[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
In many ways, the season 3 finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. set the stage for the opening episodes of season 4. Although the addition of Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider, was a surprise to fans during the hiatus, the continuing character arcs of Daisy Johnson, the appointment of a new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Dr. Holden Radcliffe's technological development of a Life Model Decoy were teased during the final sequences of season 3.
The season 4 premiere reintroduced many of these throughlines as 'The Ghost' marked the arrival of Ghost Rider and revisited Daisy on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D., while her former team members continued to acclimate to the organization under a new director and Dr. Radcliffe revealed his LMD to Fitz. However, one notable exclusion from the premiere was S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new director, whose name has yet to be officially revealed but was announced to be played by Jason O'Mara. Now in the second episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fourth season, viewers meet the new director and learn of an intriguing aspect to his character -- though not his full name.
'Meet the New Boss' -- written by Drew Z. Greenberg and directed by Vincent Misiano -- picks up where 'The Ghost' left off, with Coulson and May meeting with the director to discuss the mission in Los Angeles. As revealed in a preview clip, Coulson greets the new director calling him Jeff, though that's all viewers are given with regard to his name. Elsewhere, Fitz, Simmons, and Mack investigate the containment box brought back from L.A., while Daisy confronts Robbie about his powers, his mission, and how they relate to the case she's working. 'Meet the New Boss' offers some spectacular revelations, both in terms of character development and inching the story of season 4 forward.
Meet S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Inhuman Director
For all the teasing that 'The Ghost' did offer of O'Mara's S.H.I.E.L.D. director -- particularly his love of long titles that spell out words he may not have intended and regularly scheduled lie detector tests -- 'Meet the New Boss' introduces a character fans may not have been expecting. While the precautions put in place by Jeff may have pointed toward a character with all the overt paranoia of lifelong spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, O'Mara's director is more jovial bureaucrat whose biggest concern seems to be S.H.I.E.L.D.'s public relations -- though that's to be expected as the organization prepares to go public again for the first time since The Winter Soldier.
However, this isn't the end to Jeff's surprises; in a climactic moment of 'Meet the New Boss' in which May has been driven to madness by the being that had been trapped inside the box in 'The Ghost', it's revealed the new S.H.I.E.L.D. director is an Inhuman with what appears to be super strength. In the following conversation between Jeff and Coulson, viewers learn that Coulson stepped down and asked the U.S. government to appoint a director who is a powered person the public could trust -- and they came up with Jeff. The subtle conversation after the less-than-subtle showdown with May offer a dichotomous view of Jeff the sets up an intriguing arc for the character during season 4.
Still, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to have only peeled back one or two layers in the entire mystery of the new director, leaving plenty to be figured out in upcoming episodes, not the least of which being his full name and which character from the Marvel Comics mythos O'Mara is bringing to life. Although a new bureaucrat stepping into the S.H.I.E.L.D. fray is ground previously covered by the series (see Constance Zimmer's Rosalind Price in season 3), O'Mara's Jeff is arguably more layered since he isn't necessarily positioned as an antagonist to Coulson's team -- merely a bothersome figurehead.
But, as is hinted in 'Meet the New Boss' -- and as fans of Marvel/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely recognize without the hints -- very few characters are simply what they seem to be. Jeff has proven capable of recognizing Coulson's weakness, particularly when it comes to his former team members, as well as leading S.H.I.E.L.D. in a post-Hydra, post-Sokovia Accords world. But, with the new director holding his cards close to the vest, especially when it comes to Coulson and his team, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has excellently established a new mystery to unfold within the S.H.I.E.L.D. base in season 4.
Meanwhile in Ghost Rider's Neighborhood...
While Coulson is wrapped up with the new S.H.I.E.L.D. director for much of the episode, Daisy continues to investigate Ghost Rider by following the being's alter ego Robbie to the auto shop where he works. Although Daisy and Robbie's storyline largely takes the backseat this week, Chloe Bennet and Gabriel Luna continue to shine in their respective roles.
Daisy, for her part, demonstrates how far she has come as a spy, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and Inhuman in using everything at her disposal to manipulate Robbie and learn all that she can about his own powers -- even though the two may be unevenly matched. Robbie, then, continues to show more and more of his inner struggle, especially when it comes to the being that has possessed him. Certain lines of dialogue in their exchanges come off clunky and too on the nose -- particularly when Robbie says he sold his soul and Daisy asks, "To the devil?" But, Daisy's cheeky banter and Robbie's humorless austerity gives their scenes a fun dynamic that is played up fantastically by Bennet and Luna despite lackluster dialogue.
That said, their story arc in 'Meet the New Boss' largely revolves around Daisy investigating the box from the premiere episode as well as the rival gangs that have begun working together, and looking to Robbie for help. Although Robbie is predictably averse to the idea of working with anyone else -- and in fact tries to find a reason for Ghost Rider to kill Daisy so that the problem will go away -- he inevitably reveals he may be the reason behind the strange goings on in L.A.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz and Simmons discover the mysterious box is a container of some kind and Mack takes Fitz to Pasadena, California to investigate what appear to be ghosts. At the lab in Pasadena, a group of the ghost-like beings are planning their revenge on whoever turned them into incorporeal beings and trapped them in the boxes for years. This particular storyline comes to a head when Fitz and Mack are trapped with a particularly nasty ghost and are rescued when Ghost Rider, then Daisy, arrive. Ghost Rider has the ability to touch the ghost-like beings and defeats the one left in the lab, seemingly burning it up.
The reunion between Daisy, Mack, and Fitz is short-lived -- albeit emotional -- as Mack wraps up Daisy's injured arm and puts it together that the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent had been in contact with fellow Inhuman Yo-Yo. The scene beautifully showcases Daisy's need to push away those she loves most, even as Mack and Fitz are both betrayed and hurt by the distance. While the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team are spread out across the new organization, they're all still under one roof (metaphorically speaking), but Daisy has, as Fitz says, turned her back on her friends and substitute family. Although plenty of 'Meet the New Boss' has to do with propelling the story of the season forward, this particular scene between Daisy, Mack, and Fitz offers the emotional heart that has become the foundation of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Still, Daisy returns to L.A. at the end of the episode, leaving Mack and Fitz to fly back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base while she officially teams up with Ghost Rider. Presumably they'll be investigating the ghost-like beings and may come across a book the original ghost, Lucy, mentions in 'Meet the New Boss': the Darkhold -- which fans of Marvel Comics will recognize as a book containing knowledge of dark magic. With both Marvel TV and the larger cinematic universe exploring mysticism and magic this fall, the Darkhold may be one way in which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. mirrors Doctor Strange -- though in its own independent storyline.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘Uprising’ Tuesday, October 11 at 10pm on ABC.