Welcome back to a new season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As always with new beginnings on this show, the status quo has radically shifted. The last few moments of season 3 jumped ahead six months and gave us a quick look at where the characters had ended up in the wake of Hydra’s final defeat, but now we know for sure.
Daisy Johnson, for one, is now a vigilante going by the name Quake, using her telekinetic powers to hunt down the Watchdogs, that anti-Inhuman terrorist group that caused so much trouble last season. The season 4 premiere opens with her chasing them down, but she’s not the only one. Suddenly an eerie black car appears on the L.A. street, and if you’ve been paying one lick of attention to the advertisements for this season, you know what’s afoot. The militants shoot a bazooka at the newcomer, but as they might say in Pokemon Go, it’s not very effective — not when the target is the demonic Spirit of Vengeance powered by the fires of hell. This mystery man makes short work of the terrorists, and as he drags the last one into the trunk of his car, we get our first look at Ghost Rider — but only from a distance. Daisy, who unlike us is not blessed with decades of comic book knowledge, is befuddled by her glimpse of that flaming skull head.
Things have changed for Phil Coulson and Mack, too. The one-time directors of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been demoted to field agents over the time jump. We find them out on assignment in the Zephyr One, killing time between assignments by playing backgammon and grumbling about the new management (“everything is classified nowadays”). Suddenly, they get orders to fly back to base, which confuses them because they’re not due to refuel for a while. Coulson’s excited to see the old team again, though, especially May (Ming-Na Wen).
Cut to May, who’s sparring with the members of her elite strike force as the Zephyr One lands. Thanks to her contacts in law enforcement, she’s able to fill Coulson and Mack in on the grisly details of the Ghost Rider murders (apparently, one unfortunate goon got his spine ripped out). But the reason she had them come back to base personally was so she could tell them that Daisy might be involved — and in this new post-Sokovia Accords world where Daisy’s considered a dangerous fugitive, she didn’t exactly want to send that info over the wire. If they pursue, they might be able to catch up with her before she gets into deeper trouble. Then again, it might be too late for that. Daisy’s already breaking into a hospital to interrogate a survivor of the Ghost Rider attack. He helpfully informs her that Ghost Rider’s flames don’t just burn flesh and bone — they burn your soul. Apparently those soul burns were too much for a sinner like him and he expires, forcing Daisy to pursue other leads.
From there, it’s time to check in with our favorite scientists. Jemma appears to be standing alone in an abandoned lab — until a camera pan reveals that she’s accidentally standing three feet above the floor. She and Fitz are working out the kinks of a new virtual-reality device. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. always somewhat resembled Star Trek, what with its dedicated team of mature professionals working passionately and respectfully to solve complicated problems, and now they’re closing in on their very own Holodeck. This experiment is interrupted by Coulson and Mack. Fitz invites them to watch a soccer game with him and the similarly European Dr. Radcliffe (John Hannah), but unfortunately this is just a business call. Fitz does his best Q impression, outfitting Mack with a new exploding pen and Coulson with the latest model of high-tech robotic hand. Simmons shares that she’s made it to the new director’s inner circle and is working on cutting-edge lie detector technology for him. Still no sign of this new guy on campus, but apparently he’s a bit paranoid about infiltration — and after all Coulson and company went through with both Hydra and Agent Gonzales’ secret S.H.I.E.L.D., can you really blame him?
NEXT: Can you say “Life Model Decoy”?