Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues its fourth season with yet another strong installment. Last week’s “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” brought Daisy Johnson (Quake) and Robbie Reyes (Ghost Rider) on board with S.H.I.E.L.D., at least for now. This week, “Lockup” utilized that strong storytelling foundation to send the uneasy allies on their first joint mission. That, along with an intriguing interplay between Agent Jemma Simmons and Director Jeffrey Mace, made for another memorable episode.
Can Mack Trust Robbie?
One of the compelling storylines of “Lockup” was the partnership between Robbie Reyes and Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie. Last week, Mack was understandably apprehensive about Phil Coulson‘s decision to recruit Robbie as an ally for S.H.I.E.L.D. Robbie has made no secret of his willingness to kill victims who deserve death. And yet, Mack witnessed firsthand the fact that Robbie, as Ghost Rider, is the only one capable of fighting Dr. Lucy Bauer and her ghostly cohorts.
In “Lockup,” Mack’s decision to work with Robbie is anything but straightforward. While springing Robbie’s Uncle Eli Morrow from prison, Mack has to convince Robbie not to kill another convict: Santino Nogara, a member of the gang that shot Robbie’s younger brother, Gabe, and rendered him paraplegic. Ultimately, after saving Uncle Eli, Robbie stays behind to murder Nogara. Before doing so, Robbie learns that someone hired the gang to shoot him and Gabe. Looks like Robbie has yet another mystery to solve.
Moreover, for one of the first times, Robbie encounters visible ramifications for his one-man crusade for vengeance. By going after Nogara, Robbie inadvertently lets his Uncle Eli be captured by Lucy Bauer. It’s partly Robbie’s fault that Lucy convinces Eli to read the Darkhold, which has connections to Doctor Strange in the comics. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is heading for some sort of collision with Doctor Strange, so we’ll learn more soon. In any case, Robbie still has a long way to go to become a team player.
Just One Weird Family
While Mack tries (and fails) to keep Robbie in line, Daisy Johnson teams up with Phil Coulson and Melinda May. Last season, the late Lincoln Campbell pointed out how Coulson, May, and Daisy form a “small, messed-up family.” Daisy even reinforced that comparison as part of a bizarre dream sequence during season two’s “Ye Who Enter Here.” “Lockup” toyed with that family metaphor as May tries to get through to Daisy.
Actress Ming-Na Wen has portrayed the story of May’s post-traumatic stress in a meaningful way. That’s what makes her interactions with Daisy in “Lockup” so compelling. During the prison break, Daisy nearly sacrifices herself for Coulson and May by taking on a horde of hostile prisoners alone. Afterward, May tells Daisy, “I know what you’re doing. Trying to distance yourself from everyone else so they don’t drown in your wake? I invented that move. It doesn’t work for one simple reason. Phil Coulson.”
Perhaps more than any other character on the show, May is in a position to empathize with Daisy. It’s a testament to the fact that May has assumed an unwritten maternal role toward her fellow characters. Yet, Daisy still isn’t ready to let anyone else in, not even May. Now, Coulson is the only one who has yet to try and get through to Daisy. I’d be interested to see how that conversation might go, but I have a feeling that Daisy still hasn’t hit rock bottom yet. After all, it might not be S.H.I.E.L.D. that convinces her to abandon her one-woman crusade.
Jeffrey Mace: The Vulnerable Hero
Jeffrey Mace, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who happens to be Inhuman, is still a cipher of sorts. Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons both have reasons for not trusting Mace. His personality revolves around his commitment to appearances — or “optics,” as he calls it. By extension, he cares a lot about what others think of him, a trait that I can empathize with.
As an Inhuman, Mace sees it as a personal mission to subvert anti-Inhuman sentiment. And like all prior Directors of S.H.I.E.L.D., he (rightfully) feels responsible for his agency’s reputation and actions. He isn’t exactly vain, but his sensitivity to others’ opinions leaves him vulnerable to blackmail — twice, in fact.
In a live televised debate with anti-Inhuman Senator Ellen Nadeer and moderated by real-world ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, Jeffrey Mace wins high approval ratings by coming out as an Inhuman. However, his claims about being a hero at the U.N. bombing in Vienna (an incident seen in Captain America: Civil War) catch Simmons’s attention.
Sensing that Mace is lying about his “heroic” actions in Vienna, Simmons blackmails him into exempting her from further lie detection tests. It’s a gutsy way for Simmons to solve her lie detection problem, and I’m impressed with her audacity. Furthermore, by withholding information about Coulson’s partnership with Daisy and Robbie, Simmons again leaves Mace vulnerable to blackmail — this time from Senator Nadeer, who threatens to sabotage Mace’s approval ratings by leaking footage of the prison break. Nadeer also has some shadowy ties to the Watchdogs, so this doesn’t look good.
It’s truly alarming to see how vulnerable S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new director has become. In any case, we’ll certainly learn more about Jeffrey Mace as season four continues. And speaking of “learning more,” it looks as though Robbie will come clean about his Ghost Rider activities to his brother, Gabe, in next week’s aptly-titled episode, “The Good Samaritan.” As always, tune in next week for our recap and reaction!