Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 episode 1 review: The Ghost

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is darker (and reminiscent of Red Dwarf VIII) as it returns for its fourth season, feat. Ghost Rider...

This review contains spoilers.

4.1 The Ghost

Remember Red Dwarf VIII, which opened with the entire crew of the eponymous spaceship being resurrected, leading Lister and co. to realise that they can’t carry on gallivanting around and doing whatever they like, as they had done for the previous seven years?

That’s what the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 premiere reminded me of. There’s now a boss who isn’t everyone’s BFF. There are new agents around every corner and nobody knows if they can trust them. Coulson’s gang have been split up into different departments, given different slots on a colour-coded rainbow of responsibility. Everything is classified. Everyone should really fall in line.

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But, of course, they don’t. When Daisy shows up on May’s radar, she alerts Coulson in a clandestine way. Coulson picks up Mack and heads out on an off-the-books mission to try and bring her in. And later, when Holden Radcliffe’s latest creepy creation catches Fitz’s attention, he decides not to hand it over to S.H.I.E.L.D. or even tell Simmons about it.

Simmons, as seems rather in character, is the only one interested in staying on the new boss’s good side. She’s adapting well to her new role as the S.A.D.I.S.T. (a brilliant gag, which actually wouldn’t feel out of place in Red Dwarf now that I think of it), chumming up to the new director even when it means revealing May’s secret plan. Simmons still has her mates’ best interests at heart, I think, but she’s smart enough to know that playing by the rules is the only way to build trust with the new chief and stay in a position of power.

These new dynamics at S.H.I.E.L.D. were fun to explore, but of course there’s something much bigger that we should be talking about: Ghost Rider, who made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut here as played by Gabriel Luna. I’ll put my cards on the table here: I thought Robbie Reyes’ introduction to the show was a complete slam-dunk. He’s the first character to show up in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. who genuinely warrants a spin-off, and I truly hope that he gets one. 

The show’s new, later timeslot in the States helped here (allowing much more blood splatter than the show has utilised before, a car-used-as-a-weapon murder and talk of spines being removed), and the special effects were really impressive (the flaming skull, the car flip, the fiery flicker in Robbie’s eyes), and the script was strong (“I’m not the one who decides” sent a shiver down my spine), but so much credit here needs to go to Gabriel Luna.

Luna was tasked with portraying an moody scrapyard worker, a Spirit Of Vengeance-consumed serial killer and a caring brother in less than an hour of telly, and he somehow managed to convey all three sides of the character convincingly.

You can tell that Robbie is a conflicted individual, but that doesn’t diminish the frightfulness of seeing Ghost Rider in full flaming-skull mode going to work. That transformation scene, where he flits from guarded chitchat to Satanic stalking in the space of a few seconds is right up there with the best moments of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., for me at least. 

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Part of me thinks it’s a shame that Ghost Rider’s MCU debut was rolled into an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, when this character feels tailor-made for a gritty Netflix show all of his own. But, on the other hand, introducing Robbie here allowed for a mystery to be built around him. The way the script worked Robbie in – unseen at first, and then in costume, and then with the skull, and then giving a glimpse of his normal life – was really effective. It was tease, payoff, tease, payoff, the result being a really engaging episode that you don’t want to take your eyes off of.

I can’t wait to see more of this character. The other plot strands –Daisy’s continued vigilantism, the Yo-Yo/Mack romance, the Fitz/Simmons distrust, AIDA, the strange substance that’s affecting May, the impending conflict between Coulson and the new boss – are all pretty strong, but nothing grabbed my attention quite like Ghost Rider. 

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had some strong runs in the past, but with Robbie Reyes injected into the fold, it could just become brilliant.

Read Rob’s review of the previous episodes, Absolution and Ascension, here.