Saturday, December 3, 2016

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 7: Deals With Our Devils

 Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back, after a momentum-killing three week hiatus. 

Jesus, I've said it before and I'll keep saying it why do these serialized shows keep taking weeks off in the middle of their continuing storylines? Any impetus the series may have built up over the past few episodes goes right out the window when the series takes a break for a month or more. 

OK, I get why the show didn't air on November 8 that's the night the country was busy destroying itself for generations to come. But there's no excuse for it to take off the next two weeks as well. Ah well. I guess it's not as bad as Doctor Who, which is taking off an entire YEAR!

All that whining aside, this was an awesome episode. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is fast becoming my favorite series, as the show's really stepped up its game this year. Seems like the series has managed to improve itself every year, especially when compared to Season 1. Some of those early episodes were absolutely dire, and took a real effort to slog through.

The previous episode ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, as it appeared that Coulson, Fitz and Robbie Reyes had been vaporized. Anyone who's ever watched a TV show before in their lives knew they weren't really dead, of course.

The Rashomon-like structure of this episode was pretty interesting, as we got to see each scene from two different perspectives. I especially liked how certain scenes didn't seem to make any sense (like Mack uncharacteristically disobeying orders) until we things from the other point of view. Well done!

And Holy Hell, this episode just gave us Mack Rider! It was worth tuning in just to see that! If you thought Mack was physically intimidating before, wait till you see him with a flaming skull for a head!


The Plot:
We pick up right where we left off last time, as Coulson, Fitz and Robbie have seemingly been disintegrated by Eli Morrow's whatsit machine.

Eli, who can now spontaneously generate pure carbon (?), walks through the halls of the power plant. Several S.H.I.E.L.D. grunts try to stop him, but he conjures up carbon spikes and impales them through their chests. He then seals the hall with a wall of carbon, preventing May and Mack from following him.

Back on Zephyr One, May, Mack, Daisy, Gabe and Director Mace review the security footage that shows Coulson & the others being vaporized by the blast. May refuses to believe they're gone, and says they need to call Simmons to figure out what happened and bring them back. Surprisingly, Mace agrees. He orders Simmons' recall from the mysterious mission he sent her on in the previous episode.

We then see Simmons in a secret location, analyzing an Inhuman encased in a Terragenesis shell. She's told the subject's name is classified, and he's been in the cocoon for seven months. She orders the lights dimmed and the room cleared. She introduces herself to the person in the cocoon and assures them she's there to help. A crack develops in the back of the cocoon...

May shows Mack the Darkhold book she took from Ghost Lucy's lab, and says she wants to use it to save Coulson and the others. Mack tells her the book is evil and should be destroyed. They clam up when Mace enters the room. Mack wants to track down the Chinatown Gang (which released Ghost Lucy from her imprisonment at the beginning of the season), thinking they'll somehow know where to find Morrow. Mace orders Mack to inter the bodies of the murdered S.H.I.E.L.D. agents instead. Mack disobeys orders, climbs onto a motorcycle and roars off the plane seconds before it takes off.

We then rewind to the beginning of the episode and see that Coulson, Fitz and Robbie are indeed still alive. Well, sort of. They're in some sort of shadowy, desaturated dimension that I'm sure is meant to remind us of Doctor Strange, now playing in a theater near you. Unfortunately they're out of phase with the real world and can't interact or communicate with anyone.

They enter Zephyr One and try to let May and the others know they're there and "alive," but no one can see or hear them. Fitz says they must be stuck between dimensions. Robbie begins feeling sick, saying they're all being "dragged down" and the Ghost Rider demon inside him doesn't want to go. The three note that their world is slowly getting darker. Fitz realizes they have to get back to their own dimension soon, or they'll be stuck in another dimension forever.

Fitz and Robbie follow Morrow, and overhear him call Senator Nadir, telling her he needs Simmons to return to S.H.I.E.L.D. immediately. Apparently the secret mission he sent her on involved Nadir's cocooned brother. Coulson eavesdrops on May and Mack's conversation, seeing her pull out the Darkhold. He screams at her, pleading her not to open the evil book. Coulson sees Ghost Rider leave Robbie's body and enter Mack, which is what caused him to drive off on his motorcycle.

