For the past two seasons, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been dabbling in the world of the Inhumans, exploring the ways in which an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. responds to the sudden emergence of a population suddenly imbued with fantastic powers and abilities. The show even went so far as to acknowledge that two of its primary characters – Daisy (née Skye) and Lincoln – were among those transformed by the Terrigen Mists, becoming Quake and Sparkplug, respectively. The emergence of the Inhumans proved to be a boon for the series in seasons 2 and 3, granting audiences entrance into a corner of the Marvel Universe that has yet to be seen on the big screen (and won't be seen for the foreseeable future), but after the events of last season's finale, and what was teased in the epilogue, it may be time to put the Inhumans on the back burner for the time being as AoS gets ready to explore another facet of the MCU.
As it turns out, that facet will be Marvel's underexplored mystical side, as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. prepares to welcome the All-New Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, into the fold. Long before he was officially announced, there was speculation that the spirit of vengeance was coming to TV, when advertising ahead of SDCC 2016 jumped the gun by emblazoning public transportation with a flaming chain and the AoS logo. Then a casting call all but named Reyes directly, which led to some on-point speculation that the flaming skull of Ghost Rider and his muscle car would play a part in season 4.
All of this speculation was eventually confirmed with a big reveal during the Agents panel at Comic-Con. Afterward, the cast and producers of the series sat down to answer a few questions about the upcoming season, and to explore what kind of role Ghost Rider will play now that S.H.I.E.L.D. has a new director, Coulson is a mere agent again, and Daisy has gone rogue.
For Clark Gregg, the inclusion of Ghost Rider is a great way to expand the AoS storyline without having to tie directly into one of the plotlines of Marvel's big screen blockbusters. While Gregg is sure that Coulson will cross paths with his feature film friends at some point, he's more interested in seeing how doing a deep dive into the mystical realm of the MU will give Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. more breadth in its storytelling, as it jumps from the Inhumans to something as potentially dark as Ghost Rider.
"I think it's a really interesting idea of bringing Ghost Rider to our show. It's different that what we've done on our show. It's a little bit more in the mystical part of the Marvel Universe and personally as someone who is a fan of the Marvel World, [I'm] fascinated to see what version of Ghost Rider you get that makes sense in our world."
The potential of what the character will bring also seems to have intrigued Iain De Caestecker, who plays Fitz, as he notes that Ghost Rider is coming along right when the series makes a shift to the 10 P.M. time slot. That move may give the series a little more freedom in terms of certain tonal shifts that can add flavor to GR's presence on the show.
"I think it's really cool character to have in there as well; [he's] quite an iconic and familiar character from the books. We've moved to 10 P.M. time slot, so they have the capacity to be a bit darker with it, which gives it a bit more scope."
While it seems like darker storytelling and the arrival of Ghost Rider will go hand-in-hand that doesn't mean the series will lose sight of its core storytelling tenet. As far as executive producer Jeph Loeb is concerned, AoS has always been about family, and Reyes being driven by a need to care for his younger brother Gabe was an important part of why the series decided to go with the new iteration of the character over previous Ghost Riders Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch. Loeb also touched on the themes the upcoming season is looking to explore: the ideas of family, atonement, and vigilantism, and how they relate to characters like Daisy, who is still recovering from being under Hive's control and the fallout of her actions during that time.
"[Reyes] is a very commanding presence, and at the same time [he] very much lives in the world that we talked about. Family is very important to him… we're bringing this new character in who also comes from the world of the vigilante, and you can explore issues of vigilantism versus penance."
If you were thinking that Daisy's darker turn in the season 3 finale might indicate she'll have some interaction with the new spirit of vengeance, well, you can go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back. Chloe Bennet confirmed that while her character is going through a rough patch emotionally, she'll have a run-in with Reyes early on, and that contact may play into how she eventually finds her way back into the group.
"I feel like Daisy probably loves a good antihero. I think [Reyes is] probably more similar to her new version of herself than she would probably like. I can say that we do work with each other quite a bit in the first episode, so there's going to be some really interesting things -- but I'm really excited to see what Simmons' reaction [will be] to his burning skull.
"I know that it feels [like Daisy] running off and going rogue is kind of selfish, but I think in her mind it's the most selfless thing she could possibly do. I think the thing that will bring her together with the team is that she'll do whatever it takes to protect them. It's going to probably come to a head where she's like, 'Okay I have to be there because they'll be hurt or something's going to go wrong for them.' So everything she does is really to protect the team."
Bennet's latter statement about protecting the team leads to an inevitable question: What role will Ghost Rider play during the season? Given the character's ties to the more occult aspects of the Marvel U and that the spirit possessing Reyes (in the comics at least) is not the Spirit of Vengeance but actually the ghost of a serial killer, it stands to reason that the vigilante aspect of Ghost Rider may eventually give way to a serious mystical menace who is a threat to Daisy's former teammates. For that, though, fans will have to adopt a wait-and-see approach. But at least they won't have to wait long.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 premieres Tuesday, September 20 @10pm on ABC.