The Hype Train, or in this case 1969 Dodge Charger, has finally left the station as Marvel’s Agents of Shield has officially debuted in its new 10pm/9pm Central time slot on Tuesdays. As we learned with the Season 3 finale, the Sokovia Accords have allowed SHIELD to resume somewhat normal operations, but the fallout from Season 3’s “Ascension” includes Daisy/Skye/Quake going rogue and dealing with the damage using her powers causes, Phil Coulson no longer in charge of SHIELD, and The Team being split up. Phil and Mack are agents-in-the-field, May is head of a rapid-response team (laugh if you get the joke, if not, read to the end for an explanation), Fitz is still doing lab work but is now buddies with Holden Radcliffe (AIDA’s creator), and Gemma Simmons is now the director’s right hand. Add in Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider, and what does that give you?
Unfortunately, not as much as I was hoping. Without getting too spoiler-ific, Daisy is working as a bit of a modern-day Robin Hood and runs across the Ghost Rider early on in the episode. Coulson and Mack are returning to base after six weeks abroad thanks to May, who divulges information that could lead to them finding Daisy, along with another new threat. The original team is also figuring out how to deal with Gemma’s new position, and whether she can still be trusted. Fitz discovers Radcliffe is working on AIDA without SHIELD authorization, and decides to help him but conceal that from Gemma. So the interpersonal dynamics among the characters are already dialed up to eleven before the first commercial break (well, not quite, but close).
Had they stuck with character development, this could have been a great episode. Unfortunately, we only have shallow and predictable bits of that scattered throughout the punching and shooting. Gemma and May have a confrontation about her slipping information to Coulson about Daisy (Coulson was ordered to stay out of that situation completely) which boiled down to Gemma justifying her position with the director as providing the core team someone trustworthy who can speak to him on their behalf. She then sends May’s team to back up Coulson and Mack just in the nick of time (yep, the Cavalry does it again) where they discover something weird. Daisy and Ghost Rider punch it out and get nowhere, but we do get a glimpse of Ghost Rider’s penchant for not killing those who don’t deserve it (make a note of this, it will definitely come up again at some point this season).
What I liked:
The FX they are using for Ghost Rider are outstanding for a TV production. The Rider and the car look excellent, and it’s hard to judge at the moment whether the Reyes Ghost Rider was a better choice than Johnny Blaze at this point, but it’s easy to give the benefit of the doubt at the moment. Daisy dealing with the physical and emotional damage she’s already suffered along with the additional damage to her body from using her power is another highlight, but could go downhill if she gets too bitter and mopey. Phil giving himself a high-five with the new prosthetic Fitz made was classic Coulson.
What I didn’t like:
The episode itself was incredibly shallow. It felt at times as if the writers were hitting the viewer over the head with a “LOOK!! SEE HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED NOW!” script that fell flat in too many places. The new “threat,” a ghost-like apparition that causes what are apparently terrifying hallucinations, has no background whatsoever and only sets up for a mysterious “what is going on” episode that we don’t really need. The Sokovia Accords are mentioned on two separate occasions, but it would have been nice if Coulson had at least alluded to Captain America’s current situation, given he’s such a huge fan of the guy. We really don’t need to have yet ANOTHER hidden secret that could tear Fitz and Simmons apart this soon, so Fitz’s partnership with Radcliffe is ill-timed and really unnecessary.
Overall, this felt more like a mid-season “filler” episode that is usually aired just before a huge reveal or high-tension cliffhanger, not a season premiere. Introducing the Ghost Rider was great, and this episode had its moments, but overall it was relatively dull. I don’t believe the new late time slot is going to help, especially with episodes that are middling at best.
The Joke: When Gemma sends May to back up Coulson and Mack, her team pops up just as Coulson is making the call for her team to come in and provide that back up. Coulson says “well that’s great timing,” hence the “rapid-response” moniker. I know, kind of lame, but that’s how I roll.