The much balleyhooed Thor: The Dark World tie-in episode is here! And... well, it wasn't much of a tie-in, but it was still an episode with surprising psychological depth and another missed opportunity to tie into comic book continuity!
First, whosoever reads this spoiler-light recap, if worthy, shall posses slight knowledge of the episode: The episode opens with the "tie-in" bit, which segues nicely into an Asgardian-filled episode. Terrorists find an ancient McGuffin, leading the team on a search that forces Ward to become a fully-developed and flawed character before the adventure is over.
Seriously, a lot of shows try to keep the good guys good and the bad guys bad, but when characters can be layered, it makes them so much more interesting. This is the most depth Ward has been given yet, although previous episodes have touched on his dark family secrets.
And for the record, watching Thor 2 will not affect your understanding of this episode, and this episode will not spoil Thor 2!
Now posses the power of random Marvel factoids!
First, the big tie-in scene: It doesn't spoil anything from the movie. You can watch nearly the entire scene in the first few minutes of the embedded clip.
Here's the gist: You know how in the trailer for Thor: The Dark World you see that tall black space ship crashing into a Greenwhich University in London? Turns out Coulson's team has to clean it up. As HLHPattison and myself have said in the past, this TV show needs to have an appearance by the Damage Control company.
Now to touch base on something some people are unsure about. Skye says SHIELD knows the Asgardians are aliens, not gods. Sometimes the Asgardians call themselves gods, sometimes they don't. So what are they? In the mainstream Marvel Universe (Earth-616) the Asgardians are as close to gods as you can get, and are definitely considered more than just "aliens," although the specifics tend to change depending on the writer and story needs. Over in the universe of Earth X (Earth-9997) the Asgardians are definitely aliens. In Earth X #5, an alternate version of Uatu the Watcher describes the alternate version Asgardians as a race of shapeshifters who "had no identity, no definitions of their own" until the worship of humans gave them shape. It's important to clarify that this is not the origin of the Marvel Universe Asgardians, as there are so many differences between Earth X and the regular Marvel Universe that the two cannot be reconciled as branching from the same base reality. (Or in other words: wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, stuff.)
Skye, an avid conspiracy theorist, asks if Vishnu is an alien, no doubt referencing the famous "ancient aliens" theories promoted by sources like Erich von Däniken's book, Chariots of the Gods. Of course, in the Marvel Universe, Vishnu is totally a god, and often considered on par with Odin. They meet up along with other Godheads whenever there is a universal crisis.
Coulson suggests there should be a "god of cleaning up," and for that I've got nothing, but believe it or not, there is a magic broom hidden away in Marvel lore! Way back in the day, Marvel produced more than just superhero comics! There were romances, westerns, horrors, true crime and children's comics. In the latter category fit characters like Widjit the Witch and her sentient broomstick Diogenes! Neat, huh?
The real story begins in Trillemarka Park in Norway. Can I just say that it's a shame a modern show like Agents of SHIELD presents Norwegians speaking in English with a Norwegian accent. They couldn't've found some actors that could speak Norwegian and just used subtitles for the one scene that would require Norwegians speaking to other Norwegians?
Our villains, Jakob Nystrom and Petra Larsen (no relation), discover an old staff in a tree by following an old Norse-by-way-of-France-but-written-in-English nursery rhyme (again, in English for no particular reason).
The staff gave off readings that matched Thor's hammer, grants the strength of 20 warriors, and more importantly, filled the bearer with intense rage because "it shines a light into your dark places" (man, could that be taken out of context).
We learn from a Norse mythology professor (more on him in a bit) that this is the Berserker Staff (Thanks to nctrns for the correction!), an object that came to Earth from Asgard along with the Berserker army.
Here again, a missed comics continuity opportunity. In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created this great villain for Thor named Skurge the Executioner. He carried a bad ass axe, and eventually gave up his evil ways and died defending Asgard. His axe, thanks to an enchantment by the Enchantress, held some of his evil and a ton of power. A mortal possessing the Bloodaxe (as it came to be known) could gain more power than even Thor possessed, and enough rage to overpower even the most peaceful soul. Eventually it even led to the death of Thunderstrike, one of Thor's closest friends.
The staff in this episode could easily have been the Bloodaxe. Sure, conceivably, they could use the axe, Skurge or the Executioner in some form in a future Thor movie, but there could at least have been some acknowledgement of the similarities here.
I admit though, I'm probably biased, since I wrote the Bloodaxe and Thunderstrike entries for the 2010 Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Thor: Asgard's Avenger.
The evil Wonder Twins cause a reign of terror in Oslo where they burn the words "WE ARE GODS" into the street, so they can be seen from above. In the comics, Noh "I'm not Marvel Boy" Varr burned a similar, but much cruder, phrase into the streets of New York as a message to SHIELD.
The professor who informed Coulson about the staff and who advised Coulson between "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer" and the first Thor movie is Elliot Randolph. After he attempts to steal part of the Berserker Staff we learn that he is, in fact, an ex-patriot Asgardian. Although nigh-immortal and godlike compared to us mere humans, Randolph's life on Asgard was anything but glamorous, as he merely broke rocks for thousands of years before half-heartedly joining the army then abandoning his post to live on Earth in the 12th century. He was beatified at one point in Ireland and told his life story to a French girl in 1546, and her brother wrote it down and put it into legend.
We also learn, as suggested in "FZZT," the Interrogation Room does have special shielding intended to stop powerful objects and beings: a layer of silicon-carbide-coated Vibranium alloy (special thanks to 99TelepodProblems and Balmut for helping me out!). Vibranium was first mentioned on-screen in Captain America: The First Avenger (as seen in this clip), but in the comics there are two forms of Vibranium, and each can only be found in one location. The most famous form, and the type used here to enhance shielding, is from the reclusive African nation Wakanda, home of the Black Panther, who gave some to Captain America on one of the hero's earliest missions; this form of Vibranium can counter any vibrations, making it ideal for protection. The lesser-known version, also called Anti-Metal, is only found in Antarctica's Savage Land; it destroys any other nearby metals.
After the bad guys are stopped and the staff recovered, Randolph decides to go back into hiding and Coulson suggests he try Portland, where there's a great philharmonic band. One assumes, they have really talented cellists.
By the way, major character and story development here as Ward, who everyone assumes will end up with Skye, ends up getting some of his rage out with May (who has a little rage of her own to work out). This is the kind of thing Wolverine has been known to do with fellow adventurers like Domino, Mystique and Storm, but it's a bit surprising to see from Coulson's squeaky-clean cast. Interesting...
That's it for now, more Agents of SHIELD next week!
Oh, and nothing to do with nothing, but I picked up one of Agent Jasper Sitwell's earliest appearances at a comic shop for a quarter today. Who knew cool comics could still be found for a quarter?