Thursday, October 20, 2016

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 4: Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. we get another classic song title, Ghost Rider finally pops up again, an old villain returns and at long last Daisy's reunited with the gang.

Wow, what a difference a couple of seasons can make. When Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered, it was sort of like CSI: Marvel a dry, matter of fact series about a group of normal secret agents who just happened to live in a world filled with superheroes. 

This didn't sit well with many viewers, whoright or wrong, were expecting to see the Avengers every week on TV. Ratings started slipping, and the producers began tweaking the show, bringing it more in line with viewer expectations. 

And thank the gods old and new they did! To be honest, it was quite a slog sitting through a lot of those early episodes. Fortunately the show's evolved to the point where I'm actually enjoying it and can't wait to see what happens next.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Simmons searches for an apartment for her and Fitz. She finds one she thinks is perfect, only to discover a grisly-looking Daisy inside waiting for her. It seems Daisy used her hacking skills to send the apartment listing to Simmons, in order to arrange a secret meeting. She couldn't have just sent her a text?

Simmons treats her wounds, as Daisy tells her that the Watchdogs are targeting Inhumans who are registered with S.H.I.E.L.D. She believes S.H.I.E.L.D.'s been hacked, and wants Simmons to help her find out who's doing the hacking. Simmons wants to help, but says she can't do so voluntarily, since the new Director Jeffrey Mace requires her to take weekly lie detector tests. Daisy picks up a gun and "fake threatens" Simmons, which will let her off the hook with Mace.

Coulson visits Robbie Reyes' uncle, Elias Morrow, in prison. Morrow worked at Momentum Energy Labs, and Coulson wants answers about the place. He says that Morrow's his only hope, because all the other Momentum employees have been turned into ghosts, except for one who's in a coma. Coulson implies that he may be able to get Morrow out of prison if he cooperates, but he refuses to squeal.

Outside the prison, Coulson tells Mack that he struck out. Just then they see Robbie Reyes drive by in his souped up Charger. Robbie peels out, and the two agents hop into Coulson's car Lola and go after him. There's a pretty cool chase scene (for a TV budget), as the two cars end up tearing through the LA River culvert. The chase ends when Robbie's car crashes into an invisible Quinjet parked in the culvert.

Meanwhile, Agent May wants to get the hell out of Dr. Radcliffe's house, but he says they need to run some more tests on her, to come up with a cure for the ghost virus. May's surprised to learn that Radcliffe killed her (just a little) in order to cure her. AIDA, Radcliffe's artificially intelligent Life Model Decoy android, takes care of May. 

Fitz arrives and has a fit (heh) when he sees Radcliffe has revealed AIDA to May. He says May, with her super spy smarts and instincts, will surely see that AIDA's an android. Radcliffe says this'll be the ultimate Turing Test, and that if AIDA can fool May, she can fool anyone. Amazingly, May doesn't detect that AIDA's an android. I guess she's probably not at her best after dying.

Robbie wakes up inside a cell on the Zephyr One. Coulson questions him, asking where his powers come from. Once again, Robbie says he made a deal with the devil. Why won't anyone ever believe him? Coulson opens the cell to prove they're on the same side. He wants Robbie to talk to his uncle Elias Morrow, and find out anything he can.

Robbie agrees, and visits Morrow in prison. Morrow's smart enough to see that S.H.I.E.L.D. is behind the visit, but he tells Robbie what he wants to know anyway. He says Momentum was working on a quantum particle generator which could "create matter out of nothing." Lucy Bauer used a book called the Darkhold to build the machine. Morrow protested, saying the book and machine were dangerous, but Lucy wouldn't listen. When Morrow tried to stop her, Lucy's husband Joseph began scuffling with him. Morrow put Joseph into a coma (which I guess is why he's in prison?). The machine then blew up, turning Lucy and the others into ghosts.

Meanwhile, Lucy walks through the wall of Joseph's hospital room, where he's still in a coma. She shoves her ghostly hands into his head, to try and get him to wake up, and tell her where the Darkhold is.

Simmons tells Daisy that S.H.I.E.L.D. gave special wristwatches to all known Inhumans, so they could track and monitor them for their own safety. Daisy says that was a horrible plan, because the Watchdog's have that info and are systematically wiping out all Inhumans in the S.H.I.E.L.D. database. She says the next one on the list is James, aka Hellfire, who was one of Hive's evil minions last season.

