Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 4, Episode 1: “The Ghost” ***Spoilers*** follow.
There’s no way to sugar-coat the fact that this is a make-or-break season for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The show has always been a middle child of sorts: not as dynamic or in sync with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as its big brother blockbuster movies, and not as edgy and hip as its little sister series over on Netflix.
The move to a later time slot, the cancellation of Agent Carter, and ABC’s decision to pass on the spinoff Marvel’s Most Wanted sends a clear message that unless something changes, the network might be getting out of the superhero business.
The Season 4 premiere had a significant reboot feel to it. Months have passed since Daisy’s two loves blew up in low Earth orbit, and the whole world has changed.
After the events of Captain America: Civil War, the Sokovia Accords are very much alive and well, and SHIELD has a new government sanction and a new (yet to be seen) director. The team Coulson so carefully put together has been broken apart and seemingly allied against one another. At the center of it all (as usual) is Daisy, who is now doing her best 70s Incredible Hulk impersonation, only with more eye makeup and her bitchin’ van from Season 1.
This new character dynamic wrapped in the familiar worked well in the first episode back. After three years of team building, it’s good to see those bonds tested in this new world that the primary cast of characters find themselves in. A team working together but making it look like they aren’t working together generally makes for pretty good TV.
Then there’s the introduction of this guy:
Despite my protestations to the contrary earlier this summer, Ghost Rider has indeed landed on TV. It’s not the motorcycle-riding version from the movies that people are familiar with. Instead, it’s the Marvel Now! character Robbie Reyes, whose ride of choice is a souped-up Dodge Charger. This is a fitting choice, given S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s track record of diversity.
The introduction of Ghost Rider is also a fantastic launching pad for taking advantage of the later broadcast hour. It’s hard to put a PG spin on the Spirit of Vengeance and it looks like showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (who also penned this episode) are making the most of it. In the cold open alone, there was a butt shot, blood spatter, and an exploding car.
The show had been inching in that direction throughout the course of last season, but it’s safe to say we aren’t going see the “night-night” gun much anymore. It makes you wonder if the show’s creative team felt as frustrated by the earlier timeslot as some fans were. It’s definitely something to keep in mind as the season moves on.
Thankfully, the spirit of the show lives on. Now that he’s no longer Director Coulson having to make the big decisions, Clark Gregg gets to deliver way more one-liners, which is always a good thing. FitzSimmons are still adorable and YoYo delivered some of the most smoldering dialogue in the history of the series when she reunited with Mack.
This could have been a by-the-numbers setup episode that has been an at times unfortunate staple of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s run. It felt different this time around. The shakeup from the network has given the show a sense of narrative urgency it’s rarely had before. In the past, Ghost Rider would have been teased and hinted at for three or four episodes before the big reveal came. This time, there was flaming car and flaming skull in the first five minutes of the episode and a big battle with Daisy as part of the episode’s climax.
If the progress from the premiere holds, then this will be a show that has not just found its voice, but has also found the courage to blaze its own path and declare that it deserves to stand beside its sibling creations – not to be overshadowed by them.