This season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a little slow thus far, and understandably so: There’s been so many new characters, plotlines, and dynamics to introduce that there’s hardly been any time for the team to pal around like usual. Luckily, this week abandoned the incomprehensible conversations between ghosts for a thrilling, self-contained adventure that hinted at a larger conspiracy to come (and one that grows naturally out of previous plot points). Let’s begin.
Things kick off at a bachelorette party in Miami for Yo-Yo’s friend Maria. Maria appears to relish nothing so much as teasing Yo-Yo, both for her clothes (the Inhuman speedster doesn’t wear dresses, which is a problem when you’re supposed to be a bridesmaid) and Mack. Maria even grabs her friend’s phone to prank-call Mack, only to be interrupted by a sudden blackout. One guest jokes that this means no more blended drinks, but a helicopter crashing into a nearby building quickly proves this blackout is going to be a lot worse than that.
Enter the show’s title card, which starts to glitch a little before transitioning into a Max Headroom-style broadcast from an unknown provocateur broadcasting himself to all channels. This shadowy figure claims to be a member of “the Inhuman resistance” and threatens to blackout more cities unless the Sokovia Accords’ Inhuman registration is repealed. Mack and Fitz quickly point out to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Jeffrey Mace that the only Inhuman with the ability to cause such a blackout was Lincoln Campbell, who was both a good guy and also dead, so it’s more likely some kind of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device. One of Mace’s lackeys worries about the potential bad publicity from this crisis. Mack yells at him, but Mace quickly points out that the guy works in the PR division, so it’s literally his job to worry about these things. After all, “a team divided is a team defeated” — someone’s seen Civil War. Mace is actually turning out to be a pretty good director so far — he listens to his employees and takes their specialty analyses into account. His goofy slogans and bureaucratic shadiness are still there, of course, but not even Nick Fury was perfect. Anyway, Mace orders Mack and Fitz to take Coulson with them on a Quinjet to Miami to figure out this blackout problem.
Coulson, at that moment, is watching a live feed of May’s struggling vitals, while Simmons yells over the phone to whoever’s taking care of her. Per Mace’s edict, she isn’t allowed to tell Coulson where May is being held, which frustrates him again… at least until Mace arrives to explain. The director tells Coulson that May is being held at a top of the line CDC facility in upstate New York, and the reason he withheld that information was because he knew Coulson would go running after her. But right now, he needs Coulson to deal with the blackout problem alongside Fitz and Mack while Simmons is dispatched to bring May to Dr. Radcliffe. One of the gangsters who had been exposed to the ghost has just died, which means time is running out for May and they need some mad-scientist Hail Mary to save her.
Said mad scientist quickly gets to work prepping a cranial helmet device for May, with help from AIDA. When this Life Model Decoy first showed up in the premiere, the most obvious comparison seemed to be Ultron or Vision, the MCU’s previous examples of AI gone awry. But there’s been two episodes of Westworld since then, and HBO’s show about lifelike robots struggling to gain self-consciousness and independence from their creators has added a new level of creepiness to AIDA. For now she’s content to let Radcliffe put her to sleep before Simmons shows up, but obviously that secret can’t stay buried forever. Wouldn’t be surprised to see AIDA swatting flies before too long.
When Simmons arrives, she and Radcliffe apply the experimental headset to May, and then they bring up a fancy high-tech visualization worthy of Tony Stark. Radcliffe discovers that there’s a lot of neuron activity in the part of May’s brain that controls sleep — basically, she’s undergoing a waking nightmare. All of the ghost’s victims are literally scaring themselves to death. And how do you cure fear?
NEXT: Quake and Ghost Rider team up[pagebreak]
Even though she’s now riding in Robbie’s demon car alongside him, Daisy still doesn’t buy the “sold my soul to the devil” story. Robbie doesn’t care what she believes since he’s the one who has to live with it. His word choice tells her that he’s not actually too fond of his demon powers, and he admits that he thought they’d go away after he first used them for revenge on the gangsters who crippled his brother, Gabe. When that didn’t work, he started “settling other people’s scores” and now thinks that settling his Uncle Eli’s score is his last chance to escape being Ghost Rider forever. Said Uncle Eli worked at the lab where all the ghosts came from, but is now in jail for attempted manslaughter. This doesn’t sound like a great guy to Daisy, even if Robbie believes he’s innocent. Just then, another car pulls up blasting radio news of the Inhuman blackouts. Before Daisy and Robbie even have time to process this news, L.A. gets hit by a blackout, too. That’s bad news for Gabe, who without working buses will be stuck in a bad part of town with nothing but his wheelchair. The whole episode is paced exceptionally well like this. The stakes are made clear up front, and then the same crisis starts to ripple through every single story line, often hitting at the worst possible moment.
