[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
So far in season 4, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has weaved continuing storylines and threads from the season 3 finale in with new characters and a new status quo. Daisy Johnson turned her back from S.H.I.E.L.D. and her friends as part of her grieving process for Lincoln Campbell, using her Inhuman powers to fight against the Watchdogs (a group introduced in season 3 who are against the Inhumans). Through her vigilantism, she’s earned the public moniker of Quake and met Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider (guest star Gabriel Luna), teaming up with him at the end of the last episode, ‘Meet the New Boss’.
Meanwhile at S.H.I.E.L.D., since Phil Coulson stepped down as director, the U.S. government appointed someone new — Jeffrey Mace (guest star Jason O’Mara), an Inhuman. Director Mace has restructured S.H.I.E.L.D., spreading Coulson’s former team out across the organization and instating a number of clearance levels for which Coulson (and many of his team) don’t have access. As May was infected by a specter in the season 4 premiere and her condition worsened in episode 2, Coulson was kept in the dark. Now, in the third episode of season 4, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sees Coulson’s former team rush to put out figurative fires all across the United States.
In ‘Uprising’ — written by Craig Titley and directed by Magnus Martens — Coulson, Mack, and Fitz go to Miami, Florida when a group claiming to be Inhumans against the Inhuman Registration begins blacking out cities. They meet up with Yo-Yo (guest star Natalia Cordova-Buckley) in order to figure out the source of the blackouts and how to put a stop to the group behind them. Meanwhile, Simmons and Dr. Radcliffe (guest star John Hannah) attempt to work out what’s wrong with May and how to reverse it before it kills her; in L.A., Daisy meets Robbie’s younger brother Gabe (guest star Lorenzo James Henrie), who isn’t exactly what Daisy may have expected.
May Gets A Reboot
Picking up where the previous episode left off, May’s condition has worsened in ‘Uprising’ and based on the other cases S.H.I.E.L.D. has observed, she only has a limited time left before she dies. Simmons convinces Director Mace that the dire circumstances call for unusual methods, and he allows her to bring May to the home of Dr. Radcliffe — who had been working with his Life Model Decoy AIDA (guest star Mallory Jansen). Simmons and Radcliffe attempt to suss out what exactly is wrong with May as a result of her contact with the — for lack of a better term — ghost.
Eventually, they learn that the ghost’s presence impacted May’s brain to induce hallucinations that would eventually scare her to death. Left with few options, Simmons and Radcliffe decide to reboot May’s brain and hope that will clear out the effects of the ghost, but they need to kill May and bring her back to life in order to do so. Although Simmons reluctantly agrees to the plan, it goes well — that is, until Radcliffe’s house loses power as a result of the blackouts being spread across the country.
The moment feels predictable and unexpected at the same time, effectively utilizing dramatic irony to make a bad situation even worse. However, it’s also an emotional scene, as Simmons refuses to give up on May and starts giving her fellow agent CPR. Radcliffe, meanwhile, goes to AIDA and takes the LMD’s power core in order to restart the defibrillator and bring May back. Although the drama of the scene is lessened by the knowledge that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t kill off one of its main characters in such an inconsequential episode, the dynamic between Simmons and May in the past few episodes heightens the tension — and payoff — of the sequence.
A Rocky Partnership
At the end of ‘Meet the New Boss’, Robbie seemed ready to team up with Daisy so that they could figure out what was happening with the ghosts and how they were connected to him. However, ‘Uprising’ takes a detour from that storyline to throw another wrench in their partnership and explore more about Robbie’s history/family. While Daisy is trying to get information from Robbie — who, true to his character so far, is keeping things close to the vest — Los Angeles is hit with a blackout. Concerned for his brother, Robbie takes Daisy with him to pick up Gabe from a dangerous area of town. The pair take on a group of men looting the city, and Daisy is forced to use her powers in order to protect Gabe.
Although the three make it back to the Reyes’ home in tact, Daisy’s injury has worsened and she refuses to go to the hospital. Robbie leaves for the night to protect the garage where he works from looters, leaving Daisy and Gabe alone. Gabe — who doesn’t know about Robbie’s alter ego of Ghost Rider — is protective of his older brother and distrustful of Daisy; he has also figured out she’s the vigilante known as Quake. He gives Daisy an ultimatum: Either she leaves Robbie alone, or he tells the world where to find her.
This particular storyline in ‘Uprising’ doesn’t necessarily propel the plot of season 4 forward, but it does go a long way in establishing the relationship between Robbie and Gabe — which is an important throughline for this incarnation of Ghost Rider. The brothers are protective of one another, but keep secrets in order to ensure each other’s safety. In the case of Robbie, it’s his identity as Ghost Rider, and as for Gabe, it’s his role in pushing Daisy away. The relationship helps to ground the spirit of vengeance that is Ghost Rider in a the more realistic Robbie — a strength that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has perfected over the seasons.
Meet the New, Old S.H.I.E.L.D.
The majority of ‘Uprising’ is dedicated to one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s team-focused missions. However, with Coulson’s team fractured after the events of season 3, that leaves him with Mack and Fitz, heading into a blackout zone to find Yo-Yo and learn how to reverse the power outage. The dynamic between Coulson, Mack, and Fitz still carries the humor and spy-geared action of a typical S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, though the absence of the missing team members is felt as well. Coulson, for his part, is still chafing from being kept in the dark about May’s location and the new director’s orders going against Coulson’s instincts. But, ever the team player, Coulson goes on the mission as ordered.
While in the blackout zone of Miami, the team discovers groups of supposedly concerned citizens are going around hunting down Inhumans — and they have military-grade gear as well as a list of Inhumans from the official registry. Coulson and his agents learn that the groups, and those behind the blackouts, are with the Watchdogs, though the organization has grown to an international level and gained enough financial backing to afford the military gear. However, it’s revealed in a closing sequence that their newfound resources are the result of political ties to Senator Rota Nadeer (guest star Parminder Nagra).
This particular storyline provides much of the plot development and action of the episode; the fight scene in the hotel lobby when Coulson, Mack, and Fitz find Yo-Yo is especially fun and exciting. There’s also humor to be had, such as Coulson’s hand being affected by the EMP device causing the blackouts and him being stuck to the wheel of their SUV. Additionally, Mack continues to be the emotional core of the fractured S.H.I.E.L.D., confronting Yo-Yo about her contact with Daisy and the hurt/betrayal he still feels about his former partner abandoning the organization — and him.
Although the majority of ‘Uprising’ deals with curing May’s condition, diving deeper into Robbie’s relationship with his brother, and revisiting and expanding the threat of the Watchdogs, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. delivers an exciting entry in season 4. Now, with S.H.I.E.L.D. back in the public eye thanks to Director Jeffrey Mace unveiling the new-old organization, their confrontations with the Watchdogs are sure to escalate. Plus, S.H.I.E.L.D. will come face-to-face with Ghost Rider in next week’s episode — bringing the disparate threads of season 4 together.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire’ Tuesday, October 18 at 10pm on ABC.