Friday, November 4, 2016

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 6: The Good Samaritan

This week on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ghost Rider continues to slowly inch his way front and center, as we finally get to see Robbie Reyes' "Deal With The Devil" he's been talking about for several weeks.

Ordinarily I'd be wary and upset of this shifting of attention from the core cast, but honestly I'm enjoying this version of Ghost Rider so much I don't mind it a bit.

We also get a glimpse of the Original Ghost Rider, which was hinted at just last week. That was totally unexpected, and just plain awesome. I'm hoping now that the show's firmly cemented him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that we might get a Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider series on Netflix. How cool would that be?

I'm assuming the very odd treatment of Simmons in this episode is the herald of a new subplot for her, and not just a clumsy way to get her out of the picture in an already crowded episode.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We begin with a flashback ("Back In The Day") at Momentum Energy Labs. We see a pre-ghost Lucy Bauer, her husband Joseph and Eli Morrow (Robbie Reyes' uncle) all working on their Quantum Power Cell device. Joseph tells Eli they're ready to test it ahead of schedule. When Eli asks how that's possible, Joseph says he found something that advanced the project by years (he's talking about the Darkhold, the ancient "Book Of Sins" everyone's trying to get their hands on). They activate the Power Cell and it bathes them all in some sort of energy wave. Joseph opens the device and finds a hunk of carbon inside. Apparently the machine just made something out of nothing, which of course is impossible under our laws of physics.

The scientists then celebrate their success. Joseph says with the Quantum Power Cell they could end starvation, by creating food out of thin air. Eli goes over the results of the experiment and says it doesn't make sense. Lucy says nothing's impossible with the Book. Joseph overhears them and jealously tells Eli to stay away from the Darkhold.

In the present, May and a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. grunts enter Momentum Labs, expecting to apprehend Ghost Lucy and Eli (who Lucy captured last week) there. Unfortunately the lab is empty. Coulson says Lucy's smart, and must have set up a new lab somewhere.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, Director Jeffrey Mace tells Simmons he has a top secret assignment for her. Apparently it's so secret that she has to wear a hood over her head on the trip there. That doesn't seem suspicious or sinister at all.

Meanwhile, Gabe's worried that his brother Robbie hasn't been home for days. Daisy shows up and tells Gabe she's taking him to see Robbie. She brings him on board the Zephyr One, where he's reunited with his brother. Gabe is impressed when he sees Robbie's apparently working with S.H.I.E.L.D., and thinks he's a secret agent. Robbie tells Gabe he sent for him because he's afraid Lucy will come after him.

Lucy shows Eli her new lab
— an abandoned power plant, that can provide them with all the energy they need. It could also kill thousands of people if the experiment goes wrong and the thing explodes, which sure sounds like foreshadowing to me.

On Zephyr One, Coulson gets an ominous call from Mace
 he's heading toward them in a Quinjet, and intends to board the ship and arrest the known fugitives Quake and Ghost Rider. Mack immediately loads Daisy, Robbie and Gabe in a Wonkavator, er, I mean Containment Unit and hangs it out of the bottom of the Zephyr to hide them. Mace boards the ship (in a very Vader-ish manner) and orders his troops to find the fugitives.

Inside the Wonkavator, Gabe asks why they're hiding if they're good guys. Robbie says it's time he knew the truth, and infodumps his origin story. "Back In The Day," Robbie secretly takes his uncle's Charger, intending to enter it in a street race. Gabe goes along for the ride. A car full of gang members pulls up alongside him and begins firing. Robbie and Gabe are both shot multiple times. The Charger flips over, throwing Robbie through the windshield as it lands upside down. As Robbie sails through the air, he prays to anyone listening, saying he'll do anything to save his little brother Gabe. He hits the pavement and is instantly killed.

Meanwhile, Gabe can't move his legs, and sees Robbie's lifeless body lying a few feet away. Suddenly a "Good Samaritan" rides up on a motorcycle. It drags Gabe from the wreck, then bends down to check on Robbie. He touches Robbie's forehead and  brings him back to life. The "Good Samaritan" turns out to be Johnny Blaze, the freakin' original Ghost Rider himself, who may or may not have transferred whatever possessed him into Robbie.

Back in the present, Robbie's afraid that Gabe will see him as a monster, but instead he thinks it's the coolest thing ever. Robbie tries to explain that it's not HIM that's been killing gang members, but the thing inside him.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz accesses secret SSR files and finds out that much of the equipment at Momentum Labs was originally manufactured by Isodyne, a company which played a big role in Season 2 of Agent Carter. Fitz says that Isodyne worked with zero matter and dark force energy. They were purchased in the 1950s by Roxxon Oil. Fitz believes Lucy is using an old Roxxon power plant as her new lab. He and Mack head to the plant to stop her.

Meanwhile, Mace's troops search the entire Zephyr One but can't find the fugitives. Mace pushes a button, and the Wonkavator containing Daisy, Robbie and Gabe rises back into the hangar. Mace tells Robbie he'll see that he gets a fair trial. Robbie says he'll go quietly if Mace will let him save his Uncle Eli. Mace refuses. Robbie turns into Ghost Rider and escapes the Wonkavator. He attacks the superstrong Mace, and the two fight. Ghost Rider gets Mace on the ropes and begins pounding the stuffing out of him. Gabe yells for him to stop before he kills him, and Ghost Rider hesitates and transforms back into Robbie. Coulson talks Mace into letting Robbie help them stop Lucy.

