Showing posts with label Agents of SHIELD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Agents of SHIELD. Show all posts

Friday, 3 February 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x12 - "Hot Potato Soup"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x12 - "Hot Potato Soup"

Synopsis

Aware that Radcliffe is working with the Watchdogs, Coulson attempts to locate Agent Koenig – the last person to handle the Darkhold. The only problem is that there is a lot of different Agent Koenig’s within SHIELD…

Review

It is only fitting that in a story-arc featuring LMDs so prominently that Agents of SHIELD would revisit its first attempt at bringing LMDs to the series - The Koenig Brothers. In each of their appearances in Season One and Two, it became something of a running joke whether the identical Agent Koenigs (all played by Patton Oswalt) were in fact clones or robot LMDs of one person. This episode is no different and there are plenty of humourous references to the various conspiracy theories surrounding the identical quartet. Rather than frustrating fans with another open-ended explanation, we are finally treated to the truth and it is that all of the brothers are real identical quartets, but they once worked on the original, and failed, SHIELD LMD programme. Personally, I thought it would have added much more to the characters if they were actually robots, but I can understand the need to remove any confusion around the LMDs featured in this arc. I was quite relieved that this ongoing sub-plot had been finally addressed as I’ve found it one of the goofiest aspects of the series – it was a bit too Meta and “winking at the audience” for my liking.

Focusing an entire episode on the Koenigs meant that the tone was skewed towards humour instead of drama, which made sequences such as the Superior’s attempt to torture Billy Koenig lose their impact. No matter how much he was going to pretend to be tough stuff, he was never going to hurt the series’ comic relief character. I also don’t think that the Koenigs are all that funny – they just seem to be an exaggerated version of how Coulson was portrayed in the original Avengers movie. It feels like someone doing a bad Joss Whedon impression, using the Koenigs as a proxy for the audience and making jokes about fan-fiction and geeking out over superhero codenames. It doesn’t quite fit the tone of the series, and having it feature so predominately in this episode weakened the overall experience for me.


There were some really good moments in this episode, such as the much-anticipated reveal that Radcliffe had made a May LMD. I was surprised at how quickly this was discovered, but I suppose that this was only one part of the story-arc and the real action will begin now that Radcliffe and the Watchdogs have gotten their hands on the Darkhold. The scenes with Robo-Radcliffe talking with Fitz, Simmons and Mack as the former unfastens screws in the back of his skull was suitably eerie. I love that uncomfortable vibe that the LMDs give off when they openly acknowledge themselves to be artificial but continue to talk “in character” as the person. Robo-Radcliffe was able to have a real conversation with Fitz about his father that the real Radcliffe probably would have done, but it was creepier because it was a facsimile of the doctor who was sharing this really personal information. I suspect this foreshadowing about Fitz’s father is either because he is going to show up again soon, or because Fitz is going to start heading towards the dark side.

Much like the 'Ghost Rider' block of episodes, this LMD story-arc has moved along at a fair pace but never felt rushed. I’m actually really enjoying this more segmented approach to the season, pacing out the stories across three acts but with a common thread joining them together. The final batch of episodes has yet to be named, but I suspect that it may be something to do with changing the past. With Mack’s past with his daughter teased in the previous episode, and Fitz’s relationship with his father explored in this one, I wonder if we might see our heroes challenged by the power of the Darkhold and the potential to rewrite histories and right wrongs. It would be a HUGE pay-off to this Darkhold story-arc, and an opportunity to re-introduce lost characters such as Hunter, Mockingbird and even, Agent Ward. While this episode lent too far on the comedic elements of the Koenig family tree, it did at least provide us with some closure and definitely moved the main plot forward. With SHIELD’s enemies in possession of the Darkhold, I am eagerly awaiting to see what the Watchdogs have in store for the Inhumans.


Score - 9.1 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • There are plenty of references to the Koenig brothers being LMDs as part of a long-running joke throughout the series, although this episode confirms that they are just identical quartets.
  • The Superior references Coulson's appearances whenever there is extraterrestrial activity on Earth, including Thor's arrival in "Thor", the Chitauri attack ("The Avengers") and the Inhumans.

Mysteries
  • How does the Superior intend to wipe out the Inhumans with the Darkhold?
  • What happened to Fitz's father, and why are they so estranged?
  • What did Fitz's father say to Radcliffe?

