[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
At any given point in a season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. typically has a number of balls in the air, balancing three or more ongoing storylines that may or may not connect -- though they will eventually. For the early part of season 4, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been establishing the character and mythology of Robbie Reyes aka Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna), developing the mystery of Momentum Alternative Energy, showcasing the tension between Phil Coulson's team and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new director, further exploring the topic of Inhuman/powered individuals' rights, and introducing Dr. Radcliffe's Life Model Decoy Aida.
Last week's episode, 'Lockup', began looping a number of these storylines together as Coulson's team staged a rescue of Robbie's uncle Eli Morrow (Jose Zuniga) from prison. However, due to the breakout, it was brought to Director Jeffrey Mace's (Jason O'Mara) attention that Coulson was working with Daisy, an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent/wanted vigilante, and Ghost Rider -- a known serial killer. Now, as Coulson races to thwart the ghostly Lucy (Lili Birdsell), who has The Darkhold and Eli, Director Mace arrives on the Zephyr 1.
In 'The Good Samaritan' -- written by Jeffrey Bell and directed by Billy Gierhart -- Coulson's team works to figure out where Lucy has taken Eli and what she plans to do with the help of The Darkhold. However, a wrench is thrown in the works when Director Mace boards the Zephyr 1 in search of Daisy and Robbie with the intention of arresting them for their crimes. Meanwhile, Robbie tells his brother Gabe (Lorenzo James Henrie) the full story of how he became Ghost Rider.
Ghost Rider’s Origins Explained - Sort Of
A great deal of 'The Good Samaritan' focuses on finally exploring how Robbie Reyes became the Ghost Rider, depicting the story from both his and Gabe's perspectives, then allowing Eli to fill in a few missing -- and key -- details. The story follows the basic outline of Robbie's comic book origins in that he was the victim of a shooting by local gang members; he was killed and brought back to life by a spirit of vengeance. However, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tweaks certain details in order for it to fit within the overarching narrative of season 4, and tie specifically -- albeit loosely -- into the Momentum storyline.
'The Good Samaritan' also dives deeper into the relationship between Gabe and Robbie as the elder Reyes brother admits his secrets. There's some fun to be had early in the episode when Gabe thinks Robbie's secret is that he's simply a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, with Daisy playing along to help Robbie out. But, when Director Mace boards the Zephyr and makes it clear he's looking for Robbie as well as Daisy, Gabe figures out there's more his brother isn't telling him.
As the story plays out first from Gabe's perspective -- him seeing a good samaritan helping the brothers after their car is flipped -- then Robbie explaining the samaritan was actually a Ghost Rider who passed the spirit of vengeance onto him, the episode weaves a complex dynamic between the Reyes brothers. It's clear that Gabe has tried to ease Robbie's guilt over his paralysis in the past, but the new revelation that Robbie has additionally shouldered a murderous spirit causes a crack in their relationship.
While Robbie is still devoted to his brother -- evidenced by the fact that Gabe was the only one capable of bringing him back from a Ghost Rider rage -- Gabe has rejected this side of his brother. The throughline of the Reyes brothers in 'The Good Samaritan' gives the episode an incredibly grounded emotional tension, while many of the characters are forced to come to terms with the impossibility of Ghost Rider. As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has showcased in the past, the series balances its more unbelievable/impossible aspects with humor and drama -- this time, with the drama from Gabe and Robbie's relationship.
However, certain parts of the Ghost Rider origin in 'The Good Samaritan' make little sense from a storytelling standpoint. The reason for the Fifth Street Locos' hit on Robbie and Gabe is explained quickly by Lucy that her husband Joe hired them to kill Eli -- the brothers were in his car after all -- because Eli was pushing to take The Darkhold away from Joe. The loose connection between storylines is believable enough, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. moves on before viewers can question how or why Joe made contact with a local gang and took out a hit on his coworker.
That said, the revelation of Eli as the true villain in the Momentum storyline is even less well explained. In 'The Good Samaritan', it's revealed by Lucy that Eli transformed his Momentum coworkers into ghosts and Eli himself tells Coulson he assaulted Joe in pursuit of The Darkhold. But, the revelation entirely rewrites all of Lucy and Eli's interactions during the present storyline, causing the final scenes of 'Lockup' -- in which Lucy took Eli hostage and forced him to read The Darkhold for her -- to not make sense.
The twist of Eli as the villain may be surprising, but it necessitates too many mental gymnastics to properly make sense based on what we've seen in the Momentum storyline. That said, with all the ghosts and Joe dead or gone, Eli has become the main villain of this particular arc -- which does set up some compelling emotional conflict for Robbie.
Ghost Rider vs Mace vs Coulson
Aside from Ghost Rider's origins and how they intertwine with Eli and The Darkhold, he also comes face to face with the new S.H.I.E.L.D. director -- wholly overpowering Director Mace. However, Mace's more formidable standoff of the episode is with Coulson, who went behind S.H.I.E.L.D.'s back in order to work with both Ghost Rider and Daisy. The passive-aggressive standoff is the culmination of all the tension built up by previous episodes, as Coulson makes quips about geese and General Ackbar and Mace hides his anger behind a veneer of politeness.
Certainly, the polite showdown between Coulson and Mace seems a long time coming -- even if the new director was only introduced a few episodes ago -- and delivers plenty of entertainment as the two men prove to be formidable frenemies. Still, their conflict resolves when it must (they're both company men of sorts) because a bigger threat is discovered in the form of Lucy, Eli, and The Darkhold. 'The Good Samaritan' finally sees Coulson and Mace make some kind of headway toward working together when they agree that they need Ghost Rider to help with the mission.
Still, it's additionally clear that Coulson and his former team members are far from believing Mace's slogan that "a team that trusts is a team that triumphs." Coulson orders May to hide The Darkhold from all the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents because she's the only one he trusts. Additionally, earlier in the episode, Simmons was shipped off with a black bag over her head on an undisclosed mission for the U.S. government -- and remains out of contact to the growing frustration of Fitz.
'The Good Samaritan' provides a Ghost Rider story that fans of the comics and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers will likely enjoy, offering entertainment and drama as well as a new twist on the comic book mythology. While certain aspects of the episodes storylines seem underdeveloped to provide a compelling twist and set up more familial drama, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to deliver a well-executed comic book-based series.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 returns Tuesday November 29 at 10pm on ABC.