Reviews TV

REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×01 “The Ghost”

Unsurprisingly, much of the Season 4 premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was focused on the show’s newest addition: Robbie Reyes.

Officially teased since San Diego Comic Con (and unofficially teased since a few days prior when fiery chains were spotted on certain tram cars) the appearance of Ghost Rider was just as impactful to Coulson and Co. as was promised. Considering the fact that the majority of the promotional photos and video teases that Marvel and aBC released leading up to the premiere were focused on the rider, it wasn’t all that shocking to see his storyline take focus in the premiere.

I have to admit that I didn’t love the Ghost Rider-heavy promotional campaign preceding this season’s premiere. While the announcement at Comic Con definitely piqued my interest, by the time we finally got to the premiere I found myself feeling a bit inundated with GHOST RIDER. By the fifth promotional image I was already kind of over it, far more interested in seeing anything about the characters that I already love, but having now watched 4×01 I get why the marketing team pushed Robbie so much.

The premiere, though serving as a pseudo catch-up for the other characters, was very much Ghost Rider’s episode.

“The Ghost,” picks up where last season left off: six months after the QuinJet debacle that rid the world of Hive and, unfortunately, Lincoln. Much has changed since that explosive mission, as is immediately confirmed when a fully rogue Daisy goes after some nameless baddies… only to see a man with a flaming skull take them out instead.

Yup, Ghost Rider makes his appearance two minutes in and wastes no time causing a helluva lot of destruction.

For a cold open… this one was pretty hot.

While one of the nameless men manages not to get his spine snapped on scene, when Daisy tries to pump him for information in the hospital, he vocalizes the classic saying, “They say that when the rider burns you, he burns your soul,” before dropping dead.

Yikes.

As helpful as that information was, it’s not just Daisy who’s on the hunt for this new player. After hearing about the gruesome deaths, Coulson and new partner Mack take their flying house to the location where flame-boy and Quake were reportedly spotted. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s leads take the new partners to a semi-truck that has two very dead individuals that resemble something more along the lines of a Jackson Pollock painting than human beings.

simmons

Elsewhere, despite Daisy’s heavy make-up, the biggest change seems to be with Simmons. As the right-hand to the new Director, Jemma now holds more power than any of her former teammates combined… and she has no qualms using it. Having figured out that May gave Mack and Coulson the intel about Daisy, despite orders not to from the Director, Simmons demands that a strike team stop the two men by almost any means necessary.

As in, force is okay but killing is not.

Unless you’re Daisy Johnson of course.

Because it seems that the new Director has no problem taking out the rogue Inhuman if she is even remotely responsible for the bodies that are beginning to pile up.

Luckily, this isn’t much of an issue this week because, as we and everyone else knows, Daisy is not the one to blame and, thanks to some pretty decent detective work, she finds the man who is. After making her way into a super creepy car graveyard, as one does, Daisy comes face to fiery-skull with the man she’s been tracking down: Robbie Reyes. There’s a brief scuffle, where each gets to show off their respective powers, that ultimately ends with Ghost Rider walking away and leaving Daisy unharmed.

Aaaannnd…. that’s pretty much it.

We were introduced to both Robbie and the Rider, shown the new S.H.I.E.L.D. that seems to be more classified than ever before, and now know for sure that Daisy is in the ends justify the means camp. What are a few bank robberies if done the modern day Robin Hood? We also got to see Fitz and Radcliffe spending their downtime watching football (real football, not American football) and, what was the other thing they were doing? Ahhh yes, making scarily realistic Life Model Decoys.

Despite the fact that not a ton happened, post-premiere I’m actually feeling really excited about what’s in store for the remainder of the season. Last year’s finale felt very much like a close to the majority of the storylines and long-term (arguably played out) arcs that spanned the first three seasons *cough* Hydra. This opener felt like an extreme shift, dropping some of the necessary-to-Marvel-but-not-so-much-the-show plotlines while maintaining the best aspects of the series.