Next Episode - "BOOM"
An explosive Inhuman surfaces and the team are tasked with containing it. Elsewhere: Coulson and Mack encounter Radcliffe's inspiration for Aida.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x11 - "Wake Up"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x11 - "Wake Up"

Synopsis

Held captive by Radcliffe and AIDA, May finds herself trapped in a simulation which she may never be able to escape. Meanwhile, Coulson and Yo-Yo take part in an operation that may ruin SHIELD’s credibility as a legitimate organisation.

Review

Learning lessons from the success of its self-contained ‘Ghost Rider’ block of episodes, Agents of SHIELD continues to demonstrate its tight narrative and economical approach to storytelling as it returns the focus back to its LMD storyline, even tying it into the series’ existing Watchdogs arc to create more continuity. While it was predictable that May’s escape sequences in this episode were some kind of implanted memories to keep her stable in her coma, I did like the fact that they didn’t work and Radcliffe was forced to adopt a different tactic – one that might have some emotional repercussions on the character when she is released. Recreating her mission from Bahrain was one thing, but having her succeed and achieve a semblance of peace was a cruel twist and I think we’ll see a different side to May when she comes out of this. Ming-Na Wen is doing a brilliant job at portraying two different versions of May – a feat she’d already achieved during Season Two when she also had to play Agent-33.

Ironically, in trying to get ahead of their enemies and plant tracking devices on Senator Nadeer, SHIELD demonstrated that they were actually two steps behind as it was revealed Nadeer had been using Radcliffe for information. I quite like how the episode combined both of the season’s main plots together in the closing moments of the episode, creating a stronger central narrative instead of splitting the focus across two strands. This was a tactic the series also used in Season Three when it revealed that Hydra was connected to the Monolith and Hive. Now, I can see why they always say “It’s all connected” in its advertising! I was actually quite surprised at how quickly SHIELD figured out that Radcliffe was behind AIDA’s villainous turn, and I have to say that I never considered that Radcliffe might be an LMD. It was slightly disappointing that the show didn’t capitalise on the concept of a “second LMD” that was unknown to the audience, but it makes sense that Radcliffe would use his technology to preserve his own safety.


With a more espionage focused threat to deal with in this block of episodes, the action quotient has been dialled down and the series has instead focused on character development. The introduction of robots who can pass for humans allows the writers to deal with questions regarding identity and what it means to be real. I really liked the scene with the May-bot talking to Radcliffe, and now that she is aware of her origins, I think she will be a far more interesting character to watch on-screen, especially as she grows closer with Coulson. While the ‘Ghost Rider’ arc was big on the action set-pieces and special effects, the smaller scale of this ‘LMD’ arc has allowed the show’s writers to focus more on character development. To be honest, I think the deception and emotional pain that lies at the heart of this storyline is equally as enthralling as seeing Ghost Rider take out a bunch of evil ghosts. I’m really enjoying the dramatic tension that has been set-up over these past few episodes and the cruel sense of inevitability as Coulson and May-Bot grow closer. I mean, it’s obvious that they’re going to bang each other and he’ll find out the truth afterwards. It’s deliciously ripe for drama potential, and I can’t wait to see it unfold.

There were some other key character moments throughout this episode, such as the progression of Mack and Yo-Yo’s relationship. The revelation behind ‘Hope’ was surprisingly low-key, given the level of foreshadowing beforehand, and I suspect that is more to come on this storyline. Given the fact that things have taken a turn for the supernatural, perhaps there is a ‘deal with the devil’ on the horizon for Mack. It could be like the extremely divisive Spider-Man story, “One More Day”, which saw Spidey make a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life, unwittingly losing his marriage to Mary Jane in the process. Perhaps, Mack will sacrifice his potential happiness with Yo-Yo to bring his daughter back? It would make a pretty dark final act for this season, but it would also potentially bring Ghost Rider back into the mix.

Overall, this was a fairly strong episode that had an odd mix of predictable reveals (May’s virtual escape) and surprising shocks (Radcliffe working with Nadeer). I’m really enjoying this more low-key, character-driven approach to the season and seeing the inevitable emotional turmoil that is about to occur once the truth is revealed. Season Four remains Agents of SHIELD’s strongest season yet, and these past few episodes have proven that its success is due to more than a guest appearance from Ghost Rider.


