Since its first season, the return of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been guaranteed. Thanks to some behind-the-scenes plot blockages and general misdirection in the marketing about how Avengers-centric the show would be, the series started off slow and failed to connect with its core audience, while heaps of negative press turned off new viewers. As those of us who have continued to watch the show know, that’s really a shame, because Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its cast and crew have all grown immensely since then. It’s a show that’s quietly turned into the best superhero TV has to offer this side of Netflix, as the stories, performances, and directing have all grown in exciting ways. No one exemplifies this metamorphosis more than actor Chloe Bennet, who’s nearly unrecognizable as a performer from her Season 1 counterpart, and her character , who literally went into a cocoon and transformed from snarky hacker Skye to Inhuman earth-shaker Daisy Johnson. Her change allowed the writers to create lots of fresh, new material that Bennet eagerly dug into, playing off of new characters Mack (Henry Simmons) and Calvin (Kyle MacLachlan), and going from the most hated character on the show for many, to the one many of us want to see called up to the ranks of the film heroes. Her increased prowess as an agent and Enhanced individual also tied right into the show’s constantly improving fight choreography, where her vibrational blasts were cleverly worked into her S.H.I.E.L.D. martial arts skills. Season 3 was a rollercoaster for her, as she became the leader of the Secret Warriors, deepened her relationship with Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), and became swayed by Hive (Brett Dalton), all before finally going through a heartbreaking detox and watching her tormentor and lover both perish. The tag for last season set up the new status quo for both the show and Daisy and gave us our first indication that she’s finally taken on her Quake alias from the comics as she struggles to come to grips with the change and trauma she’s been through over the past few years.
While the show doesn’t shy away from a few exposition dumps to bring us up to speed on what’s transpired since last season ended, it wisely doesn’t provide too much exposition on Daisy’s part. We really don’t know much more about what she’s doing than we did from the glimpse we got of her as an outlaw last spring. She’s gone full vigilante, she’s now known as Quake (at least to the public), and she’s believed to be behind a number of bank robberies and bridge collapses. Still, no explanation for those last two odd acts, but Coulson drops the idea that the Watchdogs are actually behind those stunts and are just making them seem as if they were caused by Quake. If that’s true, it’s an interesting path to take, as it makes the Watchdogs far more of a threat than they were last season and also complicates Daisy’s narrative. I’m glad the show isn’t afraid to delve into the darker repercussions of choosing a life of vigilantism, and though I eventually want Daisy to join back up with the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s a smart move to keep her on her own journey for now. That said, I do hope she teams up with Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) more, who seems dead set on flouting the Sokovia Accords.
Daisy and Yo-Yo aren’t the only ones isolated either, as it looks like separation is the rule of the road for the first chunk of this season. The team we know and love is scattered about, both departmentally and emotionally: May is heading up the strike team (and will be moving forward possessed by the ghost of running mascara), Simmons is somehow leading the science division while also being the mysterious new Director’s #2, Fitz and Radcliffe are off Weird Science LARPing, and Coulson and Mack are in the field (or rather, the sky) for weeks at a time. All of this makes for a lot of great drama and character interactions, though, so I’m onboard. Any good show can mix and match its characters and put them in different situations while still providing quality entertainment and tension, and Season 4 of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing just that. Mack and Coulson are as fun together as Daisy and Mack were last season, Yo-Yo and Daisy make a great team of outsider Inhumans who don’t really play by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s rules, Simmons gets the rare chance to have the authoritative high-ground with the usual infallible May, and Fitz and Radcliffe are always fun together (but can we cool it with the creepy “…perfect” lines while they wistfully gaze at the naked lady robot). Add in the new supernatural McGuffin and the general horror vibe that fits nicely with the new 10 pm time slot, and this slight reboot of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks to be the start of an amazing season. And I haven’t even mentioned Ghost Rider yet!
