I haven’t written a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since episode 1.05 “The Girl in the Flower Dress” but it’s not for lack of interest. Sure, that episode was pretty bad, but it did lay some groundwork that I was hoping they’d follow up on.
Well, they haven’t. But on the plus side, episode 1.06 “F.Z.Z.T.” was one of the best episodes yet, as an emotional connection snuck up and grabbed me while watching Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) try to save herself from the alien infection she’d stumbled into. There was surprising character growth on almost every front (except for Skye (Chloe Bennet), but that’s becoming a given). And the following week’s “The Hub” was entertaining, bringing in a character from the comics, Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), and providing some bonding time for Ward (Brett Dalton) and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker).
If I hadn’t been overwhelmed with Power Rangers, Superman, Batman, and the end of the world, I would have had reviews for them. Suffice to say, the show is getting better as the actors find their footing and chemistry begins to develop. It’s still fairly vanilla, but this week’s “The Well” takes another step in the right direction with anger issues, a hint of sauciness, and a callback to Dollhouse that might provide some hints about Coulson’s time in Tahiti.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes and written by Monica Owusu-Breen, “The Well” was advertised as a Thor: The Dark World tie-in, but really didn’t have a whole lot to do with the film. Instead, it is set in the immediate aftermath of the Dark Elf invasion, with our crew coming to England to clean up the wreckage left behind and scan for alien tech. We can’t have it falling into the wrong hands, now can we?
There are a few cute snarky bits (fanboys might not want to admit it, but the S.H.I.E.L.D. ladies’ reaction to Thor’s dreaminess is pretty much the same reaction most every woman I know had about Hemsworth, and is part of why women made up nearly 40% of the film’s audience), and a fun guest-appearance by Peter MacNicol as an Asgardian scholar helping our heroes track down an Asgardian Berserker Staff before a Norse neo-paganist hate group get their hands on it and burn down Europe.
The baddies are pretty much just empty cyphers with no discernable personalities or motives beyond raging up and tearing things down. The freaking staff itself had more charisma and was far more interesting. The real focus this week anyway was on using the staff to provide insight into Ward and May (Ming-Na Wen). You see, when you touch the Berserker Staff, it taps into your worst, most painful memories, dredging up all the rage you have inside, amping it up, and turning you into a super-powerful violence machine.
Ultimately the glimpses into their personalities aren’t all that deep. Ward has serious anger issues relating to a childhood incident that he represses, allowing him to stay focused and precise as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whereas May is apparently a constant seething mass of anger just waiting for an outlet. She’s kind of like their Hulk in that respect.
Which is all fine and good, if not too terribly engaging. But then in the final moments of the episode, all is redeemed.
After sitting at the bar, stewing and throwing back Scotch, Ward politely leaves Skye and returns to his hotel room. However, before he can open the door, May stalks by with a bottle of booze and a sly look. She slinks into her room, leaving the door open behind her, and after a moment’s thought, Ward slips in after her.
We can only assume that a lot of hot drunken Rage Sex takes place immediately after.
Which is awesome.
Then, in this week’s “Bit Before the Credits,” we find Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) in Tahiti having a massage. He wakes up and asks, “Did I fall asleep?” To which is masseuse replies, “For a little while.” Which is a shout-out to Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, where whenever the Actives woke up after a reprogramming they asked the same question and got the same response.
Does that mean something? I don’t know. But it’s a cool little twist as he wakes up from the Tahiti dream as though it were some sort of horrible nightmare.
We’re on a nice pace to be really building up steam as we hit that 13-episode mark that was the original order. I have a very strong feeling that once we get there and move into the episodes that are being written and produced now, after a lot of the criticism has been heard and the groundwork for growth has been laid, we’re going to see a substantial leap in quality.
Fingers crossed, anyway.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.