At the Roxxon plant, Lucy and Eli prepare their experiment. I think they're trying to turn Lucy back to normal? I'm honestly not sure what their goal is. Coulson, Mace and Robbie land and meet May, Fitz and Mack, who are already there. They all infiltrate the plant. Daisy can't shut down the plant remotely, because it predates the internet (!) and isn't on any network. Robbie tells the others to find Eli, while he deals with Lucy.

Robbie manages to track down Lucy. She tells him that she and James hired a gang to kill Eli, and didn't mean for Robbie and Gabe to get hurt (the gang saw Eli's car, which Robbie "borrowed," and thought he was in it). She walks through Robbie, intending to infect him with the "ghost virus." Curiously, he's unaffected, and grabs hold of Lucy's arm. She says that Eli was the one who became obsessed with the Darkhold and turned everyone into ghosts. Robbie doesn't care, and burns Lucy away.

Coulson finds the Darkhold in the lab and gives it to May, telling her to leave and hide it someplace safe. Fitz and Mack try to shut down the chamber in the lab, but can't. Mack goes back to the Zephyr One to grab an EMP device to short out the plant. Coulson finds Eli, and tells him to shut down the machine. Eli says it's impossible, and locks himself in the chamber. Coulson realizes that Lucy wasn't the villain who turned everyone into ghosts; it was really Eli, who wanted the power of the Darkhold for himself.

The machine powers up as an energy wave blasts through the plant. Coulson, Fitz and Robbie are all caught in the blast and... disappear. Eli steps out of the chamber and holds out his hand. He creates a chunk of matter out of nothing, just by thinking about it.

Thoughts:
 
• All the flashbacks in the episode are captioned, "Back In The Day." Is that so they don't have to specify a year, and instantly date the series? Or is it supposed to sound like gang lingo? 

• Fitz mentions Isodyne, zero matter and the dark force, which of course were all shout outs to Season 2 of the late, lamented Agent Carter. It was also a nice touch to link Momentum Labs to Roxxon, which is of course the go-to name when the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs a corrupt, evil corporation.

• I loved Mace's Empire Strikes Back entrance when he came down the ramp of the Quinjet to meet Coulson. He looked very much like Darth Vader deliberately striding down the ramp of the Shuttle Tyderium— complete with jets of extraneous and unnecessary steam shooting everywhere. There's no way all this wasn't deliberate.

• The best part of the episode was of course the surprise appearance of the original Ghost Rider, aka Johnny Blaze.

We got a couple of Original Ghost Rider Easter eggs in last week's episode, but I figured that would be the extent of it. I never dreamed he'd actually pop up on the series.

In the comics there've been several hosts for Ghost Rider over the years, including Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch. There's some argument among fandom as to just which particular Ghost Rider this is. For the record it's definitely Johnny Blaze. You can tell by the very prominent bullet hole in his flaming skull. Apparently at one point in the comic Blaze was shot in the head by a priest (!) and sent to Hell.

• Seconds before Robbie dies in his flashback, he pleads with anyone listening to save him. Apparently the Original Ghost Rider heard him, and comes a runnin.' He bends down over Robbie, touches his lifeless head, and brings him back to life. From that point on, Robbie's body houses a flaming Spirit Of Vengeance.

What's not quite clear yet is just exactly what the Original Ghost Rider did to Robbie. Did he put just a small portion of his power into him, effectively creating a second Ghost Rider? Or did he transfer the demon possessing him completely into Robbie's body? It's impossible to tell just yet, but I have a feeling it'll be cleared up before the mid-season break.

By the way, Johnny Blaze, the Original Ghost Rider, first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5, way back in 1972. He was created by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog. As you might expect, in the comics he had absolutely nothing to do with Robbie Reyes.

• This episode's big twist is that Lucy Bauer isn't the real villain after all, and Eli Morrow is. 
While that is indeed a pretty good twist, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense given what we've seen in previous episodes.

See, last week Lucy kidnapped Eli from prison, and forcibly took him to her lab. This of course implied that he didn't want to go with her. She also forces him to read the Darkhold and tell her what it says, since she couldn't do so in her ghostly state.

But this week we find out that Eli is really the one who became obsessed with the Darkhold, and conducted forbidden experiments that turned the Momentum crew into ghosts. Lucy even tries to explain all this to Robbie before he kills her.

So if Lucy knows Eli is bad news, why would she kidnap him and give him access to the Darkhold? Why hand him what is essentially an atom bomb? Her actions seemed designed to keep Eli's true nature from the audience, but made little or no sense in her reality.

• Eli Morrow appears in the comics, but in a radically different form. There Morrow was a serial killer who was sent to Hell. He was somehow grafted onto Robbie Reyes' soul to form the newest version of Ghost Rider.

• For some reason Agents Of SHIELD won't be back until November 29. That's a month from now! The networks are already splitting their seasons in half— are they splitting the half seasons in half now too?

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