Back in the saddle! The “ghost” in this episode title could refer to many things. Let’s recap the episode. We pick up the action after the epilogue of season three; Agent Daisy Johnson has quit S.H.I.E.L.D. and gone rogue as the vigilante Quake, Director Phil Coulson has been demoted to a regular field agent once more since S.H.I.E.L.D. is now legitimized again and he is officially “dead”, and he is tasked with finding Quake alongside Agent Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie. Meanwhile, Dr. Holden Radcliffe has completed work on his newest experiment: the first Life-Model Decoy, an android named Aida after his A.I.D.A. artificial intelligence software.
The episode actually opens with a homage scene adapted straight from the pages of All-New Ghost Rider #2. As Daisy takes medication and gears up to fight (with a butt shot so you know the show got promoted to TV-14), several thugs with military equipment are speeding through the streets as something pursues them. Their truck is damaged, so they stop driving and begin shooting at the first thing that moves – which is nothing, but they have itchy trigger fingers. Daisy, in her persona as Quake, appears and ushers bystanders the safety, but then the thugs’ pursuer appears: A shiny, black 1969 Dodge Charger which I will affectionately refer to as the Hell Charger from here on out. The Charger spins it’s wheels are makes a beeline for the truck, but one of the thugs has a trick up his sleeve; he blasts it with a rocket launcher. The Hell Charger bursts into the air, flipping and engulfed in flames from the explosion – and lands on wheels, losing no momentum and still on fire. It crashes into the truck, and the oil spill from the broken truck catches on fire, preventing Daisy from getting any closer. The driver exits the Charger and Quake watches as the thugs are killed gruesomely, except one, which the driver takes as a hostage. From a distance it looks like his head is on fire, but that can’t be real, can it? Before she can ponder this question, the police arrive and she launches herself away with her powers to escape.
After the title card, Agent Mack and Agent Coulson (feels weird to say, doesn’t it?) are aboard the Zephyr One, soaring through the air and playing backgammon. (Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed during the opening credits that John Hannah, Dr. Radcliffe himself, has been promoted to series regular. Good job, John!) As they play and recap their between-season intercontinental adventures, they are called back to the headquarters The Playground, where they apparently have not been for some time. The reason? It’s classified.
As Agent Melinda May trains the new S.T.R.I.K.E. Team (which includes fan-favorite tertiary character Agent Piper), the Zephyr One pulls into the Playground hangar. May meets with Coulson and Mack, leaving Piper in charge. May leads them to a quiet room and tells them that she called them in because of some mysterious violent deaths in Los Angeles that appears to be attributed to Quake. The mysterious new director wants Coulson and Mack off the case, so May isn’t telling him they have a lead; but she warns them that once he finds out he will send in the S.T.R.I.K.E. Team with orders to kill. Coulson and Mack protest that Quake doesn’t kill and is only targeting the anti-Inhuman hate group The Watchdogs, but May simply warns them to find Daisy before things get worse. They decide to visit one of their Inhuman assets in L.A. for a check-up as a cover while they look for Daisy.
Meanwhile, Daisy has broken into the hospital, and is interrogating the surviving thug about the job they were sent on and who was pursuing them. He is saddened to hear that his friends were killed, and explains that it is too late for him; “once the Rider burns you, he burns your soul. Souls don’t heal.” He dies and Quake makes her escape, as doctors burst into the room.
In the lab at the Playground, Agent Dr. Leo Fitz and Agent Dr. Jemma Simmons are testing a new virtual reality set built by Fitz and S.H.I.E.L.D. ally Dr. Holden Radcliffe, intended to augment the users brain without needing a headset for S.T.R.I.K.E. training purposes. Mack and Coulson arrive and are almost kicked out of the lab by tertiary agent Agent Nathanson, but the newly-promoted Simmons lets them in. She is now the Special Advisor to the Director In Science & Technology, or as Fitz gleefully proclaims, the S.A.D.I.S.T. of the team. She reveals she and Fitz have been busy as the new director has been ordering random lie-detector tests. S.H.I.E.L.D. is government-sanctioned again, and the director is paranoid because of the HYDRA uprising from last time. He calls it his Widespread Infiltration Monitoring Program (or W.I.M.P.). Fitz invites them to Radcliffe’s to watch a soccer match (one that aired two years ago, mind you – I did my research!), but they need to be wheels up in ten. Fitz gives Mack his requested “exploding pen”, and Coulson a new upgraded cybernetic hand, and they head out on their classified mission. Simmons tells Fitz she can’t make the match either, and he laments that “the team” doesn’t get to see each other anymore. Simmons points out that it’s better than the friends that they will never see again.
At her hideout, Daisy bandages her arms (as overexerting her Quake powers hurts her), does some quick research on recent unexplained burnings and deaths in L.A., and heads out. Meanwhile, the driver of the Hell Charger – who I think I can safely reveal at this point is Ghost Rider – violently interrogates his captive. The thug reveals that he works for the Aryan Brotherhood (from Daredevil!), and the Chinatown Mob hired them to steal a box and deliver it to a warehouse. He refuses to divulge the location of the warehouse, because Ghost Rider would kill them all. The Rider says if he doesn’t tell him, he will have to tell the other guy (presumably referring to his flame-face.)
