AGENTS of S.H.I.E.L.D. [Season 4, Episode 1]: The Ghost.
Gear up, all you Marvel fanboys and fangirls, because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back… with a vengeance!
Returning to network airwaves at a later time spot, AoS blazes a new trail for the show, putting a new spin on the tone and marks the return of a hot property for the MCU.
After all the summer hype and countless press tours, not to mention the perfect timing of the legal rights reverting back, the Spirit of Vengeance returns to Marvel and wastes no time establishing a presence. Rather than draw out the suspense of a reveal, AoS puts the Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider directly in the driver’s seat. To establish how this was done and why this will be effective, let’s do a quick recap of the current situation: After Lincoln Campbell (Luke Mitchell) sacrificed himself to rid the world of the Inhuman threat Hive (Brett Dalton), Daisy Johnson aka Quake (Chloe Bennett) went rogue in a solo attempt to right the wrongs she was directly associated with. The Sokovia Accords have been ratified, which registers enhanced individuals with the governments of the world as well as legitimizes S.H.I.E.L.D. once more — which means goodbye Director Coulson, hello Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).
To the world at large, Phil must be remembered as the Loki-kabob he once was. So, like his hero Captain America, Agent Coulson returns to the shadows, partnered this time with Mac (Henry Simmons). Meanwhile, Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) predictably becomes leader of a new strike force while Fitz (Ian De Caestecker) heads up his own department of super-techy mega geniuses. The fly in the ol’ Vaseline here is one Gemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), who has become the new girl Friday to the mysterious new Director. Side note: the cliffhanger pseudo set-up for his future reveal caught me off-guard as I was expecting that treatment to be given to Ghost Rider, but I digress… Coming next episode, the Director will be played by Jason O’Mara, who has been the voice of Batman in several of the animated features; but for the point of the story, it seems his connection with Dr. Simmons has done more to drive a wedge between the team than the actual division of labor. And that’s where we stand at the beginning. Now, for the fun stuff.
Ghost Rider’s addition to the MCU is huge. This has been a property that fans desperately wanted in the hands of Marvel and Disney, though the Disney element could be tricky. Though now that the show airs at 10PM, there is a little more freedom with the content they are able to feature. Case in point, there were more than a few mentions of people having their spines ripped out and one crime scene looked uncannily like an episode of Dexter–a big step up for a show on ABC. On the character itself, Gabriel Luna portrays the Robbie Reyes incarnation, which gives the show an incredible amount of wiggle room with what they can do, given the constraints of being broadcast. Reyes is not as well known as Johnny Blaze or even Danny Ketch, who I think could potentially appear in one of the Netflix series. And unlike both Blaze and Ketch, who made deals with Devil, the Rider is not the same “curse” to Reyes. He believes it a “blessing” to make a difference in his community, albeit a muderously violent one.
From an acting stand point, that presents a tremendous arc, which the writers will fully indulge, I’m sure. Luna is a good actor, though in this premiere, he didn’t have too much to sink his teeth into. It was more of a one-shot establishment of powers and abilities, with hints of motive that will be drawn out as the character and story develop together. Now, your humble Reverend is of the option that a skull on fire is incredibly difficult to make look anywhere close to realistic and should thusly be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, the effects team did a fantastic job. The practical effects igniting the Dodge Charger mirror the CGI effects on the skull with a consistency similar to a feature-length blockbuster. Admittedly it can appear cartoony at times; though the attention to referencing the source material is so precise, it can easily be overlooked. When the transformation takes place, the lines in the skull and the spot on costuming make GR look like he was pulled straight from the page.
Now, on another technical note, the fact that Reyes is from East Los Angeles influenced the decision to use this version. It makes it far more feasible and much cheaper to shoot the show, which films in Los Angeles, leaving more room in the budget for special effects.
QUAKE & THE INHUMANS
This is the first time in the series that Daisy’s comic book alias is mentioned and it’s about freakin’ time! Taking on this new persona while returning to her old tricks, we meet “Skye” again in the middle of tracking down the Watchdogs, an extremist group hunting Inhuman targets. She has gone back underground and has used her cyber abilities in conjunction with her superpowers to uncover something far greater than she expected. Obviously, the meat is there to expand the story further by making her a so-called rebel, but this has a larger impact on cementing AoS’s ties to the whole MCU. Her position affirms the stance taken by Cap at the end of Civil War and shows that the Sokovia Accords are having a direct impact on their lives. And now that it’s evident her powers are increasing–at a great physical toll–she becomes a high priority target to those she called “friend”.
On the flip side, Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) has signed the Accords and is actively helping Coulson and Mac track Daisy. The trickle-down effect of CW will probably be expressed through these characters more so than their human counter parts, though there is still a kinship as depicted by the scene on the bus. All of this culminates with a deal-gone-bad over a box with a shiny blue suitcase, arc of the covenant, Maltese Falcon-type of feel to it. And it does no disappoint. Pandora herself probably went through something similar, what with all the spirits and “Strange” orange energy pulsing out. Abracadabra, we now have magic! While the effects and extent of whatever came out of the box will be explored through out the course of the season, it undoubtedly preps the audience for Doctor Strange. This is only the first hint of the mystical world so not much is to be expected, yet the fact that it debuted in the first episode says something about the prolonged effect magic will have on the entire MCU. Nevertheless, science reigns supreme.
LMD / FINAL THOUGHTS
A staple of the comic for decades, as well as one of Nick Fury’s favorite toys, the Life Model Decoy become fully realized. The secret project of Dr. Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah), LMD Aida (Mallory Jansen) inadvertently presents herself/itself to Fitz, setting up their character arcs for the season. The introduction of this character (again, not sure if that’s the right word) does quite a lot for the show, as well as the fans. Because of each characters’ new position within the Agency, technology like this can be perceived incorrectly and create immense problems for all those involved. As such, Fitz and Radcliffe must tread lightly whilst perfecting this technology. As far as fan service, this presents a feasible opportunity for Nick Fury to return. After the events of Ultron, he has been off the grid again; though with an LMD or two, he could be back on the grid, many places in fact, all the while waging his “Secret Wars” from a hidden location. Furthermore, now that the technology has been established, the addition of an LMD to an MCU film could happen without having to waste screen time explain its backstory.
This premiere episode crammed so much stuff in to rough 42-minutes of show, but did so in an uncomplicated way. The writing and acting served quite well in expanding the universe while simultaneously creating individual conflict within each and every character. Agendas and motivations were clear, though the overall uncertainty was palpable, which in turn helped to shift the tone. AoS has added gravitas without giving in to the darkness, a trope that has become all too familiar in the superhero genre. The playful, lighthearted nature that has made Marvel Studios a success continues, whether in spite of or because of the grim nature of Ghost Rider. How it plays out over the course of the season remains to be seen, but so far, Robbie Reyes is riding hot.