Welcome back true believers! Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fourth season is officially underway with the drop of its premiere episode, “The Ghost,” but is there enough hellfire in the tank to entice new viewers and keep die hards in their seats? Well, yes and no. The first thing to note about this most recent season premiere is not only the new timeslot of 10 p.m., but also what comes with it. Whether this is spurred on by the success of Marvel’s Netflix forays such as Daredevil or Jessica Jones is debatable, but this series certainly benefits somewhat from taking a page from their books. S.H.I.E.L.D. has promised a much darker, edgier season which I believe will ultimately be more beneficial for the show overall, but I’ll get into that more later. In the first five minutes of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fourth season, Daisy is in her bra and panties downing pills, Ghost Rider is ripping apart criminals in bloody detail, White Power fanatics are in full throttle, and Coulson and Mack are cracking wise about bongs. It’s a nice introduction that shows you this may not exactly be the same show you’ve gotten to know over the years.
The darker tone remains prevalent throughout the episode, as mysteries of the time jump from the previous season finale are explored. Mack and Coulson are apparently on “plane duty,” traveling around on an airplane from continent to continent for weeks at a time. Agent May is using her skills to train the next generation of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Fitz and Simmons are finally cuddling up to one another in their new relationship as they work feverishly in the lab. Yo Yo, the Secret Warrior speedster, remains an asset to the team who has recently signed the “Sokovia Accords,” from Captain America: Civil War, that state she can only use her powers in the service of the government. While all these new roles make sense for the characters that we’ve come to know, Daisy/Skye’s role varies greatly as she is laying low in California, taking down criminals with her powers, and giving their money to the poor in Robin Hood style. Daisy’s role is also interesting in that her newfound trajectory is seemingly fueled by a death wish she has following the loss of Lincoln last season, along with her battle with Hive.
Now that we’ve gotten the Agents’ current statuses out of the way, let’s talk about the main event for this season: Ghost Rider. Gabriel Luna‘s Robbie Reyes is the newest incarnation of the character, and while his character was satisfactory in this first offering, where things really shined was when the “Rider” took control. Ghost Rider is tricky in that he has this amazing visual that would seem exceptionally difficult to portray on the budget of a television show, what with the flaming skull, flaming muscle car, and flaming everything else. Surprisingly though, ABC pretty much nail the look, and while he’s obviously been tweaked to more accurately portray this new interpretation of the Spirit of Vengeance, he looks great in motion all the same. The Rider’s look is ripped out of the previous Ghost Rider / Nicolas Cage films, and his car has a particularly cool scene where it transforms mid air and lands in a fiery blast. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Ghost Rider continues to be a constant fixture this season, both as Robbie and as the “Ghost.”
Again, if there’s one thing the season premiere does right, it’s displaying Ghost Rider front and center, and the final fight between himself and Daisy is another highlight as the two show off their powers in force. Waves of seismic energy are tossed about, flaming chains are hurled in a junkyard, and the scenery is destroyed in some nicely choreographed action beats. As Daisy is pinned by the Rider, she asks for him to finish it, which goes a long way into showing her mental deterioration, along with her physical one as her powers are causing her bones to slowly shatter, which acts as an interesting twist.
In terms of the overall plot, there are two main storylines outside of just Ghost Rider, which I’m sure will all intersect. Firstly, a mysterious box is making people go mad and kill one another whenever it’s opened, and a spooky, ghostly woman weaves through her victims. This storyline, along with most of the episode itself, is serviceable, and it leads to some interesting questions of what on Earth the box is and what it possesses (especially with the last minute stinger as Coulson’s face turns a particular shade of scary). The other storyline however fumbles out of the gate with the idea of Radcliffe and Fitz secretly tinkering away on Life Model Decoys with the noble idea that no agent need die in the field if the field is populated with soulless automatons. They’re doing this in secret because they need the robot to be “perfect” before they tell anyone, especially not Simmons who will totally not find out later in the season and make the whole thing blow up in all their faces.
The series has always had something of an issue with taking two steps forward but one step back with its subplots. With the advent of the darker fourth season, I am hoping that storylines would be able to flow a bit more organically outside of the manufactured drama of characters keeping secrets from one another for seemingly no reason. It’s a repetitive problem that none of the characters ever seem to address since every secret so far has been revealed, and every single one has blown up in all their faces in one way or another. So they just keep falling down that well (much like Grant Ward!). The Agents can sometimes come off as a bit too squeaky clean, too, and it almost dehumanizes them in a sense — they all try to do what’s right at any cost, but we don’t get the reasoning behind that drive outside of their altruistic natures that are all but infallible. With the edgier season, I was hoping that the characters could be fleshed out a bit more and made to be more human, but outside of Skye, it just seems business as usual.
In summary, the show still has all the flaws and strengths that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is known for. If you’re expecting an entirely new series closer to Marvel’s Netflix fare, then you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re looking to rejoin your favorite agents for another solid romp with the added twist of throwing Ghost Rider into the mix, this one’s for you.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Agents of M.I.S.C.E.L.L.A.N.E.A.
– The Yo Yo and Mack chemistry continues to be fantastic, even though the idea of Mack being unable to have a relationship with “field assets” is something of a dud on arrival. Romeo and Juliet this ain’t.
– Ghost Rider ripping people apart is a little different from the comics. Granted, each iteration of the Ghost Rider is a little different and I’m not the most familiar with Robbie’s version, but considering his appearance, adding a harsher tone makes sense here.
– As for the ghostly apparition in the box, this woman isn’t ringing any bells with me. My first thought was it was Vapor from the Marvel villain team, the U-Foes but that probably isn’t the case. Perhaps it’s the villain, Whitney Frost, from Agent Carter’s second season, or maybe it’s an obscure Ghost Rider villain, who knows?
– I’m glad that both the Inhumans and Hydra threats are seemingly taking a back seat as they were both wrapped up in a nice little package with Ward’s death.
– Mack: “You want a beer?”
Coulson: “It’s six o’clock in the morning. What are you, Hemmingway?”
– Coulson: “If the munchies were a superpower, they’d be signing the Sokovia Accords as we speak.”
– Coulson: “Odd? Isn’t that our wheelhouse?”
– Yo Yo: “Just because we can’t work together doesn’t mean we can’t live a little?”
– Quake: “I think I stumbled onto a serial killer.”
Yo Yo: “Ooo fun!”
– Coulson: “These guys might kill someone besides each other.”
Mack: “Yeah, US!”
– Reyes: “It’s vengeance, chica.”
– Reyes: “I finished high school…in the 11th grade.”