[SPOILERS ahead for those not caught up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.]
As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to find ways to be the beating heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it also continues to push at its narrative boundaries by introducing new, seemingly-incongruous elements. Nothing exemplifies this better than this season’s introduction of Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna), a character who, in the comic-book source material, is decidedly supernatural in nature.
Many fans had originally assumed that the show’s explanation for the anti-hero would be the same one that it’s adopted for the characters of Quake and the Patriot – namely, that he’s an Inhuman. What’s been so intriguing about the first five episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 is how resolute Robbie Reyes has been in denying the involvement of any alien DNA – and instead swearing that his superpowers are the result of a pact he made with the Devil himself.
Now the actor behind Robbie Reyes is doubling down on that angle. Being interviewed by Entertainment Weekly regarding this week’s episode, “The Good Samaritan”, which is being hyped as an origin story for Ghost Rider, Gabriel Luna had this to say:
“I can definitely say that there’s some wonderful elements of [writer] Felipe Smith’s original origin story mixed in with this new angle that we’re approaching [it] from, but that new angle still draws from the source material. It still draws from this really, really great moment in the latter half of that first run of the All-New Ghost Rider that I won’t say too much about. The way that we fuse these two elements of the existing story together and to this moment, this origin story moment, is pretty phenomenal. We went all-out trying to do it justice in terms of the stunts, the effects, the CGI. Everything that was put into this episode is just phenomenal.”
That origin story developed by Felipe Smith just two years ago goes a little something like this: Robbie’s younger, wheelchair-bound brother, Gabe (played by Lorenzo James Henrie in the show), is beaten up by a local gang and has his wheelchair stolen. Seeing this as proof that it’s time for him and his bro to skip out of town, the 18-year-old Robbie steals a souped-up car in order to enter a local (and illegal) street race, claim its rather hefty cash prize, and use it to fund their second lease on life. The complication arises, however, that the ride belongs to a gangster who just so happens to work for none other than Dr. Calvin Zabo (better known as Mr. Hyde, and portrayed by Kyle MacLachlan), who has a new type of drug conveniently stowed in the trunk. Zabo has Robbie gunned down to retrieve the product, and the injustice of the entire incident attracts the Spirit of Vengeance, causing him to descend on Robbie and transform him into Ghost Rider.
While the connection back to Daisy Johnson/Quake (Chloe Bennet) would be a nifty bit of narrative footwork – something which S.H.I.E.L.D. is more than known for – our guess is that this is where the showrunners’ changes start to kick in. Given that the Watchdogs have played a major role thus far in the season, and given that the anti-Inhuman militia has found itself a mysterious new financial backer, it seems most likely that this new behind-the-scenes player is one-and-the-same as the owner of the stolen vehicle. Maybe the writers will even go so far as to insert dear ex-Agent Felix Blake (Titus Welliver) - the MCU character who suddenly re-entered the series as the Watchdogs’ leader last season - into the picture.
Of course, that still leaves the Darkhold and the “ghosts” that Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), Quake, and Ghost Rider have been hunting down, meaning that magic may still yet play a role – and a rather large one – in what remains of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4's first half. It would be fun if the show's take on the "Spirit of Vengeance" somehow tied into Daredevil’s supernaturally powered villains, The Hand, which possesses the ability to resurrect its ninja warriors from the dead... but we're not counting on that happening.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues this Tuesday with “The God Samaritan” at 10:00 pm on ABC.