SHIELD’s back and so is the most brutal version of Ghost Rider ever. Who know it took the small screen to bring the blood of vengeance?
Despite being a very different Ghost Rider than most fans will be familiar with, Marvel brought a very true-to-the-comics Ghost Rider to TV. That’s par for the course for Marvel, but does that mean Marvel can step up it’s TV game to match the Arrowverse over at CW? It’s headed in the right direction!
The Story Thus Far: After the disastrous Winter Soldier incident, SHIELD was forced to cut all government ties and go underground, unfortunately, that was just when hundreds of Inhumans began to awaken with powers around the world! SHIELD handled it best they could, but several agents died, and their star player, Daisy Johnson, quit. Now the superhero Civil War has brought SHIELD back into the mainstream, and Daisy is off hunting ghosts on her own.
Comic Connections for “The Ghost”
Picking up after Civil War (but before Dr. Strange!), we find Daisy “Don’t Call Me Skye” Johnson has fully embraced the title of “Quake,” a Robin Hood-like terrorist fighting crimes the government won’t. This is in keeping with Quake’s earliest appearances, as she was originally Nick Fury Sr.’s secret weapon, then joined his underground militia, and interestingly became the youngest ever SHIELD director before becoming a traditional SHIELD agent in Coulson’s unit. In the current comics, she had a falling out with Coulson and quit SHIELD.
She is chasing down Aryan Brotherhood gang members who – like some East Coast mafia members – are inexplicably working for the Watchdogs, the anti-superpowers terrorist group that seemed like pushovers last season. Interestingly, when the car-driving Ghost Rider first appeared, he was fighting a bunch of unidentified mercs that sported Watchdog-like symbols. Oh, and they were working for Calvin Zabo, aka Mr. Hyde. That’s right, Daisy’s dad! (Too much to hope that he shows up this season?)
When “he” shows up in his black Hell Charger, the gang members fire a rocket at him, which succeeds in flipping the car, but it flames-on and takes them out. This is actually taken, shot for shot, from All-New Ghost Rider #2, so there ya go – fan service! (Admittedly, for a series few people bought, but still.)
Ghost Rider appears! Then he straight up murders some dudes. This may seem a little harsh, but some context is necessary. The classic Ghost Rider (though not the “original” as he’s often called) is Johnny Blaze, and he spent years fighting with a demon inside him, trying to force it not to kill people. The 90’s Ghost Rider didn’t kill people if at all possible, as both human and Ghost Rider were generally good beings that would rather someone pay for their crimes (usually with a Penance Stare, that would cause someone to experience their victim’s pain over and over) then kill them. This Ghost Rider is Robbie Reyes, and he totally kills people.
Oh, and his license plate reads 299-ZXB. Doesn’t seem that significant, but it was spotlighted on the screen for a second.
Also, note that the SHIELD logo at the shows start has a subtle roaring engine sound. Nice touch.
Back at SHIELD’s Playground base, we see the new normal. Director Coulson is now Agent Coulson, apparently outranked by Mack, but the two are still friends and often bet over games of backgammon. This seems rather reminiscent of the chess games between Xavier and Magneto, and given that we see a similar game between Coulson and May later, one wonders if this won’t be an ongoing motif. Also, the silly law that forces superheroes to register is still a thing, as the Sokovia Accords are in full effect.
While Mack still wishes he could work on Coulson’s car Lola, and still calls people nicknames like “Turbo,” other things have changed a lot. There’s a lot of new faces like Agent Davis, who seems to be a SHEILD gofer assigned to Coulson’s group (and whose wife might be pregnant). May now has her own elite squad including Agent Piper (who had a few good lines last season). Fitz-Simmons have dozens of scientists under their command, including one Agent Nathan B. Nathanson (great name, that) and are working on some brain-interfacing VR called the Framework developed by Dr. Radcliffe.
All of these changes are due to SHIELD once again being a government-sanctioned agency (status quo, maintained!) under a new director who (although he hasn’t been named yet) is very suspicious of government overreach. As such, Simmons is now the Special Advisor to the Director In Science and Technology (or SADIST), and the Widespread Infiltration Monitoring Program (or WIMP) is in place to constantly test SHIELD agents for loyalty and subversion. Someone really likes their acronyms, which is a tradition with Marvel spy agencies. In the comics there is STAKE handling supernatural threats, SWORD handling intergalactic threats, ARMOR dealing with interdimensional problems, WAND dealing with magic specifically, the rival agency SPEAR from the Eastern Hemisphere, STRIKE used to operate in the UK, and so on.
