The six-month time jump that closed out Season 3 meant the premiere acted as a soft reboot for a series that’s had a number of them already, and without the dead weight that was Brett Dalton’s Hive arc, the series has more direction and feels more invigorated than it has in a while.
Part of the reason for that is the introduction of Gabriel Luna as Robbie Reyes, the show’s version of Ghost Rider, who is invoking vengeance on the streets of East Los Angeles. But the fact that Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) original rag-tag team of agents has been disbanded and given new roles in the wake of the government once again taking control of S.H.I.E.L.D. adds new complications and mysteries to a series that desperately needed it.
With the addition of Ghost Rider this season, the series is entering unchartered territory and introducing the supernatural into the MCU. According to showrunner and executive producer Jed Whedon, who addressed a small audience of friends, family, fans and press following the show’s premiere screening Monday evening, the fact that this is happening just shy of the November release of Doctor Strange is just a coincidence.
Whatever, Jed. This isn’t our first rodeo.
Still, the series has clearly taken steps to up the ante and add its own spin to not only the show’s powered population but Ghost Rider himself. The show’s version of the character has been aged out of high school but otherwise remains pretty faithful to the original backstory. And as Whedon noted, the writers have only made adjustments to the story so that those fans familiar with the comics and the character won’t know exactly what’s coming next. That uncertainty is what ultimately made the premiere an enjoyable ride.
But there’s still the case of the shifting dynamics of Coulson and the gang. The biggest shift in power oddly enough didn’t stem from Daisy’s (Chloe Bennet) departure from the team or Coulson being demoted from director to agent, but rather the promotion of Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) to special advisor to the still as-yet-unseen director (who will look a lot like Jason O’Mara when he makes his debut).
Her new role comes with new responsibilities and puts her at odds with each of her friends, including Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), with whom she’s still happily coupled (thank God). And because she has to take a lie detector test every day — a measure put in place to hopefully prevent another awkward company-wide Hydra infiltration — S.H.I.E.L.D. is basically a breeding ground for secrets. That set up alone has the power to create an infinite amount of new conflicts. Already before the end of the premiere, Fitz decided to keep the fact that Radcliffe had developed a Life Model Decoy prototype a secret from the one person who could probably assist in its development. That probably won’t come back to bite him in the a** at all.
With Daisy delivering her own style of vigilante justice and Coulson back in the field as an agent, the series has essentially come full circle, and not in the way it necessarily had been doing with the constant retreading of Daisy’s desperate desire to find a place to call home. Using the character’s isolation to introduce Ghost Rider gives her something worthwhile to do and means fans aren’t being treated to a pity party by someone who’s admitted she’s ready to die.
And that’s a fine place to jump into the story in Season 4. The show desperately needed to prove there’s still some gas left in the tank after a lackluster end to a third season that started out so promising. Pushing forward and finding new conflicts for each of our heroes to face, including a supernatural element that the series has never tapped into before, could be just what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs right now.