Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 1, Episode 8

Alex Straker

shield 300x199 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 1, Episode 8Spoiler alert: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 8, season 1 of ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

Arriving hot on the heels of the release of Thor: The Dark World, this week’s episode presents another crossover with wider events in the Marvel universe. So far the show has been littered with references (and occasionally appearances) of the larger characters from Marvel’s big budget offerings, something that has been both a blessing and a curse, providing some of the more entertaining moments (Nick Fury’s hilarious post-credit cameo) and more than a few annoying name-dropping incidents (we’re looking at you, Coulson). Luckily this week’s episode is more of the former variety, an enjoyable mix of globe-trotting and soul-searching that capitalises on the events of Thor’s recent cinema outing.

The story picks up shortly after Thor: The Dark World, with Coulson and his team arriving at The University of Greenwich to clean up after the Heir of Asgard’s latest public smack down. But as the threat from one set of enemies is fading, another one is developing in a Norwegian National Park. When it emerges that a cult are hunting down the pieces of an Asgardian staff that grants the one who wields it with incredible strength (along with the additional side effect of uncontrollable rage) Coulson enlists the help of an expert on Norse mythology in an attempt to stop them.

Last week’s visit to The Hub had its moments, but overall this episode is noticeably superior, taking some of the big screen magic from one of its sister franchises and weaving it into a story that is fast-paced and entertaining. It’s a shame that the Thor events aren’t more directly connected with the central narrative, but the film offers an effective gateway into the Asgardian mythology that dominates much of the hour. Having the team bag and tag the shrapnel from Thor’s latest high profile scuffle leads to some great comedy, which balances well against a plotline that is probably the series’ darkest so far.

It’s also a useful vehicle for Ward’s character, by far the weakest member of the team up until this point. If last week’s budding bromance with Fitz helped to make him a little more relatable, it’s funny to see that he’s at his most compelling in this episode as a short-tempered, barking grouch. Ward is far more interesting as the bitter, tormented type than he is as the eye candy, washboard stomach type (although there is some of that on show this week also). The staff is a somewhat convenient device to facilitate his taking a trip down memory lane (and to be honest, it’s probably best he doesn’t visit that lane too often) but it is also the tool that leads to his excellent fight sequence towards the end of the episode (in a monastery in Ireland Ward proves his bite really is worse than his bark).

Of course the real highlight of the episode comes in its final moments – Ward’s surprise connection with May is an unexpected development that will very likely have an interesting impact on the dynamic in the next few weeks (all the evidence so far has hinted at Coulson/May and Skye/Ward romances).

The Asgardian mythology is well-handled, with the introduction of Elliott Randolph being another high point in the series that shows Shield is starting to have a lot more fun with its characters. The staff itself is likely to launch some kind of tie-in replica (hopefully they’ll work out how to remove that whole deathly rage side effect in time for Crimbo).  Altogether it gives the series a sense of urgency it’s been missing – let’s hope that energy continues over the next few instalments.

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