This week’s “previously on…” recap focused almost entirely on Uncle Eli and the ghosts — great preparation for what turned out to be a ghost-filled episode, just in time for Halloween. Let’s dive in.
The episode begins with a flashback to Lucy and Joseph finding the Darkhold after years of searching. Taking a page out of Voldemort’s hunt for the Elder Wand, the Bowers went to the home of the person who killed the last known Darkhold wielder. Sure enough, they find the book under some layers of dust in this abandoned basement. Although the cursed book appears to be filled with blank pages, the pages immediately fill up with text upon opening … much like the Marauder’s Map (ok, sorry, I’ll cut it with the Harry Potter references). Funny thing is, the text appears in English to Lucy and German to Joseph. German apparently being Joseph’s first language, Lucy realizes that the Darkhold is reading them as much as they’re reading it. But the power is too tempting.
Back in the present day, the newly un-comatose Joseph is freaking out in his hospital bed while Coulson and Mack interrogate him about the Darkhold’s whereabouts. He manages to tell them he put it back right where they found it before dying of ghost-induced fear. Unfortunately, he also told Lucy, right before she fatally infected him with Black-Eye Syndrome (or whatever you want to call it). That info hasn’t done Lucy much good, however. She’s able to find the Darkhold again, but apparently the book only reacts to living flesh. In her ghost state, she finds the words disappearing as quickly as they appear. That’s no good.
On the Zephyr, Coulson is explaining his decision not to tell Director Jeffrey Mace about the quest for the Darkhold, a decision that seems totally unlikely to come back and bite them in the collective butt at some point. Anyway, Coulson wants to talk to Eli again. Robbie’s antsy about this and would much rather be back on the ground looking for answers his own way, but both Coulson and Daisy tell him he has to play team ball here. Robbie, quite reasonably, wonders why he should listen to Daisy about this when she continues to ostracize herself from the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Daisy says it’s better for everyone that way; she clearly still has unresolved guilt issues.
When last week’s episode ended, it seemed like FitzSimmons had managed to dodge the AIDA bullet. The revelation that Fitz had secretly been collaborating with Radcliffe on AIDA didn’t seem to dent their relationship at all… until now. Simmons is antsy about her imminent lie detector test (and all the miniature facial expressions that can potentially broadcast a lie) and makes some bad pun about Fitz laying in bed with her while lying about AIDA (ugh). Every second we get of FitzSimmons this season is precious because there’s so few of them, and indeed they are quickly drawn away to their different missions: Simmons to said polygraph, and Fitz to help Coulson and the team get Eli.
Coulson and May arrive at the prison to transfer custody of Eli to S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson is curious about May’s recent death experience; after all, he knows a thing or two about coming back from the dead. Unfortunately they don’t have much time to discuss this further, as it quickly becomes clear that the prison staff have all been infected by the ghosts. They attack the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but Coulson quickly uses the energy shield attached to his robot hand (I love this show) to take them down. That awesome shield is rather underused, considering its thematic resonance with both the agency’s name and Coulson’s long-standing man-crush on Captain America.
The ghosts are clearly after Eli too, so Coulson and May are going to need backup for this one. Daisy suits up with new gauntlets and promises not to use her Quake powers (which are in danger of causing her permanent damage), while Robbie promises not to use his Ghost Rider powers down in the prison. Mack knows they need Robbie as their ultimate “ghost-buster,” but is also nervous about taking him into an environment where everyone deserves punishment. Sure enough, as soon as they arrive Robbie almost picks a fight with a prisoner he recognizes as a member of the Fifth Street Locos gang. Mack reminds him to focus on the objective. Robbie grudgingly agrees, but this appears to be the first real tug-of-war between Robbie’s team spirit and his obligations as the spirit of vengeance.
