[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
In continuing certain threads from season 3 and introducing new ones throughout the first handful of episodes of season 4, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has established a number of different narrative arcs that the Marvel series has been exploring since the premiere. The threat of the Watchdogs — a militant group with anti-Inhuman sentiments — still hangs over Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Daisy particularly fighting back against them. Additionally, the introduction of Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna), has brought a magical element to the series, while the Life Model Decoy Aida (Mallory Jansen) created by Dr. Radcliffe maintains a technological throughline.
While these separate threads have stayed largely disconnected in the first three episodes of season 4, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made it clear they would eventually tie together — as is usually the case with the Marvel series. Now, with the fourth episode of the season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins to bring certain arcs together as Phil Coulson confronts Robbie while Daisy seeks out Simmons’ help with both her injuries and her search for information about the Watchdogs.
In ‘Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire’ — written by Matt Owens and directed by Brad Turner — Coulson visits Eli Morrow (Jose Zuniga) on the hunt for information concerning the goings on of the Momentum energy facility and what happened to create the ghostly former employees. Plus, Daisy turns to Simmons for help tracking down the Watchdogs, while Radcliffe and Fitz put Aida through their own version of the Turing test: Agent May’s scrutiny.
Fight Fire With Fire
Although the S.H.I.E.L.D. team members are split up across their various missions, Coulson’s confrontation with Robbie is at the narrative forefront of the episode. The previous episode, ‘Uprising’, left Robbie on his own again after Daisy left when threatened by his younger brother Gabe. However, Robbie continued his own investigation of Momentum and runs into Coulson and Mack in the parking lot of the prison where Eli is serving time. The ensuing car chase brings back Coulson’s beloved car, Lola, as they pursue Robbie through the streets of L.A.
The chase concludes when Robbie collides with an invisible quinjet, but the scene gives fans a fun reminder of Lola as well as an appropriate meeting between Coulson and Ghost Rider’s wheels. As for Coulson’s first impression of the mechanic, he is characteristically skeptical of Robbie’s story that he made a deal with the devil; but, as Coulson points out, “Gods usually turn out to be aliens” — at least in the MCU. Certainly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has yet to fully dive into Ghost Rider’s origins, and with Eli Morrow being Robbie’s uncle rather than a dead serial killer as he is in the comics, it remains to be seen how exactly the Spirit of Vengeance came to be.
That said, Luna’s take on both Robbie and Ghost Rider is one of the highlights of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 — and perhaps the entire series. Robbie’s stoicism in the face of the show’s quippy, comic book nature provides for a fun balance, allowing the other characters to carry the comedic beats while Luna plays the straight man.
Additionally, ‘Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire’ takes Ghost Rider a step closer to the comic book iteration of the character as Robbie wields his signature flaming chain in perhaps one of the more exciting battles on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to date. The show made it clear in the season 4 premiere that they weren’t pulling punches on Ghost Rider’s flaming skull (within the realm of a realistic TV budget, anyway), but this week’s episode features the Spirit of Vengeance facing off with the Inhuman with fire-based powers, James (guest star Axle Whitehead).
Although it’s James who wields the chain first, Robbie takes it from him and the ensuing fiery fight showcases Ghost Rider’s potential within Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. perhaps even more so than his first fight with Daisy. Still, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be holding back when it comes to Ghost Rider, no doubt waiting to unleash the full extent of the character for a more climactic episode.
Eli Morrow & the Darkhold
While ‘Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire’ doesn’t necessarily reveal Ghost Rider’s back story, the episode does start paving the way for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to explore his supernatural origins. Specifically, the episode features the introduction of Eli Morrow, who happens to be Robbie’s engineer uncle and former employee of Momentum. Eli offers an explanation of what happened at the think tank, that the team was obsessed with the Darkhold and they worked to build a quantum particle generator in order to create matter out of nothing. However, when the experiment went south, Eli believed the majority of the team had died, and he exacted his revenge on the team leader, Joseph (guest star Kerr Smith).
Although Robbie explained some of his curse to Daisy in the previous episode, revealing he thought he needed to seek revenge for what happened to Gabe, then thinking he needed to atone for his uncle’s sins, the conversation with Eli offers the first real connection between Robbie’s uncle and his own deal with the devil. Certainly, all will be revealed on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the slow unraveling of the Ghost Rider mystery allows fans to better understand Robbie’s character, while also taking small steps into the realm of the supernatural.
Furthermore, though the Darkhold has yet to appear on screen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the book is established in ‘Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire’ as an important artifact — one that Coulson believes S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to get their hands on before anyone else. With Lucy (guest star Lilli Birdsell) and her fellow ghosts also searching for the book, however, it remains to be seen how exactly the Darkhold will impact the series — though it may offer some insight into Ghost Rider himself.
Daisy Returns to S.H.I.E.L.D.
As has been the case for much of season 4, Daisy’s grief over the events of season 3 and her subsequent departure from S.H.I.E.L.D. was again the emotional throughline of ‘Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire’. However, though Daisy came face to face with Fitz and Mack previously this season, this time around she re-teams with Simmons on her own mini-mission to figure out how the Watchdogs are stealing information about Inhumans from the S.H.I.E.L.D. database. Their mission brings them to James, who it turns out willingly made a deal with the Watchdogs to use his S.H.I.E.L.D. connection to help them get information in return for being the last Inhuman wiped out by the militant group.
The mission highlights Daisy’s reasons for leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. and pursuing her own agenda, seeking penance and redemption for her actions in season 3. But, as Simmons forces her way into helping Daisy track the Watchdogs and Coulson later manipulates the former agent into returning, there is evidently an emotional rift among the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents — one that it remains to be seen will ever be fully repaired. That said, as has been the case since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first premiered, the dynamic of Coulson’s team has been the core of the series and what holds their adventures together. Now, with Daisy working with S.H.I.E.L.D., along with a reluctant Robbie, the team will take on a new challenge and an altered dynamic.
Since Daisy and Robbie will be working with S.H.I.E.L.D. to uncover the Darkhold, their fight against the Watchdogs is put on hold momentarily. However, the throughline of the Darkhold — and how it ties to the mysterious ghost figures as well as Ghost Rider’s origins — brings a number of season 4 threads together. Still with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. diving deeper into the supernatural, it remains to be seen how Aida will factor into the ongoing storyline of the season.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘Lockup’ Tuesday, October 25 at 10pm on ABC.