Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 4 Episode 1
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD begins its fourth season and introduces audiences to the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Ghost Rider.
There’s a slight twist on that introduction as it isn’t the Johnny Blaze version brought to life by Nicolas Cage in 2007 and later 2011. I hesitate to say that Johnny Blaze is the more familiar version as I’m not sure he’s a character who even comes close to being a household name but the fact that there were two films about the character makes him more familiar by default.
The version introduced in this show is the most recent version introduced in the comics in 2014. I’m not going to recount his bio -it is hyperlinked for your consideration- as it’s not important in terms of how this show handles this character. This episode goes down the route of assuming no prior knowledge and establishing him from the ground up.
When adapting characters this is the best way to go as you should always assume that your audience have no idea who they are plus tweaks usually need to be made to fit him into the alternate reality that the adaptation exists in. With Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna), Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD does exactly that and goes down the route of leaving the character a mystery.
One thing that is strongly hinted at is the supernatural aspect of the character. Up until now super powered beings have been based in science one way or another so it’s something that the characters can understand with enough testing. When it comes to the supernatural things aren’t necessarily so easy. I look forward to seeing how Simmons handles being faced with magic and struggling to understand it.
Robbie aka Ghost Rider’s introduction works really well. His first appearance is right at the beginning of the episode when he is seen brutalising a group of criminals in a really chaotic action sequence that establishes the car and gives a brief glimpse of the flaming head. It’s not quite found footage but it has that vibe and it fully prepares us for meeting a character that we aren’t going to fully understand right away.
As the episode progresses we see a little more of him and get a flavour of his motivations. It’s clear that he only goes after people who “deserve” to be punished in some way. Robbie mentions the reasons for going after certain people but also comments that he isn’t in control of it. In the comics being Ghost Rider meant that you were cursed and not in full control of your actions so Robbie is merely a vessel for the spirit of vengeance that dispenses brutal justice on those that do bad things. It isn’t fleshed out at all but it isn’t supposed to be at this stage. Enough of a tease is given to create questions that will be answered later.
Gabriel Luna does a good job in the role so far despite not having much in the way of screen time. So far he strikes a good balance between being intimidating and projecting the tragedy that comes with being cursed. He’s clearly not a bad guy and is in over his head in a lot of ways but he’s also strong enough to have found some way to live with it. This tragic aspect extends to his disabled brother –though the episode doesn’t tell you that- who he is clearly very close to and feels responsible for. There’s a lot to play with in future episodes and so far the character is compelling enough to make me want to see more.
We are only given a good look at the non-human side of the character for a few seconds but so far I’m very impressed by what I see. The visual effects look great and we get a solid display of his abilities through the various makeshift weapons he uses as well as the muscle car he uses to get around.
The title of the episode doesn’t really refer to Ghost Rider though that’s definitely part of it. “The Ghost” refers to Daisy who isn’t handling her grief over the loss of Lincoln very well. She has cut herself off from the team and by extension the only family she has ever known. It’s a tough time for her and there are clearly a lot of issues that she isn’t dealing with. I found it interesting that she’s motivated by a desire to help others but the perception of her is that she’s a dangerous criminal who gets blamed for the people that Ghost Rider has killed.
She is also pushing herself too hard as seen by the injuries that she causes herself through overuse of her abilities. It’s clear that she feels that she has to keep helping people even if it causes her harm. I wonder if this is all motivated by Lincoln’s death and the fact that she feels responsible for that. The moment where she begged for death as Ghost Rider stood over her was very powerful and the fact that Ghost Rider didn’t act on it tells us that the spirit of vengeance doesn’t feel that she deserves death.
It’s hard to say if this arc is a good one for Daisy as it risks becoming overly morbid and angst ridden which really won’t sit well with me. It already feels overly melodramatic in some ways so it could decline very easily. I can understand the need to have Daisy go through this period of grief and make mistakes but I’d rather they don’t string this out too long. She is at her best when interacting with the other characters so the sooner she starts to do that again the better.
