that Randolph had himself been a lowly mason Asgardian, and never anyone close to the royalty of Thor or his family.
So while it takes all that preamble to get past godly expectations, or dissection of how future ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episodes can better wrap themselves around the Marvel films, “The Well” lends itself more to exploring one of the weaker characterizations to date, the often accusatorily-bland Agent Ward. The Berserker Staff (other than Thor’s Berserker rage, if there are any stronger comic significances, the episode doesn’t bother to flesh them out) brings about a bit more vulnerability to the character, though certainly not with as much focus as Fitz or Simmons in recent episodes.
Rage, and artificial rage at that, only work so far in adding depth to a character. Stronger emotional undercurrents emerge when a character steps back from the more raw emotions, which “The Well” only gave us a taste of at the end, quickly distracting us from any real development with Ward following May into her room. We’ve not been as harsh to judge Ward’s wooden characterization than others, but future episodes would do well to flesh out the more colorful aspects of the character’s nature, not suggest we fear his darker side.
All in all, we’re not surprised to see that ABC and Marvel made a larger deal out of “The Well”s ‘Thor’ connection than the episode itself, though even a small step taken into more Marvel mythology ranks as a positive movement regardless. It’s perhaps telling that our more positive reviews of the series remind us to lower expectations, though ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ certainly hasn’t proven worthy of abandonment just yet.
Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “The Well” sell you on the series? Were there enough ties to the 'Thor' sequel for your liking? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and join us again next week for another all-new recap of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest episode, “Repairs” on ABC!