Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “The Well”

After the last two superb episodes, SHIELD has finally arrived at the point that many have been waiting for: a direct crossover with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Last week gave us a fun, exciting and hilarious James Bond adventure which simultaneously expanded the scope and mythology of the show.  This week, however, found our heroes dealing with the direct aftermath of the events of Thor: The Dark World, currently the top film at the worldwide box office.  It’s a tough act for the show to pull off, trying to find a way to work the film and the episode together in a way that honors the film but feels true to the show, and I think SHIELD pulled it off with subtlety and a light touch which kept things surprising.  So without further ado, let’s fall down “The Well”, which was written by Monica Owusu-Breen and directed by Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Will Riker).

“The Well” opens with a narration from Simmons about Asgard and the relationship between the Norse gods of old and the aliens who recently wreaked havoc on Greenwich, England.  The backstory feels a little unnecessary, but it’s over quickly and features footage from the films in a way that makes it clear that the events of the show belong right alongside the films.  The narration turns out to be Simmons complaining that Thor and company left behind a huge mess that SHIELD is left cleaning up.  She and the rest of the crew are sorting through the wreckage left behind for the Dark Elves searching for anything with otherworldly origins.  Between the events of “Item 47” and what we’ve seen thus far on the show, SHIELD has learned its lesson about leaving alien artifacts around for civilians to find.

Fitz grumbles that a monkey could do the scanning job (the second time this season that Fitz has mentioned a monkey), though Ward tells him that “you’re our little monkey.”  Simmons’ phone rings, but she ignores it when she sees it’s from her parents.  She’s still getting over the ordeal of being infected by a Chitauri virus, and she’s not eager to talk to her parents about it (is it not classified?).  May, Skye and Coulson are wandering around picking up debris and Coulson is a little pissed that SHIELD is having to spend its time cleaning up after Asgard’s mess.  Would it kill them to “send down the god of ‘cleaning up after themselves’?” he wonders.  They probably even have a magic broom for it.  Skye just regrets that she can’t get her hands on the alien ship that the Dark Elves left behind, though no one else seems interested.  If that’s not a possibility, then she at least wants to get her hands on Thor, who she says is “dreamy.”  Coulson scoffs at this, but is shut down when May totally agrees with Skye.  The scanning pays off and they find a piece of metal from another world, which is quickly locked away in a secure case.

We flash to a park in Norway, where two park rangers come across a vandalized sign, frustrated that anyone would take spray paint to a sign in a park (clearly people are nicer in Norway than in the US).  We see a young couple hiking and following a map but they stop when they come across a tree surrounded by stones.  They read a paper containing a poem that mentions a tree just like the one in front of them and the man pulls out a chainsaw.  He cuts down the tree, climbs up its angled trunk and slices into it revealing a metal cylinder covered in mysterious markings.

He brings it down to the woman, who says she can’t wait to tell the others.  She places her bare hands on the cylinder, which glows suddenly red as the strange markings flash across her hands.  She starts to lose control of herself as the man tells her to “embrace it”.  She is filled with rage from within, when the two rangers arrive, having been drawn by the sound of the chainsaw and the falling tree.  The rangers confront the pair, but out of nowhere the woman smashes one of them in the chest sending him flying through the air.

Our SHIELD crew responds, of course, and we see Simmons preparing to climb the tree.  She’s still a little twitchy about heights, but Ward encourages her (in the sweetest way possible) but distracting her and getting her to talk about science.  “I know you’re trying to trick me into going up but I’m going up anyway,” she says.  She scans the void in the trunk where the cylinder was and discovers an Asgardian signature.  She scans the imprint left in the wood by the rod and transmits it to Fitz back on the Bus, who builds a replica from the scans.

Coulson wants to search for the couple, but there’s no need as they’re spotted among a group of people who are rioting in Oslo.  They leave an ominous message in the street written in fire that says “WE ARE GODS”, which can’t be a good thing.  The couple is identified as Jacob and Petra, who are members of a “Norse Paganist Hate Group”, which sounds mildly ridiculous when written out but is just tossed out like it’s not a big deal by Ward.  Fitz says that based on the model he built he thinks there are two more pieces to the cylinder, which seems to be some kind of staff.  Skye wonders why they don’t just call Thor, but he’s conveniently off the grid and SHIELD doesn’t have his cell phone number (which works out well when Chris Hemsworth isn’t available for a cameo).  Instead they’ll have to find someone else to translate the markings.

