[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Over the course of its first three seasons, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dealt with establishing the team that serves under the leadership of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the fallout from the revelation that Hydra had been infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. since its early days, as well as the discovery and impact of the Inhumans. However, the season 3 finale concluded by the team defeating the threat of the ancient Inhuman Hive (Brett Dalton) and the show setting up a season 4 that would move onto new focuses aside from the Inhumans.
The final sequence of the season 3 finale jumped ahead in time six months and found Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D., while Coulson and Mack (Henry Simmons) searched for her -- under the orders of the new director. Meanwhile, Dr. Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah) had created a new piece of technology, revealed to be a Life-Model Decoy. Plus, over the summer, Marvel and ABC confirmed a big new addition to the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Gabriel Luna as Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider.
In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 premiere, the series brings all these threads together in a fairly typical episode of the show -- which is to say, an exciting hour of television filled with Marvel Comics characters and human drama. In 'The Ghost' -- written by showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and directed by Billy Gierhart -- Daisy stumbles across Ghost Rider in the streets of Los Angeles, Coulson and Mack search for Daisy there but find something else instead, Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) goes up against Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) due to the latter's close working relationship with the new director, and Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) learns of Radcliffe's new invention.
Enter Ghost Rider
The season 4 premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. features the highly anticipated arrival of Ghost Rider and the show wastes no time in introducing Robbie Reyes' fiery alter ego; within the first few minutes of the episode, a truck carrying four members of the Aryan Brotherhood is attacked by Daisy -- but they're more concerned with Ghost Rider's black Dodge Charger. The action sequence isn't necessarily one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best, but it builds to the reveal of Ghost Rider's full fiery skull, heightening the anticipation to a near breaking point.
Although Ghost Rider's attack on the Brotherhood members isn't as violent as some fans may be hoping it would be, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. puts its new 10pm timeslot to good use through some key moments of blood splatter. With the added scene of Mack later reading the description of the attack -- including Ghost Rider pulling a man's spine out of... something -- the horror of Ghost Rider's actions are painted in broad enough strokes to be allowed on television while still driving the point home.
That said, while the opening sequence of 'The Ghost' focuses more on the effective execution of Ghost Rider's drawn out introduction, the full scope of his powers is better showcased during Robbie's showdown with Daisy later on in the episode. After Daisy gets her first look at Ghost Rider, she attempts to track him down by way of his car, and stumbles across the junkyard where Robbie keeps his Dodge Charger. However, Daisy recognizes Robbie as the fiery vigilante thanks to his habit of swinging his car keys in his hand -- which received a bit too much attention during his first appearance in order to spell out how Daisy recognizes him.
Still, the ensuing fight between Quake and Ghost Rider is the kind of superhero brawl fans have been hoping to see on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since it first spun off from the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and debuted on ABC. Not to mention, the transformation of Robbie into Ghost Rider is some of the best special effects showcased on the series as well. But, the scene also continues Daisy's storyline of grief from the end of season 3 as she pleas with Ghost Rider to kill her in a heartbreaking moment that's well acted by Bennet -- though Robbie walks away instead.
In addition to the Ghost Rider side of the character, 'The Ghost' also introduces viewers to Robbie, a vigilante who interrogates members of the Aryan Brotherhood kept prisoner in his garage, and a man who cares for his physically disabled younger brother Gabe (Lorenzo James Henrie). Daisy, who has been spending her months on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. acting as a vigilante herself, learns of Robbie's brother and says, "Everyone’s attached to something."
As viewers learned in the season 3 finale, Daisy cut off all her attachments after the death of Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), specifically since he sacrificed himself in order to kill Hive so that she wouldn't do the same. As arguably the main character of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daisy's storyline takes front and center in 'The Ghost', but it's seemingly setting up for one of the most classic superhero arcs that has been explored many times before: learning to accept help from friends and that attachments can make you stronger. Still, tying Daisy's arc to Ghost Rider's may add a much needed spin on this particular aspect of the series to differentiate from the archetypal superhero storyline.
New S.H.I.E.L.D. Order
As for the remaining members of Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team, he and Mack have been kept busy as field agents, returning to HQ in 'The Ghost' after six weeks in the air. Plus, May has been tasked with training a strike team of her own, while Fitz works on new gadgets in the lab and Simmons achieved a position close to the new director as the Special Advisor to the Director in Science and Technology (or SADIST as Fitz so charmingly points out). However, their separate duties have kept the team working independently for the most part, one indication of how much S.H.I.E.L.D. has changed since Coulson stepped down as director.
Additionally, the new director has introduced a Widespread Infiltration Monitoring Program (WIMP, proving the S.H.I.E.L.D. writers have kept the long running joke of creating intentional acronyms alive) in order to prevent another Hydra situation. The new director, whose name has not yet been revealed but will be played by Jason O'Mara, is described as paranoid, giving those in his inner circle regular lie detector tests. This paranoia has led to tension between Simmons and her former teammates, particularly May, and teases another inner struggle for S.H.I.E.L.D. in season 4.
However, this particular storyline takes a back seat to the larger, more fiery, arc of 'The Ghost', relegating the new director to a problem left for another day (next week, in fact). Instead, the episode simply checks in on the other main Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters, while setting up what's to come in typical premiere style. Though it doesn't necessarily weaken 'The Ghost' since a certain amount of exposition is expected in a premiere episode, we'll know more about the new director when he's officially introduced in episode 2, 'Meet the New Boss.'
The last aspect of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 introduced in 'The Ghost' is Dr. Radcliffe's new technology, the Life-Model Decoy named Aida (Mallory Jansen). The scene in which Radcliffe introduces Fitz to Aida is rife with references to the larger MCU, especially Tony Stark's creation Ultron from Avengers: Age of Ultron -- which led to the Sokovia Accords of Captain America: Civil War. Still, aside from a brief explanation of what Aida is meant to be and a short plea for Fitz to not tell S.H.I.E.L.D., Radcliffe's new tech is another aspect of season 4 largely left for a later episode.
Between Ghost Rider, a new S.H.I.E.L.D. director, and Radcliffe's Life-Model Decoy, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have plenty to deal with in season 4. What are you excited to see in the coming season? Did you enjoy Ghost Rider's introduction in 'The Ghost'? Sound off in the comments!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘Meet the New Boss’ Tuesday, September 27 at 10pm on ABC.