Score - 9.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Radcliffe creates an alternative version of the Bahrain mission that traumatised May, as seen in “Melinda”. In this version, she saves the young Inhuman girl instead of executing her.

Mysteries
  • Who is The Superior?
  • Is there another leak within SHIELD besides Radcliffe's LMD?

Next Episode - "Hot Potato Soup"
Agents Sam and Billy Koenig are hunted down to get at the Darkhold book, and only Coulson and the team can save them before the clock ticks out

Friday, 20 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x10 - "The Patriot"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x10 - "The Patriot"

Synopsis

The truth behind Jeffrey Mace’s powers and his ascension to SHIELD director are revealed after a group of Watchdogs shoot down the Quinjet, leaving Coulson, Mack and Mace isolated and outnumbered. Meanwhile, Radcliffe continues his plot to get ahold of the Darkhold using the May-LMD to infiltrate SHIELD.

Review

Taking a step back from its “LMD” arc, this episode of Agents of SHIELD focuses on Jeffrey Mace – the man in the hot seat as Director of SHIELD. Up until now, the character has been portrayed as a company man who has introduced coloured level clearances and motivational slogans into SHIELD’s internal processes, and not much of a tactician in the field despite his ‘hero status’. This episode sheds some light at this juxtaposition by revealing that Mace is not actually Inhuman at all and instead uses a modified version of the Mr. Hyde serum from Season Two. From the outset of this episode, it seemed likely that this would be the eventual reveal – I thought the suitcase would contain the source of Mace’s powers but I hadn’t figured out that it would be the Hyde serum. The follow-up reveal that he’d accidentally saved lives during the Vienna bombing was equally as expected, and explained why his behaviour was at odds with his position. Instead of phasing the character out, the episode concludes with a compromise – Mace will remain the SHIELD figurehead (presumably until his secret is outed to the public) and Coulson will maintain control during operations.

I really liked the added tension found in this episode by removing Coulson, Mack and Mace from the hi-tech trappings of SHIELD – out-manned and under-equipped. Much like AIDA taking the SHIELD base under siege last episode, there is plenty of dramatic potential in removing SHIELD’s technology and leaving the agents to fend for themselves. While the main characters are never really in any danger of dying (unless it’s a season finale), I do appreciate the increased stakes that comes from episodes such as this. Recent episodes, particularly in the past few seasons, have focused heavily on the superpowers of the Inhumans and Ghost Rider, so it is refreshing to see the under-powered members of SHIELD getting a chance to shine. As much as I like Daisy and Yo-Yo, it was great fun to see Mack and Coulson kicking ass old-school style. With LMDs as the major threat of this chapter, I hope we’ll see more emphasis on the human members of the team.


While the episode concentrated on the Director of SHIELD and his relationship with Coulson and the rest of the team, there were some minor developments on the LMD arc, although these felt largely inconsequential to the overall plot. I did, however, like the explanation that May escaped from her virtual reality ‘prison’ because her body would reject a pleasant scenario and that she could only be contained within VR, if she was being challenged constantly. The fight sequence between AIDA and May was brilliant, and it’s interesting to note AIDA’s attitude in this scene – it seems to me that she is somewhat jealous of May and the May-bot, possibly because it is an improved model. I suspect that AIDA may be developing some actual human responses unbeknownst to Radcliffe, and perhaps he will actually end up losing control of his faithful assistant in the end.

Another interesting wrinkle to the LMD story-arc introduced in this episode was Fitz’s eerie obsession with AIDA’s severed head, secretly stashing away in his locker to work on it. Obviously, this will drive a wedge between Fitz and Simmons, but I also wonder if Fitz is developing a romantic crush on the virtual woman and his attempts to rebuild the device are not as scientifically motivated as he makes out. The various ingredients are coming together nicely for this second stage of stories, and I suspect Mace’s faux-Inhuman powers may come into play later on, especially with the Watchdogs remaining a presence. It would be a complete mind-fuck if he turned out to be the mysterious benefactor running the Watchdogs, as he technically isn’t an Inhuman and it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to have him be an anti-Inhuman figurehead in disguise. Clearly a transitional episode, “The Patriot” laid some groundwork for the upcoming LMD and Watchdogs storyline and provided some much-needed background on Jeffrey Mace, even though its revelations weren’t as momentous as it could have been.