One episode in and it feels as though Season 4 will be some sort of amalgam of its predecessors, serving as a throwback to S1 while simultaneously providing an entirely fresh take on the show. We have Coulson back in the role of Agent (something I didn’t even realize I missed until seeing him gallivanting around with Mack and ignoring the new Director’s orders), May as the S.O. extraordinaire, Daisy living on her own and doing good through questionable means, and FitzSimmons joined at the hip and out-sciencing everyone in their vicinity.

On paper, it’s as though they’ve all slid back into their Season 1 roles, and yet, the changes that come with the Season 4 versions of these characters are so drastic that it almost feels as though, “The Ghost,” was really just a Pilot for an entirely new show.

s.h.i.e.l.d. 401-2

One of the major issues that has plagued S.H.I.E.L.D. since Ward was first revealed as Hydra has been finding an appropriate and interesting way of splitting storylines when all characters aren’t together in a central location. Taking a key player away from the core group often means a weird transition between stories (Ex. all of the Hydra Ward scenes from 3A) and S.H.I.E.L.D. has struggled with balancing various plotlines in the past… something that had me a bit worried coming into the premiere knowing that Daisy Johnson was no longer with the agency.

Thankfully, Daisy’s removal from the main ensemble has (thus far) been handled approximately 100X better than Ward’s. Where much of the late Grant’s presence post-Hydra reveal often felt like more of a reminder that he existed rather than any sort of meaningful addition to the overarching plot, Daisy’s departure has allowed for a far more cohesive fusion of storylines. This can likely be attributed to the fact that, at this point, Daisy really is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s main character. This show has served as her origin story, showcasing her transition from homeless hacker to veritable superhero, meaning that her separation from S.H.I.E.L.D. has made her solo storyline less of a distraction and more of fuel to the fires that Ghost Rider is setting left and right.

The success of the multiple storylines this episode can also be attributed to the now public nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. While the goodies and baddies have predominantly been working in the shadows in seasons’ past, this year everything is very much out in the open. Quake is in every other newspaper headline, Ghost Rider is getting vengeance in the least subtle way possible, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is flying the Zephyr 1 across the world in full view of the public.

Which is great.

Who would have guessed that taking the, “secret,” out of, “Secret Agents,” would make for such an awesome new vibe? All characters, whether classified as good, bad, or grey, are on each other’s respective radars, something that heightens the tension and doubles up on the excitement. The tone of the show has gotten a major overhaul thanks to this, leaning far more towards Vader’s side than Obi-Wan’s. Combining the very dark character of Ghost Rider with an Inhuman who’s bearing the weight of seemingly every bad thing that’s ever happened, and you get a show that is almost the antithesis to the happy-go-lucky series that premiered four years ago.

While I personally have enjoyed every season of S.H.I.E.L.D., I think that this tonal shift could really allow it to reach its full potential and break through the restraints placed on it by its former 8 and 9 o’clock timeslots.

The premiere had an added grittiness and excitement to it and it’s clear that the cast and crew are taking full advantage of the new opportunities and risks that are being presented.

Episode Grade: B-

Episode Highs:

  • Mark Kolpack and Co. are always on their A game but the effects used for Ghost Rider and Lucy reached a cinematic level this week.
  • Love that YoYo is completely pulling a fast one on S.H.I.E.L.D. by being in cahoots with Daisy and serving as her source of intel.

Episode Lows:

  • As is always the case with premieres, this one was more of a set-up episode than one in which stuff actually happened.
  • Introducing new characters means seeing less of the old ones that we already love. It almost always takes S.H.I.E.L.D. a few episodes before screentime is aptly balanced so… I’m looking forward to seeing more of the originals.

Additional Comments:

  • I love that Jemma’s new position as the Special Advisor to the Director in Science and Technology is an acronym for SADIST. I also love that an organization with one of the more ridiculous acronyms seems to be continuously trying to make new ones. #WIMP
  • Having mentioned the darkness of the show, it seems necessary to point out the fact that Daisy is kinda suicidal at the moment. She wants Ghost Rider to burn her, vocally confessing that she deserves it, which is a really sad thing to see. We got a taste of this when she begged for Hive to re-sway her but, this season will likely delve far deeper into Daisy’s mental state as well as the repercussions that come from the enormous amount of guilt she’s carrying on her shoulders

About the author

Silje Falck-Pedersen