As the official SADIST, Simmons has “orange” clearance, which sometimes gives her seniority over “yellow” and “red” agents, the latter including Agent May. Still, Fitz-Simmons continues their Q role, handing out items like an exploding pin for Mack, a new X-ray projecting hand for Coulson, and May is given Mapping Action Eyewear for her team (which could be shortened to MAE, isn’t that clever?).
Upon learning from May that Quake might be in Los Angeles, Mack and Coulson assign themselves to a case in that area involving the Aryan Brotherhood (to which Mack says “not my kind of brothers” – Seriously?!) and so they can meet up with their Inhuman asset, Yo-Yo, who is based in Miami now (I guess being a speedster, she can meet them anywhere, right?). Yo-Yo clearly wants to get closer with Mack, but he’s playing it as by-the-book as ever, refusing to fraternize while the Sokovia Accords require him to constantly monitor her.
In LA, Quake is tracking the same case, but her overuse of powers is causing her old bone-shattering pain to return. Yo-Yo is kind enough to steal some SHIELD healing pills (Senzu Beans?).
Meanwhile, Robbie Reyes tortures and eventually kills his Brotherhood victim, T. Mitchell. Rather than taking all the blame for this brutality, Robbie continually refers to Ghost Rider as if he’s someone else. Just as his predecessors had possessors inside them that caused them to transform, Robbie is possessed by the spirit of his serial-killer uncle Eli Morrow. In the comics, Robbie agrees to kill evil people with Eli, as long as Eli doesn’t threaten his friends and family. That’s dark.
SHIELD tracks the shenanigans to Canelo’s Auto Body shop, where Robbie works nights (?). This is where Robbie works in the comics too, so that’s a nice touch.
The trail ultimately leads to the Chinese mafia, based out of Cosmogenic Manufacturing International, a company with a Mobius strip for a symbol. It’s unclear what exactly they were doing with the Watchdogs, but the box they were trying to acquire seemed to release some kind of ghost or demon, partially possessing each mafia member and forcing them to kill each other. May takes them down before all the members die, but seems to be infected herself. Luckily, she has dealt with otherworldly possession before (most notably in the first season episode “The Well”), so she is able to hold back longer. We’ll see what happens next week.
While that’s happening, Daisy confronts Robbie, leading to a full-on brawl between Quake and Ghost Rider. Robbie initially assumes she’s possessed as well (just as she no doubt assumes he’s an Inhuman), but by the battle’s end Daisy is down for the count – and really seems to have a death wish. Ghost Rider walks away however, hinting that he may be limited to killing only the guilty. Daisy tracks him down again (in her new van, a call back to the premiere episode), and sees the apparent serial killer taking care of his wheelchair-bound brother Gabe (who is in turn, crushing on the daughter of their friend Jane). This all ties to the comics, as Robbie is the sole guardian of his disabled brother (and Eli claims he may have had something to do with causing that). In the comics, Robbie is trying to finish high school despite all his problems, but in the MCU he apparently dropped out in 11th grade.
In the only tangentially-related side story, Fitz visits Radcliffe, ostensibly to watch (British) football, but meets AIDA, who was hinted at in last season’s finale. Although she’s very glitchy (and very naked), AIDA assures Fitz she is intended to help SHIELD agents by going into risky situations in their place. Radcliffe also assures Fitz he’s not some sicko and that “it” was totally naked for plot reasons. Fitz is understandably worried about creating another Ultron (as Stark did in the film, and Pym in the comics), and about Radcliffe’s rather iffy legal status, but he is told AIDA could be the first step in protecting SHIELD agents so people like Tripp, Garner, and Lincoln don’t have to die (not that robots would have helped their specific situations). As mentioned last season, Radcliffe was originally the villain from the Machine Teen series obsessed with making humanoid robots, AIDA was the benign computer from the alternate reality of Squadron Supreme, and SHIELD robots, called Life Model Decoys or LMDs, are usually just temporary stand-ins for existing agents. A few LMDs have been purposefully granted autonomy, like Agent Cheesecake and Agent Beefcake, and sometimes people fall in love with them (as Red Hulk did in his solo series).
So what happens if Fitz falls in love with AIDA? Especially considering it took them this many seasons to finally get Fitz and Simmons together as a couple?
Also, what’s haunting May’s brain?
And more importantly, what’s gunna happen with Ghost Rider!?
Find out next week! Same SHIELD time! Same SHIELD channel!