Score - 9.3 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Project Patriot is a reference to the golden age character, The Patriot, whom Jeffrey Mace is based upon. (First app: The Human Torch # 4)
  • The Patriot formula is an amended version of Mr. Hyde's formula from Season Two.
  • Mace's act of heroism during the Vienna bombing (“Captain America: Civil War”) was just an accident.

Mysteries
  • How did the Watchdogs know that the Patriot Formula was in the briefcase?

Next Episode - "Wake Up"
May works to uncover the truth about what happened to her; Aida's next move puts everyone's life at risk.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x09 - "Broken Promises"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x09 - "Broken Promises"

Synopsis

Having achieved sentience from the Darkhold, AIDA embarks on a dangerous mission to retrieve the book from the SHIELD hideout. Meanwhile, Senator Nadeer finds herself torn between her loyalties to her family and the Watchdogs.

Review

In the wake of its successful “Ghost Rider” story-arc, this mid-season premiere episode of Agents of SHIELD had the tricky task of retaining those viewers who’d tuned in to watch the Spirit of Vengeance’s small-screen debut. Initially I was surprised at the speed at which the show seemed to be dealing with its new "LMD" story-arc, revealing AIDA’s sentience to SHIELD almost immediately and having her meet an untimely end at the hands of Mack and his shotgun-axe. Of course, it was all misdirection and the actual villain behind events was Holden Radcliffe – which came as a shock as I’d completely bought into the concept that AIDA had achieved self-awareness from the Darkhold, mostly due to Mallory Jansen's pitch-perfect performance as the android. It turns out this was a lie, thanks to some careful editing, and Radcliffe had programmed AIDA to appear sentient so he could use her to steal the Darkhold without jeopardising his own position within the organisation. Even more nefarious was his decision to abduct May and use her as a host template for a second LMD, infiltrating SHIELD’s inner-circle and allowing him to access secrets.

Radcliffe’s turn to the dark side, while unexpected, shouldn’t really come as a surprise as he was presented as a morally ambiguous scientist in his initial appearance in “The Singularity”, obsessed with transhumanism and upgrading the human body with bionics. He even worked alongside Hive to produce the Kree primitives, although arguably he was threatened to do so. Credit must go to John Hannah and his ability to present Radcliffe as an affable, humourous addition to the cast – avoiding the finger of suspicion with his genuine friendship with Fitz and Simmons and appearing under the radar of both SHIELD and the viewers at home. Given how drastically things progressed when Eli Morrow got his grubby hands on the Darkhold, I wonder what plans Radcliffe has for the dark tome – even in this episode, he is presented as a sympathetic villain, obsessed with harnessing the powers of the Darkhold for the greater good. With the news that this season will feature a third ‘chapter’ to conclude the run, it seems like that this “LMD” section will be used to establish the main threat of the season – presumably with Ghost Rider returning at the end to help deal with the Darkhold once and for all.


The other plot thread that dominated this episode involved the anti-Inhuman politician Senator Nadeer and her brother, who was recently freed from a seven-month terrigenesis incubation. Torn between her love for her brother and her hatred for aliens, Nadeer eventually sided with the Watchdogs and shot her brother point-blank in the chest. However, it seems that the super-speed he initially displayed was only part of his Inhuman power-set as he begun to form a second terrigenesis cocoon when dumped underwater. Judging from this post-mortem evolution, I suspect that Vijay will end up displaying powers similar to the mutant Darwin from the X-men, and each time he is “killed”, he will develop a new power to prevent the same method of attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was bullet-proof the next time he shows up. Given the scope of his powers, I wonder whether Vijay will turn out to be the “big bad” of the third act, although I would think the series would soon be steering away from the Inhuman stories now that an independent Inhuman series is in the works.

As to whether Agents of SHIELD has maintained the momentum built-up during its “Ghost Rider” period, I’d have to say that it does. This new “LMD” arc is rife with possibilities and allows the series to return to its roots with betrayal from within the team with ‘May-da’ adopting the same role that the undercover Grant Ward did during Season One. This repetition even extends to the reappearance of the Watchdogs, working for a mysterious benefactor with the code-name “The Superior” – who I’m going to guess is actually Jeffrey Mace. Now that the core cast have reunited and become a functioning team now, his role as interim director is somewhat redundant and I suspect the writers are prepping him up for a villainous reveal later down the line. While this series is re-treading old ground, swapping out Hydra for the Watchdogs and revisiting the Inhuman subject once again, it is still riding high from its diversion into the mystical elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Agents of SHIELD can continue to tell fresh and exciting stories whilst surprising the viewer, then it fully deserves a Season Five renewal.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Senator Nadeer’s parents were killed during the Chitauri attack (“The Avengers”) fuelling her hatred for all things alien.