They track James to his job at a fireworks store (which seems like a really dangerous profession for a guy who can make objects burst into flame). Daisy says the Watchdogs are coming for him, and uses her powers to remove his S.H.I.E.L.D. tracker watch. She says he's still not safe, and Simmons offers to protect him. He says to meet him at a storage locker in an hour.

AIDA asks Radcliffe why he and Fitz are lying to May about her being an android. She says Radcliffe programmed her to never lie, and wonders why he's doing so. He says that not all lies are bad, and he and Fitz did so to protect her and save her life. AIDA looks troubled at this. Congratulations, Radcliffe! You just created SKYNET!

Simmons and Daisy meet James after hours, and of course he immediately betrays them, opening his storage locker to reveal it's full of Watchdogs (whose masks still look more like cat faces to me). James says he hates being an Inhuman, and agrees they should all be exterminated (um... including himself?). The Watchdogs surround Simmons and Daisy (um... why Simmons? Do they think she's an Inhuman as well?). Just as they're about to fire, Daisy uses her quake powers to knock them all on their collective asses. 


Daisy and Simmons hid in an empty locker. James uses his power (that he hates, remember) to ignite a bocce ball and toss it at the locker door, causing it to explode. The explosion disorients Simmons and Daisy, so they can't fight back. James grabs a chain and ignites it and starts to swing it at Daisy. Suddenly Robbie appears and grabs James' arm. He looks at the flaming chain and apparently likes what he sees. He snatches it away and transforms into Ghost Rider.

Outside, Mack and Coulson deal with the fleeing Watchdogs. Daisy and Simmons run outside and join Coulson. Inside, Ghost Rider and James battle. They smash through the wall of the storage unit, into the fireworks store. Naturally, the presence of two flame-based super beings ignites the store, which explodes in an impressive display of pyrotechnics. Sadly, Coulson doesn't say "Oooh" and "Ahh" as he watches.

Ghost Rider drags an unconscious James (wrapped in a chain) out of the blaze. Everyone piles into a Quinjet, which docks with Zephyr One. Inside, Daisy tries to make nice with Coulson, who responds coldly, saying only that he's glad she's safe. He tells both her and Robbie that they need to work together to find the Darkhold before Lucy does.

Coulson and Simmons swing by Dr. Radcliffe's place to pick up May. Coulson introduces himself to AIDA, and engages in small talk. Simmons can immediately tell she's an android, but rather than be furious at Fitz for keeping AIDA's existence from her, is impressed. Fitz says he didn't tell her about AIDA because of her mandatory lie detector tests. Simmons gulps, realizing she's scheduled to take one the next day.

Thoughts:

• Great confusion seems to surround the matter of Daisy and her Quake gauntlets. Her quake powers don't just vibrate other objects, they affect the bones in her arms as well. To counter this, last season Fitz and/or Simmons whipped up a pair of gauntlets that would protect her bones when she used her powers.

At the beginning of this season, when Daisy is out in the wild playing Robin Hood, she's not wearing the gauntlets. So every time she uses her powers, she injures herself a bit more. I just assumed that S.H.I.E.L.D. probably confiscated the gauntlets when they were treating her for her Hive addiction, and when she ran off to become Lisbeth Salander, she didn't take them with her.

Suddenly in this episode we find out that she's really had the gauntlets all along. She could have been using them all this time, but didn't because according to her, "they're not exactly incognito." Wha...?

First of all, I think she means "inconspicuous" here, as incognito means "in disguise." Second, she didn't want to wear her protective arm gauntlets because they'd stand out too much. So basically she'd rather risk permanent bone damage because her gauntlets don't go with her outfit. 

She's already sporting what the well-dressed cyber hacker is wearing this fall black pants, black boots, over-applied black eyeliner, finished off with the standard black hoodie so it's not like she doesn't already stand out. I honestly don't see what difference a couple of gauntlets would have made.

For the record, here's what her incredibly intrusive gauntlets look like. I guess it never occurred to Daisy that she could maybe just pull her sleeves down over them.

Obviously this is some cheap plot trickery here, to injure Daisy and force her to seek help and reunite her with her S.H.I.E.L.D. pals.

