It’s been a while since Marvel promised a Thor tie-in episode, which marks the first real interaction with the ongoing film universe save Coulson’s presence, but now it’s arrived in an episode that feels like it meanders up until the final seconds. Sure, it’s got exciting elements—it would be hard for a post-movie episode to flop in that sense. Plus, there’s a certain cool factor to seeing our heroes go on a hunt for Asgardian relics, and the mentions of gods, Thor and Asgard are welcome additions to the show. But as fun as it was to insert Thor into the Marvel TV world, it also seems like subject matter that’s been plugged into an easy formula that, at this point, is beginning to wear thin.
The breakdown of most shows feels pretty similar: An alien/semi-supernatural/scientific anomaly is discovered. The team assembles to figure out the weird object/force with varying degrees of success; often there will be “team-building” experiences with Fitzsimmons handling the brains portion, Mae getting the team where they need to be and Ward kicking ass to save the day. Coulson talks down baddies and makes the big-picture moves. And Skye provides comic relief and rallies in last-minute situations. Often a person affected by this “thing” (electromagnetic viruses, Asgardian relics, Extremis, really whatever it is) will act as the big bad villain that is faced in The Big Fight Scene at the End. Coulson will go on a rant about how he almost—well, maybe he actually died for 40 seconds, but the circumstances are fuzzy, but he can relate to anyone in a near-death scenario.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been enjoyable so far. It’s been enough to carry us through electro-charged villains, mysterious deaths, high-altitude drama and interesting twists and turns. In our eighth episode, however, it’s starting to grow a bit tired.
We start off in the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World, with our heroes handling the not-so-glamorous part of action movies, one that we don’t really consider much: the cleanup. That’s right: someone had to repair California freeways in the wake of Terminator 2, and there were probably some pissed-off cops working overtime on Christmas after Die Hard. Here, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is forced to deal with rubble of a godly level, and while it’s an idea that’s as mundane as it gets in the superhero world, it also leads to some of the best comic relief we’ve seen in the show so far.
Past the acknowledgement of what’s happened in our latest Marvel flick, the episode revolves around a Berserker staff, which is an ancient relic from Asgard that was scattered across the globe in three parts. The staff gives its owners strength (and rage) on a God level, and that’s even before assembling the thing. So, we meet a couple, made up of some Norwegian youngsters, settled on raging on the world with Thor-like ability. They find their first object in a tree in Norway, knock out a park ranger (who, oblivious to the bigger picture, is devastated about his tree being hacked down), and take off with a third of God-level strength.
So, if you’re keeping track: Weird object? Check. Random villain(s)-who-will-surely-turn-super-villain? Check. S.H.I.E.L.D. member affected by this very same kind of object negatively? Hold on.
After consulting with Professor Randolph, an old friend of Coulson (and expert on the subject of Norse mythology), the S.H.I.E.L.D. team heads out in search for the other two staff fragments. In an encounter for the search for fragment No. 2, the team runs into Randolph, who is holding the staff. In trying to grab it from him, Ward, already the brawniest member of the team, turns into a rage monster, finding it difficult to reason or even be around his teammates.
Ward thankfully manages to harness the energy, equipping him to handle the other staff-equipped villains we talked about earlier, who are building their army as the episode progresses. Randolph is revealed to be an Asgardian, living among mortals for thousands of years, and he is able to point the team to the last piece in time to have The Big Fight Scene at the End at a monastery in Ireland. A bit of backstory on Ward is shown, but not much, revealing some Bruce Wayne-like flashbacks that show a tormenter forcing a boy to stay at the bottom of a well. Ward saves the day—mostly—with this rage, taking out a small army of super-rage-infected people, but it’s Mae who steps in to take out the two main baddies, using the fully formed staff to end them after Ward is too spent (emotionally and physically) to do so.
In the whole conflict, Randolph himself is stabbed by the staff, leading to another Coulson-on-dying speech. And while we’re no closer to learning what’s going on with his near-death experience, I feel like we need to cut these short. We get that he died, we get that something mysterious happened, we get that he’s not the same Coulson. But without any significant advances (or maybe I’m missing them), the constant rehashing of this is feeling a little aggravating.
And as cool as the tie-ins are, this slab of S.H.I.E.L.D. just didn’t do it for me. The single-hit episodes, which are slowly linking together but not much, are starting to feel repetitive, and I hope it doesn’t mark a comfortable groove that the show just settles into. Only time will tell, though.