‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: ‘The Ghost’ Rides High on Season 4’s Dark Energy
Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s Season 4 Premiere “The Ghost”:
Why, welcome back to fall TV, everyone! Year to year, I have to stop and take note of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. consistently sharpening its focus with some well-staged action, especially as Season 4 looks to chart some new territory. Ward’s survival no longer an arbitrary drag on the main story, and with the series precariously shifted to a later, “darker” timeslot, it’s clear “The Ghost” is attempting to propel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to a much more mature reinvention. The introduction of Gabriel Luna’s Ghost Rider is naturally the centerpiece of that effort, and given some exceptional set pieces to boot, but not much more than a conceptual hook just yet.
In any case, the “adult” differences feel pretty apparent off the bat, with lingering shots of Chloe Bennet suiting up in her new, eyeshadow-heavy “Quake” persona, intercut with more intimidating thugs fleeing for their lives from an unseen foe. There’s definitely a Daredevil-ing of the criminal element all around, with the noticeable addition of older actors and heavy machine guns (not to mention some just-offscreen fatalities to rival Kingpin’s car door), but it’s too early to tell how well the aesthetic works with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s more jovial tone.
Apart from keeping Daisy splintered from the team, “The Ghost” also gets in a good deal of legwork to set up S.H.I.E.L.D. itself’s new status quo; tacitly re-legitimized in the wake of Captain America: Civil War. S.H.I.E.L.D. writers have always been good at establishing character dynamics in a few short beats, and it’s interesting to observe how the addition of an as-yet-unseen Director brings most of the core team closer together, while operating in the shadows becomes more difficult. Having Simmons be in an alienating position of authority is also a refreshing change of pace tackled head-on, while still leaving unexplained changes like Coulson’s demotion for later.
Also surprising is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 would elect to feature a fully-formed Ghost Rider off the bat, rather than introduce Robbie Reyes and follow him through that transition. This early on, however, it feels as if S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t have the firmest handle on the character, either in terms of balancing the practical and CG elements* of his transformation, or a sense of who Reyes himself is in relation to his murderous alter-ego. The junkyard battle with Daisy was an understandable highlight, and I do like the moment of Daisy feeling as though she deserves to lose her life in battle, only for the Rider to silently disagree. Character beats like that are worth following on on either side; my loftiest hope being that it doesn’t pivot into another unnecessary romance for Daisy.
*I can understand the practical appeal of a character like Ghost Rider, who generally only needs CG from the neck up, and some flame effects around the car, but the finished product isn’t seamless just yet. It’s definitely a bit harder to take the character seriously in jeans and a T-shirt, when the comic counterpart has a much more complete full-body leather look, and a less skeletal headpiece.
Definitely straggling throughout the hour was the reintroduction of John Hannah’s Holden Radcliffe and his LMD precursor Aida, especially as Fitz was the only one to take an active involvement in the story. Thematically speaking, it’s really only of interest that Fitz balks at Radcliffe’s brazen experimentation, before deciding it’s worth perfecting the technology in secret, similar to how Simmons kept her own career motivations hidden from her friends for the greater good. Season 3 left us with a distinct impression that Life Model Decoys would form the central arc next year (mind you, this was before the announced timeslot move, and any indication of Ghost Rider), so I have to wonder how Season 4 plans to connect these otherwise disparate stories.
It’s a visibly-different S.H.I.E.L.D. on deck this year, and “The Ghost” had a bit too much to get through for any real impression of the longterm changes. I’m at least curious to see what’s up with the female apparition (and its madness-inducing spells) attaching itself to May, especially as it relates to the re-introduction of Ghost Rider and more supernatural mythology.
I’m nervous for Season 4 overall, especially if said reinvention doesn’t goose the ratings like Marvel and ABC hope, but “The Ghost” is reason enough for some casual optimism. And hey, if you’re going to Daredevil us, throw in some actual Daredevil!
AND ANOTHER THING …
- Granted, Season 2 did establish Daisy’s powers affecting her bones, the pill dependency is perhaps one too many cherries on the “We’re dark now!” sundae.
- What was the story with Simmons in virtual reality and May linking to her new team with goggles? Not sure I caught that.
- They are absolutely going to kill Yo-yo, aren’t they.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 will continue next Tuesday, September 27 with “Meet the New Boss,” airing at 10:00 P.M. on ABC.
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