HEADS UP: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS FOR THOR: THE DARK WORLD.
The prospect of an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that dealt with the aftermath of the events of Thor: The Dark World (which I'll try not to spoil too much in this review for those of you who haven't seen it yet) was an exciting one. However, it, um, could have been better?
Greenwich took the full brunt of the Dark Elves' assault on Earth in the film, so naturally, S.H.I.E.L.D. was called in to sort through the garbage and figure out what was alien in origin, and what was just plain old human trash. Most of the team was annoyed at this mission, even though this is technically sort of their job, and then there was Skye. She just walked around wishing that the Dark Elves' ship would have been left behind so she could have taken it for a joyride or something. There was a lot of talk about Thor being dreamy (duh), about Thor being off the grid and unable to help clean up the mess (oh really?), and the episode even included several scenes from the film, including a peek at Asgard and the Dark Elves' ship.
Unfortunately, that's pretty much where the Thor references ended, because the Asgardian weapon that was the focus of the episode didn't have a single thing to do with the assault on Earth. But while this episode was mostly just an excuse to talk about Thor and remind viewers this is a Marvel television series, the episode did have a few shining moments. So let's break down what this episode did well, what didn't, and that little inside joke for Whedon fans in the final scene.
I truthfully don't know how everyone else feels regarding this, but I for one really enjoy the references to Asgard and Norse mythology. It makes the series feel a bit more like it's part of the rest of the Marvel Universe, a linear connection to the films. Could the tie in with Asgard have been done better? Absolutely, but the simple fact that the series attempted to bridge the gap a bit was a good step. If you haven't seen Thor yet you might not have appreciated the episode as much, but reminding viewers that this universe is bigger than Coulson and his team every once in awhile will never be a bad thing. And if it can do it in a way where it's not just a throwaway line about the Battle of New York or the name-dropping of Captain America, it'll be even better.
The Berserker staff that was the subject of this episode, however, is where I take issue with this Asgardian story. It is completely understandable that the general population of Earth would take a sudden interest in Norse mythology after the Dark Elves arrived and Thor basically tore up Greenwich in an attempt to thwart their evil plans. I mean, I came home from the movie and immediately Googled videos of Tom Hiddelston singing in cars because I also have priorities and was reminded of how great a human being he is after seeing him as Loki in the film. But the series didn't do a very good job of explaining that interest in a Norse myth. Yes, we learned about it (from a man who would turn out to be the Asgardian warrior who stayed behind on Earth), but the series just expected us to believe that two wackadoodles who wanted to harness the power of "gods" like Thor, were able to find the staff in a TREE IN NORWAY WITH LITTLE TO NO PROBLEM WHEN PEOPLE HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR IT FOR CENTURIES? I enjoyed Skye suggesting it called to them through magic and May's dubious face that pretty much said, "Magic? HAHAHAHAHA GIRL, YOU'RE STUPID." That was hilarious. I appreciated that.
This storyline slightly resembles the events of the pilot in which J. August Richard's character explained his reasoning for allowing himself to be shot up with the Extremis serum. He'd been beaten down by the world, and after discovering the existence of superheroes and "gods" like Thor and Loki after the Battle of New York, he wanted to feel like he still mattered and that he could be somebody too. But where that story succeeded with its emotional depth (and trademark Whedon Meaning of Life Speech), this story failed.
Wanting to harness the power of an Asgardian weapon that would make you super-strong is understandable, I guess. But we had no reason to care about these two crazies, especially when the Beserker staff filled them with such rage that they went on a rampage, littering the streets with "We Are Gods" flaming graffiti. Mike's story in the pilot at least made sense and you cared about him. Here, we weren't supposed to care about these throwaway characters, but even the person you were supposed to care about-Handsome-you didn't.
This episode introduced us to Handsome's backstory. In theory, this should have been the episode I championed for its character development, but Handsome's dark past wasn't nearly as compelling as it could have or should have been. In our recent 4-Episode Test that included The Tomorrow People, Cory complimented the series' ability to push the narrative forward while simultaneously traveling backward in the characters' lives. The Tomorrow People isn't doing anything new or mind-blowing, but the writers have made it work because they build their episodes around the characters and tell their stories that way. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tends to build its characters around its episodes, and while that worked for Simmons in "FZZT," it doesn't work here. "FZZT" made us feel sadness and worry for a character as it introduced us to the real Simmons (and the fact that she is still dealing with her near-death experience this week was a shining moment for the series, because I was slightly worried the writers would just move along like it never happened). "The Well" definitely filled me with feelings, but they were probably closer to the rage that was burning through Handsome after coming in contact with the staff than what I felt during Simmons' time in the spotlight.
We get it. Handsome has done some really horrible shit in his life. And he's had a lot of really horrible shit happen to him. And like any other adult in need of some real therapy, he's locked those memories away so he doesn't have to think about them and he can go on living his life as an emotionless robot. I really want to explore Handsome's backstory and find out the truth about his upbringing, but the scenes in the well didn't sell it for me. I didn't really feel much at any point during his flashbacks. And I wanted to. The most surprising part of Handsome's story this week was not the action surrounding the well, but the open hotel room door. May faces her own rage every single day and now Handsome and May are going to bond, probably sexually, over their shared hidden rage, etc.? I don't even know how to process that.
I don't necessarily think this was a bad episode for the series, because even if I disagree with how Handsome's backstory is being doled out, the show is making an effort to explore that story. And I liked the tie-in with Asgard. But coming off two very strong episodes, this felt a bit off. I enjoyed the special effects this week, and I enjoyed Skye attempting to reach out and bond with Handsome as a friend, but I don't think I buy the Handsome and May bonding over their shared misery. It's an interesting development, that's for sure, but right now that's all it is. I think, or hope, that it'll continue and maybe then I'll care more about it. But right now? I think I'll go look at some Loki GIFs.
DECLASSIFIED CASE FILES
- Coulson's story is moving slightly along, although I will admit that I'm getting a little tired of it being mentioned in every single episode. It would be far more effective if it was only mentioned every few weeks. Right now we're being bashed over the head with the
WHAT HAPPENED TO COULSON? storyline. And if we don't start getting some answers, I'm going to go into my own Hulk mode.
- There was a treat for Dollhouse fans this week! In the final scene where Coulson was dreaming about supposedly being in Tahiti getting a massage, he asked the masseuse, "Did I fall asleep?" And she replied, "For a little while." This was a recurring bit of dialogue in Dollhouse, when after a doll returned from a mission, Topher (Fran Kranz) would basically wipe their minds and they'd wake up and ask him that same question. I don't think this was meant to be a clue as to what Coulson actually is (because that doesn't even really make sense), even without the legality issues that probably come in to the play, but rather just an Easter Egg for Whedon fans to devour with joy. Which I did. Tremendously. P.S. Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who are EPs for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also wrote for Dollhouse, so there's also that.
- "Let's see what we can dig up. See what I did there?" - Coulson, talking about going to a crypt
- Oh hey, Peter MacNicol! I know you've been working steadily, but you'll probably always be that guy from Ghostbusters II to me. And truthfully, MacNicol did a pretty fabulous job portraying Professor Elliot Randolph/the Asgardian warrior.
AIRED ON 12/9/2014
Season 2 : Episode 10