My DVR programming guide described this weeks’ episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ as the “shocking origin story” of Ghost Rider. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be so shocking about it when the character already told us most of it in dialogue earlier, and the rest was easy enough to fill in the blanks on your own.
Episode ‘The Good Samaritan’ opens “Back in the Day” (actually how it’s described) at Momentum Labs. Lucy and the other scientists (before they became ghosts) are very excited about a “Quantum Power Cell” device that can create matter out of basically nothing. Their first test causes a small explosion, but fortunately no one seems to be hurt. At the end, the machine outputs a chunk of carbon that didn’t exist before. Robbie’s uncle Eli is very concerned about how quickly Lucy and Joseph have pushed through these tests, especially when he learns that the supposed science behind it comes from a mysterious book he knows nothing about. They tell him not to worry about it and won’t let him see the book.
In the present day, Daisy brings Robbie’s younger brother Gabe on board Zephyr One because they’re concerned about his safety. A confused Gabe assumes that this means his brother is a secret agent, which would explain why he often comes home bloody. He says this is, “Super dope!” (Do kids really still say “dope” anymore?) Daisy immediately plays along to protect Robbie’s secret.
Director Mace sends Jemma on what he calls a Top Secret assignment he can’t tell her anything about. She even has to wear a hood when she goes. This leaves Fitz nervous for most of the episode when he can’t get in touch with her.
Mace then takes a quinjet and boards Zephyr One unannounced. He’s upset at Coulson for harboring two fugitives and demands that they be turned over to his custody. Coulson denies that they’re on the plane – which is technically true because he had Daisy, Robbie and Gabe shuffled into a containment pod that’s lowered underneath the plane. Mace insists that his team search the plane. Coulson tells him it’s a wild goose chase. Mace then shows him the video footage of Robbie murdering the prison gangbanger, which Coulson was unaware happened.
In the pod, Gabe questions why they need to hide. Daisy tries to BS a story about how she’s the one really in trouble, but Robbie comes clean to his brother and admits that he’s the Ghost Rider vigilante. He then launches into the story of how that happened.
Flashback: In happier times, Robbie steals his uncle’s hotrod to go street racing. Gabe catches him and insists on tagging along. He thinks his bro’s just the coolest. On the way to the race, they stop at a red light. A van pulls in front of them, its back doors open, and the gangbangers inside toss Molotov cocktails at the car. (We can infer that they were actually targeting Eli.) Robbie speeds away, but the van and another fast car chase after him. The second car pulls alongside Robbie’s and a guy with a machine guns shoots at them. Robbie is hit. He crashes and flips the car. Gabe winds up paralyzed from the waist down. Robbie gets tossed through the windshield and lands some distance away.
Gabe knows all this, of course. He was there! However, his memory of what happened next is that a Good Samaritan on a motorcycle pulled him from the car and checked on Robbie, then rode away. Robbie tells him that he actually died in the crash, and that the Good Samaritan was the Devil, who brought him back to life by infecting him with a demon filled with an unquenchable thirst for vengeance. That totally sucks, and Gabe is a little upset to learn that his brother is a murderer.
Director Mace isn’t quite the dope that Coulson assumed. He recognizes that the containment pod is missing from the cargo hold and has it brought back up, finding Robbie, Daisy and Gabe inside. He orders the plane to be turned around. Robbie is furious and demands to know what they’re going to do about his uncle Eli, who was kidnapped by Lucy. Mace isn’t concerned about that. An enraged Robbie flames out and repeatedly smashes at the door to the pod. Fitz assures Mace that the pod is designed to hold just about anything, but Robbie nonetheless punches his way out. He and Mace (who’s a very tough Inhuman) fight. Robbie can only be calmed down when his brother begs him to stop.
Coulson eventually convinces Mace that Lucy and the ghosts pose an eminent threat to public safety, and that Robbie is the only chance S.H.I.E.L.D. has of stopping them. Mace relents and agrees to continue the original mission. As if to justify two seasons of the disappointing ‘Agent Carter’ spinoff show, Fitz finds ties between Momentum Labs and the old Isodyne Energy and Roxxon Oil companies. He determines that Lucy plans to continue her Quantum Power Cell experiment in a shuttered Roxxon power plant. Sadly, Daisy isn’t able to hack the plant, because it predates computer networking.
Flashback: Eli continues to insist that Lucy show him the ‘Darkhold’ book. When she tells him that it comes from God, he doesn’t believe her and says he wants to destroy it.
S.H.I.E.L.D. raids the Roxxon plant. Robbie faces off against Lucy. She passes through him, expecting to infect him with her madness. She’s shocked when it has no effect on him at all. Robbie flames out and destroys Lucy.
Fitz can’t shut down the plant. Coulson finds Eli in a room with the Quantum chamber and attempts to rescue him, but Eli locks himself in the chamber
Plot Twist Flashback! It turns out that Eli isn’t such a good guy after all. He never wanted to destroy the book. He wanted to use it to continue the experiment on his own. Eli got hold of the book and went mad with power. He used Lucy and other scientists as guinea pigs, locking them in the chamber and running tests on them, the result of which was to turn them all into ghosts. That’s why they were so pissed at him, not because he foiled their evil plans, but because he went evil too and betrayed them.
Back in the present day, Eli activates the chamber, which triggers a shockwave blast all through the plant. A moment later, he steps out of the chamber and demonstrates that he can create a piece of carbon in his hand out of nothing. He believes he’s a god now.
The plot twist with Eli is moderately clever, but not really all that shocking. We hardly know Eli very well to be surprised that he’s evil. I’m sure Robbie will feel conflicted about this for a while, but then eventually help defeat his uncle and ride off into the sunset to have his own adventures (and possible Netflix series??) without S.H.I.E.L.D. breathing down his neck.
The rest of this episode feels like a lot of wheel-spinning to justify that one revelation. I suppose the series needed to show us the Ghost Rider origin story in order to placate fans, but there’s nothing at all even remotely unique or unexpected about how it plays out. Honestly, I could have done without it.