Mysteries
  • What does Radcliffe intend to do with the Darkhold?
  • Who is “The Superior” running the Watchdogs?
  • What will Vijay become when he emerges from his second terrigenesis?

Next Episode - "The Patriot"
Separated from their team, Coulson and Mack discover a shocking secret about Mace, leaving all of SHIELD in a precarious position.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: "Slingshot"

Agents of SHIELD - "Slingshot"

Synopsis

With Daisy back on the team, Yo-Yo asks for her help in covering up a secret mission that the pair of them undertook during the early days of Director Mace’s tenure.

Review

During Season Three, Agents of SHIELD flirted with the concept of digital-only content with two web-series, “Double Agent” and “Academy” that focused on a fictionalised account of events occurring behind-the-scenes. This year, however, ABC has decided to produce the series’ first in-continuity web-series focusing on the Inhuman Elena Rodriguez that also bridges the gap between Season Three and Four as Director Mace takes over from Coulson. Despite firming focusing on Elena’s character, I was pleasantly surprised to see each of the main cast show up for a cameo appearance as the series progressed – although it did feel like a conveyor belt of character appearances throughout the first four episodes. Once the action started in the final two episodes, it actually began to feel like a proper episode of Agents of SHIELD with some special effects and choreographed fight sequences included.


While it was fun to see loose plot threads from Elena’s origin in “Bouncing Back” addressed and tied up, the mini-series offered little in the way of plot development and it would have been more interesting if it had debuted ahead of Season Four, giving viewers their first glimpse at the new SHIELD status-quo. I was impressed by the number of Easter Eggs crammed into the six episodes, including a Stan Lee cameo (of sorts), and the way that the writers brought back the Peruvian 0-8-4 from the second episode and also delved back into Elena’s origin by having her get vengeance for her cousin’s murder – subtly, kick-starting the theme of vengeance ahead of the Ghost Rider’s appearance. Compared to the digital content for other series, “Slingshot” managed to maintain the feel of the series by making use of key set locations and almost all of the main cast. While the narrative did suffer from the bitty nature of the webisode format, it felt like an authentic mini-episode from the series and I’d imagine it will be included on the Season Four box-set as a DVD extra.

Overall, “Slingshot” is a nice addition to the Agents of SHIELD mythos, but maybe next time ABC should use the format to tease upcoming storylines instead of revisiting untold stories.


Score - 8.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • When moving out of his office, Coulson brings his “lucky charm” - the axe that Mack used to sever his hand when it begun to turn to stone during the Season Two finale.
  • To remain part of SHIELD, Elena has signed the Sokovia Accords which were put in place in the wake of Ultron's attack on the country in Avengers: Age of Ultron, prompting the schism amongst the Avengers that played out in Captain America: Civil War.
  • A picture of Stan Lee is seen in Coulson's box of belongings.
  • Coulson hands Elena a medallion from the formation of SHIELD that once belonged to Peggy Carter.
  • Super-humans who break the Sokovia Accords are sent Secretary Ross and the Raft as seen in Captain America: Civil War.
  • Elena is hunting down Victor Ramon, the corrupt police officer who killed her cousin in the episode “Bouncing Back”.
  • Ramon is in possession of the Peruvian 0-8-4 introduced way back in the series' second-ever episode “0-8-4”.


The entire "Slingshot" mini-series can be watched on YouTube for free. The first episode is located below:

Friday, 9 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x08 - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x08 - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"

Synopsis

Determined to show off his new abilities and create matter out of nothing, Eli Morrow constructs a device which may end up obliterating the whole of Los Angeles. It's up to Coulson and Mace to reunite the team and prevent disaster, whilst AIDA begins to put her mysterious plans into motion.

