Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has thrown a lot at us in season 4 so far: Ghost Rider, Watchdogs, AIDA, anti-Inhuman conspiracy, unexplained ghost cabal. This week the show finally shed some light on these different threads and went a long way toward showing how they might fit together over the next few episodes. Let’s begin.
“Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” starts off with a beloved pairing we haven’t seen much of this season. That’s right, FitzSimmons are house hunting! After their roller coaster season 3, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s lovable nerdy scientists have mostly taken a backseat to other drama, so it’s nice to have this little check-in with them. Simmons wants a cozy breakfast nook; Fitz wants to make sure they’re staying in their price range. Turns out New York rents are an even bigger challenge for these secret agents than alien invasions and evil gods. This opening also has immediate plot relevance, because when Simmons finally enters the apartment, she finds it empty but for a wounded and desperate Daisy. Her arm looks worse than ever.
For all her superpowered vigilantism, Daisy hasn’t lost track of the hacking skills that originally made her an important S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. She found Simmons’ search history, knew she couldn’t resist a breakfast nook, and set up this little get-together. Just in time, too — Daisy got shot by a Watchdog on the way and needs medical attention. As Simmons works on the wounded shoulder, Daisy passes her a blood-spattered piece of paper containing Inhuman data. Apparently someone else has been hacking, too; one of the Watchdogs figured out how to hack S.H.I.E.L.D.’s server. Daisy thinks she can stop it, but she needs to get in to the system herself. Unfortunately Simmons can’t help her voluntarily, what with the protocols and lie detector tests and all that… so Daisy pulls a gun on her to make it involuntary. “I’ve missed you, too,” Simmons responds.
Meanwhile, someone is visiting the mysterious Uncle Eli in prison, but it’s not his nephew Robbie Reyes. First up is Coulson, back in a suit now after the official S.H.I.E.L.D. unveiling; he’s curious about what Eli was doing at Momentum Alternative Energy Lab. Coulson reveals that the co-workers Eli thought dead are actually alive and powered by abilities (this would be those creepy ghosts from two episodes ago). Eli is shocked by this but still doesn’t want to get involved and blows off Coulson, which is just about what the veteran S.H.I.E.L.D. agent expected on his first try. As he’s commiserating with Mack in the prison parking lot, they catch a glimpse of Robbie arriving in his big black car. Mack recognizes him immediately from their previous run-in, and the chase is on: Lola vs. Ghost Rider. Well, Robbie doesn’t flame out, instead trying to use his powerful engine alone to outrace the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. After a fun little chase, it seems like Robbie is finally pulling away — only to run straight into a cloaked Quinjet. Game over, for now.
Meanwhile, May is recovering from her recent death experience (not even “near-death”… she actually died) at Radcliffe’s lab, tended to by AIDA. Introducing AIDA to outsiders makes Fitz nervous, but Radcliffe explains it as the ultimate Turing Test. For those who haven’t seen The Imitation Game, the Turing test is a famous way to determine whether an uninformed observer can tell the difference between an artificial intelligence and a human. May is the most discerning S.H.I.E.L.D. agent around; if she comes away from this thinking AIDA’s normal, maybe it’s time to introduce her to the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daisy is also nervous. She’s come up with a plan for Simmons to sneakily insert a flash drive into the S.H.I.E.L.D. server that will allow Daisy to get inside and stop the Watchdogs. It involves tricking a woman who has access to those servers, but while Daisy’s busy going over the plan again and again inside the van, Simmons simply steps out, talks to the woman, and hands her the flash drive. Since Simmons is such a high-ranking agent now, that woman has to do whatever she says. Much easier.
This plan works perfectly, and allows Daisy and Simmons to see the Watchdogs’ next target. Prime among them: James, a.k.a. Hellfire. James apparently took withdrawal from Hive just as hard as Daisy did, and he mostly stays away from S.H.I.E.L.D. now. Feeling a kinship and responsibility, Daisy wants to help him and makes to take off now that she has what she needs from Simmons. Her friend rightly reminds her that she can’t have it both ways: She can’t go off on her own thing and then come running back to S.H.I.E.L.D. only when she needs them. Suck it up, Daisy; Simmons is coming along.
NEXT: Deals with the devil [pagebreak]
Robbie’s now in a containment module. He’s contemptuous, but Mack notes that stronger, more evil people than him have tried and failed to escape one. Coulson’s conversation with Robbie goes a bit like past ones with Daisy: Is he an Inhuman? No, he made a deal with the devil and has the flaming eyes to prove it. He kills people. Well, sure, but only those who deserve it. And so on.
Coulson and Mack do a team huddle to go over Robbie’s story. Mack believes in God, so it’s not a stretch to believe in devils and ghosts. Coulson’s a little more skeptical, since most of the gods he knows turned out to be aliens. Daisy clearly trusts Robbie, though, and that goes a long way in Team Dad’s book. Coulson decides to release Robbie from the module and make his own deal with the devil.
Daisy and Simmons find James at his new workplace: a fireworks shop. A flame-powered Inhuman surrounded by explosives at all times obviously has “terrible idea” written all over it, but James justifies the situation using his co-worker’s cigarette habit. This Sean guy quit smoking a while back, and now keeps a cigarette taped to the counter as a reminder of what he doesn’t want to be – that’s how James is with these fireworks. But even if he’s not a fire hazard, Simmons and Daisy inform him that he’s in danger from the Watchdogs. James doesn’t seem to care about his own well-being that much anymore (Terrigenesis is a life-changing event in and of itself, and then there’s the lingering Hive trauma on top of that), but Daisy seems to convince him by asking him to join her resistance against these oppressors. He tells them to meet him by a nearby warehouse after work.
