This new season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started out with lots of mysteries, thanks to the six-month timeskip and radically altered status quo. Tonight, we finally got some answers (including a highly anticipated introduction), which naturally led to even more questions. Let’s dive in.
Ghosts are on the loose, and not just the fiery one with the slick black car. This episode opens with the ghost woman we saw released from that mysterious box last week, now out and about. In typical ghost fashion, she’s returned to her old home only to find new people (a father and son) living there. The ghost flies into the dad, causing him to see his son with a blackened skull face.
We saw this effect happen to May last week after her brief encounter with the ghost, and it appears to still be plaguing her. While she’s working that out, though, May and Coulson have an appointment with the new S.H.I.E.L.D. director, presumably to get chewed out for going after Daisy last week without his approval. They’re first forced to wait a couple hours, which May thinks is a power move by the new director to show them they don’t run this place anymore. As an aside, May mentions as Coulson might still be director “if you’d put up half a fight,” but Coulson doesn’t seem too bitter about the changes. While he and May wait for their new boss, Coulson mentions he doesn’t miss the bureaucratic elements of the director job; the Zephyr One feels like home to him now. We’ve seen Coulson go through a couple different iterations on this show, from company suit to secretive spymaster to Team Dad and back again — now he appears to be operating in a mode like Mal Reynolds in Firefly, a grizzled veteran who’s basically over it and just wants to look out for his ship and his crew. “At least they can’t take that away,” Coulson says, which seems like a big indication they will try to take it away at some point.
Unfortunately for Coulson, he hasn’t entirely escaped the bureaucracy. You see, this new director (Jason O’Mara) is all bureaucracy. We got hints of that last week, with Simmons’ detailed descriptions of his color-coded security clearance system and acronym-heavy initiatives. Now we meet him face-to-face, and the first line he utters is about headlines and sidebars. He’s actually rather lax about Coulson pursuing Daisy without his knowledge; in fact, he calls it “impressive.” He trusts his agents to do their work, and even has a motivational-poster-ready slogan for it: “A team that trusts is a team that triumphs.” He’s got bigger fish to fry than reprimanding overzealous operatives. Getting S.H.I.E.L.D. back off the ground as a legitimate public organization is no easy task, not in this post-Sokovia Accords world.
Nick Fury’s secret bases and unlimited funds are a thing of the past; now S.H.I.E.L.D. has to rely on UN funding and congressional approval, so this guy’s focus is optics, making everything look respectable. Daisy’s independent vigilantism is an obstacle to that, so he would like it taken care of, but first he’s got another job for Phil: tour guide. Even the slightest amount of time at the base seems to make Coulson itchy for the Zephyr, but just as the director figured, he can’t resist dropping trivial tidbits about Peggy Carter’s old adventures while walking congressmen through the base.
May has a different experience on that tour. She sees the politicians’ faces morph into that now-familiar black skull, and runs to the imprisoned gangsters to ask them if they’re seeing something similar. May asks how she can help, but the gangster only responds “It’s everywhere!” before proceeding to bang his head against the glass of his containment module. Simmons arrives to gas him into submission, but May’s already gone.
NEXT: There’s more ghosts where that came from
After haunting her old home, the ghost woman (whose name, we find out, is Lucy) sneaks into a lab full of boxes similar to the one from which she recently escaped. Turns out there’s a whole bunch of ghost boxes, each containing a different person, although at least one (Joseph, about whom Lucy asked the father and son at the beginning of the episode) appears to still be missing.
If viewers are confused about who these people are, how they became ghosts, and what they were doing in those boxes, it’s okay: They are, too! None of them knows why they were sealed away in those boxes for years. They just keep mentioning a mysterious “him,” who appears to have betrayed them. Most of them seem to think their current ghostly status is a result of tampering with the Darkhold, an ancient book of black magic. Now Lucy believes finding this forbidden book again can fix their situation and help them kill their betrayer, whoever he is. For now, they come up with a more short-term plan: They’ll split up and start looking for Joseph and the Darkhold, while one guy remains behind to destroy the lab.
This season’s other notable ghost has problems of his own. Robbie Reyes spends most of this episode fending off unwanted inquiries from Daisy. After escaping their confrontation last week and spying on him in human form, Daisy follows Robbie to his auto shop. Our erstwhile vigilante wants whatever her rival knows about the ghost boxes. Her methods are annoying him, though, and after a while he challenges her to a fight. Daisy tries to get out of it by mentioning she knows about his wheelchair-bound brother, which turns out to be the wrong move. Baby bro is Robbie’s berserk button, apparently, so he quickly sets a couple mechanic tools on fire and beats Daisy into submission with them. He still hasn’t used Ghost Rider’s traditional chain weapon yet, and I’m wondering if he ever will. Hellfire did that last season, after all; maybe they don’t want to repeat it, maybe they want to stick with this Ghost Rider’s unique Death Proof aesthetic, or maybe they’re just saving it for a nerdgasm moment somewhere down the road.
