Subtitled stateside as Agents of SHIELD: Ghost Rider, it makes sense that Gabriel Luna’s incarnation of Robbie Reyes would be introduced at the very beginning of the premiere. In a stunning departure from previous seasons, Ghost Rider’s entrance is bloody and violent as he brutally murders a Watchdog gang. Though by no means Game of Thrones, SHIELD has never before been so visceral. The 10pm airtime stateside has permitted showrunners to be more daring in its depiction of violence, moving this show in a much darker direction; allowing it to sit more comfortably beside its sexier, edgier Netflix cousins.
Storylines about defeating the undefeatable Hydra and locating/registering Inhumans had begun to stagnate the show’s narrative, but sudden and unexplained changes within the team hierarchy hints at conflict promising a more compelling season. Taking place months after Hive’s defeat, the team we have come to know and love is battered and beaten. Coulson (Clark Gregg) is no longer director, his team is scattered, and Daisy (Chloe Bennet) is on the run.
Having been violated and controlled by Hive, and then forced to watch as her beloved Lincoln sacrificed himself in her place, Daisy has abandoned SHIELD and all of her personal connections (“There’s only one thing I want. Nothing to lose.”). She’s now the vigilante Quake, true to the comics’ depiction of her character. Intent on bringing down the Watchdogs still persecuting her Inhuman kin, Quake does the superhero thing with aplomb, but this does not lessen the devastation of seeing her crumble. Chloe Bennet is vivid, and very fortunate to play what is surely the most compelling character on the series, as the writers continue to develop her complexities.
However, this has also led to SHIELD’s lowest opening point with a downright misogynistic shot: a shot of Daisy’s ass as she pulls on a pair of black panties. There is absolutely no need for this. Why showrunners thought this would be an acceptable opening shot is beyond me, because it degrades a strong and resilient heroine to nothing more than eye-candy for fanboys to gawk at and blog about. This is another disappointing example of women capable of violence being made ‘safe’, by showing them in a vulnerable state. This is made even more infuriating when you consider that Daisy is mourning the loss of her lover, and has become addicted to painkillers.
Elsewhere, Gemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) has undergone one of the most surprising transformations being promoted to Special Advisor to the Director in Science and Technology (or SADIST, as Fitz so brilliantly points out). Since the finale, Gemma has been clawing for all the power she can get within the agency, so she can maintain a modicum of control over it due to her distrust of the new director. Though not yet introduced, viewers get the resounding impression that no one trusts their new boss. In contrast to Coulson, who even as director fought in the trenches, his successor comes across as inept and paranoid, insisting on implementing a series of perverse security measures, including a “rainbow of responsibility” (yes, seriously), and a Widespread Infiltration Monitoring System (WIMP).
Whilst this darker, edgier Agents of SHIELD is a welcome change, it isn’t without its teething pains. The episode feels very much like a pilot for the show’s new direction, introducing a lot of plot threads in a very short amount of time. In addition to Daisy’s self-destruction, the team’s new position, and Ghost Rider, Doctor Radcliffe (John Hannah) has been busy building a Life Model Decoy (LMD). Radcliffe has big dreams for Aida, and envisions his beautiful creation as the next ground-breaking step in human/technological evolution – his intention being that Aida will be a decoy target, a shield, which can surely mean only one thing.
Despite acknowledging Tony Stark’s mishap with Ultron, Radcliffe is positive that he has created something far more superior, and is unwilling to believe otherwise. Clearly he’s never seen The Terminator or CW’s The 100. Joking aside, it will be exciting to see if the showrunners follow in great sci-fi tradition of androids gone rogue or whether they’ll explore prejudice against Aida, once we become accustomed to her in a similar vein to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Mr Data.
Overall, the decision to chart darker waters allows Agents of SHIELD’s inclusion of Robbie Reyes to not be lessened by his primetime TV placement. Luna is delectable as the caring brother consumed by a Spirit of Vengeance, producing a conflicted individual without diminishing his frightfulness as the Ghost Rider in full flaming-skull glory. It is also wonderful to see FitzSimmons finally in a healthy place in their relationship, cuddling up in bed together to watch the footie. We know this paradise can’t last, but it’s good to see something going right for these star-crossed lovers.
Agents of SHIELD airs every on E4 every Sunday at 9pm.