Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Season 4 Episode 7
“Deals With Our Devils”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD returns from an extended hiatus with Coulson, Fitz and Robbie on the other side while the rest of the team tries to make sense of the situation.
Wow we haven’t seen this show in a while. Four weeks off the air is definitely a sure fire way to kill any momentum and having there be only one more episode until the midseason finale makes me wonder why ABC have scheduled the episodes this way. All of that is beside the point but I felt the need to mention it anyway. The loss in momentum due to the airing doesn’t really affect the quality of this episode so I won’t be holding any of that against it.
There’s a lot to like about this episode as there has been in every episode of this season so far. The binary storytelling structure of the characters occupying the same physical space but being out of phase with one another is a common sci fi/fantasy plot but it’s always fun to see and this episode executes it particularly well. It builds mysteries using the physical realm before answering them with the other realm that Coulson, Robbie and Fitz are occupying. It’s an obvious yet effective structure and it really helps keep the pace going.
Starting with the members of the team who haven’t been sent into Limbo -that’s what I’m going to call it- was a really good choice as it kept the question of where the others disappeared to in the background of everything. Mack, May and Daisy were concerned with learning what happened without knowing that their friends were with them the whole time. As I said, it’s a lot of fun and done well.
There is a problem with this on a visual level. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been the most colourful of shows but there was a clear attempt to make Limbo a darker and drearier place than the physical realm. It’s a fair idea as it allows them to be visually distinct but the show is so drab and colourless a lot of the time that it’s hard to notice any difference.
This storytelling device is also used to develop characters in interesting ways. May and Coulson are able to confess feelings that they have for one another without actually having a conversation. Coulson has the advantage as he hears what May says and it helps inform his desire to survive throughout the rest of the episode. I don’t think these characters make sense as a couple but the way it was handled worked really well.
May’s behaviour in this episode doesn’t really fit her character though. She is frantic because she doesn’t want to lose Coulson so she acts recklessly and is prone to emotional outbursts. She has been in situations where she thought she might lose people close to her before and always managed to stay calm. This was really jarring as it isn’t really in her character to act this way. I suppose this was supposed to show how deep her connection to Coulson is but it didn’t really work for me.
Coulson’s big emotional moment did work. At the point where it seemed that he was going to be sucked into Hell -for want of a better word- he heard May’s voice and it encouraged him to not give up. It’s a fairly common emotional beat but Clark Gregg managed to sell it.
My guess is that this is supposed to be the tie in episode to Doctor Strange and if it is then it’s the subtlest tie in they’ve ever done. This episode furthers the idea of multiple realms that Doctor Strange introduced and continues the science vs. magic debate that happened in that film but there are no overt references or anything like that so I have to applaud them for taking the essence of the current film and expanding on it. This is similar to the approach taken with the events of Captain America: Civil War and it marks a refreshing change in the way this show slots itself into the universe that it’s a part of.
The whole magic vs. science debate is handled really well using the resident scientists. Fitz is convinced that he can figure out what is happening and puts forward several theories based on his scientific knowledge. In the physical world Doctor Radcliffe is able to do the same and the two manage to work together without actually interacting.
I also liked how Fitz managed to air his true feelings about the current situation to Coulson. He makes it clear that he’s not happy with the decision to turn S.H.I.E.L.D. over to a director that none of them trust. His outburst ties in perfectly with how frustrated he is at being stuck in another realm and being unable to tell Simmons that he’s alive. It also allows buried feelings of resentment to come out with Coulson being unable to dismiss them. It’s a great moment and not something we often see from Fitz when he interacts with Coulson.
It is made clear that a human being can’t read the Darkhold because the contents are too much for the brain to handle. Thankfully this doesn’t apply to Aida who is able to read the book and interpret it without causing herself damage. The pay-off of this is twofold; she is able to bring back those who are missing and she seems to gain sentience.
I very much doubt that Aida is going to be the next Ultron because the whole homicidal AI plot is very played out in science fiction. My thinking is that Aida will become sentient and will be able to benefit the team by being their resident magic used. There will probably be all sorts of identity issues but it could allow the show to explore magic in a really unique way along with the emergence of a new form of life. It’s a fascinating idea and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Robbie’s reaction to being stuck in Limbo is different to everyone else because of his supernatural affliction. The Ghost Rider doesn’t want to be sucked back into hell so hops to the nearest host that it can use in the form of Mack. As the Rider points out, Mack isn’t ideal but he does have pain that runs deep so he’s enough for the moment. I liked this angle as it shows the Ghost Rider as a demonic entity with its own agenda and seeing Mack become a Ghost Rider for a little while has good novelty value. Henry Simmons does the possessed and tortured thing really well with his impressive physicality enhancing the brutal vengeance mission that he goes on. The added mystery of the pain he is suffering from and how it connects to the piece of paper is compelling enough but does sort of seem like it came from nowhere.
Interestingly, Robbie is less than pleased to be free of the curse because he still needs the Ghost Rider to settle his score with Eli. For him it’s something he is willing to deal with so that achieve his own vengeance. In return he is willing to make a new deal to help the Rider settle all of its scores. I can’t imagine how many of those there are and what dark places it will take Robbie but I am fascinated to find out. Having the Rider established as a separate character through his possession of Mack works really well and I wonder if there will be similar interactions between Robbie and the spirit of vengeance in the future.
Daisy is still technically a fugitive but she has come around to the idea that she really needs to be around the team and recent events have given her a sense of belonging again. Her loyalty to Mack is what drives her to steal Robbie’s car and go after him. Their friendship has always been really well done so having her be the one who literally wants to save his soul makes a lot of sense. This also gives us a really cool chase sequence followed up by some impressive action.
We find out why Simmons was whisked away and it turns out she is tasked with studying Senator Nadeer’s cocooned brother. At least I think that’s who it is but it’s never explicitly confirmed. Her approach is an interesting one and I never expected her to abandon the scientific method in favour of using empathy. By simply talking to him and trying to calm him down she is able to get more done than a room full of scientists with hi tech equipment.
This delayed Terrigenesis raises a few questions. Namely why was it delayed and what are the consequences of that? is he going to be a special Inhuman or was there some flaw in the process that will have a negative effect? Answers will be forthcoming but the mystery is enough for now.
A great episode that manages to build different mysteries. The binary story structure works really well at setting up questions to have them answered by flipping the perspective to the other characters. Outside of May’s out of character reaction to the possibility of losing Coulson the character beats are really well done. Mack becoming a temporary Ghost Rider works really well and it allows Robbie to embrace the curse in a very different way. Using Aida to read the Darkhold with her potentially gaining sentience as well as the ability to wield magic is an interesting development that I look forward to seeing play out. There’s a lot to like about this and a lot to develop.
- Mack as Ghost Rider
- a cool chase sequence?
- the binary structure and flipping perspectives
- the development of Aida
- the two realms not being as visually distinct as they were clearly supposed to be
- May’s out of character behaviour