Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4: Enter the Ghost Rider
Watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has become an exercise in sadomasochistic whiplash. The show’s three previous seasons have taken comic book and MCU fans through a rollercoaster of lackluster season premiers with phenomenal season finales or phenomenal season premiers with finales that leave the viewership questioning their love of the series. The Season 3 finale was, unfortunately, one of the latter. Despite the shared griping from nerds and non-nerds alike, the season 4 premiere might have managed to be one of the show’s better starts and is breathing life back into Marvel TV, ABC and Joss Whedon’s pet project by injecting some brutal existentialism with the Ghost Rider and introducing a few interesting plot twists to the series.
They Broke Up the Band
The premiere kicked off with an interesting change to the clandestine agencies hierarchy. In the wake Coulson’s failed attempts at capturing Quake, the now government-backed agency replaced him as director of the organization he saved throughout the previous two seasons. Now relegated to a lowly agent, Coulson is tasked with finding, capturing and keeping tabs on registered enhanced people with Mac as his sidekick. May replaced Cross Bones as the leader of S.T.R.I.K.E., S.H.I.E.L.D.’s special ops group. Simmons is the science and tech advisor to the new mysterious director, and Fitz is still building stuff like he always has.
Adding conflict to the situation is the mysterious director’s daily lie detection tests for senior agents and a new color-coded clearance system. All of which is designed to safeguard S.H.I.E.L.D. from future internal coos. When all of these factors are put together, it creates an exciting tension for everyone’s favorite agents. Simply removing Coulson from the leadership is enough to leave the audience wondering what missions they are going to be sent on next and I have always wanted to see more of Coulson in the field, bringing the character closer to his MCU origins as the silent sidekick to the Avengers.
Quake and the Ghost Rider
When the third season came to a close, Daisy had gone the way of Captain America as a rogue agent fighting crime and corruption without the backing of any government agency. The premiere starts with Daisy, now using her comic book moniker as Quake, doing just that when she runs into the Ghost Rider… tearing a guy’s spine out. While Whedon claims the rider’s magical origins have nothing to do with the release of Dr. Strange in November, MCU fans know better. Between the Ghost Rider, Black Panther’s secret origins and Nobu/Elektra’s resurrection during the second season of Daredevil, the MCU is primed for an infusion of magical characters which are welcomed additions to a roster filled with nothing but government science projects or Inhuman origins for every super-powered person in the MCU to date.
The studio’s decision to use the Mexican-American Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider rather than Danny Ketch or Johnny Blaze was a solid choice. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone out of its way to incorporate a diverse cast introducing different Hispanic characters from various cultural backgrounds, such as the Columbian Yo-Yo, and let’s face it; the farther Marvel can get from evoking memories of the failed Nicholas Cage flicks, the better. Reyes use of a modified 69 Charger rather than a motorcycle also opens the door for what will most likely be some hilarious moments between him and Coulson betting on Lola vs. the Ghost Charger in a drag race.
Reyes and Quake’s shared L.A. backgrounds and initial meeting may also foreshadow a possible romance between the Inhuman heroine, who is still self destructively dealing with Spark Plug’s death, and the fiery rider who, due to the murderous nature of the spirit within him, will most likely also be in need of someone to pick him out of his inevitable emotional despair.
Ultimately the decision to introduce Ghost Rider through television, rather than the big screen, demonstrates that Marvel is finally learning from its mistakes, leaving the major motion pictures for its A-list superheroes and allowing the B-listers to entertain us on the small screen in between the films.
Easter Eggs: AKA Nerd Candy
If a disbanded team and the Spirit of Vengeance isn’t enough to renew interest in the series, fans of the comic books should have picked up on the two big Easter eggs dropped just for them. Dr. Radcliffe and Fitz’s new side project should be easily recognizable to comic fans as the prototype for the Life Model Decoys. In the source material, these robots are used by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s various directors as stand-ins whenever intel suggests their lives are in danger and were a popular fan theory for how Coulson survived being killed by Loki in The Avengers before the Project Tahiti was revealed to be a Kree corpse. What the LMDs bring to the series is a way for the cast to cheat death, which would be a welcome writing copout due to the series continuously making its viewers fall in love with a new roster of characters only to have half of them killed off or disappeared by the end of every season.
The other Easter egg has to do with the identity of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new director. While the studio has been tight-lipped about who the character is, they did reveal that he has been in the source material since the 1940s. This bit of information coupled with Jason O’Mara’s casting for the role seems to point to Rick Stoner as the new big cheese. His existence in the comics was brief, but he did serve as the director before Nick Fury, and he does fall to the dark side, which could create an opening for Coulson to take back control or maybe even have him replaced at some point by Maria Hill or Quake seeing. Both ladies also serve as the secret agencies’ directors at various points throughout the comics. Either way, I’m excited for the new life these developments bring to the show and hope the series sticks around for many season’s to come