From the coda at the end of last season’s finale, we already knew that some big changes were in store for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ this year. What I didn’t realize is that the new season would serve as an excuse to formally introduce Marvel’s Ghost Rider character into the MCU. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
This isn’t a one-shot cameo, either. The season is being marketed with the awkward title ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Ghost Rider’. He’s going to be a major focus.
Last season ended with an unexplained epilogue that jumped the narrative forward six months and revealed that Coulson was no longer Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that Daisy was a fugitive. How we got to this point is still not addressed, but I imagine the show will loop back around later to fill in the details.
For now, we start with an action scene. A bunch of heavily-armed Aryan rednecks in a pickup truck race through some absurdly empty L.A. streets at night, being chased by someone. This is cross-cut with really gratuitous shots of Daisy in lingerie slowly and sexily pulling on her tight leather outfit. Ummm, OK…
The truck’s tires blow and it skids to a halt. The frightened rednecks fire their guns blindly in every direction. Daisy flies down and uses her telekinetic powers to throw them around. She grabs one by the collar. He’s confused. They weren’t running from her. “He’ll kill us all,” the guy mutters. Suddenly, the sound of an engine revs in the distance and a muscle car speeds toward them. A redneck pulls out a rocket launcher and fires it directly into the car, which flips through the air engulfed in flames but lands completely unharmed and continues on. Yup, it’s Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance. He kills some of the rednecks, kidnaps one to torture later, and leaves Daisy alone.
Aboard Zephyr One, Coulson (now demoted back to Agent) and Mack are partners and buddies. Mack kind of hated Coulson when he was Director, but I guess he’s cool with him so long as he’s not calling the shots anymore. The two of them are recalled to HQ by May, who briefs them on the activity in Los Angeles and the sighting of Daisy. The new Director, whoever that may be, has expressly forbidden Coulson or any of his old team from chasing after Daisy, but May says she’ll give them a head start before she reports it.
S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters is buzzing with activity. The agency has been legitimized again under its new leadership. Many new recruits are being trained. The science and research department has a real budget to work with. Before Coulson leaves, Fitz gives him a new, more advanced robo-hand. “Yo-Yo” Elena flirts with Mack a bit.
Dr. Radcliffe has been pardoned and is officially working for S.H.I.E.L.D. now. He invites Fitz to his house and introduces him to Aida (Mallory Jansen from ‘Galavant’), a very convincingly human-looking android he’s built. Radcliffe’s plan is to build robots that can pass as human – not to be used as soldiers, but rather as shields or decoys (Life Model Decoys, you might say) to protect human agents. The problem is, ever since the Ultron incident, research on androids is sort of a no-go and he’ll be in hot water if anybody finds out. He wanted to show Aida to Fitz so that he could assist in perfecting her before Radcliffe discloses what he’s been doing. Fitz deliberates on this for a while and finally agrees to help.
Daisy, a.k.a. Skye, a.k.a. Tremors, a.k.a. Quake (how many names does this girl need?) is an outlaw, a bank robber, and has been officially classified as a terrorist. You know she’s a badass now because she wears a lot of dark eyeliner and a hoodie. Of course, she’s actually still a good person, just misunderstood. Working incognito, she’s been trying to track down a terror group called the Watchdogs (introduced last season), which is why she tussled with the Aryans. Yo-Yo secretly meets with her on a bus and tips her off that Coulson is looking for her.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Jemma confronts May about sending Coulson after Daisy against standing orders. Jemma is the new Director’s right-hand person, and May is pretty bitter about that. She considers Jemma a sell-out. Jemma orders May to take a strike team and stop Coulson from getting to Daisy, using force if necessary.
Coulson and Mack haven’t found Daisy yet, but they find a tractor trailer rig the Aryans she was chasing had stolen. Inside the trailer are the bodies of two Chinese gangsters who appear to have brutally killed each other.
Meanwhile, Daisy follows the trail of the flaming muscle car-driving vigilante to a junkyard, where she meets a guy named Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna). It doesn’t take her very long to figure out that he’s the mysterious Ghost Rider, and it doesn’t take him very long to figure out that she knows. They fight. She uses her telekinesis to throw him around, but he isn’t hurt at all. Robbie tells her that he only kills bad people. Daisy tells him that he’s not qualified to judge who’s good or bad. He says that he’s not the one who judges, then his head turns into a flaming skull and he walks away, letting her live.
Coulson and Mack track down and spy on more Chinese gangsters as they open a mysterious box stolen from the tractor trailer. A bright light and a fog come out of the box, and all the gangsters go crazy and start fighting with one another. Just as Coulson and Mack debate whether they should call for backup, May and her strike team arrive and clean up the scene. A ghostly figure appears to walk right behind May but she doesn’t notice.
Daisy finds Robbie again and spies on him from a distance after discovering that he has a disabled brother.
The Chinese gangsters (and their box) taken into custody, Coulson and May head back to HQ. As they’re talking, she sees a vision of his head turning into a zombie face (much as the gangsters saw in each other when they went crazy), but doesn’t say anything. Obviously, she must be infected or possessed by whatever was in the box.
Adding Ghost Rider to ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ now is a transparent attempt to rehabilitate the character following his less-than-stellar feature film career, much as the self-titled Netflix series has rehabilitated Daredevil. It also pushes forward Marvel’s agenda to add more elements of magic and the supernatural to the MCU (first started in ‘Age of Ultron’ and continuing this fall in ‘Doctor Strange’). The mix doesn’t feel right to me. For as many mutants and aliens and science experiments gone wrong as the show has dealt with before, a fully supernatural character like Ghost Rider seems really out of place here.
Beyond that, the premiere episode is slick and well-paced and has some better-than-average visual effects. It’s not a total flop, but the theme this year leaves me feeling uneasy.