Marvel's Agents of SHIELD returns to ABC with a new featured guest star, a new time slot, and the season premiere episode, "The Ghost," heavily leverages both.
"The Ghost" picks up following the six-month time jump from the Agents of SHIELD Season 3 finale. With Hydra gone and the Sokovia Accords in effect, SHIELD has come out of the shadows and is once again working in the public eye. The organization is primarily responsible for monitoring Inhumans and other enhanced persons around the globe. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who is still dead as far as the public knows, has stepped down as director of SHIELD. The new director is so focused on internal security and avoiding a second Hydra-like infiltration that his methods and practices border on being paranoid. Meanwhile, Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet), now known as Quake in the press, has gone rogue and has avoided Agents Coulson and Mack (Henry Simmons) at every turn, despite their best efforts.
The biggest draw of Agents of SHIELD Season 4 is the debut of Gabriel Luna as Ghost Rider, a.k.a Robbie Reyes. Luna is a natural in the role, delivering Robbie's Reyes lines with brash and righteous confidence. Ghost Rider is a more a character of action than words, though, and the Ghost Rider action in "The Ghost" is spectacular. The episode wastes no time bring Ghost Rider's full, vengeful wrath to bear, and then dials it up to eleven in the episode's climax. The effects are gorgeous, better even than the Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance movies. In a single episode, Agents of SHIELD has produced the definitive live-action Ghost Rider.
Ghost Rider is a dark and violent character, and Agents of SHIELD makes use of its new time slot to throw more blood into the mix than ever before, as well as a handful of scenes that show Agents of SHIELD's surprising sexier side. "The Ghost" brings Agents of SHIELD closer than ever before the tone of Netflix's Marvel series.
While Ghost Rider is the main event, and certainly delivers, the rest of the episode is something of a slow burn. "The Ghost" checks in with all of the principal cast of Agents of SHIELD, including Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), but "The Ghost" is all about setting up the new "six months later" status quo rather than moving theses characters in any particular direction just yet.
The b-plot of "The Ghost" is a bit perfunctory. It serves the narrative purpose of forcing Ghost Rider and Quake to cross paths, as well as giving Coulson and Mack something to do and creating a bit of friction between certain characters, but it ends up resolving itself with relatively little necessary involvement from SHIELD. A third narrative thread, involving the returning Dr. Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah), feels like merely a prolog to another episode's story. Again, "The Ghost" seems to be all about setting up a new status quo and a new set of mysteries to follow throughout the season.
With the exception of a couple lines of dialogue, there's not much to complain about in "The Ghost." The Season 4 premiere is a dense hour of television that does a lot of heavy lifting in setting up a new series status quo and drawing new lines of conflict within the cast. While the SHIELD-centric storyline is merely solid, the Ghost Rider storyline absolutely sizzles. Buckle up, because it looks like Agents of SHIELD Season 4 is going to be a hell of a ride.
Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.