NEXT: Prison break! [pagebreak]
Simmons’ lie detector test seems to be going well. Time for the final two questions: Has she ever been a member of Hydra, and has she withheld important information from the director? The first answer is a funny yes (remember that time she went undercover? Seems like a lifetime ago) and the second is… well, Simmons doesn’t really give an answer, but the readings are not encouraging. Just then, Mace shows up and asks her to come with him. It sounds ominous, but in typical Mace fashion, it’s a bit of a misdirect. He actually needs her help with a live TV interview he’s about to go on, debating Senator Ellen Nadeer about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s relationship to the Inhumans. Yep, that’s the same Senator Nadeer who orchestrated the Watchdog blackout attacks a few episodes back, and now goes on TV slandering the Inhumans for their non-existent role in said attacks. Simmons is going to fight her lies by feeding Mace important data points directly through an earpiece, blurring the lines between this thrilling spy show and cliché sitcom plots about nervous first dates. They’re live in 15.
Speaking of the Watchdogs, Daisy starts spotting some familiar-looking tattoos in the prison after meeting up with Coulson and May. Apparently the Watchdogs are using prisons as their main recruiting ground, furthering their allegorical connection to real-life white-supremacist home-grown terrorist cells. Almost as soon as the team makes this deduction, though, Lucy arrives to release these angry Inhuman-hating criminals out of their cells. Coulson gets Fitz to unlock the gate for the team, but as a result opens literally every other door in the prison.
Mack and Robbie are on their own, and Mack doesn’t want to leave because keeping Ghost Rider under control is his responsibility. Robbie disagrees; it’s actually his responsibility, and his alone. This fascinating conversation about two characters’ differing priorities is quickly interrupted by a ghost attack. Multiple ghosts, in fact; this is a straight-up monster mash ghost party. Robbie picks up a chain, clearly seduced after his fight with Hellfire last week, and uses it to rip one ghost apart, making for yet another amazing Ghost Rider action sequence this season. A different ghost manages to infect Mack before getting burnt into oblivion, but it’s no big deal. Mack’s a big boy; he disinfects himself by injecting Fitz’s cure straight to his neck. Now that all these non-Lucy ghosts are dead, I feel better about never trying to learn their names.
The debate between Nadeer and Mace starts off well enough. Nadeer isn’t impressed with Mace’s background as a hero in Vienna, instead spewing more propaganda about Inhumans. Simmons tries to counter with cold-hard facts, but Nadeer has a trump card: She somehow knows about the prison fight, which not even Mace and Simmons were aware of. Eternally unflappable, Mace assures Nadeer (and viewers) that S.H.I.E.L.D. has everything under control. Cut to Coulson icing a couple of raging prisoners in the jail cafeteria.
Nadeer switches to more unabashed language about how the Inhumans don’t share our “core values” and that treaties like the Sokovia Accords are meaningless to “them.” This all sounds very much like some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s been spouted during this presidential election cycle, and guest star debate moderator George Stephanopoulos (ABC synergy!) quickly calls Nadeer out on her dog-whistles. Nadeer isn’t fazed, declaring that Mace is clearly not the man for this job. Mace goes balls-out in response, cutting his mic with Simmons and revealing his identity as an Inhuman for all the world to see.
Daisy decides to take control of the situation and locks herself inside the cafeteria with the prisoners, with Coulson and May helpless outside. Coulson demands that Fitz find them another way in the cafeteria as May engages the Watchdogs in hand-to-hand combat. As she told Mack, she was an extremely capable S.H.I.E.L.D. agent even before the Quake powers, and now she’s proving it. It’s a pretty good fight scene — essentially a PG or PG-13 version of those massive prison brawls from The Raid 2. Daisy manages to hold her own thanks to some classic conservation of ninjutsu, though one of her gauntlets does get broken.
Meanwhile, Mack and Robbie finally find Eli and are able to entice him out of his cell by revealing that Lucy has the Darkhold again. Motivated by either curiosity or fear, Eli agrees to follow them despite lingering distrust of government agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D. They beat Lucy by a few minutes, who finds only pictures of Eli and Robbie in the empty cell. Her fingers linger over them before she leaves.
