In a shameless attempt at corporate marketing synergy, this week’s episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is filled with references to Marvel’s Thor character and presumably (I haven’t seen it yet) to the events of the new blockbuster movie ‘Thor: The Dark World’, now playing at a theater near you. Sadly, the God of Thunder himself fails to show up, making the whole thing feel like an elaborate tease.
I also have to wonder how actual Norwegian people feel about Marvel rewriting their culture’s rich mythological heritage as a bunch of hooey about aliens. That’s one of the central conceits of the ‘Thor’ franchise, which is presented as a given here.
Episode ‘The Well’ concerns a pair of Norwegian “pagan anarchists” named Jakob and Petra (the latter played by Erin Way, whom you may remember as a superhuman on Syfy’s similarly-themed ‘Alphas’ last year, here sporting a ridiculous accent). After illegally felling an ancient tree in a nature preserve, they cut its trunk open to find one piece of an Asgardian staff inside, which has apparently been hidden there for at least a thousand years. As soon as they touch it, they’re empowered with super-strength combined with an intense anger. They kill a forest ranger, and then return to civilization to recruit followers and start riots.
To investigate this, Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team seeks the assistance of history professor Elliot Randolph (former dragonslayer Peter MacNicol), an expert on Norse mythology. He tells them the legend of the Berserker Staff, a weapon that endows those who hold it with uncontrollable rage. The staff was brought to Earth by an Asgardian who fell in love with our world, broke the staff into three pieces, and hid them more than a millennium ago. Apparently, the paganists have researched this legend and found a source that can lead them to the three parts.
When Coulson asks how to find the other two pieces, Randolph sends S.H.I.E.L.D. on a wild goose chase. Nevertheless, Fitz and Simmons do their own research which points them to Seville, Spain. As Ward and Skye come upon the location of the second chunk of the staff, they discover that none other than Professor Randolph himself has beaten them to it. Ward accidentally comes in contact with the staff, which makes him very angry and kind of a dick to everyone. The professor tries to run off, but doesn’t get very far before the paganists ambush him and steal the second piece for themselves.
Upon interrogating Professor Randolph, Coulson and Ward realize that he’s actually Asgardian. In fact, he’s the man from legend who brought the staff to Earth and hid it in the first place. These days, he prefers to live under the radar, and had hoped that no one would ever find the staff. He informs Ward that the staff’s effects on his emotions and behavior are only temporary and should wear off in a couple of decades. (Hey, that doesn’t seem long to a guy who lives for thousands of years.)
The episode’s title refers to the way that the staff induces rage in its users by bringing their most painful memories and emotions to the surface. In Ward’s case, this is a flashback to suppressed memories of a childhood trauma involving a bully and a well.
To prevent the paganists from getting the third and final piece of the staff, S.H.I.E.L.D. jets off to a monastery in Ireland. Unfortunately, the paganists get there first, and stab and nearly kill Randolph. The episode climaxes with a big fight between pissed-off Ward and pissed-off paganists. Despite not liking the bad things it has done to him, Ward grabs the staff and powers up again. Eventually, as he’s overwhelmed by a greater number of adversaries, Agent May assembles all three pieces of the staff, and supercharges herself to kick a lot of paganist ass.
In the aftermath, Ward asks May how she’s able to control herself with the full power of the staff dredging up such angry feelings. She tells him that she already lives with those feelings every day, and has simply learned to control them. The show has dropped a lot of hints about Agent May’s back story. At some point, it’s going to have to fill us in on that.
The episode concludes with the suggestions that Ward and May hook up (after he brushes off Skye!). Also, speaking of suppressed memories, Coulson has a dream about Tahiti that leaves him once again questioning what really happened to him after he died.
All things considered, despite the unfulfilled Thor teasing, this is a decent episode. It’s still not terribly exciting, though. If the series is to survive, it will need to start bringing some real excitement soon.