When Daisy comes to, she’s been chained up in the garage. The scene is very reminiscent of a similar one between Daredevil and the Punisher early in season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil. Robbie is looking through Daisy’s things. She begged him to kill her last week, so now he’s looking for justification. He finds a picture of Lincoln, indicating the main difference between them: Daisy feels bad for the people who die in her wake, while Robbie doesn’t feel anything for his victims. What really matters, though, is the info Daisy found on Momentum Alternate Energy lab, the apparent origin of the ghost box. This triggers something in Robbie, who immediately takes off. Daisy busts out of her chains with quake powers (why didn’t she just do that to begin with?) and attempts to pursue Robbie Black-Panther-in-Civil War-style, only to get immediately burned off his car.
The nature of the ghost box is still unclear, but whatever it is, it’s powerful and mysterious enough to stump even Fitz and Simmons. The two scientists are trying their best to examine it, but Fitz feels like “a middle-ages blacksmith looking at a Tesla.” Enter Mack, who has freeze-framed footage of the gangsters opening the box and caught sight of the ghost woman appearing behind one of them. Fitz and Simmons, naturally, try coming up with scientific explanations for this incorporeal being: Is it a multi-valent event? Mack, of course, thinks it’s just a ghost. He finds a connection to a lab in Pasadena, so he and Fitz head out. Simmons, once again, is too hamstrung by paperwork to accompany her boyfriend.
NEXT: The new face of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the Zephyr, Mack complains to Fitz about all the numbers he has to keep track of now — “I’m a mechanic, not an accountant.” While going over some data, Mack sees that some medical supplies are missing, though he chalks it up to his own fried brain. Mack, in general, is much less comfortable with the new status quo than Coulson. While Coulson is all “you can’t take the sky from me,” Mack is bummed their restriction to the Zephyr means he can only see Yo-Yo over Skype.
Eventually, Mack and Fitz reach the lab and find it darkened and bathed in red light. “Can’t we ever check on a bright place filled with friendly people?” Mack laments. They find the chamber that, until very recently, was full of scheming ghosts. The one who stayed behind reveals himself, locking Mack in a chamber, setting up the lab to explode, and reaching to possess Fitz. This ghost doesn’t want to be locked up again, he explains to the befuddled agents: “It was hell in there.” As if summoned by that very obvious lead-in, Robbie suddenly appears and grabs him from behind. He gives the ghost a Penance Stare to the face, goes full Ghost Rider, and burns the ghost to ash. Man, this guy is awesome. Presumably we’ll be getting a lot of Ghost Rider action for the rest of the season, and hopefully it never stops looking so cool.
Fitz shuts down the detonator and Robbie heads out, but not before grabbing a group photo off the wall, presumably one that depicts the group before they became ghosts. Later, Mack wraps up Daisy’s arm and chastises her for getting friendly with a killer like Ghost Rider. He tells her to come home so he can give her the bone medicine she needs — until he realizes the reason their supply is low is because Yo-Yo’s been smuggling it to Daisy (as we saw last week). This enrages him; after all he and Coulson have done to look out for her, she’s been going behind their backs the whole time?
Fitz is mad, too. Sure, Daisy went through something traumatic with her Hive experience and Lincoln’s death, but she’s far from the first member of the team to suffer. Fitz had his brain damage, Simmons had her exile on Maveth, Mack had his possession by the Inhuman City, Coulson lost his hand, May lost Andrew…but none of them ever turned their back on the team like Daisy has. Daisy seems determined to live without attachments from now on, so her friends no longer have to suffer the consequences of her mistakes like Lincoln did. But as Mack points out, that’s not her choice to make. Her decisions still affect them, because they’re her friends and they care about her. It’s a touching moment, and another example of the fascinating new dynamics that have arisen between team members this season. Hopefully, they can resolve their differences and help each other move past the pain at some point — but until then, it’s compelling to watch them struggle like this.
After hearing about the containment incident from Simmons, Coulson goes to confront May. He finds her frantically searching through lockers for the source of this skull-face contagion and convinces her to come to the lab. On the way there, however, she starts getting visions again and freaks out. She takes down Coulson and her entire strike team in her addled frenzy, until the director shows up. Turns out this guy isn’t just gifted at charming politicians and coming up with snazzy ad copy; he’s also a super strong Inhuman, capable of lifting May straight off the ground and slamming her into submission.
Coulson, unfortunately, is not privy to the details of what happens to May after that. He’s consigned to taking photos of the director with his group of fawning guests. Coulson attempts to get info on May, but as the director points out, it was his choice in the first place to step down as director and find a powered person to be the new face of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is what he gets in return: compartmentalization. The director trusts Coulson to be one of his best agents, but not to be objective about May and Daisy, so he’s shutting Coulson out of those operations. Coulson’s face looks like a man realizing he made a mistake, and perhaps he has: Our next glimpse of May finds her in a straightjacket and strapped down in a plane, still freaking out.
Daisy, meanwhile, has abandoned her friends yet again, but seems to have finally made a new ally. Robbie appears to tell her he thinks he might be the link connecting all these different elements (the ghosts, the Watchdogs, the lab), and the two drive off together to investigate.