So now we're all caught up and in the present again. Daisy sees Mack roar off, and chases him in Robbie's souped-up car. Unbeknownst to Daisy, Robbie jumps in with her. They chase Mack, who heads straight for the Chinatown Gang.

Meanwhile, May (along with the invisible Coulson and Fitz) visits Dr. Radcliffe, who's studying Eli Morrow's technology. She shows the Darkhold to Radcliffe, who tentatively opens the book. He's horrified by what he sees and closes it immediately, saying it's too much for a human mind to absorb. Fitz tells Coulson that Radcliffe's assistant AIDA is secretly an android, and that she could read the book without harm. Coulson's surprised by this news, but realizes they have no choice. He screams at AIDA to read the book. She apparently senses him on some subconscious level, and tells Radcliffe she could read the book without harm. Radcliffe is skeptical, but May tells her to go ahead. AIDA opens the book and begins rapidly reading it.

Daisy follows Mack to the Chinatown Gang's headquarters. Inside she sees a trail of dead bodies, and finds Mack interrogating a gang member, using his Penitence Stare on him. Daisy yells for Mack to let the gang member go. Mack says he's never going back, and transforms into Ghost Rider (Mack Rider?).

Back at the secret location, Simmons pulls a piece of the cocoon away from the Inhuman, revealing part of his face. He says "Hello," as agents put a bag over Simmons' head and drag her away. Well that was certainly weird.

At the Chinatown Gang's place, Robbie sees Mack is now Ghost Rider. Robbie demands that Ghost Rider repossess him (heh), as they had a deal vengeance against his Uncle Eli. Ghost Rider refuses, saying he could feed off Mack's pain (?) for years. Robbie offers Ghost Rider a new deal settle his score with Eli, and he'll settle all his. I guess that means he's offering to let the demon possess him permanently? Ghost Rider agrees. He leaves Mack and re-enters Robbie, who immediately disappears.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Radcliffe, May and AIDA have constructed what appears to be a leftover prop from Stargate: SGI. AIDA stands in the middle of the gate and begins "weaving" glowing strands of magic or reality or something. Coulson and Fitz watch her from their darkening dimension. Suddenly Coulson's dragged downward into the darkness. Fitz grabs onto him but can't pull him back. Coulson gets a glimpse of May, and finds the strength to go on. He frees himself and he and Fitz jump through the gate, back into the real world. 

Simmons is returned just in time to reunite with Fitz. Coulson scolds May for using the Darkhold, then thanks her for saving him. Mack sits in the dark, looking at a note that reads "Hope 4/18/16," whatever that means. Suddenly Robbie comes through AIDA's stargate. He asks Mack if he wants to help him settle his score against Eli. He says yes and they run off together.

At Radcliffe's house, AIDA secretly "weaves" a new brain for herself, which can't possibly be a good thing. Haven't any of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents watched Avengers: Age Of Ultron?

• In the previous episode (The Good Samaritan), Director Mace boarded Zephyr One and ordered the immediate arrest of Daisy and Robbie. Apparently he forgot all about that during the three week hiatus, because he makes nary a mention of it in this episode. 

Granted, in The Good Samaritan Coulson talked Mace into postponing Robbie's arrest until after Eli Morrow was captured, but I don't remember him making any such deal about Daisy. Mace walks right past her in this episode & doesn't even glance in her direction.

• When Coulson, Fitz and Robbie are caught between dimensions, they can see and hear everyone. Yet for some reason, no one in the real world can see or hear them. Funny how that worked out, eh? Seems like it ought to be the same for both parties.

By the way, Ghost Lucy was able to touch objects and interact with her environment. So why can't Coulson & the others do the same? Are they not the same kind of ghosts? Were they FULLY shifted into another dimension, while Lucy was only partially shunted?

• Poor Nathanson. This is his fifth appearance so far this season, and despite his constant reminders, no one knows his name.

May: "What's your name?"
Nathanson: "Nathanson, ma'am. What can I do?"
May: "Get lost, Nathanson."

