‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ S4: E1 ‘The Ghost’ Review

Photo Credit: Marvel/ABC
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Six months after the events of season three, and following the implementation of the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War, SHIELD is now a legitimate organization, but that means there are plenty of changes as Daisy (Chloe Bennet) is on the run, Coulson (Clark Gregg) is no longer Director, and the team finds themselves working in different areas of the organization. Still adjusting to the changes, a mysterious new enhanced individual (Gabriel Luna) begins making the news in Los Angeles.

 

**Spoiler Alert**

This review contains spoilers for the season premiere of Agents of SHIELD. If you haven’t yet watched, read at your own risk.

 

The Good

The introduction is incredibly fast paced. If the aim is to hook new viewers for the 10 PM timeslot, the opening sequence just might have done that. Kicking off with a fast car and brutal violence might not be anything new for Marvel fans watching the Netflix shows, but for people who gave Agents of SHIELD a pass over the last three seasons, it definitely shows this is a different animal than the pilot.

Mack and Coulson’s relationship. One of the best things we had in the quick peak into the future last season was seeing these two former SHIELD directors as partners in the field. They have such a great partnership and I’m so looking forward to more of it this season.

SADIST. Special Advisor to the Director in Science and Technology is Jemma’s new title, and it’s no wonder Fitz (and probably the scientists working under her) wanted to shorten it to an acronym. That is quite a mouthful. Given the way Jemma pushes herself into her work and is laying down the law, I also expect it’s not a term of endearment from the other scientists.

Marvel/ABC

Elena is back! Okay, so we couldn’t have Joey back, but at least we got Elena. Natalia Cordova-Buckley was a great addition last year, and I love her character. Seeing that she’s decided to allow herself to be monitored and signed the Accords only makes me think she’ll be breaking the rules much sooner rather than later. After all, she saw her gift of speed as a blessing and a way to help people. There’s no way she’s going to stop just because a government told her to. That didn’t stop her in Colombia. And we see she’s passing along information to Daisy, so she’s not content to play by all of the rules.

Mallory Jansen as AIDA. In the little bit of her we see in this episode (and no, I’m not talking about all that skin), it’s obvious she was perfectly cast in the role. Jansen’s ticks and twitches as AIDA glitches and Radcliffe has to shut her down are perfection. She’s unnaturally perfect as the robotic woman.

Ghost Rider gets a slow build. Even though nearly all of the promotional material for the last two months has centered on the comic book character, we don’t actually learn a ton of information about the character up front. The episode provides a slow tease to allow fans to parse together just how big of a threat he is and just what kind of damage he might be doing. We spend most of the episode not even seeing the extent of his abilities, making him all the more threatening.

Simmons has learned from the best. As May voices her discomfort with Simmons now outranking her as a result of the new director’s promotion, Simmons blows up at her. As it turns out, Jemma Simmons spent a lot of time learning from May’s tutelage over the last two seasons. Way back in season two, Simmons disliked May cozying up to new SHIELD and getting a seat at their “table,” but now, Simmons is doing the same thing. She might not trust the new director, but she knows that he’s split their team up for a reason, and that she’s in the perfect position to gain and keep his trust. She’s doing everything she can to keep the members of her former team out of trouble by placing herself in between them and the director. Simmons could very well be the kind of leader May is, just on the backend instead of in the field, and it was such a great scene to watch unfold, especially with May’s proud little smile as Simmons orders her to go after Mack and Coulson.

Quake and Ghost Rider throw down. I have to admit that Ghost Rider isn’t one of my favorite comic book characters (in any incarnation), and it was frustrating to see all of the promotion for the show center on his character during the hiatus, but I was definitely curious to see how the show would use him. Mark Kolpack and his visual effects team didn’t disappoint for the sequence where Daisy attempts to subdue him and the slow burning away of Robbie’s face to reveal Ghost Rider’s skull was so well done. Now the question is, when will Mack officially dub him Ghost Rider?

 

 

 

The Bad

The divide between Simmons and the team. While I love the way this eventually played out as Simmons sent May after Coulson and made her motives clear, this is one conflict that is going to make things very sticky very quickly, and repeatedly, until the new director comes around to the old team’s way of thinking, or in true SHIELD fashion, ends up dead. It’s strange that Simmons always seems to be on the outside looking in on the rest of the team. She’s the one who went undercover at Hydra, the one who first proposed “putting down” Inhumans when they didn’t really know what Raina was, the one who is constantly placed opposite most of the people she cares about. While as an audience we know it’s her choice this time, I wish the writers had done this with someone else, or found a different way to present it other than driving a wedge between her and everyone.

Fitz is too quick to agree to Radcliffe’s idea. I’m not surprised that he, ultimately, decides to work with Radcliffe on the abandoned SHIELD Life Model Decoy program. What I am surprised by is that it only takes one conversation for him to decide to do it, and to lie about it. We know that he’s aware of what he can and can’t tell Jemma now that they’re in a relationship and she has to take daily lie detector tests, but hasn’t he ever seen a science fiction movie? Doesn’t he know that any kind of robot or AI always goes bad in the end? I think he should have taken longer to weigh the pros and cons of the situation, maybe even agreed to help in a subsequent episode. Dealing with LMDs, Ghost Rider, SHIELD restructuring, and the fallout from the Sokovia Accords all at once, plus a possible Doctor Strange connection might be a bit much to do at the same time.