Coulson and Mack’s deal with Robbie is this: They let the rider out of containment so he can talk to Uncle Eli, but in return they get to listen in on the conversation. The first topic of this conversation is, naturally, the car, which apparently both uncle and nephew feel ownership of, but things quickly get down to brass tacks. Robbie asks about Lucy, the initial ghost woman who started all this trouble. Eli identifies her as Dr. Lucy Bower, who along with her husband, Joseph, was project leader of this privately-funded think tank. The think tank’s goal was apparently to build a quantum particle generator, a fantastic machine supposedly able to create matter from hardly anything at all, a modern-day philosopher’s stone. They needed Eli’s engineering skills to make this device a reality, and also to not ask too many questions. Eli, perhaps a Fullmetal Alchemist fan, informed these scientists that a machine that so blatantly defied the law of equivalent exchange was both impossible and inadvisable, but they pushed along anyway. The result, according to Eli, was that it “literally” blew up in their faces, killing everyone except Eli and Joseph. Eli then beat Joseph into a coma for revenge — a concept Robbie now understands quite well. Eli warns him that these are not Robbie’s demons, but more importantly, fingers the source that made the particle generator buildable at all: A mysterious book with all the knowledge you could ever need. Just then, Coulson and Mack get a call about trouble with “an asset,” and they head off with Robbie in tow.
Just then, speak of the devil, ghost Lucy is visiting the comatose Joseph. She uses her ghost powers to revive him, and immediately asks her husband about the location of the book.
May is getting grumpy about still being stuck in Radcliffe’s lab, and swears in Chinese under her breath. AIDA effortlessly translates it, which makes May wonder how she knows Chinese. AIDA starts to say that most of her parts were made in China, but Fitz hurriedly interrupts to say she’s from Canada. This mishap aside, May says she likes AIDA: all business, no nonsense.
This confuses AIDA. Later, she asks Radcliffe why Fitz lied about her. She’s programmed not to lie – isn’t that because lying is bad? Well, Radcliffe explains that lies aren’t inherently bad. They can even save lives sometimes. And in this case, Fitz may very well have saved AIDA’s life. This plotline running alongside the first season of Westworld certainly makes for a disquieting comparison. Every time AIDA learns something else about the complexities of consciousness and human interaction, I get nervous, even though she’s been nothing but good so far.
NEXT: Hellfire and brimstone [pagebreak]
Simmons and Daisy meet James at the warehouse, as instructed. He claims it’s to pick up some raw explosives for their fight against the Watchdogs, but when he unveils the storage lockers, they’re full of armed Watchdog militants. Ever the villain, James is actually working with them — his tracking-device wristwatch was how the Watchdogs hacked into the Inhuman database in the first place. James has decided that the Inhumans are a scourge, and he’s helping the Watchdogs exterminate them; in exchange, he gets to be the last to die.
Daisy blows them away with a blast and hides in a locker with Simmons, but her powers are taking their toll. As she aches from newfound arm pain, James quickly blows away their cover. He even finds a big ol’ chain in the locker with them. James makes like old times and ignites the chain with fire, only to be grabbed from behind by a perfectly-timed Robbie. “Huh,” he notes, upon seeing the chain. Now that’s an interaction I have low-key been waiting for all season, because even though James was the first Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. character to swing a flaming chain, Ghost Rider has a decades-old claim on that weapon. So far the show version has just been using car keys and junkyard two-by-fours as weapons, but apparently he thinks the chain is a good idea. When James throws it at him, he grabs it and throws it right back. A natural fit.
Daisy and Simmons run off to meet Coulson and Mack. They make quick work of the Watchdog grunts, only to watch flame-engulfed Robbie and James fall through a wall into an arsenal of fireworks. “Had to see that coming,” Coulson notes, genre-savvy as ever. The result is a giant explosion that also sets off a bunch of beautiful fireworks. Robbie quickly emerges from the rubble, dragging a chained-up James behind him — seared, but still breathing.
Daisy, of course, wants to run off and continue the fight against the Watchdogs, which means it’s time for a Coulson lecture. He tells her and Robbie that they may like to work alone and settle personal scores, but now that they’re with S.H.I.E.L.D., they’re part of a team again. Being part of a team means juggling priorities, and right now the Watchdogs are on the back-burner. The biggest priority is now finding the Darkhold — an evil magic book that not even the Red Skull, Whitehall, or Nick Fury could find — before these crazy ghosts do.
The episode’s closing feels more like a whole scene unto itself than a typical tease for what’s next. The team arrives at Radcliffe’s to pick up May, and though the veteran agent still sees nothing wrong with AIDA, Simmons immediately perceives she’s an android. I kind of love this, since the premiere made it seem like Fitz keeping his AIDA work a secret was going to be some kind of slow-bubbling drama between him and Simmons. Simmons is mostly impressed (and a little ticked at Fitz for not informing her so they could geek out about it together) — until, that is, she remembers she has a mandatory lie detector test tomorrow.
The gang is back together now, mostly. This episode brought several plot threads together, but had to spend a lot of time mired in exposition. The definite highlight was the unexpected but awesome Ghost Rider-Hellfire showdown, which finally resolved the question of who really deserves to wield a flaming chain.