Summary : Despite some vague links to the 'Thor' universe, this episode proved to be little more than a shameless exercise in cross-promotion by Marvel. Some nice touches throughout weren't enough to save this from being a significant drop in the quality of recent episodes.
After spending weeks making oblique references to the Marvel cinematic universe, this week's episode 'The Well' promised to be the first real tie-in with Marvel's collection of superheroes, with heavily advertised links to Thor: The Dark World. Ultimately, though, this proved to be little more than an exercise in cross-promotion with fans expecting an appearance by their favourite fair-haired Norse god left sadly disappointed.
Following the events of Thor: The Dark World, Coulson and his team find themselves on the trail of a 'Norse paganist-hate group' (yup, that's exactly as daft as it sounds) intent on finding an ancient Asgardian staff which bestows those who wield it unspeakable power and rage. Along the way they must enlist the help of Professor Randolph (Peter MacNicol), an expert in Asgardian mythology, in order to prevent the pieces of the staff falling into the wrong hands. However, when Agent Ward accidentally comes into contact with part of the staff, he finds himself unable to control his emotions and the team soon realise that they may all be in peril.
Despite the strength of the last few episodes, 'The Well' marks a significant drop in both the writing and plot development for the series. The much-publicised crossover with Thor amounts to little more than a few references to the god himself and the fact that this week's MacGuffin (the staff) originated in Asgard. This is understandable to an extent as, given that many will still not have seen the film, it has to remain largely spoiler-free, but it's still disappointing that more is not made of this link and it leaves you questioning why they bothered in the first place. The villains are forgettable and easily dealt with, and the episode's big 'twist' is hardly a revelation.
That said, there are a number of things that redeem the episode beyond being a total disaster. Peter MacNicol is brilliant as the duplicitous Randolph - let's hope we get to see more of him in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, it's great to finally learn a bit more about Ward and his tortured past; after vague references to his brother's 'accident', learning about Ward's involvement in these events adds a depth to the character which allows us to finally make more sense of his frosty persona and obsession with keeping those around him safe.
There's also a few nice nods for Joss Whedon fans who might spot something familiar about the 'Did I fall asleep?' line delivered by Coulson in his Tahiti-flashback - a nice nod to Whedon's previous show Dollhouse (along with the shot of the three flowers in a vase on the window - an image used to activate sleeper agents in the same show). Speaking of which, there was definitely something unsettling about Coulson's dream - we seem to be getting ever closer to solving this persistent mystery.
Definitely a disappointing episode overall, despite some nice touches. Let's hope that next week's episode, 'Repairs', manages to get the series back on track.