 

The Marvel-ous Links

We’re going to set aside the obvious of Ultron and the Sokovia Accords getting a mention. Those simply remind us that #ItsAllConnected in the MCU and that these characters experience the movies’ fallout even if they don’t get to be in them.

The rocket launcher to the Charger. When one of the bad guys launches a rocket at the Charger in the opening sequence and the car flips, surrounding itself in flames? That’s straight out of the comic books, where the show will be drawing a lot of visuals from this season. Even Ghost Rider’s look is the most comic book accurate the show has done.

The Watchdogs. You remember these guys, right? Coulson mentions that Daisy is stealing their money and trying to disable their infrastructure. Originally a group of Red Skull followers in the comics, the show co-opted them as an anti-Inhuman group last season led by former SHIELD Agent Blake.

The VR room. Early on in the episode, Fitz is showing Simmons new technology created with Radcliffe that provides a virtual simulation of the lab. Simmons mentions that May’s new strike team can use it to train. Does that remind anyone of X-Men’s Danger Room? That was, originally in the comics, and used in some form in all of the cartoons and movies, a place where the group trained to take on their adversaries in virtual environments.

Fitz’s beer. When Fitz goes to see Radcliffe to watch some football, he brings with him some packs of Bendeery Ale. This fictitious brand of beer has become the show’s go-to. They first started using it in season two when Nick Blood asked the props department if he could give a shout out to his friend Ben Deery whom he had written scripts with in the past.

Elena is headed to Miami. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of her buying tickets to Miami when Mack mentioned it initially, but it did make me wonder if she’s keeping in contact with Joey. Last we saw him on the show, he left the team because they hadn’t trusted him, but that last mission they picked him up for revealed he lived in Miami.

Jed Whedon. In the scene where Daisy and Elena meet up on a bus in Los Angeles, producer and writer Jed Whedon, who co-runs the show with his wife and writing partner Maurissa Tancharoen, is one of the passengers behind them. The duo also wrote the season premiere.

The Fast and Furious shoutout. When Daisy goes looking for Robbie’s car, she gets information from someone that includes a line about the Fast and Furious movies having all the rare cars these days. It just so happens that the people who provide the cars for that franchise also provided the Hell Charger.

Gabe and Canelo. The teenager that Robbie helps out of the car is his little brother Gabe. Confined to a wheelchair, his brother is his primary reason for exacting vengeance in the comics. Gabe mentions “doing the books” for someone named Canelo. In the comics, Canelo is actually Robbie’s boss. He owns an autobody shop where Robbie works, which is also where he gets his car from.

As a side note, Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog, both of whom have worked on numerous comic books for Marvel, were in attendance when the cast and producers of Agents of SHIELD screened the premiere episode in Los Angeles this week. While showrunner Jed Whedon addressed their presence in the room, he would only say that the audience would understand why later in the season. Conway, a writer, has worked on everything from Spider-Man to Captain America to the Sub-Mariner, and created the Punisher, but also wrote on the Johnny Blaze version of Ghost Rider. Ploog is an artist, who also worked on the Blaze version of Ghost Rider, but also on the Man-Thing, and Werewolf by Night, which he co-created with Conway. One of their collaborations is likely to show up at some point this season, so keep an eye out for that!

Marvel/ABC

 

The Questions

Who is the Director? We’ve asked this question before, and we’ve got some theories, but other than letting us know that this is one paranoid man who is doing everything he can to keep SHIELD above board, we didn’t get any hints at what comic book character the show is putting its twist on.

Where is HQ? May mentions that the Director will likely want to see Coulson at HQ, which means the Playground, where the team has been working for the last two years, is no longer the organization’s homebase, just this group’s.

Is a Jemma LMD on the way? When Fitz and Simmons were taking a look at the virtual room, Fitz was mapping Jemma’s brain activity as she explored the technology. After Radcliffe’s speech about the people they’ve lost, and knowing that Simmons is expected to pass daily lie detector tests for the director, could Fitz try to create an alternate version of her to protect her? If so, that clearly is going to go badly, but I would be all for Elizabeth Henstridge getting the chance to play evil.

Was that a Doctor Strange connection? I didn’t include this in the Marvel-ous links, because it might be a little early to say for sure, but not only did the effects of the ghost coming loose from the box look reminiscent of the Ancient One using her abilities in the trailer for Doctor Strange to demonstrate how new realities are opened, but Coulson’s blackening and sunken eyes that May hallucinates also might remind you of a character in the film. Then, there’s Cosmogenic. That’s the name of the company that Coulson and Mack set out to investigate, complete with an infinity symbol for their logo. Cosmogenesis, in addition to being the name of a death metal album, refers to the origin of the universe. Doctor Strange is set to explore the idea of multiple universes and the bending of reality, possibly opening up the MCU to the multiverse the way the comics are. Is this our first hint of that?

What effect will Lucy have on May? That ghostly figure that passes through May and makes all those other people go insane is the previously announced “ghostly” Lucy, played by Lilli Birdsell. Is she really a ghost? Will May slowly unravel? Is May perhaps seeing an alternate reality when she hallucinates? This is a thread that’s probably going to be slow to unravel.

 

Grading the episode: As I said, if the goal is to get new viewers, this is the kind of episode that will create buzz and draw people in. I worry about so many moving parts being introduced at once on a show like this, but at least all of the major players this season got some screen time and we can see where they all stand. B+