Coulson has a professor friend, Randolph, who was a professor of Norse mythology until it turned out the myths are true, so he now teaches history.  (Randolph is played by Peter MacNicol, who many will recognize from Numbers or Ally McBeal, but who will always be Janosz from Ghostbusters 2 and Galen from Dragonslayer to me.)  Randolph says that Fitz’s reproduction is a piece of a Berserker staff from a 12th century legend.  The legend tells of a Berserker army from Asgard which came to Earth for battle, but one of whom fell in love with humanity and stayed behind when it came time to return.  The Berserker staffs could give someone the strength of twenty warriors by tapping into the holder’s rage, and the lone Berserker broke the staff into three pieces to hide it from humanity.  There are three clues to the pieces in the legend in the form of a poem, which says that one piece is East of a river among some bones and another is close to God.  But, Randolph warns, “It could also mean nothing.”

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9 thoughts on “Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “The Well”

  1. Mad Spoilers…..

    I was kinda hoping for a wild west roundup of the Jotun creature still galumphing around Greenwich at the end of Thor. This episode might have been even better than that, and … Jonathan Frakes?!? as director?!?! WHHOOOT!!!

    My first thought was that the broken staff bit was part of Mjolnir. Except I think it never had a longer handle, it was merely forged short. (In his account of Norse mythology Snorri Sturluson relates how the hammer was made by the dwarven brothers Sindri and Brokkr, and how its characteristically short handle was due to a mishap during its manufacture. wiki)

    The rune on the park sign is variously an o or the oe that is squashed together. One site says it also means “estate”. Also variously othila, odal, epel (land, estate), or oedel with a lot of things going on (like squashed letters and greeblies over them) that my non-Asgardian/Norse keyboard won’t do. It does not appear in the moon runes of Thorin’s map to Erebor at all, but in Tolkien’s Cirth (LOTR) it is either a u or a v. In the “Hobbit Runes” (the Hobbit) it doesn’t exist.

    Apparently “fallen angels” get pudgy and decadent. The shape of our Asgardian who fell to Earth is much like one of the angels in “City of Angels” who decided to “take the fall” and remain on Earth indulging in Mr Ben and Jerry. I like his character arc, we spend some time not sure at all who or what he is, or what his intentions are… though there is that nice foreshadowing of his story… I saw none of this (who and what he is) coming despite the foreshadowing.

    Inspired a bit by some interviews with Tom Hiddleston (who appears to be a sweet, classy gentleman of the highest degree), I had contemplated recently how people respond to power. How do you handle being a celebrity? A warrior like May? Like Ward? What happens to Angry Young Men who get Real Power in their hands? I think it is not simply a matter of “let’s cast a blondish Norseish looking guy as the lead baddie here”… he looks a great deal like Thor. Thor exhibits compassion, gentleness and empathy alongside raw elemental power (yeah, there’s that character arc in the first film wherein he learns the purpose of Real Power, and that with it comes, yeah, great responsibility thankyouUncleBen). Clearly our baddie in this episode is driven by hate and anger… not a good combination with real power. I’m also liking the exploration of the idea of the Berserker (literally “bear shirt”, bearskin, shapeshifter with the power of Bear, though sometimes depicted as wolf-skinned). One of Thor’s alternate names is “Bjorn” …bear.

    It says something about Coulson’s compassion, wisdom, and humility that he never mentions being stabbed by Loki or that it was Thor who saw him die. He only alludes vaguely to that moment.

    As for Thor being “off the grid”, I am somewhat comics impaired, so I don’t know how they handled it in the comics, but it seems like he might have some of his own mopping up to do. That SHIELD is there to do SHIELD’S thing, and Thor gets to handle the somewhat more epic stuff. And occasionally they cross paths, but not this week.

    L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland is well known and accepted as a Viking settlement by scholars, there are lots of other claims for Viking visitation, but few are authenticated.

    “May locks Ward and Coulson in the room with Randolph, on Coulson’s orders, and Ward tells Randolph that the walls are made of Vibranium (the same material which makes up Captain America’s shield).” I got that reference….

    I was more vague on which of the three boys in the well is Ward. So much of that was shown from the POV of the boy in the water that I eventually assumed it was Ward in the water.

    As for the May/Ward thing, I think it’s great that they leave it up to our interpretation, though I lean toward the two warriors commiserating. Fannish shipping does not always work.

