This review contains spoilers.
4.6 The Good Samaritan
It’s funny, people claim origin fatigue when it comes to live-action Marvel properties, but when a solid origin hits, comic fans usually react pretty positively. Doctor Strange is already surrounded by grumblings from fans who are griping about having to sit through another act one, but listen, you don’t get to The Empire Strikes Back until you experience A New Hope.
What does all that have to do with Agents Of SHIELD, you ask? Well, this week, fans are treated to the origin of the Robbie Reyes version of Ghost Rider. We knew this was coming, but the origin goes to some pretty unexpected places. There’s a ton going on this week other than the origin as well, so let’s take a deep dive.
When last we left our agents, Eli Morrow was abducted by the ghostly Lucy Bauer. This is where I would usually complain about the ineffectiveness of Lucy Bauer as a villain. Every season it seems like the big bad of Agents Of SHIELD is generic or in some cases non-existent. Other than Grant Ward, Marvel’s inaugural TV series has had a hard time making a villain stick. Bauer seems like just another dullard in the line of also-rans. Yeah, her powers are pretty cool, but her motivations are weak and she’s a bit dull as far as personality goes. But Agents Of SHIELD played us, because Mrs Bauer is not the main villain… not by a long shot.
This week, we are treated to a flashback showing the original experiment that transformed Bauer, her husband, and her band of explorers of the forbidden sciences into incorporeal beings. We see them experiment with the Darkhold and we see Morrow grow concerned over the consequences of these experiments.
Innocent victims of all this are Robbie and Gabriel Reyes. They borrow their uncle’s car to go street racing. Thinking that Uncle Eli is in the car, Bauer’s hired thugs open fire, killing Robbie and paralyzing Gabe.
And this is where the awesomeness happens. As Robbie dies, he begs the universe for vengeance. Along comes what Gabe describes as a Good Samaritan riding a motorcycle to the scene. We see this Samaritan transform into a leather jacket-clad Ghost Rider and transfer the power into Robbie. So, did we just see the TV debut of Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch perhaps? Whatever the case, Marvel just established a much bigger Ghost Rider mythos that can be explored on TV, in movies, or Netflix and that is really damn exciting. So there you have it, the origin of Ghost Rider complete with, maybe, possibly, a Johnny Blaze appearance. So those of you complaining that we were getting Reyes instead of the classic Ghost Rider… shh?
There’s also a bit of a power struggle within SHIELD. As Coulson, Daisy, May, Fitz, Mack and Reyes race to save Eli, Jeffrey Mace intercepts the team and demands the arrest of Quake and Ghost Rider. This leads to a major test of loyalty for Coulson who stands by Daisy and Robbie so they can save Eli and gain possession of the ever-deadly Darkhold. Mace doesn’t see things this way and we end up having a demon versus Inhuman throw down. These disparate elements are what’s making Agents Of SHIELD so much fun this season. It’s not just a one-trick pony show about Inhumans or the war with HYDRA. It’s a tour of many different pieces of the Marvel Universe and now that Doctor Strange is about to hit in a big way, we are getting some cool elements of magic to go with the established elements of the MU. A buffet of Marvel, if you will.
Back to the villain. Lucy Bauer was a dull threat because Lucy Bauer is a bait and switch. It isn’t Lucy that will pose a threat to SHIELD and the Marvel Universe, it is Eli Morrow. This week, Ghost Rider takes care of Lucy rather easily, but it wasn’t Lucy trying to unleash the Darkhold. Back in the day, Gabriel Morrow wasn’t trying to protect the world from the Darkhold, he was trying to use its power for himself. So he is fully responsible for the injuries to his nephews. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an effective big bad and his name is Eli Morrow, the man responsible for the attack on Gabriel and Robbie Reyes!
We leave things with a rift in SHIELD as Mace and Coulson are now completely at odds. We are left with Ghost Rider revealed to all of SHIELD as a demon and a murderer, and a team fractured by their loyalties to Coulson and Mace, with Morrow in the middle ready to unleash the power of the Darkhold on the world.
And where does this power come from? That’s another bit of Marvel history. Remember the zero matter from last season Agent Carter? Yeah, that was the start of Bauer and Morrow’s pursuit of mystical energies that led them to the Darkhold. It’s so cool to see elements of Agent Carter leak over into Agents Of SHIELD because if I can’t have Peggy Carter in this dark and cruel universe, at least I can have plot points that make her defunct series more important to the tapestry of the MCU.
– Johnny Blaze first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5 (1972) and was created by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, and Mike Ploog. For those of you that know Blaze from the Nicolas Cage Ghost Rider films, forget that nonsense. If that is indeed Blaze that appears this week, then Marvel is telling us that the Ghost Rider curse is something that can be passed from one person to another. Kind of like a demonic mono.
In the comics, Blaze doesn’t have anything to do with the origin of Robbie Reyes, but as I said, this builds a layer of myth around Ghost Rider that Marvel can continue to explore as the mystic side of the MU grows.
– We had the return of Roxxon this week, Marvel’s continued go-to evil and corrupt corporation. Of course, Isodyne Industries and its pursuit of Zero Matter began in the last season of Agent Carter and now continues with Roxxon and Morrow.
– More of a DC Moment, but did Morrow locking Bauer into that chamber remind anyone else of the origin of the Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan?
– In the comic, Eli Morrow is the other half of Reyes’ Ghost Rider. Morrow was a serial killer exiled in hell when he was grafted to Robbie’s soul to form the latest Ghost Rider. Having Morrow as Reyes’ foil and adversary is nothing new, but having the two be related is an interesting wrinkle to the origin, especially since Morrow is going to be the overarching villain of the season.
– In the comics, Jeffrey Mace was never a member of SHIELD, but he was a Golden Age hero known as the Patriot. The Patriot never fought Ghost Rider, but he did fight side by side with a hero known as the Blazing Skull. The Blazing Skull is very similar to the modern day Ghost Rider and now that we have multiple Riders in the MCU, perhaps Blazing Skull could make an appearance somewhere along the lines just to scratch that Golden Age itch.
Read Marc’s review of the previous episode, Lockup, here.