[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
The first few episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 have been spent laying the groundwork for Coulson's team to explore a new mystical aspect introduced to the series in the season premiere. With Robbie Reyes aka Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna) officially a part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, Daisy back aboard the Zephyr One with her former teammates, and the team attempting to track down The Darkhold, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. if fully embroiled in the realm of mysticism and magic -- albeit with the show's signature grounded scientific bent.
That said, an overarching theme of the series has been the effects of the Sokovia Accords that were introduced during Captain America: Civil War earlier this year. The Accords directly affect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has been dealing with an Inhuman population since season 2, and that conflict has grown increasingly public with the rise of the anti-Inhuman group, the Watchdogs, as well as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s recent return as an officially acknowledged organization.
In this week's episode, 'Lockup' -- written by Nora and Lilla Zuckerman and directed by Kate Woods -- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. balances these two narrative arcs. While S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Jeffrey Mace (Jason O'Mara) enlists Simmons' help when debating a politician on TV concerning the "Inhuman War on Humans," Coulson leads his team on a mission into the high-security prison where Eli Morrow (Jose Zuniga) is being held. When the ghostly being Lucy (Lilli Birdsell) additionally arrives at the prison, Coulson uses everything he's got -- including the newest addition, Ghost Rider.
The main narrative arc of 'Lockup' -- as its title references -- is Coulson's mission to break Eli Morrow out of prison so the former Momentum employee can better help the team locate The Darkhold. Their plan is simple at first: They use their S.H.I.E.L.D. credentials to secure a transfer for Morrow from the prison into their custody. But, when Lucy also shows up at the prison with the same goal of getting Morrow's help, Coulson and his team must change the plan -- calling in reinforcements in the form of Daisy and Ghost Rider.
The mission is typical of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, for the most part, follows a fairly predictable arc. With Coulson and May -- the original team on the mission -- trapped by guards gone mad courtesy of Lucy, Mack splits the remaining agents up into two teams: Mack and Ghost Rider going after Morrow, while Daisy leads two other agents to rescue Coulson and May. However, considering both Robbie and Daisy have trouble working with others, their selfishness (as viewers likely suspect) gets in the way of the mission.
In the case of Daisy, this includes her literally pushing Coulson and May away in an effort to save them, leaving her to fight a room full of escaped Watchdogs on her own -- which necessitates Coulson and May coming to the rescue anyway. The arc is a physical representation of Daisy's emotional state since the beginning of season 4 and illustrates how dangerous her grieving method can be for both herself and her team.
As for Ghost Rider, he leaves Morrow unattended, choosing to seek vengeance on a member of the Fifth Street Locos gang -- the same gang that executed a drive by on Robbie and Gabe, leaving the brothers to die in a car fire, that resulted in Gabe's paralysis. The story offers insight into Robbie's past and draws heavy inspiration from the comics, setting the stage for an even deeper dive in Ghost Rider's origins in the coming weeks. Still, with Morrow on his own in a prison full of rioting inmates (and a ghost on the loose looking for him), he predictably is taken hostage by Lucy and she forces him to read The Darkhold for her.
An Inhuman, A Patriot
Meanwhile back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Simmons prepares to take her polygraph test, with a number of secrets that she needs to keep from the director thanks to her teammates. However, in the middle of the polygraph, Director Mace shows up -- in a bit of a misdirection for both Simmons and the viewers -- to request her help for an on camera debate with Senator Nadeer (Parminder Nagra) about Inhuman versus human rights. During Mace's introduction, some of his heroic acts are mentioned -- and he's even referred to as a patriot, a cool reference to the Marvel comics.
The debate goes well enough until Senator Nadeer questions Director Mace about his knowledge of the goings on at the prison where Coulson and his team are leading a mission. Additionally, the debate prompts Mace to reveal to the world that he is an Inhuman. Still, the most interesting aspect of this storyline comes at the end of the episode, when Mace and Nadeer meet secretly -- she has footage of Coulson working with both Quake (a wanted fugitive) and Ghost Rider (a killer that doesn't appear to be Inhuman). Backed into a corner, Mace is forced to play ball with Nadeer, who happens to be a member of the Humans First movement.
With S.H.I.E.L.D. resurfacing as a sanctioned U.S. government agency, Mace's public reveal of his identity as an Inhuman, and Daisy learning that the Watchdogs recruit members in prison, 'Lockup' further sets up an incredibly public showdown between the Watchdogs and S.H.I.E.L.D. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has entered new territory as the show explores the Ghost Rider mythos, the series still hasn't strayed too far away from what has been its central focus for a number of seasons.
Plus, with Simmons confronting Mace about his micro expressions indicating one of his heroic acts isn't one of his own, 'Lockup' begins to scratch the surface of a compelling Inhuman character that has so far mainly shown a superficial facade. Certainly, as Coulson goes farther and farther out of the realm of what's acceptable in Director Mace's S.H.I.E.L.D., it's likely we'll learn more about the Inhuman.
Moving Pieces Into Place
For the most part, 'Lockup' is a divergence from the main plot of season 4, taking what may have been an action sequence in another episode and stretching it to the full 40 mintues, while The Darkhold is mainly put on hold. Of course, 'Lockup' isn't lacking in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s requisite action since it features Daisy going head to head with a room full of Watchdogs without the aid of her powers and Ghost Rider again wielding a fiery chain.
Still, with Lucy now in possession of The Darkhold and holding Morrow captive for his help with the mystical book, 'Lockup' seems to mainly be moving the pieces into place, laying the groundwork for what's to come in subsequent episodes, like Ghost Rider's origin story, how Lucy plans to use The Darkhold, and even what will become of Coulson's team when this mission is inevitably completed. That said, although it may not be the strongest episode of the season, 'Lockup' still has all the fun action beats, charming humor, and compelling emotional narrative fans expect from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘The Good Samaritan’ Tuesday, November 1 at 10pm on ABC.