It’s the Thor: The Dark World tie-in that fans have been waiting for; though perhaps it’s not the one everyone had hoped for. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made good on its promise of film-linked episode and, believe it or not, delivered a respectable tale of another Asgardian who happened to choose love on Earth over life in the higher realm. Even so, there’s still some growing to do for ABC’s fledgling show – and perhaps moving away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the way to go.
A ticket to Thor: The Dark World not only bought you a fun, portal jumping adventure with the God of Thunder, it also allowed you to become guinea pigs for Marvel’s first attempt at turning the synergy dials up to “11," or perhaps “2," as this episode unfortunately revealed. But hey, it was a fun 3 minutes, right?
In this week’s episode, 'The Well,' written by Fringe and Revolution producer and writer Monica Breen, Norse pagan cults get bit of free advertising, as an ancient and powerful Asgardian staff, trisected and hidden away for centuries, is pieced together by three would-be gods. Only the Norwegians forgot one thing: Coulson has a Ward – and they won’t like Ward when he’s raging, primal growl and all.
'The Well' is not so much a tie-in to Thor: The Dark World as it is a proverbial hallway pass for Marvel’s little sister series to get close to part of the hallowed mythology that fuels Marvel’s billion-dollar box office – which is encouraging to see with a mythology so vast and rich with lore. But such a pass also comes with a cost – one that minutes of lip-service to Thor doesn’t completely justify. Still, an encouraging tale does eventually reveal itself, thanks to Peter MacNicol (praise Odin) and Clark Gregg; unfortunately, the series itself still appears to be fighting against the parts that make it so the entire way.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is able to recover from the fumble that turned out to be the short-lived tie-in to Thor: The Dark World, but the actual implementation of the related tale, no matter how encouraging and successful, is still caught under weight of the series’ large and often misused cast - and this episode is no different, unfortunately. What it is, in a sense, is a step backwards for the struggling series which just began to find its footing two week ago, as the series has already shown fans that the team can actually work in harmony with all the comic-based devices. Throw one more being, human or Asgardian, in the mix, however, and, well, things begin to get a bit clunky.
Thankfully, the core tale of this week’s episode does allow Coulson to stretch his legs and become more comfortable with his television confines, and the dialogue has been elevated to include the familiar Coulson wit, as well as the sense of leadership, that he brought to all of Marvel’s Phase I films. Grant Ward, too, bless his heart, strapped on big boy shoes and made an earnest attempt at selling a poorly realized backstory for everyone’s favorite Boy Scout. But at the end of the day, is all the added trouble worth it?
Even with Ming-Na Wen finally being able to bring Melinda May out of the shadows, there’s still a sense of mediocrity that surrounds the heart of the series. At its best, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a fun look into the inner-workings of Marvel's secret agency, good and bad; at its worst, it’s a generic procedural with no real purpose; and when it’s attempting to tie-in to the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, it’s a mixture of both, with the latter slowly eating away at the former.
But there’s still hope for ABC’s experiment, as the next scheduled tie-in, for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is many months away – so any attempt at juggling that act of synergy will come well after the series will have had to prove itself to the network. In the meantime, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can now take a deep breath, put the tie-in behind them, celebrate the attempt at delivering a genuinely enjoyable episode, and once again return to building its own foundation outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, Tahiti is always an option – Coulson seemed to have enjoyed it, even if it did mess up his accuracy.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday with 'Repairs' @8pm on ABC.