Luckily for Gabe, Robbie’s car still works, even in the wake of the electromagnetic pulse. He and Daisy speed down a street full of immobile cars, because everything with even a touch of electricity is rendered useless by the blackout device (that’s why you should always fuel your car with the fires of Hell – accept no substitutes). They arrive just in the nick of time to save Gabe from some aggressive looters, and make short work of them even without a Ghost Rider transformation — though Daisy is forced to use her powers to save Gabe at one point, an act which does not go unnoticed by either Daisy’s rapidly disintegrating arm or the hawk-eyed boy.
The three end up back at Robbie’s, at which point it becomes clear that Daisy’s arm is seriously messed up. She asks if Robbie has “a guy” who helps patch him up after crimefighting, but unfortunately Robbie doesn’t have one; he doesn’t need one, because he doesn’t get hurt. Case in point: All of the scars he suffered in his junkyard bouts with Daisy have completely healed. Robbie promises to get Daisy some medical supplies, but not before warning her not to tell Gabe about Ghost Rider.
Back in Miami, Maria’s blacked-out bachelorette party is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious militia, who declare they’re there for the Inhuman in the crowd. Maria thinks this is fine — turns out she hates Inhuman, totally oblivious to the fact that her best friend and would-be bridesmaid is one. A member of the party tries to turn in a magician who was performing sleight-of-hand tricks earlier. He’s grabbed by the militia, who waste no time in making some aggressively violent bad magic puns: “Let’s see if you can make a bullet disappear,” etc.
At this very moment, Phil, Mack, and Fitz are crossing over into the blackout zone. When they enter, they immediately lose contact with Mace, who warns them that the president is getting antsy; there’s a senator on TV stirring up Inhuman panic, and riots are starting to break out. They need a win soon. Unfortunately, Fitz underestimated the extent of the blackouts. They’re not caused by one electromagnetic pulse, but rather a continuous series of them, which renders the agents’ weapons and tech completely useless, even down to Coulson’s robot hand. It’s time to do this old school. Armed with nothing but Fitz’s low-tech slide rule, the three take off into the blackout zone.
The militia members are ready to shoot the magician, but Yo-Yo steals their guns before they can. Unfortunately, she’s spotted by Maria, who immediately rats her out. In a heart-stopping coincidence, the militia members descend on the Inhuman speedster… just as Mack, Fitz, and Coulson arrive in a fantastic Big Damn Heroes moment. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents proceed to beat the tar out of these thugs — even Fitz gets in on the action! One militant tries to grab Maria as a hostage, but Yo-Yo saves her. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to salvage their friendship, but at least Yo-Yo doesn’t have to worry about wearing a dress anymore.
Coulson starts interrogating the militants about how they found Yo-Yo’s location. When greeted with stubborn resistance, he appears to go Full Bad Cop and shoots one of them in the chest — revealing that these thugs are armed with high-grade military gear, including bulletproof vests and weapons. On closer examination, Mack finds that they all have Watchdog tattoos.
Coulson is more confused than ever; this was a coordinated, worldwide attack, but the Watchdogs have always been domestic (in their showcase episode last season, they seemed like a pretty conscious parody of home-grown terrorism). To make matters worse, Yo-Yo finds them with a copy of the Inhuman registration data. Unfortunately, that’s not super helpful; the leak could have come from any country that signed the Sokovia Accords. Mack notes that things have a way of disappearing and makes a distinctly eyes-emoji face at Yo-Yo to let her know that he’s aware she’s been stealing medicine for Daisy. In the meantime, the team has to deal with the more immediate problem of stopping the EMP, and Fitz has an old-school, Boy Scout solution: Using wine corks, needles, and bowls of water, he’s going to triangulate the pulses. It’s time to science the s— out of this.
Simmons would surely be proud of her boyfriend, if she weren’t busy desperately trying to save Agent May’s life. Now that she and Radcliffe are running out of options, it’s time for desperate measures. Radcliffe suggests they kill May, and then revive her before she can suffer irreparable brain damage. This obviously risky strategy should allow her system to “reboot” and flush out the bad fear toxins. The minutes go by, and now it’s time to revive May… until suddenly, they too are hit by a blackout! A perfectly timed plot twist.
NEXT: The pieces come together[pagebreak]
The Watchdogs have now hit seven cities with blackouts (because it was obviously them the whole time, so they could ferment anti-Inhuman backlash), and threaten to hit seven more. The president wants to send troops into the blackout zones to take out Inhumans by any means necessary (surely the Watchdogs’ ultimate goal) but Mace is able to buy another hour for Coulson’s team to get it done.