NEXT: Trust and triumph[pagebreak]
Fitz does lead Coulson and May to a secret cafeteria entrance, via a dumpster chute. Coulson is still adamantly asking what May saw during her brief death, and eventually she admits she saw Coulson himself. Further conversation is cut off when they re-enter the cafeteria just in time to hear one of these goons literally say “finish her.” After kicking the hell out of the Watchdogs, May reprimands Daisy for acting suicidal. Daisy says they weren’t supposed to come back, she didn’t ask for that.
What nobody asked for was a prison riot, but it’s going down anyway. On their way out, Mack splits off from Eli and Robbie to help out some fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in trouble. This wrong-headed decision is quickly followed by another from Robbie, who simply can’t control his desire for vengeance on that Fifth Street gangster any longer. He tells Eli to meet S.H.I.E.L.D. outside while he tends to this business. This guy is grizzled and girthy now, but apparently he was once involved with the very same gang that once attacked Robbie and his brother Gabe, permanently crippling the latter. Apparently that drive-by was actually an ordered hit, but the guy doesn’t have any answers for Robbie regarding who ordered it. That means it’s Ghost Rider time, and after watching this guy get burned alive the other prisoners quickly retreat back into their cells in a nice, orderly fashion. Of course, when Robbie meets up with Mack and the others outside, Eli is nowhere to be found. In his absence, Lucy was able to coerce Eli into an ambulance with her by threatening to infect him.
Back at base, Mace’s ballsy decision has apparently paid off; his approval ratings are through the roof after bravely revealing his Inhuman to a bigot’s face. But though he’s grateful for Simmons’ help, he still finds her latest polygraph results troubling and wants her to go in again. In response, Simmons reveals that she knows something about the incident in Vienna — it’s not clear what, but apparently it’s not flattering to Mace’s carefully curated backstory, and would come out in the polygraph. Mace, with a newly dark look on his face, agrees to suspend all further polygraphs for Simmons, who promptly throws his beloved catchphrase “a team that trusts is a team that triumphs” back at him. Some straight-up office realpolitik going on here.
On the ship, May finally tries to give Daisy a talking-to over her repeated suicidal stunts. May sees Daisy going down the same path she once did, of shutting everyone out, and warns her not to make the same mistakes. Daisy is still trying to distance herself from everyone so they don’t get hurt on her behalf, but May reminds her that “you don’t get to choose who cares about you” — and this Coulson guy, he cares a lot. Eventually, May just pulls out the trump card: “Lincoln wouldn’t want you killing yourself over what happened.” This, of course, only makes Daisy angrier, and she reaffirms that she’s only here until this operation is over. But after May leaves, she does appear on the verge of tears. That facade is starting to crumble.
There’s only one reason Lucy could possibly need a live human at this point, and indeed, she quickly reveals that she needs Eli to read the Darkhold for her. The objective is two-fold: fix her ghostly condition, and then finish their original mission. This desire to use a supernatural power to fix injuries suffered in your last attempt is heavily reminiscent of Fullmetal Alchemist, and indeed the Darkhold proves just as tempting as the Philosopher’s Stone — even for Eli, whose eyes go all googly with temptation when he starts reading the magic book.
The last scene features a secret meeting between two former combatants. Nadeer shows Mace that she has tape of the entire prison fiasco, including visuals of Ghost Rider murdering that prisoner and then leaving with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Fully aware that the revelation of this unsavory connection could hurt his newly ascendant poll numbers, Mace asks Nadeer what she wants. Simmons may have gotten away with lying to the director for now, but it doesn’t look like Coulson will be able to for much longer.
I’ve been loving the constant misdirection with Mace, and Jason O’Mara’s typically bubbly performance has done an adept job of shielding the cynical bureaucrat beneath, but hopefully we’ll get some real answers soon about where he stands relative to Coulson’s team.
Episode grade: B+