    As for her and the Staff of Berserkr, I think she is a classic highly controlled martial artist whose skills have landed her in some very deep doo doo, which she has survived due to her highly developed skill set… which includes some serious mental skills (part of tai chi, and much of the rest of Asian martial arts and medicine is that mind-body-spirit connection, the idea that they are not separate things). Surely she has seen some horrors in her travels. And just as surely, she had had to “bagua” past them. Shove them aside, let them fly by under their own power, and go on.

    Which doesn’t mean she doesn’t remember them.

    And now Tahiti is even more of a conundrum! Waht?!? WAHT?!?!? What IS it?

    I do think Coulson is Coulson… resurrected, sort of, but still Coulson. I mean, his greatest characteristic as a Marvel character is that he is a normal human surrounded by “gods”.

    Perhaps there will be something of a clue in Winter Soldier.

    And I still think it has something to do with the Captain America serum.

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    • (Sorry for not replying to your comment from last week. I was going to do it just now, but I figured that was silly if there’s a more recent one to reply to.)

      Jonathan Frakes has proved himself a solid director over the last couple decades. He directed some of my favorite episodes from 4 series of Star Trek, not to mention the fantastic job he did with two of the films. He has the ability to really get into the script and find a tone and style that compliments the performances.

      I would have loved to see the SHIELD crew rounding up the rogue Jotun! That would have been awesome!

      I was wondering about the rune. They had it branded on their hands as well. Thanks for checking on its origins! I wonder if we’ll see it pop up again?

      Awww, pudgy? If he’s pudgy I hate to think what I am. All Asgardians can’t look like Thor or Loki, can they? Surely some of them are more… ordinary?

      I love the idea of how people respond when they get power. It was one of the things I loved so much about the Harry Potter series, in that it showed so many different reactions from those with power. Even when gained with the noblest of intentions, it can still corrupt and pervert until someone has been changed completely.

      I wouldn’t want Thor (or Iron Man, or Captain America) to show up every week to bail out SHIELD, so I’m glad that they kept him away from the action of this episode.

      Ward was the boy at the top, who wanted to rescue the boy at the bottom (the young boy at the bottom called the one at the top “Grant”, which is Ward’s first name). I assumed that the boy at the bottom was Ward’s younger brother, and the bully was Ward’s older brother, as we’ve heard about how their relationship was one of the things that helped form him.

      I like your interpretation of May, and mind-body-spirit connection. I think there is a lot of depth to her that we haven’t even begun to see.

      I think the Captain America serums is definitely a possibility (and imagine how Coulson would geek out over that!), and I think he was resurrected somehow. I don’t think that the show would go as far as him being a robot or Life Model Decoy.

      As always, thanks for reading and for the thoughtful and fun comments!

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  2. Hee hee, pudgy, I can relate. One of the things that I love about the British TV I’ve seen is that the actors tend to be less Hollywood scrawny glamour and more… ordinary. Even the various Doctors (Who) have been of various ages, faces and builds, only a few of which could be termed glamour boys. Even the “pretty ones” are more quirky and unique, with a high dose of humor.

    As a woman of substance and former swordbroad (and dabler in historical re-enactment and martial arts, I repeat, dabbler) I am appalled by Hollywood’s insistence on stick chicks (hey, what can they do? They’d blow away in a high wind!). I applaud the designer of Merida (Brave) for sticking to her guns when it came to Merida’s unique, quirky design (that’s me as a kid!). Too bad she had to fold and make Mom more typical Disney Queen. I also applaud Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) for being real, and not bowing to Hollywood pressure to be a stick chick either…
    “L.V. Anderson of Slate.com points out that there’s been a lot of reviewers griping about Jennifer’s body… and no one else’s. The Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy refers to the starlet’s “baby fat,” while Hollywood Elsewhere critic Jeffrey Wells calls Lawrence “big boned” and says she’s “too big” to be believable next to her leading man Josh Hutcherson. But no one, says Anderson, is knocking Hutcherson’s strong arms or Liam Hemsworth’s healthy body, both of which also exist in a fictional world without protein smoothies.” http://www.ivillage.com/jennifer-lawrence-not-skinny-enough-hunger-games/1-a-439499

    As a writer/artist with my own set of tales to tell, I have wrestled with the issue of putting high powered characters in the same tale as mere mortals. Avengers and SHIELD have created a nice balance of high tech, superpowers, and average human beings all dealing with Big Issues. I think this reflects (as all good tales do) reality, in which we have people with power (technological, political, financial), and those without, all of whom have some contribution to make to the world.

    I suspect they’ll leave the superpowered characters to the films, and keep SHIELD more on a mortal level. Which will be just fine.

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