AGENTS OF SHIELD: THE GHOST 
Directed by: Billy Gierhart
Starring: Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Ian De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Ming-Na Wen, Gabriel Luna
Air Date:20th September

As much as the season 3 finale of Agents of SHIELD left us with many unresolved problems, the season 4 opener “The Ghost” goes a long way in setting up a whole bunch of new conflicts. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what the title of this episode is referring to (Marvel has been psyching up Ghost Rider’s appearance in the series with a whole range of promo material for a while now) and they don’t waste any time in introducing him. Writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen know what people are here for and they don’t dance around delivering it.

It’s a shame really, as Agents of SHIELD has slowly developed into a much better show than the disappointing mess of season one (and the majority of season 2), yet the necessity of Ghost Rider to renew audience interest is still obvious. Ask anyone why they’re watching this season and nine times out of ten you’re going to hear the Skull-man’s name come up. To be fully fair to the show, the first episode of season 4 manages to keep up the same entertaining thrills and spills that kept season 3 in favour. The quantity of new dilemmas is intriguing as there’s plenty of meat on the bones (if you’ll excuse the skeleton pun) of this episode to keep us set for many episodes to come. Whether it’s threats of an interpersonal level (the team is on tenterhooks since they were disbanded), blazing hot psychos or world-threatening creations (because nothing can go wrong with AIDA, right?), there’s a lot to be cracking on with this season.

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The episode starts with the introduction of Robbie Reyes, or as you’ll know him, Ghost Rider. Johnny Blaze is gone (presumably to shrug off the Cage movies) and has been replaced with the Marvel!NOW version. With the change in character also comes a change in wheels as the Rider’s adapted Ford Velociraptor, the supercharged Hellcycle, has been replaced with Reyes’ ’69 Dodge Charger. The car is a make-or-break decision given the attachment that many of the fans have to Blaze’s motorcycle but it’s good to see that the show has left behind all attachments and has dove fully into Reyes’ world. No vehicle is going to be as madcap and exciting as the Hellcycle but the car holds its own and, given the show’s early love for Coulson’s car Lola, there’s opportunity for some fun with this adaptation.

The only real change to the character that rang some alarm bells is the show’s explanation of his powers. Is he possessed by a demon? Is he an advanced human? The show seems to be unsure itself and bounces between the two, one moment referencing the devil and in the other, avoiding the spiritual aspects of Robbie’s character. As of yet this may be a purposeful device to solidify the mysteriousness of his alter-ego, but if it’s not explained, it could just be case of writer ignorance, or worse, apathy. Especially with the more mystical Doctor Strange on the way, it’d be a shame not to delve into the issue. Whatever they’re deciding to do with his origins, one thing most certainly does deliver: If you were worried about how Ghost Rider would look on TV, don’t be. It’s easy to be cynical about Robbie but once you get that burning skull on screen, it’s pretty darn awesome.

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The introduction of Reyes (played by Gabriel Luna), who is initially hunting a set of drug dealers, also gives us the chance to catch up with Daisy, who is still on the run from her fellow team-mates. Sure enough however, Coulson, the ever-humourous Mack and a re-introduced Yo-Yo are hot on her tail after a hint from May. While the episode lacks a drivingly (I’m so sorry about these puns) thrilling plotline, the tensions between the team is palpable and it keeps the episode humanly engaging. While Daisy still remains physically isolated from her friends, Fitzsimmons too are struggling with their own kind of isolation in their new positions, close to the mysterious new Director. The lack of trust between the team culminates in a few tense moments and a sharp argument between May and Simmons is one of the most satisfying interactions in the episode. Any time we see Simmons with some spine is a fulfilling occasion but standing up to May with force and conviction demonstrates the kind of character development that has been filtered into her storyline for the past few seasons.

On the topic of Fitzsimmons, we see the other half of the duo in a sticky situation on a visit to Radcliffe who, as usual, is a joy to watch. Here AoS falls into one of the traps it has always had trouble avoiding; its lack in subtlety. Fitz’s promise to help with the newly designed AIDA is a great big glaring sign of danger that even seems a little out of character for Fitz and will obviously come back to bite him later on (especially as Fitz has been known to keep secrets for others before that hasn’t worked out; one would think he would learn). Whether it was a spot of emotional manipulation that persuaded him to keep AIDA a secret or not, the potential for threat isn’t particularly invisible, not with the creepy Ex Machina style bot locked up in Radcliffe’s house. It’s the kind of threat that the writers can keep in their pockets for a while until they need a storyline kick and the character tensions it will cause is almost too obvious to get around calling it a bit of lazy scriptwriting. It’s a cynical viewpoint, but mad science is a staple of Marvel wrongdoing (Ultron anyone?) and it seems that writer laziness is allowing characters to get misguided and suckered into it every time, despite all the reasons to the contrary.

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The Ghost” gives us a lot to talk about. There are a whole bunch of mysteries to be solved and the show is teasing us with the possibility of an increasingly dark and potentially philosophical tone. Ghost Rider here is more akin to the discussions of vigilante justice in Netflix’s Daredevil than the MCU, which is a good sign if the tone and depth of the Netflix shows are anything to go by. Whether the deeper debates will be had, we’ve yet to discover and AoS does have a penchant of fun over fulfilment, however Ghost Rider is a perfect opportunity. It’s early days yet and one can be sure that AoS is only just firing its engines (it’s the last pun, I swear it).

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