Mack and Coulson recap what they know, and then touch down so their Inhuman asset in L.A. can board – the ultra-fast Secret Warrior Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez. Mack asks Yo-Yo procedural questions, but she tells him that if he wants to get to know her, he should ask her out to dinner again. He makes excuses about “the mission”, and she offers to help – but he points out she signed the Sokovia Accords, and cannot help unless the government asks her to. She says that S.H.I.E.L.D. moves too slow for her liking, asks him to look her up if he’s in Miami, and leaves.
At Radcliffe’s house, he invites Fitz in and is disappointed that Simmons couldn’t come. He leaves Fitz to the game and goes to tidy up, when a fully naked Aida (Radcliffe’s new Life-Model Decoy) walks in and attempts to introduce herself, but her software crashes and she gets stuck in a loop. Radcliffe apologizes, covers her up and shuts her down. Fitz is shocked and outraged, pointing out that Radcliffe’s pardon for his crimes stated that he is not allowed experimentation without approval and oversight. Radcliffe wants Fitz to help him so that she will pass the Turing Test, but Fitz says that this needs to be reported immediately or Radcliffe could lose all his work and be jailed. First, Radcliffe just wants to show Fitz how it works. He has Aida explains the purpose of Life-Model Decoys to Fitz: to act as a decoy, a shield; putting herself in harms way so no more agents need to die. Fitz decides that Simmons cannot know, because she will have to tell the new director.
Daisy catches a bus, and sits in front of Yo-Yo. Yo-Yo reveals that S.H.I.E.L.D. is in town, and that they watch her every move, except when she moves too fast for them to see. She gives Daisy some stolen S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue medication for rapid bone growth to assist with the damage her powers is doing to her. As a man who looks suspiciously like showrunner Jed Whedon sits behind them, Daisy reveals that she has branched from the Watchdogs into local gangs who are strangely working for them. She tells Yo-Yo she thinks she stumbled across a serial killer. Yo-Yo asks for a photo of the killer so she can cover more ground, but Daisy simply thanks Yo-Yo for the intel and leaves, reminding her to wait two stops before leaving. Daisy approaches a graffiti artist spray-painting a mural of Ghost Rider, who tells her he struck again last night. She notices a car on the mural, so approaches a car enthusiast and asks him about a ‘69 Dodge Charger. He tells her that her best bet is the visit a junkyard.
Simmons approaches May in the Playground and asks her to sign for the new S.T.R.I.K.E. tactical HUD eyewear. May is frustrated that Simmons is a higher rank than her now, and complains that she doesn’t understand the new color-based “Spectrum of Security” clearance levels. (I think I figured it out – see below bonus for my guess!) Simmons tells May that they got a report of a potential Quake attack, and asks if she has heard anything about it, but May lies and denies this, telling Simmons to ask the director. Simmons admits that she knows May is lying, and tells her that now she needs to report it – risking looking incompetent or in cahoots. May confesses that she undermined Simmons because she doesn’t like or trust the new director for splitting them up, and feels Simmons is getting too close to him. Simmons reveals that the director did split them up on purpose, and she’s just clawing for as much power as she can get to retain some control over the situation. She orders May to take the S.T.R.I.K.E. Team and take Mack and Coulson out of the field by any means necessary.
Coulson and Mack visit the warehouse, where Canelo from Canelo’s Auto & Body tells them they were just going to haul this truck away, as his assistant Robbie looks on curiously. S.H.I.E.L.D. seals off the scene. Coulson scans the truck with his robo-hand, and finds two bodies. They uncover two members of the Chinatown Mob who appear to have torn each other apart, but use the insignia on the jacket to find the Chinatown Mob drop-off point.. As Coulson, Mack and their agents gear up, Robbie reveals himself to his captive as the Ghost Rider, and tells him that there were no buyers at the warehouse, and kills the thug with his Hell Charger. Mack and Coulson tap into the security and watch the drop-off of the box, as a mob member reveals that the two members peeked inside the box and then started killing each other, so they shot them. He is chastised for not disposing of the evidence, potentially leading agents to their location. The mobsters open the box and a strange mist shoots out, that appears to be more supernatural than standard Inhuman Terrigen mist, and knocks the surveillance offline. The head mobster asks what that was, and a ghostly figure whispers “a breath of fresh air” into his ear. He watches in horror as the other mobsters appear to grow horrific in appearance, with sunken eyes and grey skin – but it appears to be all in his head. He shoots his companions as the camera comes back online. Coulson calls for backup, but May is already there. She activates her S.T.R.I.K.E. HUD goggles and the Team takes care of the rest with great efficiency – as the ghost, listed in the press release as Lucy, walks past May.
