The Ghost Rider comes to television and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the series fourth season premiere episode. At first glance it may seem like business as usual for the Agents, now able to operate publicly, thanks to the Sokovia Accords, but the vengeance of Ghost Rider marks a new era for the show. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on “The Ghost.”
Sex and Violence
The episode starts with a bang, a little sex and a little violence, perhaps to celebrate its new later time slot at 10 PM Eastern. We watch as Skye/Daisy gets into her Quake gear (from her lacy black underwear) for a night patrol, presumably hunting down what remains of the Watchdogs from last season. I would guess she’s still a S.H.I.E.L.D.-less vigilante as suggested by our six-months-later teaser.
When she finds them, the Watchdogs aren’t afraid of her, they’re afraid of him. With blood of his victims on her hands, Daisy is told, “he’ll kill us all.” He is the driver of a black muscle car, a 1969 Dodge Charger, with the shots of it reminding me of that old James Brolin flick The Car. This is our Ghost Rider, flaming skull, flaming car, flaming wheels. Daisy can only watch as he takes one of the Watchdogs captive, puts him in the trunk, and drives away. She escapes too, with her cool simulated flight trick just before the cops arrive.
Now if the showrunners were as truly worried about ratings, as the stunt of bringing Ghost Rider to the show indicates, they would have released this opening sequence to comic cons as a sizzle reel. This would have been, pardon the pun, hot. It has everything needed to spike interest in the series and its failing ratings, but its ratings last night were among the lowest of the night and the show’s history, but much higher in that time slot than ABC has had in the past.
There may also be some frustration in the choice of Ghost Rider, as I mentioned before, there are several. The Robbie Reyes version in the car is much more manageable with a TV budget than the supernatural cycle ones. Furthermore if you watch the opening sequence carefully, there may even be some doubt as to Ghost Rider’s paranormality at all. Perhaps that will be the thrust of the story arc – is he or isn’t he? We’ll see.
We step immediately to the next scene, that of Coulson and Mack, shown as partners in the field in the six-months-later bit, playing backgammon on Board the Zephyr One, one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying mobile headquarters. It’s a interesting and clever set up for the viewers to learn the new status quo as we also see how this bromance has been blooming through their conversation.
Coulson and Mack are still tracking Inhumans, but have been called back to base. As we are reintroduced to May training agents, we also learn that not only is Quake a dangerous criminal vigilante, publicly known, but she’s been associated with the LA murders we saw at the start. Military have been told to shoot on sight. They’re after her for what the Ghost Rider’s done.
Throughout Coulson and Mack’s reunion with the rest of the old team, much is made of the new Director, not well-liked, too many rules, too careful, micromanaging, and of course, the ‘spectrum of security.’ He’s nervous not to screw up the new S.H.I.E.L.D. like the old. If he’s so hands on, where is he? Besides the darker side with May’s news on Daisy, we also find Fitz and Simmons working with Radcliffe. So little time and so much to do, Fitz misses the old gang, and specifically time with Simmons.
It might be only one episode so far, and yes, we know it is only temporary but I hate this ache for the team to get back together. It is very much a Simpsons “when are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?” moment. The wait is excruciating. Enough foreplay, just give us Coulson, May, Daisy, Mack, Fitz, and Simmons back together.
While Coulson and Mack are in Los Angeles, unofficially looking into the Quake/Ghost Rider thing, they also check in with Elena Rodriguez, AKA Yo-Yo. I loved this character last season, but within a moment I began to dislike her here. Like a cliche to her powers, she has replaced her sweet charm with an anxious impatience to move quickly.
Yo-Yo is all over Mack like a cat on milk, and not that I don’t like aggressive women, it just doesn’t seem in character for her. We get it, she’s fast. I just feel it’s out of place for her in this situation. Perhaps this no fraternization rule is in place to show how fascist the Sokovia Accords are, but I think they missed the boat with this relationship and Yo-Yo’s character. Maybe.