• Nice to see FitzSimmons apparently getting along so well that they're apartment hunting. After three seasons of near-deaths, exile on other planets and the usual "Will They Or Won't They?" shenanigans, it's nice to see them acting like a normal, everyday couple in a healthy relationship.

 It was nice to see Coulson back in the suit (complete with S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D and badge) when he paid a visit to Morrow in prison.

 So just who is this Elias Morrow, anyway? In the comics he's not related to Robbie at all. He was a serial killer (!) who befriended Robbie after he became Ghost Rider, and did his best to corrupt him. Here he's Robbie's uncle, who worked at Momentum Labs. So far he seems like a decent guy, but I'm betting he's got a few dark, hidden secrets (much like his comic counterpart). 

 Coulson chases after Robbie in his beloved Corvette convertible, Lola. It's an exciting sequence (especially for TV), but oddly enough it takes place entirely on the street. Lola has the ability to fly. Why didn't Coulson take to the air to catch Robbie? Did something happen to her flying ability that I've forgotten about?

I'm guessing the real world reason why we didn't see Lola fly in this episode is, once again, the budget. Those flying effects ain't cheap, and they probably spent this episode's cash on Ghost Rider and Hellfire flame effects.

• The car chase ends when Robbie crashes into a cloaked Quinjet that's parked in the LA River basin. 

Robbie's car isn't even dented in the crash, but that makes a certain kind of sense since it has supernatural abilities. But what about the poor Quinjet? Apparently they're pretty darned tough, because this one withstands a 70 or 80 mph car crash to the nose and is still able to fly! 

• After Robbie crashes his car, Coulson captures him. Coulson turns to Mack and says, "I get his car now, right? Isn't that how this works?" Haw! Coulson's a Fast & Furious fan!

• When Radcliffe tells May she can't leave his house yet, she curses in Mandarin, saying, "Guo pi." Radcliffe doesn't understand and says, "Excuse me?" AIDA then pipes up and says, "Agent May says you can shove all your tests up your ass."


Well, I guess that's sort of what she said. "Guo pi" literally translates into "dog fart." Chinese people use the phrase much the same way English speakers say, "bullsh*t." I guess AIDA looked at the context of May's reply and embellished it a bit for Dr. Radcliffe.

• This week we finally get to see Ghost Rider wield his flaming chains. It was a fun moment when Hellfire swung his chain at Robbie, he caught it in his hand, stared at it and said, "Huh."

Oddly enough, the flaming chain wasn't always Ghost Rider's weapon of choice. The 1970s Johnny Blaze version didn't use a chain at all. It didn't come into play until the 1990s Daniel Ketch Ghost Rider, and has been a tradition ever since.


• Speaking of chains, earlier this year, Marvel Studios had this customized train on display at the San Diego ComicCon. Note the flaming chains running the length of the strain. Many fans predicted this meant that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents would encounter Ghost Rider in the upcoming season.

Other fans myself included thought the train meant that Hellfire would become the season's new big bad. After all, it had already been established that Hellfire's main weapon was a flaming chain. The idea that Ghost Rider of all characters would be joining the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast seemed absurd at best. A flaming vengeance demon is about as far away from the tone of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as you can get.

But odd as it is, Ghost Rider did indeed join the cast. And I have to admit, so far it's worked out pretty well.

• This week's fun lines:

Morrow (as Coulson shows him his badge): "S.H.I.E.L.D.? Still a thing?"
Coulson: "We're making a comeback."

Radcliffe (explaining to May how he cured her of the ghost virus): "We had to very gently... kill you, ever so slightly."

James (just before attacking Robbie Reyes): "I don't know who the hell you think you are, but you just made a big mistake."
Robbie: "Funny, I was going to say the same thing... without the accent."

Coulson (to May): "It's good to see you back in fighting form."
May: "Dying takes a lot out of you."
Coulson: I've heard. We should start a club, get some T-shirts made up."

The whole scene in which Simmons figures out AIDA's an android was fun too. Nobody does the nervous shtick as well as Iain De Caestecker as Fitz:
Simmons: "Now I see why you've been spending so much time here."
Fitz: "What?"
Simmons: "Aida! She's beautiful."
Fitz: "Is she? Ah, yeah, she is all right, I guess. I prefer a classical beauty myself."
Simmons: "She's so real. Her... Her conversational responses, her range of motion."
Fitz: "Those are weird things to say about a person."
Simmons: "Fitz, she's an android."

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