As Robbie gets ready to go out hunting for the night, Daisy shows up at Canelo’s junkyard, asking about the Dodge Charger. Robbie says he hasn’t heard of it, but offers to let her flip through the book of sales. As he takes her, she notices a tic he has with playing with his keys, one she the Ghost Rider do earlier, and Quake-blasts him against a van. He picks up a metal rod and ignites it with hellfire, surprised that Daisy “has the devil inside her too”. They fight, and Daisy corners him, blaming him for the death of people including a detective and a teacher. Robbie claims they were a murderer and a pedophile. Daisy tells him that he doesn’t get to decide who lives and who dies, and Robbie says that he isn’t the one who decides – as his face burns away to reveal the flaming skull of the Ghost Rider.
Yeah! YEAH! I know we’re only one episode in, but that’s the coolest shot of the season!
Ghost Rider collapses a shelf on top of Quake, and she is helpless as she uses her vibrational powers to keep the shelf from crushing her. The Rider approaches, and Quake begs for death, saying she deserves it. He judges her worthy and walks to the Hell Charger, driving away. Quake, in pain from overusing her powers, is unable to stop him. As Fitz and Simmons lie happily in bed together, Radcliffe secretly hides Aida behind a bookcase, Mack and Piper review the dead bodies of the Watchdogs-affiliated Chinatown Mob aboard the Zephyr One, and Yo-Yo receives a text from Daisy: a photo of the mural of Ghost Rider.
In the morning, Robbie waits outside as a car pulls up, and he helps his brother Gabe out into his wheelchair. Daisy watches from a distance, and repeats what Yo-Yo told her earlier: Everyone gets attached to something.
In the post-credits scene, May and Coulson play backgammon as they unwind. Coulson remarks that it’s good to have a quiet moment with just them, but May sees his face distort into the sunken-eyed creature the mobster saw before. She chalks it up to a long day.
This episode was much-hyped for the appearance of huge comic character Ghost Rider, and I’m glad that it didn’t disappoint. In fact, I have heard of very many people who have started Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this very episode just out of the interest for the character! That is great, and I hope they find the time to watch the show preceding it. Robbie Reyes is cool, but hardly the coolest thing we’ve seen so far! Still, I give this episode a 7.5/10. It wasn’t a “hit-the-ground-running” start, but had some really, really cool elements and set up a lot – including the supernatural future of Marvel to come post-Doctor Strange. Plus, it got people watching, which is important if the show wants to stay alive in it’s new Tuesday Night Death Slot!
CRACKPOT THEORIES AND SPECULATION
- Aida gives off creepy vibes. L.M.D.s are a great and noble way to protect agents, but I just feel this is all about to go terribly wrong.
- I’m calling it now – both Ghost Rider and Quake will be on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s side by the end of the half-season.
- Who the hell is the new director? He’s played by Jason O’Mara starting next episode, so he isn’t a character we have met before – such as popular guesses Fury, Hill, Stark, or Koenig. The press release listed him as a character with roots in the 40’s, and aside from the original Nick Fury, Sr. and possibly the Human Torch Jim Hammond, I can’t think of many major 40’s characters he could be. Maybe he is related to a 40’s character, such as a grandson of Peggy Carter or a Howling Commando?
- In the immortal words of Brad Pitt on Se7en, what’s in the box? The showrunners have hinted that it is tied heavily to Doctor Strange. The ghost lady herself is played by Lilli Birdsell, who was announced in a press release as playing Lucy, a beautiful woman with a haunting quality and a mean streak because of what she’s been through. Is she a Spirit of Vengeance? Ghost Rider actor Gabriel Luna did mention the Hell Charger’s name was Lucy, as well.
- A major network show has been teased to have a large reveal this year that has been kept top-secret. At an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel, the creator of Robbie Reyes and the creator of Frank Castle – The Punisher – took the stage, with executive Jeph Loeb saying their presence on stage would make sense later this season. A Marvel Animation executive also revealed that the live-action side of things would feature a huge TV crossover this year. Punisher actor Jon Bernthal will be missing some convention appearances soon due to his “Netflix filming schedule” – however, there is no word of the Defenders or The Punisher starting production soon. Is Punisher really coming to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
BONUS – SPECTRUM OF SECURITY
What we know: Coulson and Mack are clearance level “Blue”, Fitz is “Green”, May is “Red”, and Simmons is “Orange.” According to Simmons, Orange outranks Red in most situations because it encompasses both Red and Yellow. Mack and Coulson were told by Agent Nathanson that they were not authorized to visit the lab, as they were Blue. Other agents can be seen with Blue tags, except scientists, which have Green tags.
Based on this, my guess for the (primary) color codes are:
Red – Administration or management. May is Red, and she leads the S.T.R.I.K.E. Team. Simmons is Orange (Red + Yellow), and she is the Special Advisor to the Director In Science & Technology.
Blue – Standard field agents, who work below Red agents. Coulson and Mack are blue, and Fitz is Green (Blue + Yellow).
Yellow – Agents specialized in science and/or technology. Fitz is a standard field scientist which are all Green (Blue + Yellow), while Simmons outranks him as the advisor to the director which is Orange (Red + Yellow).