The Agents of SHIELD return for a fourth season. They lead off with a lot of changes, and a title that could work on several levels: “The Ghost.” To recap a few points: Lincoln’s dead, Daisy quit and is on some kind of crusade of her own, and sometime in the break, Coulson’s been demoted to agent again. There’s a new director, but whoever it is has made themselves remarkably unpopular with just about everyone.
The episode starts off with an interesting sequence: Daisy gears up to go hunting as some really questionable looking people with far too many weapons cruise the streets. The gunmen, whoever they are, are worried about a lot more than Daisy. A muscle car shows up, which the crew blasts with an RPG. It flips into the air, but comes down not only fine but with the telltales of the Ghost Rider’s bikes. Except that it’s a car. Which just doesn’t look right. Daisy doesn’t get a good look at whoever is attacking them, but it’s enough for the viewers to know it’s a new version of Ghost Rider. As the cops roll in, Daisy uses her powers to take off.
On the Zephyr, Coulson and Mac are playing backgammon. Apparently this happens a lot, and Coulson’s not that good at it. We don’t get a good handle on what they’ve been doing, but they’ve been really busy. There’s also a passing reference to the Sekovia Accords, which was the major bone of contention in Captain America: Civil War. They get recalled to their headquarters with no explanation, which is apparently par for the new course.
Back at the base, May is training new agents in hand to hand, her speciality. She’s just as ruthless as ever, which may explain why her sparring partner is wearing protective gear and she isn’t. When the Zephyr arrives, May hands the training over to Piper, apparently a trusted student. May is the one who called Mac and Coulson back, because she got a tip about Daisy being in LA. Daisy, in addition to her various other crimes, hasn’t signed the Accords, so she’s a SHIELD priority. Exactly when SHIELD became an official agency again, being dictated to by the government, I’m not entirely sure. Daisy is going by Quake these days (new season, new name again), and has been identified by witnesses as part of the chaos around the fight we saw in the opening. Apparently she’s taking out everything connected with the Watchdogs.
After a very strange encounter between Daisy and the gunman in the hospital, Simmons is testing some new toys in the SHIELD lab. It’s an early prototype of what could almost be the X-Men’s Danger Room. There are a lot of comments about Simmons’ new job and responsibilities, and yet more unfavorable comments about the new Director and his various systems and procedures. Fitz and Simmons give some new toys to Mac and Coulson. There is a very amusing moment of Coulson giving himself a high five with his new hand.
Back out in LA, Daisy is wrapping her arms in bandages. Apparently, her powers aren’t running smoothly for her. As she does that, the sole surviving gun thug is tied to a wall being interrogated. His questioner is flipping his keys around in his hand, a nervous habit that he really needs to get over. There’s apparently a strange conspiracy between the Aryan Brotherhood and the “Chinatown Crew,” which right there is unlikely. The man with the keys warns that if, “You don’t tell me, you’ll have to tell him.”
Coulson and Mac’s cover (from their own agency) for going to LA is to check on an “asset.” The asset in question is Yoyo, who apparently signed the Accords and now needs to check in like a prisoner on probation. Still think this was a good idea, Stark? There’s some very aggressive flirting on Yoyo’s part, and some hiding behind forms and questions on Mac’s, which seems really unlike him. Yoyo offers to help with whatever’s going on, but apparently she’s not allowed to do this either, thanks to the Accords. She tells Mac she’s going back to Miami, which makes me wonder why she’s in LA in the first place.
Fitz gets his own series of surprises when he goes over to Radcliff’s place to watch football. Radcliff, in violation of his pardon, has been working on his own experiment- a very realistic android who calls herself Ada. This would be a nice hint about Ada being a prototype LMD (Life Model Decoy)… if it wasn’t for the fact that Tony Stark made a joke about them back in the first Avengers movie, so apparently they’re already around. Fitz isn’t happy about this, but eventually agrees to keep it secret, even from Simmons, since she goes through some advanced lie detection process daily.
In LA, Yoyo takes the bus, which wouldn’t be that interesting, except that she’s meeting with Quake/Daisy/Skye (and I thought Hank Pym had a lot of code names). Yoyo slips Quake some high end SHIELD medication to help with her powers’ side effects. Yoyo offers to help Daisy, but she also turns Yoyo down. If I were Yoyo, I’d be getting a complex at this point. May gets some new gear from Simmons back at base, and we hear more about how unpopular the nameless new director is. May and Simmons have a discussion about the motivations of both the new director and Simmons herself.
Several investigations move along in the next few scenes. Daisy is trying to find the mysterious attacker, and gets a few leads. Coulson and Mac are back-trailing the thugs that got killed, and showing some of the features of Coulson’s new hand. The mysterious attacker, meanwhile, finishes with his prisoner. May and her new team get sent to deal with Coulson being where he shouldn’t be.
Even for this episode, weird things happen in LA. The Chinatown crew get their box, and make the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark finale error of opening it. Their faces don’t melt, but it’s certainly not good. As those ugly effects kick off, Mac and Coulson look on, confused, and debate calling backup after all. Daisy gets to the salvage yard she’s learned about, and meets up with Robbie, the mortal form of this version of Ghost Rider. Daisy and Robbie end up fighting each other, and Robbie makes a crowbar burst into flame, which is a rare trick for a Rider in human form. Eventually he shifts, beats Quake, and then just walks off. Maybe he decided she wasn’t deserving of vengeance.
May and her team show up at the warehouse where Mac and Coulson are, and show how impressive they are. May is a damn good teacher, but then, we knew that. The Chinatown crew get captured by SHIELD and are in the medbay on the Zephyr back to their headquarters. The episode ends with Daisy learning more about Robbie, and May showing some ill effects from being around the box, which raises a lot of questions for me.
What I liked: May is just hell on wheels, as she should be. It’s nice to see Simmons and Fitz are together still, although the Radclilff secret is sure to cause them problems. The nods to the Sekovia Accords were nice. And it’s nice to see everyone back in action. And, while Brett Dalton is a good actor, it’s nice to not see Grant Ward finally.
What I didn’t: I hope they’re not going to drag out the mystery of the new Director too long. The vague hints are irksome. I hate that the team is scattered. Coulson’s hand is getting to be almost as deus ex machina as the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. When did SHIELD go official again? And where’s Fury? His “death” story was blown in Age of Ultron.
Now, for the big thing of the episode… Ghost Rider. I have a lot of questions and doubts. Why are they showing him wearing Johnny Blaze’s very distinctive jacket but not using Blaze? Are they trying to nod to the original and please the fans, but distance themselves from the movies? And for God’s sake, a car? Ghost Rider’s big trademark, aside from the flaming skull, is the motorcycle. It’s like giving Thor an axe or a sword, or Iron Man a gun instead of his armor. I’m not sure mixing a flat out mystical character like Ghost Rider with the high-tech world of SHIELD is a good idea. There have been several versions of Ghost Rider in the comics. Did we need yet another one?
I’ll give this episode a solid 3 out of 5. I hope they improve as the season goes on.