There’s a lot going on in this episode, as would be expected. They’re not just setting up a new status quo for the new season, they’re seeding plots for the rest of that new season. Fitz’ frustration at not seeing Simmons and other old friends brings him closer to Radcliffe, now working with S.H.I.E.L.D. after being pardoned for his help last season. That friendship leads him to discover Aida.
Radcliffe’s side project has been to give a life-like human female body for his artificial intelligence assistant Aida, whom Fitz finds strolling Radcliffe’s quarters naked. It’s an extension of the old S.H.I.E.L.D. program LMD (Life Model Decoy), only taken to a new extreme. But what was Radcliffe doing with her… naked? Ewwww…
The New Boss
A bit more disturbing than what was up with the naked Aida is the subtextually sexist visual of two men, Fitz and Radcliffe, drinking beer discussing Aida, and her existence, while in front of her, while shut down, as if she’s not even there. She’s a puppet, given orders by a man, even when reciting her true, and altruistic, purpose. I was delighted that the show did not shy away from the obvious Ultron AI-gone-wrong reference.
The bottom line however from Fitz is that Simmons not know about this. In the aftermath of last season and Civil War, Simmons is now the highest ranked of our old team, a team separated on purpose by the new Director. This Director is someone that even Simmons confesses to May she doesn’t trust. To keep up appearances therefore, she sends May to intercept Coulson and Mack’s activities in LA.
Our A plot is still Quake and the Ghost Rider however. Unknown to S.H.I.E.L.D., Daisy is still in touch with Yo-Yo. They were part of a team, you might remember, the Secret Warriors, and that loyalty holds strong. In the post-Civil War world, enhanced individuals, especially Inhumans, have to stick together.
Yo-Yo lets Daisy know S.H.I.E.L.D. is sniffing around LA for her, and in turn Daisy tells Yo-Yo about Ghost Rider – terming him a serial killer. Yo-Yo also gets Daisy pills for her bones, which shatter when she exerts her powers too much. Perhaps if Yo-Yo’s advances on Mack were a ruse to sneak the pills, her behavior is forgivable.
Quake vs. Ghost Rider
Daisy manages to track the Ghost Rider down, noting local graffiti proclaiming him a hero, and looking for parts for a sweet ’69 Charger. Led to Robbie Reyes at an auto parts garage, Daisy does what we’d been waiting for since the opening of the episode, she asks the Ghost Rider to dance. Any doubt there may have been that Ghost Rider’s abilities were tech-based or logic-driven is shattered early, he is most certainly a supernatural beast.
His jacket look is close to the seventies Ghost Rider, and what at first appeared to possibly be a skull helmet is indeed a flaming skull. He can also ignite objects he touches and fights like, pardon the pun, a devil. Quake, who may or may not be having trouble controlling her powers, puts up a good fight, but in the end is no match for the Rider. He says he only kills those who deserve it, and when Daisy relents, and begs him to kill her – Ghost Rider shows mercy and leaves her untouched. It’s a good fight, worth the wait.
The title threat of the episode isn’t Ghost Rider at all, but the mystery MacGuffin that Coulson and Mack were actually tracking. The Watchdogs Daisy was after were hirelings from the Aryan Brotherhood that were selling to Los Angeles gangs. The cargo, as it turns out, was something that could help them against enhanced individuals.
So there’s this box, that when it was opened, caused two henchmen to kill each other in the back of a truck. What’s inside is a ghost, a Japanese horror style ghost a la The Ring or The Grudge, and it incites violence. Could this be a nod to the Doctor Strange villains called the Zealots? Of course it appears that not only is whatever-it-is now loose, but it has infected May… as if she needed a trigger…
Promises were made, and this episode certainly brought it on. Ghost Rider is on fire and looks great, the supernatural has been injected into the series, even as the opposite end of the spectrum is also explored with science fiction artificial intelligence. I think we’re off to a great start, even if the team isn’t back together yet. Next time we should learn why as we meet the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m psyched for more, what did you folks think?
Next: Never cross the Spirit of Vengeance in “Meet the New Boss!”