I was all ready to write a whole paragraph about how bad the design of the new Ghost Rider looked once the first image was revealed. Interestingly, it was all about “uncanny valley” and how, by deviating from the metallic luchador mask design of the comics and going with the classic look, the skull just looked too fake. I was actually dreading the moment when the camera did a dramatic pan and finally showed us Ghost Rider in all its glory, especially because the flamed-up Robbie was actually working pretty well. But I should have learned to trust Marvel. See, a lot of costumes look bad when you see promo shots. There’s something about the CGI that just can’t be captured in a still image but ends up looking great when combined with movement and shading and action. This has been the case for a number of movie costumes, but I didn’t think the same rule would apply to TV. After all, this is the show that in 2015 made one of the coolest looking characters in comics, Lash, look like he was designed by the same team that made the Lou Ferrigno Hulk in the 70s. The car, Robbie’s jacket, his flaming eyes (and sweet flaming pipe), all looked fantastic, and when the skull was finally revealed, burning its way out of Gabriel Luna‘s face, it looked every bit as cool as you’d want it to. Sure, it’s a TV budget, but they really made it work. I’m sure it’ll be used just as sparingly as the show continues, but seeing it in action made me really excited.
I’ve never been a huge Ghost Rider fan, as the macho biker persona of Johnny Blaze (and seriously, that name) never really clicked for me. I guess I knew too many people like that to think him very cool, and the general design seemed like something that was much more exhilarating in the 70s than the present. That’s why I was surprised by how much I loved the All-New Ghost Rider, aka Robbie Reyes. Aside from Tradd Moore‘s insane art which would have been enough to keep me reading, writer Felipe Smith made Reyes captivating by having him be a street-racing Mexican-American teen taking care of his handicapped younger brother while battling his inner demon, some East LA gangs, and Mr. Hyde. Go read it if you haven’t already, but know that the show is changing things a bit, so nothing major is likely to be spoiled. In the comics, Robbie was a lot more reluctant about exacting vengeance, and while that might prove to be the case in later episodes, he seemed pretty comfortable beating the hell out of Aryan thugs (to be fair, who wouldn’t be) and almost killing Daisy just cus she was snooping around. Giving us the cold (you know what I mean) version of the character before introducing his wheelchair-bound brother Gabe at the end was smart as well, because just when we think we understand Robbie, a new variable is introduced that makes us and Daisy question his M.O. All in all, Reyes is a great addition to this series and Luna does a lot with what little he’s given in this first episode. I look forward to getting to know him and Gabe more and, along with the ghost and horror elements present throughout, have S.H.I.E.L.D. explore the supernatural side of the Marvel Universe.
5 Daytime Graffiti Sessions out of 5. This was a fantastic premier, incorporating all the elements that make this show great, minus Huntingbird :(, while giving us a new status quo, new mysteries, a new tone, and an exciting new character. If everyone involved can keep this up, we’ll all be in for the best season yet.
Seriously, though, was that an official city mural, or was that guy just boldly bombing in broad daylight? And why was the Charger red? And is he honoring the victims with the crossbones or is it like when pilots and football players put little symbols on their helmets for kills/victories? So many questions!
I liked that the show took steps to establish that the episode’s title, “The Ghost,” could refer to either Robbie or Daisy, given her method of operating. I’m excited to see these two characters intersect some more.
One of my biggest little complaints about S.H.I.E.L.D. has been the fact that we never get to know any of the other agents in this massive spy organization. Even just seeing some familiar faces who have a line or two every once in awhile would help to make the base more of an actual place populated by more than just our core cast. That’s why I was glad to see one of the agents from the raid on Hivetown last season return. Her sudden spat of lines in that episode made her seem as if she’d be a redshirt, but she’s returned as May’s star pupil and even has a name. Hi, Agent Piper!
Making Coulson an agent again was a very smart move. It lets him shine the way he did in the early season and the movies without having the weight of the world on his shoulders.
I am, however, docking the show some points for opening the season with a completely unnecessary ass-shot of Bennet. Let’s hope the 10 pm time slot isn’t just an excuse for the writers and directors to objectify the female cast members, cus that plus the entire lecherous scene with AIDA was a bad look.
Hey all. I’m Matthew and I’m taking over the S.H.I.E.L.D. reviews for Doug who’s busy with the MCU Exchange Show. I handled the Breakdowns last year and also stepped in for a few reviews, including the finale. I’m excited to talk about the new version of the show with you all, so let me know what you thought about the return of the show, TV’s Ghost Rider, and any theories you have about the haunted box in the comments below!