Review

The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” delivers a satisfying conclusion to the Ghost Rider arc of this fourth season, seemingly concluding Robbie Reyes' narrative and restoring SHIELD to its more cohesive structure with Daisy rejoining the organisation. Sure, there's plenty of loose story-arcs (Nadeer, The Watchdogs, AIDA and the Darkhold) left to be addressed when the show returns, but I've really enjoyed the narrow focus that the series has employed towards the Ghost Rider / Robbie Reyes plot-arc. Eight episodes seems to be the ideal length of time to spend on his storyline, and I'd be more than happy to see the character return from inter-dimensional limbo to help out in the final few episodes of the season. Ultimately, the character was never really going to work out as a long-term cast-member for the show – not only does the Ghost Rider CGI require a hefty slice of the series' SFX budget, but he is far more interesting in measured doses and could risk “burning out” if he continued to be the main focus of the season. There's also the potential that ABC might spin him off into his own series, although they've not had much luck with spin-offs recently.

Even though Eli Morrow lacked any real presence as a super-villain, I really enjoyed the confrontation between him and his nephew, especially since we saw Reyes in a vulnerable position for the first time as the Rider. With a sketchy motivation that seemed to revolve around ego, Morrow didn't really have a clear agenda to his master-plan and hopefully, if he returns alongside Robbie, he will be more demonic and supernatural in a similar way to his comics counterpart and have a more defined personality. We've seen the series dip its toe into the mystical element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I would love to see things get even more supernatural when the season returns in 2017, although it seems that AIDA and her LMD takeover of SHIELD may be the main agenda when the series resumes.


With a shock reveal that set up the remaining episodes of the series, AIDA found herself elevated to 'big bad' status. It's unclear as to what her true motivations are in replacing Agent May with a LMD – technically, its an extension of Radcliffe's endgame to prevent agents in the field from dying by replacing them with LMDs, but the subterfuge and cold-blooded murder that AIDA employs seems to suggest she has a more nefarious plan in store. I love the idea of Agent May being a LMD-in-disguise, especially if she is unaware of her true origins like a proper 'sleeper cell' agent. It evokes memories of the initial Season One reveal of Grant Ward's role as an undercover Hydra agent, as well as the excellent Secret Invasion story-arc from the comics but with LMDs instead of Skrulls. While I've enjoyed Season Four's focus on the supernatural, I look forward to a more conspiracy-driven second half.

Saying goodbye to Ghost Rider (whether temporarily or permanently) was a bold move from the Agents of SHIELD creators, especially with the increased buzz that the Spirit of Vengeance introduced to the show. By slowly seeding the LMD story-arc in these initial eight episodes, hopefully any fans wooed back to the show by Ghost Rider will stick around to see how things develop with AIDA and LMD-May. I suspect this next phase of the season will see AIDA infiltrate SHIELD with more of her robotic-duplicates, allowing the show's writers to surprise viewers with some shock reveals, much like Secret Invasion did when it unmasked heroes to be Skrulls-in-disguise. This initial batch of episodes has been one of the strongest periods in Agents of SHIELD history, thanks to a much tighter and focused storyline and one that strayed away from tired plot-lines involving Hydra and Inhumans. It's early-days yet, but the LMD arc promises to return the series back to its Season One roots, replicating a similar level of paranoia that was seen in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With Ghost Rider out of the picture, I sincerely hope that Agents of SHIELD resists the temptation to revert to its more formulaic structure and instead continues to innovate and surprise its loyal fanbase.


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Does no-one remember Ultron?” - Jeffrey Mace references Avengers: Age of Ultron to showcase the dangers of AI technology.
  • By taking a more active role in the field and creating a battle suit, Jeffrey Mace seems to be following in the footsteps of his comic-book counterpart, also known as 'The Patriot'. (First app: The Human Torch # 4)
  • Maybe in the comic-book version?” - Daisy's response to Coulson's suggestion that she runs SHIELD as Director was a nice nod to the character's temporary tenure in the position in the comics universe. (First app: Battle Scars # 6)

Mysteries
  • What happened to Ghost Rider and Eli Morrow?
  • Why did AIDA kidnap Agent May and replace her with a LMD?

Friday, 2 December 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x07 - "Deals with our Devils"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x07 - "Deals with our Devils"

Synopsis

With Coulson, Fitz and Robbie trapped in a limbo dimension, the rest of the SHIELD team must discover a way to bring them back before they are sucked into the Dark Matter universe. Meanwhile, Simmons is sent on a mysterious assignment by Director Mace, involving an Inhuman whose Terrigenesis has lasted over several months.

