Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Four Midseason Finale: Ghost Skulls Roasting on an Open Fire!

The holiday season approaches, and while folks pull decorations out of the back of the closet, search for the perfect gift, and put party dates on their calendars, the television networks try to hold onto our attention for a day or two more by bringing their fall story arcs to a close—usually with some big dramatic moment, or in the case of superhero and SF shows, some sort of shooting, explosions, flames, or earth-shattering kaboom. And Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is no different. Especially when it comes to this Winter Finale, at least in the flame department. Tonight’s episode is called “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” and the synopsis from ABC promised we would see “S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider find[ing] themselves unlikely allies when the lives of all of Los Angeles hang in the balance.”

[Only Agents who are cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!]

The Season So Far

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started this season with a new guest star, Ghost Rider, and a whole new status quo to establish. The previous season had wrapped up a lot of plot threads: Grant Ward was dead, Hydra and Hive defeated, and Fitz and Simmons were finally together. The movies Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War had introduced a registration system for super-powered individuals with the ratification of the Sokovia Accords. And we knew going in that Coulson would no longer be Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I had originally seen the addition of Ghost Rider as a gimmick to boost ratings. But regardless of why he was added to the show, I thought the execution was very good. He and Daisy came together in a way that did not seem forced, due to their vigilante efforts pursuing the Watchdog hate group. Gabriel Luna deserves credit for a strong and sympathetic portrayal of his character. The introduction of magic as a manipulation of other dimensions and devices that we don’t understand was a good introduction of ideas from Doctor Strange into the scientific setting of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And the show cleverly tied the new ideas to the “Zero Matter” that was the McGuffin during Season Two of Agent Carter, which brought Peggy to L.A.

I also enjoyed the introduction of Jeffrey Mace, the new Director, into the fold. At first he seemed menacing and buffoonish at the same time, his dialogue studded with management consultant platitudes. But over time, I have come to believe that he is a good man who is in over his head, without real knowledge of how to lead, and trapped—giving in to blackmail from both the mysterious Senator Nadeer and Jemma Simmons (my wife, however, remains convinced that he is a bad guy).

While Daisy’s transformation into a guilt-driven vigilante didn’t feel very convincing to me, I eventually grew used to the idea, and her interactions with Robbie (aka Ghost Rider) were very well acted, and the scenes played very well.

shield408-3

Coulson is finally back in his element: a senior agent in charge of a team in the field. His clashes with Mace add some tension to the proceedings, and it’s been interesting to see him use the new powers that Radcliffe has built into his artificial hand, including the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo energy shield that was introduced last season. His continued personal loyalty to his old team is very compelling, but also shows some of the flaws that kept him from effectively leading the entire organization.

Agent May has not been well served this season. She did get infected by a ghost spirit, requiring Radcliffe to stop and then restart her heart to “reboot” her system. There were some good scenes between May and Coulson when he was trapped between dimensions, but she did not get a lot of meaningful screen time, and she is too good a character to be left on the shelf.

Fitz and Simmons are finally a couple, but the writers continue to pull them apart. Instead of externally generated drama, I would be happier to see them navigating the challenges of maintaining a normal relationship in an abnormal profession.

Doctor Radcliffe is a fun character, and a source of chaos that can drive many adventures. I enjoy his friendship with Fitz, who is fascinated by his brilliance, but horrified by his recklessness. And AIDA, especially now that she has absorbed the knowledge of the Darkhold book, looks like she will be a major driver for the plot going forward.

The big winner this season is Mack, whose role has grown larger over time. With his trademark shotgun axe, he has become the backbone of the team, their moral compass, and one of my favorite characters on the show. He also gets some of the best lines with his sardonic comments as they encounter the improbable, again and again.

shield408-2

Season 4, Episode 8: “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics”

Uncle Eli’s gang of criminals interrupts him in the middle of working on something mysterious with demands for payment. So he fills the lungs of one of the loudest complainers with diamonds, and the rest decide to follow orders. Mace takes a call from a reporter on scene where the gang is surrounded, and after fussing about his appearance, he authorizes Coulson to use all assets he can, including Robbie, Daisy, Yo-Yo, and AIDA, but he wants Daisy kept out of sight; he also sends May to fetch AIDA. Yo-Yo enters the building where Eli and his gang are holed up to do recon, and the place bursts into flames. Even with her speed power, she barely escapes alive.