Luckily for everyone, Fitz really has science’d the s— out of this. His compasses have nailed the location of the Watchdogs’ EMP generator, and the team descends on the compound. Yo-Yo begins by stealing all the Watchdogs’ guns in a cool sequence reminiscent of the Quicksilver scenes from the past few X-Men movies. Thanks to the EMP, every few seconds the whole place goes dark, which makes for an awesome effect as the fight breaks out. After taking down the Watchdogs, Fitz is able to disconnect the generator, and Coulson calls Mace with the solution.
Meanwhile, Simmons is desperately trying to revive May, but without power, there’s not much she can do. The season premiere a few weeks back showcased an interesting new dynamic between May and Simmons, with the former put off by the latter’s coziness with Mace. This heart-stopping drama adds a whole other layer, one made doubly interesting by the fact May seems hardly aware of it. When Radcliffe manages to save her by using AIDA’s self-sustaining battery, the first thing May does when she comes back to life is rip all the equipment off her — and then give a puzzled look as Simmons hugs her.
That’s about how pleased Gabe is with Daisy for saving his life, too. Contrary to what Daisy might think, Robbie doesn’t take care of Gabe; it’s the other way around. “Without me,” Gabe explains, “his wheels would come off.” Gabe doesn’t know what Robbie does at night, but he knows it’s something, and he thinks Daisy is a bad influence on his brother. Thanks to Daisy using her powers to save him earlier, he’s even figured out she’s secretly the vigilante Quake. He promises to keep her secret, but only if she leaves Robbie alone.
Back at base, Coulson briefs Mace on their discoveries. They now know that the Watchdogs have connections with big-time resources and foreign involvement, but at the moment the more pressing issue is the paranoia that’s spreading in the wake of the blackouts. Coulson suggests that the best counter might be unveiling S.H.I.E.L.D. Mace initially declines, since he and his PR cronies have a whole rollout planned, but Coulson gives him some advice by way of Nick Fury: Sometimes being a leader means knowing when to throw out the plan. Ultimately, though, Coulson leaves the decision up to the director.
Since his earlier hints didn’t work, Mack now confronts Yo-Yo face-to-face about going behind his back to help Daisy. Yo-Yo reminds him that Daisy doesn’t want to be found, and her friends should respect her privacy. Mack says there shouldn’t be any secrets between them. “Why not? There’s nothing else between us,” Yo-Yo responds. Before Mack even has time to recover from this blistering burn, Fitz and Coulson enter to gawk over photos and graffiti renditions of Robbie in flaming-skull mode. Yo-Yo says he’s a legend out in L.A., and she becomes the first person to call him by the name we all know and love: Ghost Rider.
Sidenote: After a third season full of painful and thrilling romance, this time around Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems more interested in magic and conspiracies and relationships. While juicy, I’m not sure the Mack/Yo-Yo tension can quite live up to the likes of Coulson/Rosalind or FitzSimmons at their angstiest. It’s more in the Daisy/Lincoln ballpark, but it’s good enough.
At that moment, the TV cuts to a live stream of a public announcement from Mace. He decided to take Coulson’s advice after all, and unveils the new S.H.I.E.L.D. to reassure citizens that “an old friend is back in town” to keep everyone safe. A revived May calls Coulson to tell him she still thinks it should be him up there, but Coulson tells her he’s right where he belongs. In the first few episodes, it wasn’t quite clear whether Coulson was totally in favor of his demotion or not, but after watching him do so well in the field, it seems evident that he does indeed prefer fieldwork with his friends to sitting behind a desk.
Mace’s message doesn’t go over quite as well with Daisy, who’s back popping pain pills alone in her van after being forced out by Gabe. She even cuts off the broadcast before Mace can finish his trademark “team that trusts is a team that triumphs” catchphrase. She’s probably never felt more alone. It’s by her choice, but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
The final scene of the episode gives a hint at the larger conspiracy at work. Senator Nadir, who had been on TV during the blackouts inveighing against the Inhuman threats, is sitting alone in an apartment watching herself on TV criticize Mace for being a puppet of the Inhumans the way the old S.H.I.E.L.D. was a puppet of Hydra. It’s simultaneously reminiscent of Aziz Ansari’s joke about Kanye West listening to his own music and the nonsense-spouting talking-heads who have been on cable news all throughout the 2016 presidential election. She gets a call from a member of the Watchdogs and asks for a full briefing in the car. Before she leaves, however, she bids farewell to her brother, who appears to either still be going through Terrigenesis, or an Inhuman transformed into an immobile statue. Looks like we have our villain for this season, and she’s much scarier than those ghosts we saw last episode. The two seem united by a common theme, however. The ghosts sow literal, bio-chemical fear in the bodies of anyone they touch, while Senator Nadir and her Watchdog cronies sow widespread fear of scapegoats and the unknown through covert attacks and hateful rhetoric.
This episode managed to build up the season’s threats while offering some self-contained action with new character pairings (like Daisy/Robbie and Simmons/Radcliffe), making for this season’s most exciting episode so far.