Agents of SHIELD may have started out, across its first two seasons, as a small-but-consistent-and-substantial crossover with the movie side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the third season took a turn away from its big-screen brethren (most likely due to the shake-up in Marvel Studios management, which means that the divide between the television and film fronts has possibly become insurmountable), and it looks like year four will only continue that trend, with the introduction of Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna).
Just how the normally-supernatural anti-hero will be merged into the mostly grounded SHIELD has already become a huge subject of fan conversation, and, now, co-creators/co-showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have weighed in on the subject.
Chatting up CBR, Whedon first noted that the Thor series of films were the first to introduce “magical” beings into the MCU, doing so by using science in order to link them to the more grounded Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk:
"So [the films] started to open up into the world of the fantastic, and we will be doing that this year in terms of sort of trying to blend the two, and trying to see if there are things we don't understand, [and] why – and then, meanwhile, we're building things that we do understand, that maybe we start to lose our understanding of."
Tancharoen then noted that the series has featured a progressive roster of characters who are augmented by technology, starting with Mike Peterson (better known as Deathlok, and portrayed by J. August Richards), moving on to Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) himself, and ending with Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah), the scientist obsessed with body modifications and, eventually, the creation of the comics’ famed Life Model Decoys. The executive producer promises that Robbie Reyes, the unstoppable Ghost Rider, will be a natural extension of that.
It is certainly possible that Ghost Rider will be a Life Model Decoy, whether he starts out as one in the beginning of the season or he eventually becomes one at the end of his body-augmenting journey; given what such a huge teaser the human-like robots got at the end of the third-season finale, this would come as no surprise to viewers (and it would also substantially pay that thread off).
And even if Reyes doesn’t ultimately become an LMD, the more scientific explanation for the Spirit of Vengeance will nonetheless pay off the modification theme that has been slowly building over the course of the entire series (remember Agent John Garrett (Bill Paxton), the “Clairvoyant,” or Dr. Calvin Zabo (Kyle MacLachlan), the TV embodiment of the comics’ Mr. Hyde?). Just as the Inhumans have been systematically worked into the show’s entire backstory, having a somewhat-mechanical Robbie Reyes would do much to solidify this particular thematic motif.
But there’s one last possible way for the showrunners to debut and then incorporate Ghost Rider into its mythology. Hinting that “possessed people” will be introduced into the fourth season, it very likely could be yet another manifestation of the Inhumans popping up in the narrative, meaning that the new character would be the (almost-literal) bridge between the two dominant storylines. If the upcoming season does, indeed, prove to be the final one, as has been speculated by some corners of the press and fandom – 88 episodes is more than enough to make a nice buck off of second-run syndication sales – this could be the grand unifier, and a surefooted way to end the series.
Agents of SHIELD season 4 premieres September 20th, 2016 in its new timeslot, 10:00pm EST on ABC.