Ever since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. entered its fourth season, I’ve been apprehensive about how the series would pursue its new direction. The past two episodes, “Meet the New Boss” and “Uprising,” had strong moments but tripped in a few places. Yet, this week’s new episode completely assuaged my recent doubts about season four.
“Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” utilized the series’ best formula for storytelling: Unexpected team-ups that coalesce into a compelling final product. Let’s jump right in and explore the latest installment of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Ghost Rider Joins S.H.I.E.L.D. (Well, Kind Of)
Robbie Reyes’s first encounter with S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t the “explosive confrontation” that the episode’s press materials promised it would be. Still, it had its merits. After questioning Robbie’s uncle Eli Morrow (who’s connected to this season’s ghostly villains; more on that later), Phil Coulson and “Mack” Mackenzie pursue Robbie. An epic car chase ensues, with Robbie’s Hell Charger trying to outpace Coulson and Mack in the former’s vintage convertible, Lola.
Some Marvel fans are bummed that in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Robbie doesn’t have the Hell Cycle of previous Ghost Riders. Yet, the Lola vs. Hell Charger chase was really something to behold, and it just wouldn’t have worked with the Hell Cycle. I’m sure that the series’ writers had that car chase in mind when they brought in Robbie.
Ultimately, Coulson convinces Robbie to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. because they have a common interest: Uncle Eli’s former coworkers who became ghosts. Understandably, Mack believes that working with Robbie — a known killer — is a mistake. Still, Coulson notices that Robbie has a code of honor, which makes him an asset. I doubt Robbie’s partnership with S.H.I.E.L.D. will last forever, but it’ll be interesting to see what they can accomplish together.
As for Coulson, he still feels like the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., even though he isn’t. He’s a natural leader, which will always be one of his strengths as a character. But throughout the episode, I kept on wondering whether he actually has the authority to recruit vigilantes like Quake and Ghost Rider for S.H.I.E.L.D. missions. Coulson is only a field agent now, which means he answers to the new director, Jeffrey Mace. I guess we’ll find out next week what Jeffrey has to say about Ghost Rider — and Quake.
Daisy’s Next Reunion
Speaking of Quake (Daisy Johnson), she turned to another of her old friends, Agent Jemma Simmons, for medical help. After Mack and Leo Fitz had a tense run-in with Daisy back in “Meet the New Boss,” it was only a matter of time before Daisy turned to someone else. Yet after tending to Daisy’s injuries, Simmons wasn’t willing to let Daisy push her away again.
Simmons tells her friend, “You can’t have it both ways, Daisy. You can’t push us away and then come crawling back half-dead only when you feel like it. It isn’t fair. You’ve already put a gun to my head. We’re in this together now, so suck it up.” It’s a welcome reminder that once Simmons sets her heart on something, she’ll always see it through. And try as she might, Daisy can’t keep her friends out of her her life.
With the Watchdogs murdering Inhumans, Daisy and Simmons reach out to James, who went by “Hellfire” while under Hive‘s sway. Yet, James isn’t a target of the Watchdogs. He’s working with them, out of a belief that he and his fellow Inhumans deserve to die. The revelation of James’s true allegiances was surprising, but not entirely unprecedented. Dwight Fyre allied himself with Lash to eradicate their fellow Inhumans. Even Raina tried to commit suicide, before Gordon rescued her and brought her to Afterlife.
At the risk of belittling the Watchdogs, they still don’t feel like credible antagonists. I don’t mean to diminish their real-world social commentary, since they’re essentially the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of a lynch mob. At the same time, we still don’t know the full scope of the Watchdogs, which makes it hard to understand what kind of threat they represent. Hopefully they don’t go the way of Hydra, which had a somewhat reduced impact as it survived for the series’ first three seasons — a bit too long, in my opinion.
So… Lucy Bauer Isn’t a Real Ghost?
Ever since Dr. Lucy Bauer and her ghostly friends debuted in season four’s early episodes, they’ve had a less-than-corporeal impact on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Until now, they’ve seemed like real ghosts. Yet Robbie’s uncle, Eli Morrow, revealed that they weren’t. At least, not really.
According to Eli, Lucy and her coworkers received their ghostly powers from a quantum particular generator that they were building. The generator was meant to create matter from thin air, but instead it gifted Lucy and her cohorts with incorporeality. Moreover, Eli tells Robbie that Lucy is seeking the Darkhold, a book said to have mystical abilities.
It’s still possible that Lucy and her cronies have ties to magic. For now, however, it seems as though they simply fit sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke’s belief that “magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet,” which Jane Foster quoted to Erik Selvig back in the first Thor movie. With S.H.I.E.L.D. devoting most of its resources to tracking down the Darkhold, hopefully we’ll learn more about this mysterious book soon.
Everyone, Meet AIDA
The other major story line of “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” revolved around AIDA. Fitz and Dr. Holden Radcliffe have been working on AIDA for quite some time now. But now, Radcliffe decides it’s finally time to begin testing for his Life-Model Decoy. The test subject? Agent Melinda May, recently recovered from her “ghost virus.”
May inadvertently gave AIDA a passing grade, since she didn’t notice that AIDA is an android. It made sense that unlike May and Coulson, Simmons immediately noticed that something about AIDA was off. Now, as Fitz feared, Simmons has to find a way to keep AIDA a secret from Director Jeffrey Mace, who holds periodic lie detector tests for Simmons and his other advisors. It’s an interesting conundrum for Simmons, especially since she’s terrible at lying. But perhaps she’ll surprise us once again.
On a related note, it still doesn’t feel like Simmons outranks field agents like May and Coulson, even though she technically does. She pulled rank on May back in the season premiere, “The Ghost.” But other than that, her new status isn’t very visible. I’m looking forward to seeing Simmons take on more of the burdens of leadership, especially as S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to evolve.
- “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” is a lyric from “Fire,” a 1969 song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
- I chuckled at the irony that James, an Inhuman with pyrokinetic powers, is working in a Fireworks store. Yet, it made for some compelling commentary. James likened himself to his coworker Sean, who overcame a longtime tobacco addiction. James says, “He keeps a single cigarette on his desk as a constant reminder of what he doesn’t want to be.”
- The fight with Hellfire vs. Ghost Rider (Hey, that rhymes!) was one of the episode’s many strong points. It certainly ignited Coulson’s maxim to “fight fire with fire,” but it also took it to a whole new level.
- Coulson described the threat that the Darkhold book represents by saying that numerous important figures have failed to find it, including Daniel Whitehall (season two’s Hydra head), the Red Skull (Hydra’s founder from Captain America: The First Avenger), and Nick Fury (who, I hope, needs no introduction for fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
“Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” put Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. back on track to recapture the success of its serialized storytelling. It also helped the series figure out how to balance the Watchdogs and Lucy Bauer as the main villains, at least for now. Come back next week for our Recap and Reaction for season four’s next episode, “Lockup“!