There have been a lot of changes in the rest of the team. S.H.I.E.L.D. is an above board government agency again which comes with more than a little red tape. This is a really jarring change for the team as they got used to doing things their own way when Coulson was in charge.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has a new director that we don’t see in this episode and the team have been separated into different departments. When looking at the framework of any organisation it makes sense that people with certain skills get put in certain places. Fitz and Simmons are best suited to the science division, May’s skills make her the perfect choice to lead a strike team.
Coulson and Mack being field agents probably makes the least sense as Mack’s engineering skills are probably his strongest asset though I suppose he has proven himself in the field enough to make that his assignment. Coulson is more suited to dealing with people so from that point of view it makes sense for him to be out in the field but he has also proven himself to be a loose cannon so I wonder why he’s trusted to simply follow orders. He goes rogue in this very episode so it’ll be interesting to see what his dynamic with the new director is when he is introduced. Having him mentioned but not seen allows a sense of mystery to be built up about him so I wonder what he will be like when we do meet him.
I like the idea of the team have to adjust to being legitimate again after operating in the shadows for so long. Simmons’ approach is the most interesting as she has taken every opportunity to gain as much authority as she can because she wants to have a say in how the organisation is run. This means she is subjected to daily lie detector tests so can’t be trusted with anything the rest of the characters want to keep to themselves. Having mistrust within the group of characters we know is an interesting idea and has lots of room to develop.
May isn’t adjusting well to the new regime as she feels that she’s meant for more than simply leading a strike team. She isn’t used to being kept in the dark and resents the fact that Simmons has higher clearance than she does. I found it amusing that the clearance levels are indicated by colours because numbers might make people feel lesser. This is surely a deliberate jab at the things employers do to make people feel valued. I would like to see more of this frustrating bureaucracy and how different characters react to it.
Coulson seems content enough in the field but he also wants to do things his own way. He feels that he knows better than the current director about certain things – Daisy being one of them- and has no problem covering up activities when he believes he’s doing the right thing. This will definitely cause plenty of friction and it’ll be interesting to see Coulson held accountable for his actions by a superior.
The team being fractured in this way ties nicely into Daisy’s situation as she is the embodiment of everyone being separated. There’s a real theme of isolation so far and it’s somewhat unsettling but it’s interesting to see S.H.I.E.L.D. be structured in a different way after being completely in the shadows.
I found the setup to be interesting but the mission that Coulson and Mack went on wasn’t all that exciting to watch. The ghostly figure haunting those who opened a mysterious box got my attention though. Dealing with this and Ghost Rider is a clear link to the upcoming Doctor Strange as that will focus heavily on magic and the mystical side of the Marvel Universe.
John Hannah’s Dr. Radcliffe is back and has continues working on the Life Model Decoy that he created in the season 3 finale. She is known as Aida (Mallory Jansen) and she definitely isn’t sentient…at least not yet. Radcliffe and Fitz discuss the difference between Artificial Intelligence –think Ultron– and mimicking human behaviour. Aida does the latter with varying degrees of success. Radcliffe mentions that she would never pass the Turing test but the implications of this are huge. Fitz struggles to fully comprehend what this all means but is also concerned for Radcliffe’s future as he isn’t supposed to do any secret research otherwise he could go to prison. Fitz agrees to keep this secret for now but that won’t last long and I get the impression the new director won’t approve. It’s hard to say what way this story will go but I imagine it’ll escalate into something that causes a huge issue.
A solid opening to the season that establishes a good amount of plot threads to be developed. Ghost Rider looks great and the character is tragic yet mysterious so far. Daisy’s self-imposed exile is interesting so far in terms of what she is going through but it has the potential to become overblown before too long. The rest of the team being separated into different departments with various levels of clearance is also interesting and the fact that the new director is talked about but not seen adds a sense of mystery to his appearance. The field mission that Coulson and Mack were on wasn’t all that interesting to look at but had fascinating implications and Dr. Radcliffe’s Life Model Decoy could also go in some interesting directions.