Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode ‘The Well’ is definitely much better on subsequent watches rather than the first time it aired on television. Billed as a direct tie-in/follow-up to Thor: The Dark World, many fans were understandably annoyed when the episode only spent the first three minutes in a post-Thor London, before moving on to another, vaguely connected story. Marvel spent a lot of time advertising it as a big follow-up to the film – and as that it totally fails, but seen separately from that advertisement, as an episode on its own? ‘The Well’ is actually quite good.
Ignoring the opening scene, which is just the S.H.I.E.L.D. team playing clean-up after the climactic fight from Thor: The Dark World, the episode centres on a ‘Norse Pagan hate group’, who have managed to track down an ancient Asgardian artefact, one that gives the wielder super-human strength and uncontrollable rage.
It turns out that the artefact is one of three pieces of a Berserker Staff, a weapon used by a member of the Asgardian army, a Berserker Warrior. With the hate group searching for the other pieces, and spreading chaos in their wake, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the team have to try and find the other pieces first.
It’s a pretty fun little story that takes our team of heroes around the globe, but what makes it something special is the inclusion of the Berserker Warrior himself, who has been hiding on Earth for a thousand years. Not only does this give the series its most powerful character to date, but the Warrior is played by Emmy Award winning Peter MacNicol, who many film fans will remember from his comedic roles in Bean, The Adams Family Values, and Ghostbusters II.
MacNicol is so unlike any other Asgardian we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before. This isn’t just because he’s been living on Earth for hundreds of years, but because he’s a common man. Thor, Loki, and even the Warriors Three, are all members of the Asgardian court. They’re royalty, or spend all their time around royalty. MacNicol is just an ordinary man who joined the military, got disillusioned with his life as a warrior, and chose to settle on Earth. He’s relatable where Thor and the others feel alien.
‘The Well’ isn’t all about Asgardians, however, as it also gives us more of an insight into the pasts of Agents Ward (Brett Dalton) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) when they fall under the influence of the Berserker Staff. Bringing out their fear and anger through their darkest memories, the staff causes Ward to have to face a trauma from his childhood.
Whilst it’s good that we are finally learning more about the character it doesn’t quite feel like enough. We see his younger brother trapped down a well as he’s trying to help him, but we don’t get full context as to what’s happening and why. This would have been the perfect opportunity to give us more details, to flesh him out more; but the series seems to be holding back on much of this information so that it can stretch out the ‘mystery’ of Wards past.
This is something that happens here with May as well. Like Ward, she comes under the staff affects, but is able to control herself. Claiming that this is because she lives with her trauma every day rather than burying it. But, we don’t find out what this is, leaving even more mysteries hanging over the audience. I understand that this is episodic television that’s going to be unfolding over twenty episodes, but it feels like the writers are making the mistake of giving too many characters a ‘mystery past’; the only ones who don’t seem to at the moment are Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge).
Overall the episode was quite fun, and had some interesting ideas, but is beginning to make its characters run the risk of becoming boring. The most interesting character development in the episode happened right towards the end when Ward and May hooked up, but other than that the inclusion of more mysterious pasts is beginning to grate a little.