Peter MacNicol as Dr. Elliott Randolph.
This review is now available at waygeek.me, as all future reviews of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be.
If there’s a foundational principle of good criticism, it’s this: always judge the piece by what it is against what it’s trying to be, not what you think the creator(s) should have tried instead.
Boy, does “The Well” make that difficult.
The marketing hook for this week’s episode was that since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
takes place in the same continuity as the just-released Thor 2,
audiences would get to see the eponymous agents respond to that movie's events. Like all the connections
between Marvel Entertainment’s superhero movies, AoS
’s timely acknowledgement of Thor 2
was an exciting and potentially game-changing bit of synergy.
But instead of our agents fighting the henchmen of Thor’s new enemy, or perhaps encountering a minor member of the film’s supporting cast, the sum total of Thor
2’s effect on “The Well” is to provide an excuse for Agent Coulson to explain who the Asgardians are, just before the episode begins its own, completely unrelated story about one of them. That’s right: the tie-in is that this is a Thor-themed
Let me tell you: before this episode aired, I was already amazed at how unwilling this show is to use any of its advantages. It’s the TV equivalent of a high school graduate who’s sworn to succeed with as little help as possible from his billionaire parents. It has a ready-made audience of comic book geeks, but dispenses the content those fans want to see at a rate that’s less like a drip-feed and more like Chinese water torture. It also has a ready-made audience of moviegoers who saw The Avengers
, to whom it’s thus far offered only set props. Oh, and its production company has more money than God with which to wow us, and yet the series frequently looks, shall we say, “budget-conscious”.
After this episode, though, I have a whole new appreciation for how hell-bent this series really is on standing with its own two feet. Make no mistake, Folks, the people responsible for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
intend to play on Hard Mode.
But attempting an unnecessarily challenging approach is only impressive if you succeed, so let's pretend this show didn’t just miss a huge opportunity to tie in with the biggest film at the US box office, and ask the important question: how was Agents this week?
NOT PICTURED: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, or even Jonathan Howard.
Well, it’s definitely one of the inoffensive episodes (“good” is too strong a word). The Norwegian Neo-Nazis are logical Villains-of-the-Week. Peter MacNicol plays a clever inversion of a very different group and is charming enough to where I hope he reprises the role sometime. And even if we didn’t get a meaningful tie-in with the Marvel Movieverse, Agent Coulson’s team is at least dealing with, er, words which are also used in that universe (I don't mean to grow tiresome, but it's just occurred to me that no concept introduced in this episode is Marvel property; it's all public domain stuff). The dialogue's still cute.
I'm as happy as anyone to see Agent Ward fleshed out a bit, though I think the critics who accuse this show of employing the "mysterious past" element too often are exaggerating its use. Agent Ward was never mysterious. We just hadn't gotten to know him yet. Ditto with Fitz, Simmons, Coulson, and Skye; only May has any mystique.
Come to think of it, we’re almost finished now with the run of episodes meant to spotlight and develop each member of the team. “Girl In A Flower Dress” focused on Skye, “F.Z.Z.T.” on Simmons, and last week’s “The Hub” on Fitz. I like that each character’s experiences in his or her own episode are recalled in this one: Simmons flinches at the sight of an alien artifact, Fitz has his insecurity in his masculinity thrown in his face, and Skye’s still on probation. Are these characters more interesting as a result? I wouldn’t go that far, but the show's improved anyway for the effort.
If Coulson returns to center-stage after next episode's doubtlessly May-centric story and makes an earnest attempt to solve the mystery of his resurrection, I'll be happy with how the writers have paced his subplot. I don’t think anyone’s interested in waiting another 14 episodes for progress on it.GEEK SERVICE:
The design of the Berzerker Staff appears to be based on the weapons of The Worthy, a group of Asgardian villains featured in Marvel Comics’ crossover storyline of 2011, “Fear Itself”
. The arc isn’t fondly remembered and at any rate the episode only borrows the visual, so I doubt any viewers’ faces lit up if they noticed.
Props to MovieBob
for noticing a very subtle reference to Agent Coulson's ex-girlfriend. At the end of the episode, Coulson suggests Randolph relocate to Portland, Oregon for its "excellent philharmonic." In The Avengers,
Coulson and Pepper Potts briefly discuss his failed relationship with a female cellist in Portland. Whatcha want to bet we see her someday?
OK, there was a nice Dollhouse
reference at the end there. “Did I fall asleep?” “For a little while…”
And while the show might not be serving geeks so well, geeks seem to be doing right by it. This tribute song to Agent Coulson
just got posted on YouTube by the Doubleclicks. Enjoy that.EPISODES BY QUALITY, FROM BEST TO WORST:
While we're at it, a friend recently mentioned that "The Hub" was one of the three best episodes thus far, which naturally led me to wonder how I'd rank the ones we've seen. So I tried.
S01E03: “The Asset”
S01E04: “Eye Spy”
S01E08: “The Well”
S01E07: “The Hub”
S01E05: “Girl in the Flower Dress”