Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 2, "Meet the New Boss" REVIEW (SPOILERS!)

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues its focus on building up the magical side of the MCU in advance of Doctor Strange’s impending release this November.  In this week’s episode we learn a little more about the “weapon” unleashed in the season premiere, and we also learn a little more about our most exciting new character, Robbie Reyes, a.k.a. Ghost Rider.  However, this is not the full extent of this week’s revelations, as we also discover a little more about the new S.H.I.E.L.D. director in his first appearance.

Let’s start with the new Director.  I talked about options over the weekend for the character on whom he could be based, but so far it looks like I was off.  I will talk about him a little more this coming weekend, but for right now let’s just talk about the reveals themselves.  The first thing we learned about him was a name, “Jeffrey,” which is relatively uncommon in Marvel Comics (unless you are an artist or writer, that is).  We can’t say for certain yet whether that is his actual name or an alias, just like we can’t say for certain yet that the original character is named “Jeffrey”—remember Daisy Johnson, a.k.a. Quake… I mean “Skye”?  And who can forget the famous comic book character Deathlok… but his name is “Mike Peterson” this time around?  There is a “Jeffrey” that could fit the bill—IMDb gives the character that exact name, even (but I am not going to 100% go along with it without official confirmation, since IMDb is user-edited)—but there’s no reason to rule out other possibilities just yet.

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The other revelation—the much, much cooler revelation—is that the new Director is an Inhuman with super-strength and durability.  Is it a coincidence that an Inhuman with a variation of Luke Cage’s powers debuted on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3 days before Luke Cage is being released?  Maybe.  And not only is the Director an Inhuman, but that was by special request of Coulson, who agreed to step down as Director but told the President that the next Director (who brings S.H.I.E.L.D. out of the shadows) should be a powered person that the people can trust.  In thinking about this revelation, I was reminded in the comics of Daisy Johnson, who was Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. briefly, and Abigail Brand, the Director of S.W.O.R.D., both of whom are powered.  In addition to those two—and perhaps more relevant at the moment—Tony Stark himself became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. following the Superhuman Civil War as a way to restore the American people’s confidence in S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers.  After Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, Steve Rogers became Director of the newly-reformed S.H.I.E.L.D. for the same reason.  I suspect that AoS is planning to go in that direction; the offhand comment about Steve Rogers going into hiding can’t be a coincidence.

Thus far I am a definite fan of the direction they are taking the subplot revolving around the new Director.  He is definitely a likeable guy, but at the same time there is something about him that rubs the wrong way.  He talks—and to some extent acts—as though he really trusts Coulson, but then he does things like shuffle possessed-May off to who knows where and take the Daisy hunt out of Coulson’s hands, both of which sound right on paper, but both of which drive a wedge between Coulson and the Director.  In the end he could certainly turn out to be a better Director and man than Coulson, but the journey of getting to the end—whatever end it might be—is shaping up to be a good one.

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The Ghost Rider plot is also shaping up to be very interesting and push the heroes in a different direction.  As with last week, I thought the Ghost Rider effects were done very well, though as with last week I did think there was at least one place where the CGI skull looked off.  The two biggest sequences for the Ghost Rider were the rematch with Daisy and the ending when he saved Fitz from the “ghost.”  The first one was okay, but I wasn’t a fan of how quickly Daisy went down.  I suspect the reason is because of whatever is wrong with her arm—in which case this does serve to highlight that issue—but she’s been feeling a little to overmatched against Ghost Rider (even if Ghost Rider did sell his soul to Mephisto).  On the note of Daisy’s arm, I’m still confused by that.  The last time her powers were hurting her was in season 2 when she didn’t know how to control them.  In season 3 she never seemed to have a problem with it, but suddenly it is back.  The only answer I can come up with is that her guilt over Lincoln’s death has been hindering her control, forcing her power back in on herself.  However, this is something that really needs to be addressed sooner or later.

The second Ghost Rider sequence—the one with the “ghost”—was really cool for how it showcased Robbie Reyes’ “Penance Stare.”  That is a power which the other (traditional) Ghost Riders like Johnny Blaze have all had, but which Robbie Reyes has yet to display in the comics.  But now it is very clear that this iteration of Robbie is every bit as powerful as the other Ghost Riders, and that he will be more than a match for the magical enemies they will face this season.

The plotline involving the “ghost” woman freeing her comrades from their containment boxes was certainly interesting.  After this episode I want to know how they came to be in this state, why they were trapped, and how long they were trapped.  At the same time, however, the characters themselves are pretty boring.  The woman, Lucy, is serviceable, but of the men the only one with any real emotion is the one who can only communicate through ghostly wails; the other two were just dull and lifeless—or rather, more dull and lifeless than your usual ghost!  Hopefully this plotline will get a good payoff, but at this point I think the best part of these “ghosts” might be watching Ghost Rider Penance Stare them into oblivion!

The other negative for me in this episode came in the fight sequence when “possessed-May” was fighting her STRIKE team and Coulson.  Ming Na Wen does an excellent job as “possessed-May” throughout the episode, particularly as we can see the slow and steady progression from confusion and shock to panic and finally all the way to full-on paranoia.  However, the fight sequence where May fought her team definitely could have been done better.  There was at least one moment in there when it looked a little too obvious that the STRIKE team leader, Agent Piper, just stopped to wait for May to catch up to the fight choreography.  Other than that moment it looked pretty good, but that did pull me out of the moment a little.

All in all, this was a very good second episode to the season, one which really set things in motion for the rest of the season.  The new Director looks to be a very good foil for Coulson.  The magical elements with May look like they will really delve deep into the magical before Doctor Strange blows that realm wide open.  Ghost Rider and Quake look to provide a very good super-powered element to the season, particularly with them teaming up to investigate the “ghosts.”  Hopefully the show will continue going strong, even after taking next week off.

What did you think of this episode?  Who do you think the new Director is?  Let me know in the comments!

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