“The Well” is the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to directly continue a story from one of the Marvel movies. “FZZT” referenced the consequences from The Avengers, but “The Well” literally picks up where Thor 2 left off with Coulson’s team sifting through the wreckage of Greenwich and the library. They collect most of the Asgardian remnants left behind, but not far away, a magical staff from Asgard is taken by a power-hungry gang of anarchists who aspire to be gods themselves.
The episode’s biggest trick is distracting the audience with the threat of the anarchists while sneaking in a much more interesting character. In adventure stories, the heroes will often seek out a brainy professor to interpret the Egyptian hieroglyphs or deliver some exposition about a Biblical relic. Peter MacNicol as Professor Elliot Randolph is brought in to interpret ancient writing on the staff, but when he turns out to be Asgardian, it is a really smart twist. Not every Asgardian is likely to look like Thor just as not every human male is likely to look like Chris Hemsworth, and not every Asgardian is going to be a member of the Warriors Three. Maybe some of these demigods hide on earth in plain sight and live out their long lives, and they worry more about staying mentally stimulated than physically fit and dominating.
Overall, “The Well” is the best episode since “Pilot”. The central plot is solid and the character developments feel organic to the story. There are more hints about Coulson and his time in Tahiti, but it is not as frustrating as previous episodes because there are other plots and characters to focus on. Ward’s flashbacks hint at a troubling childhood and shed some light on his motivations. Steve Rogers became Captain America because he didn’t like bullies, but Ward needs to be the hero because he was a bully and is burdened with guilt
Ward’s unwillingness to share his pain with Skye pushes him to May, someone who does not want to share her secrets and does not expect him to share either. Skye and Ward seem to be the obvious inevitable coupling on the show, but it would be better if May and Ward become more than a one night stand. If anything, putting May and Ward together would be a riskier option for a show often criticized for being too safe. The show will be getting a little break after next week’s episode, so hopefully the momentum of “The Well” will carry over to next week’s “Repairs” and give viewers more of the payoff they have been waiting for.