Radcliffe is called on the carpet in front of Mace, defending his actions in constructing AIDA. But Mace is more interested in the Darkhold book used to save Coulson in the last episode, and wants Radcliffe to help get it. Outside the warehouse, Mack and Yo-Yo bicker. Robbie heads into the warehouse, wired for sight and sound. He beats up a couple of gang members, and then sees what Eli was working on; some sort of huge quantum battery. Robbie goes in to investigate when Eli confronts him. He starts to transform into Ghost Rider, but Eli skewers him with a carbon knife. The team discovers that Eli has created an atomic bomb as a fail-safe—it’s not just the warehouse that’s in danger.

Eli can’t figure out why Robbie isn’t dead yet. He asks how Robbie became the Ghost Rider. Robbie says that he and Gabe were victims of Eli’s actions, and asks Eli to explain himself. Eli was angry at the way the rest of the scientific team treated him, and says he did it for respect. And now, he says, he is becoming a god. Robbie warns that a devil is coming for him, and tries to change into Ghost Rider, but Eli hits him with another carbon skewer. Radcliffe and AIDA show up on scene with Mace, with the interdimensional gate in tow.

Mace wants to show the public the Director in action. Daisy has new gauntlets, and is also ready for action. Fitz and Simmons bicker, while Mace tasks Yo-Yo with sneaking into the building and removing the plutonium from the atomic bomb. Mack says the idea is stupid, and finally tells Yo-Yo he cares for her, and Simmons tells Daisy that the Director is in league with Senator Nadeer. Fitz figures out that the matter Eli “creates” is actually coming from somewhere else. Mace and Coulson bicker about who is in charge, and Coulson reveals that he knows about Senator Nadeer. Mace is glum, his team isn’t “a team that trusts.” Coulson reminds him that a bomb that can blow up half of L.A. is what is important.

shield408-4

Meanwhile, Eli is graduating to compounds—he can make water. Coulson walks into the room, and calls Eli a petty thief. Eli says he saw Agent Coulson vaporized, asks how he survived, and Coulson makes a quip about being dead before. Downstairs, Daisy quakes bad guys, and AIDA sets up the portal directly below the quantum battery. Coulson asks Eli why he’s torturing his nephew, and tells him that he is really just stealing power from another dimension: he is still nothing but a petty thief. Eli doesn’t believe him. Coulson tries to talk Eli out of his plan, but then realizes that Eli isn’t using the bomb as a threat: he is planning to set it off. Robbie finally completes his transformation into the Ghost Rider. May and Mack burst in and take out gang members, while Yo-Yo helps out at super speed. Mace is there, too, in a cool-looking superhero suit.

AIDA opens the interdimensional gateway. Daisy is buckling under the strain of keeping things from shaking apart. AIDA is shot, and hurt. Eli is finally being consumed by the Ghost Rider, and bursting into flame, when the quantum battery disappears. It looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. has won. It turns out that AIDA is programmed to look like a hurt human when shot, and to feel pain, so that she can act as an effective decoy. Daisy quakes her way high into the atmosphere to check things out, but lands amidst reporters. Mace steps in front of her and tells the press that she is still a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and asks her to go along with his story.

Daisy and Coulson are in the Zephyr’s cargo bay, looking at Robbie’s car. Coulson says not to count Robbie out yet, as the other Ghost Rider survived worse in the past. He then asks Daisy to rejoin the team. She doesn’t like the rules and regulations, but she misses her team members. Coulson says he wishes Daisy was the Inhuman face of S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of Mace, but she snorts, “Maybe in the comic version,” which is an in-joke for comic readers, who know that, yes, that happened. Back at the base, Mack and Yo-Yo bicker, and she starts putting him down again, but then he kisses her, and she doesn’t seem to mind. Everyone gathers in the conference room; the team is together again, and Daisy gets a new official lanyard. Mace tells Radcliffe his research can continue, but only under S.H.I.E.L.D. surveillance. Mace sends an agent with AIDA to pick up all of Radcliffe’s stuff, and as he packs it, a door opens. The agent looks in, and AIDA sneaks up behind him and murders the agent with almost no apparent effort.

In the stinger, AIDA goes to the door where she killed the agent, and stoops to render aid to a wounded Agent May. The May currently with the team is an LMD. She and Coulson finally share their whiskey, and she says she is right where she belongs. Coulson doesn’t realize it, but his bonding moment has been totally ruined.

shield408-5

In the preview for the next episode, a new arc called “LMD,” we find that AIDA has gone completely off the reservation, and there is lots of punching and explosions (come to think of it, when isn’t there lots of punching and explosions?). And, we also got an ad for a new six-part digital series, called Slingshot, available December 13 on ABC’s streaming service: while she’s been away from the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D., it turns out that Yo-Yo has been busy on her own special mission!

Alan Brown has been a science fiction fan for five decades, especially science fiction that deals with military matters, exploration and adventure. He is also a retired reserve officer with a background in military history and strategy.

21 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!