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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.08 "The Well" Review: Just Jump In

     Last week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Well,” was written by Monica Owusu-Breen and directed by Jonathan Frakes. Owusu-Breen’s credits include Fringe, Lost, Alias, and Charmed. She comes to S.H.I.E.L.D. directly from Revolution, and I quite enjoyed her work on that. Frakes, of course, is now possibly more well-known for his directing prowess than his stint as Ryker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both deliver a solid episode.

     We finally get a Ward-centered episode (Brett Dalton) and a direct tie-in to Thor: The Dark World. If you haven’t seen the movie, it didn’t affect your ability to understand the episode. I really liked how the opening sequence really felt like the opening to a movie with the voice over from Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). We learn that the Norse gods were really Asgardians. I have seen the movie, so I can tell you that the shots were from the movie and the movie does end in Greenwich, causing a great deal of mess. I actually thought while I was watching it that there would be a lot to clean up afterwards!

     It was good story-telling to see some of the results from a number of previous episodes in the series too. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) is no longer happy doing things a monkey could do after his time in the field in the last episode. We find that Simmons hasn’t talked to her parents since her first brush with death, and that she’s now nervous of heights.  Ward explains to them that “It’s why we’re here. Keep everything under control.” And this sums up how Ward handles his life and his past – he keeps it locked up and under control. So the very worst thing for Ward is the loss of control he experiences. Even his flashback to the death of his brother, revolves around a loss of control. He clearly wants to throw the rope to his brother but the other boy won’t let him. Ward finally takes control back, but is apparently too late as his brother slips under the water. This also goes a long way to explaining his protective streak for the “junior” members of the team.

     It seemed pretty clear to me that Skye (Choe Bennet) is now being more aligned with Fitz and Simmons than Ward, May (Ming-Na Wen), and Coulson (Clark Gregg). I think this sets up a great dynamic as we have the experienced agents and the newbies, so we get to see how the newbies learn to be agents. I’m also relieved that Skye isn’t being portrayed as able to come in and simply master being an experienced agent – which I think was a concern for some viewers early on. It’s nice to see how their relationships have already grown and changed. May agreeing with Skye that Thor is dreamy was a nice indication of how even May is slowly coming out of her shell. The scene in which Simmons is checking Ward over and he loses it, attacking them all on their weakest fronts, was a good indication of how well he’s come to know them. Their reaction, hurt, but trying to excuse the behavior by saying it was a chemical reaction was a nice indication of how much they all now value his opinion.

     Being a big fan of Peter MacNicol from way back, I was thrilled to see him on the show, and he certainly delivered as the former berserker from Asgard, now somewhat lecherous university professor. I loved the way he and Coulson bonded; both actors have such a subtle delivery and dry humor that they play off of each other brilliantly. I also thought it was a nice touch that it’s Randolph who commented on Coulson’s exceptional powers of observation. I certainly had no idea until the reveal that he was Asgardian. In re-watching the episode, Gregg’s reaction to Randolph’s Waterford 44 pen is very subtly suspicious – you can see the penny starting to drop for him when you know what’s coming – have I mentioned that Gregg’s acting is superlative? Another actor might have punched the line too heavily – Gregg’s reaction is all on his face. I also loved the scene in which Coulson urges Randolph to re-locate to the mid-west, and then offers to bring Thor by to introduce him – classic.

     The final fight scene was fantastic and brought out two more important characterization points. Coulson helps Simmons and Fitz save Randolph by sticking his hand inside his chest and keeping Randolph’s heart beating until Randolph can heal himself – as Asgardians have super healing powers too, apparently. I wonder if that could be some kind of a clue to Coulson’s own recovery? However, what he says to Simmons is even more telling: “Sometimes you just have to jump in and figure things out.” This seems like Coulson all over – his very understated courage. This also seems like this is how he’s coped with his brush with death. He doesn’t know how he came back, but he’s jumped back into his life and he’s just figuring it out as he goes – much as he did with the Avengers. Simmons then takes her cue from him and jumps in to tell her parents what’s been happening to her.

     Perhaps the biggest revelation in the final fight scene was May’s conquering the berserker staff. I loved the scene earlier in the episode when she goes to Ward who is trying to dispel the adrenaline flooding his system by hitting the heavy bag. She tells him she can help and he brushes her off. We’ve already seen lots of examples of her using other methods – like tai chi to ground herself. He brushes her off, and then we see that she is able to master so much more anger and even put the staff back together. She tells him she lives with the anger every day, so the staff really didn’t make a big difference to her. The title of the episode refers not only to the well in Ward's past but also the well of rage that May, Ward, and even Skye carry within them. I loved the final shot of May holding the staff – she certainly looked like an Avenger to me! Anyone else?

     The episode ends with three important scenes. Skye comes to Ward in the bar. He asks her how she lets everything roll of her back. She tells him that if she thought it would help, she’d rage all the time, but it doesn’t help. She offers to talk, and he brushes her off – at least more nicely this time. He then goes to his room just as May goes to hers. She has a bottle of alcohol and makes a clear invitation for Ward to join her, which he does. Were they simply talking? Was she giving him advice on how to control the rage? Were they getting drunk and getting naked? What do you think?

     The final scene is Coulson in Tahiti – or so we think until he wakes as if from a nightmare. Are his memories starting to come back now that he may be ready for them? Or is he simply unsettled by more evidence that he really doesn’t know what happened to him? I love the way they are teasing this story out. I’m sure we’ll get an answer to what happened, but I hope they make us wait until the end of the season – maybe this answer will play out in the next Captain America movie. I missed Gregg in Thor, and while I’m happy to have him on my tv every week, I’m greedy enough to want him in the movies too!

     I thought this was another strong episode, and I’m really liking the way the characters are building slowly. Can’t wait to find out more about May! Frakes did his always fantastic job directing, capturing those subtle reactions and terrific fight sequences. What did you think of the episode? Any more theories on what happened to Coulson? Are you a Ward/Skye or Ward/May? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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