The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast and crew spent much of this past summer teasing that the show would embrace a darker and more adult tone than in seasons past, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series returned in a later time-slot on Tuesday nights for its fourth season. S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 was quick to make good on that promise too, with its premiere episode 'The Ghost': an episode that introduced the MCU's version of Robbie Reyes a.k.a. Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna) and wasted no time in establishing that this new Spirit of Vengeance would be shedding more than his fair share of blood, on his quest to punish the wicked.
Not all of the more adult elements of 'The Ghost' were gritty or violent in nature; some of them were more on the risqué side, be it played for intentional humor - see Fitz's (Ian De Caestecker) first encounter with an (undressed) Life-Model Decoy - or not-so-intentional humor (see Daisy [Chloe Bennet] dramatically pulling on her underwear as part of her 'Suiting Up' montage). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is similarly aiming to be both "grittier and sexier" this season, as a newly-released short promo for the season puts it.
The "grittier and sexier" quote, as you can see in the video above, actually comes from Entertainment Weekly and not Marvel/ABC, but it still appears to be a fitting description of what the TV show's fourth season is aiming for. This even came through in some of the one-on-one character interactions in 'The Ghost', including a moment in which Elena/“Yo-Yo” (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) not-so-subtly lets Mack (Henry Simmons) know that she wants to take their personal relationship to the next level.
All things considered though, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did wear "grittier and sexier" well during its season 4 premiere; allowing darker supernatural elements such as the Ghost Rider (among others) to be woven seamlessly into the larger narrative. It helps that season 4 picked up at a difficult time for the TV series' heroes, with Daisy now back on her own working as a vigilante (this time, one with super-powers) and the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. mainstays having been split up, on the orders of the newly-instated S.H.I.E.L.D. Director (Jason O'Mara) - a fellow who, by the sound of it, is not so much the caring father figure that Coulson was, back when he was Director.
Based on the Live+3 Ratings for 'The Ghost', those who watched the S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 premiere live approved of what they were shown too, and having been spreading the (good) word since then. Although it's unlikely S.H.I.E.L.D.'s overall ratings will increase that much this season, season 4's new tone should continue to appeal to those MCU fans who've been wanting to see the show explore more adult territory - somewhere between the PG-13 MCU films and the "extra gritty and sexy" MCU Netflix TV series like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, to be exact.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘Meet the New Boss’ Tuesday, September 27 at 10:00 pm on ABC.