• This week Simmons goes on a classified, top secret mission to free Senator Nadeer's brother, who's been stuck inside a Terragenesis cocoon for the past seven months.

So just how does our resident genius Jemma Simmons release Mr. Nadeer from his stony prison? Does she cut him out with a laser beam? Use sound waves to shatter the cocoon? Phase him out with Avengers tech?

Nope! She politely introduces herself to him, than pulls a piece of the cocoon off his face.

THAT. IS. BRILLIANT! Only an advanced theoretical scientist like Simmons could have come up with such a highly sophisticated method like that!

• Let's talk about AIDA speed-reading the Darkhold, shall we? While it was an interesting idea to spare the minds of the human characters by giving the book to the robot, I'm not convinced she would have been able to read it at all.

Bear with me here. A few weeks ago in Lockup, we saw a flashback in which Lucy Bauer and her husband Joseph finally acquire the Darkhold. Lucy opened the book and saw it was in English, while Joseph saw it in German.

The implication here is that the magical book scans each sentient mind that opens it, then adjusts itself accordingly based on their native language.

So this week, AIDA the Friendly Android convinces May and Radcliffe to let her read the Darkhold. She opens the book and can immediately see the contents and reads the whole volume.

Why would the Darkhold respond to her though? She isn't alive or sentient. Even her creator Dr. Radcliffe admits that she's "just a program," and if the book somehow corrupts her he can reboot her. So why did the pages show up for her? It's like a toaster or a lamp looked at the book. I think the pages should have remained blank, no matter how long she stared at them.

By the way, when AIDA opens the book, she sees the pages are filled with binary code. That was an awesome touch, even though I don't think she should have been able to see anything in it.

• That AIDA really knows how to get things done! After she reads the Darkhold, we cut away for a few minutes to check in on Mack & Robbie. When we cut back, we see that in the space of what appears to be fifteen minutes at most, AIDA, Radcliffe and May have constructed a large Stargate-like ring in the middle of the room. 

I guess they just had some spare dimensional gate parts lying around, and were able to cobble the thing together in just a few minutes?

By the way, the gate AIDA builds looks a LOT like the dimensional portals in Doctor Strange. Same glowing ring of yellow, sparkly energy and everything. I'm assuming that was intentional, to help tie the show in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (even though the movie people couldn't give two sh*ts about the series).

• Seeing Mack as Ghost Rider with his shotgun axe on his back was very reminiscent of 1990s comics. 

See, there've been several different versions of our favorite Spirit Of Vengeance over the years. In the 1970s, Johnny Blaze was the Ghost Rider. In the 1990s, a man named Danny Ketch took over for him. Johnny Blaze then became a demon hunter, who used a shotgun that blasted hellfire.

Mack didn't shoot anything supernatural out of his shotgun axe, but he still reminded me of Blaze.

• So what do we think of Coulson's glimpse of May giving him the strength to claw his way out of the dark dimension? Is this the seed of a Coulson/May relationship? Gods, I hope not. They've got one of the best platonic relationships on TV, and I'd hate to see it ruined by an ill-conceived romance.

In a similar vein, Simmons seemed awfully chummy with Mr. Nadeer while he was in his cocoon. I hope they're not setting up another love triangle between her, Fitz and someone else (remember Will from Planet Maveth last season?).

• Daisy's really starting to piss me off again. After all that's happened the past few weeks, at the end of the episode she decides she still needs to play martyr and leaves again. Jesus, climb down off the goddamned cross and rejoin the team already, eh?

This Week's Best Lines:

Daisy: (trying to convince May not to give up) "May, I know it's crazy, but Coulson came back from the dead, Fitz pulled Simmons through space through a rock, and Robbie's head lights on fire."

Coulson: (secretly observing May and Mack silently and intently listening to their radios) "Do we look that stupid on comms?"

Fitz: (thinking about Simmons) "They're gonna tell her I'm dead. I've got to phone her, let her know that I'm in another dimension. That's not gonna work."

Mace: (exasperated after possessed Mack drives off on his bike) "Driving off against orders... With no helmet? Mack knows better."

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