This review contains spoilers.
Full disclosure, I was able to watch this episode of Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a packed auditorium during New York Comic Con 2016 with Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, and Gabriel Luna in attendance. Maybe it was the cheering crowd, maybe it was being so close to Chloe Bennett’s or Clark Gregg’s charisma, but man, I’ll be damned if this wasn’t the best episode of Agents Of SHIELD in a very long time. Maybe ever. So read this with the caveat that I was in nerdvana when I was watching the episode, and enjoy!
One of the my fears going into Agents Of SHIELD season 4 was that the series would turn into the Ghost Rider variety hour (how awesome would that have been, just 1970s celebs with their heads on fire singing show tunes). The first two episodes of the season were Ghost Rider-heavy, but they kind of had to be. With the third episode, Ghost Rider, or more accurately Robbie Reyes, became a part of the show rather than being the show. In fact, this week, Reyes doesn’t even transform into his demonic alter ego, instead, we get to know the man behind the leather and chains (that didn’t sound like I wanted it to sound).
The whole episode focuses on an EMP-caused blackout in Los Angeles. It seems that the blackout is caused by a group of rogue Inhumans fighting the Sokovia accords. So it looks like we have a sort of Brotherhood of Evil Inhumans up in here… but not so fast. When the blackout hits, Reyes’ brother is in a wheelchair and on a subway in a bad part of town, so Daisy and Reyes race to his rescue. In the comics, Robbie’s brother seems to be on the autism spectrum and can’t care for himself without Robbie. On TV, Gabriel is in a wheelchair but has no cognitive issues so there is a different dynamic here. I kind of wish they did go with his other developmental disorders because it would have been a great chance to explore these themes in the Marvel Universe, but the physically impaired Gabriel is an interesting character in his own right.
As Gabriel makes his way home during the blackout, he is accosted by a bunch of street thugs. Daisy and Robbie spring to the rescue so we get a little Ghost Rider action, but just the flaming eyes, no flaming skull this week. Daisy also uses her quake powers and snaps her wrist in the process. Gabriel sees Daisy use her powers and now realizes that Daisy is an Inhuman. This flips the caregiver dynamic on its flaming ear as Gabriel doesn’t want Robbie to have anything to do with a super-powered menace.
But not many people want anything to do with Inhumans, especially with the blackout. One of the most powerful moments of this new episode involves Yo Yo. She’s at a bachelorette party when the blackout hits and all of a sudden, a group of Watchdogs arrive to weed out any Inhuman presence. Soon, Yo Yo must use her powers to save an amateur magician believed to be an Inhuman and her friends turn on her faster than the GOP turned on Trump.
This deftly exposes the tragedy of being an Inhuman. Poor Yo Yo is just helping people and her oldest friends turn on her and basically expose her to the heavily armed Watchdogs. Thankfully, Coulson, Fitz, and Mack show up in time to prevent Yo Yo’s demise. When the three heroic agents arrive, let me tell you, the New York Comic Con room I was in exploded with cheers. It got me thinking, this is really the first moment where Agents Of SHIELD felt like a legit part of the Marvel Universe. They are cheered now like Spider-Man or Iron Man is cheered. They came, they saved the day, and they kick bad guy ass, and it all has personal, character driven stakes. It’s funny, Agents Of SHIELD always felt like an addition to the MCU, not an essential cog, but somewhere, perhaps this week, the agents we have been thrilling to these past three seasons have become truly likable heroes.
The blackout causes all sorts of issues for our agents. Fitz has to figure out where the EMP is coming from using homemade compasses and paper rather than his usual tech. Coulson’s robot hand won’t work and Mack, well, Mack just hits things so he’s fine. But Melinda May is most affected by the blackout. Last week, May basically went comatose because of the ghostly visions she was afflicted with. This week, Simmons and Radcliffe try to cure May of her visions by essentially rebooting her brain. The two scientists stop May’s heart in order to stop brain activity and then plan to revive her before she suffers brain death. The only issue is, the second Simmons tries to use the defibrillator to revive May, the blackout hits.
With no electricity, Radcliffe must use everything at his disposal to save May. Good thing Radcliffe has a robot heart powered by renewable energy. This week, Agents Of SHIELD actually made us care about Doctor Radcliffe and that’s a very big step in the right direction as the AI arc of the season continues.
So Daisy and Robbie are brought closer even if brother Gabriel disapproves, Coulson, Mack, and Fitz save the day, and May is saved from the brink of death by a quick thinking Doctor Radcliffe. But as they say in the biz, but wait, there’s more, it turns out that it isn’t rogue Inhumans that cause the blackouts, it’s the Watchdogs themselves. But the damage is done because the public firmly believes that Inhumans are a menace… until Jeffrey Mace and SHIELD go public to tell the world that SHIELD is back and that they are on the case. Further, Mace tells the world that it wasn’t the Inhumans that caused the blackout. This is a pretty huge moment for the MCU as now SHIELD is back in the public eye operating above ground for the first time since Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
– SHIELD is now operating out in the open once again, so basically, this is the SHIELD from the classic Marvel comics. One has to wonder what impact this will have on the films moving forward. Now, SHIELD can be back in that place where we first met the organization back in the first Iron Man.
– There’s a shadowy figure pulling the strings within the Watchdogs, one has to wonder who it is. Smart money would be Ward, but would the series really go back on that perfect death from last season?
– It’s good to see Jeffrey Mace in the role of a true hero. I love when Marvel dives into its Golden Age catalogue, and one can hope that Mace is as magnanimous as he seems and one can hope further that perhaps he will suit up as the Patriot at some point this season.
– When I saw that this episode was dealing with a blackout I kind of assumed we would be dealing with the classic Ghost Rider villain named, wait for it, Blackout. But alas, it was a lower case blackout and we must wait for our first true live action Ghost Rider rogue.