Review

Returning after almost a month's hiatus, I was worried that it would be tricky for Agents of SHIELD to regain any of the momentum it had built up over the previous six episodes but this sharply scripted episode was a breath of fresh air for the series after the lengthy wait. As with last season's excellent “4,722 Hours”, this episode played about with the show's format and retold the same scenes from different perspectives, revealing hidden elements and advancing the plot in unexpected ways. It wasn't quite time-travel, but it reminded me of Back to the Future: Part II and how Marty McFly interacts with the events from the first movie, adding a whole new layer of context to the existing scenes. It was fun to see the show's writers playing about with structure to produce fresh and exciting narratives, thereby maximising the potential of the different dimensions. While I suspect that we won't see the series exploring the limbo dimensions in the same way that it was focused on Maveth during Season Three, I was glad for the break in format and opportunity to better understand what Lucy Bauer and her team were experiencing.

Surprisingly, this episode dedicated a considerable amount of time to developing Mack's character and back-story – something that the series had already attempted back in last season's “Watchdogs” with his younger brother. Oblique references to “losing hope” and the way he solemnly looked at a photo with the name on the back suggests that Hope may be an ex-wife, possibly deceased. Perhaps this explains why Mack hasn't made any moves on Yo-Yo yet, if he has unresolved issues with a former lover. Given the supernatural angle of the series, if this Hope is dead, it is likely that we may see her reappear in a spirit form. In fact, I wonder if we'll see any of the former cast-members make a reappearance in the second half of this series – perhaps Grant Ward or Lincoln could appear to haunt Daisy. It's certainly a possibility! I really like Henry Simmons' take on Mack and how the show has gradually built him up into a vital part of the group since his introduction in Season Two.


The most vital scene of this episode was AIDA downloading the Darkhold into her memory as digital files. I did wonder how the two stories would connect with each other, but hadn't suspected that she would end up absorbing the contents of the Darkhold inside of her. Presumably, she is under the book's thrall and the mysterious blueprints she was concocting in her lab at night are probably nothing good! I really like Mallory Jansen's stone-faced take on AIDA, creating a realistic take on an android attempting to pass for a human. I'd imagine that the second half of this season will revolve around AIDA's development, especially if she takes an Ultron-like disdain for her creators. I like the concept of blending together cutting-edge science with ancient magicks, and this certainly doesn't feel like an adaptation of any stories from the comics. On a long-shot, could AIDA actually turn out to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Jocasta (the bride of Ultron) and maybe she is plotting to rebuild Ultron in a new body – sure, its a bit ambitious for Agents of SHIELD, but it would be a brilliant way to deal with loose ends from Avengers: Age of Ultron.

While we'd seen the origin of Robbie Reyes' Ghost Rider, this episode put the finishing touches on the character – having him reaffirm his pledge towards vengeance, effectively reselling his soul at the cost of saving Mack's. It was great to see Reyes talking with the Ghost Rider spirit 'face-to-face', bargaining with the demon for the chance to get revenge of Eli Morrow. I suspect that we might see Ghost Rider disappear after next week's mid-season finale, but hopefully the series will revisit the character in the latter half of the series and not forget about him like they did with Deathlok. This was a great episode – one that tied together all of the various plot threads into one cohesive narrative, finally bringing the AIDA subplot into the main storyline and giving it some relevance. Interestingly, the Simmons / Inhuman storyline was given far less prominence compared to the rest of the events occurring at the same time, and I have a horrible feeling that the Inhuman who Simmons 'saved' may end up being another love rival to ruin the FitzSimmons relationship! Clearly, the Inhumans aren't going anywhere soon and with the news that ABC is launching an eight-part miniseries next year based on the characters, it seems that Agents of SHIELD will remain attached to that part of the Marvel mythology.

Overall, this episode did a grand job at setting the stage for a confrontation between Ghost Rider and Eli Morrow, whilst establishing plenty of ongoing drama for the rest of its cast to carry over into the second half of the season. While this first half has been shorter than previous years, the smaller batch of episodes has benefitted the series' narrative, allowing for a tighter story-arc without filler or repetition. Agents of SHIELD is on a creative high right now, and lapsed fans should definitely come back to the show and check out what ABC has been doing with its corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Score - 9.8 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • N/A

Mysteries
  • Who is Hope, seen in Mack's photo and referenced by the Ghost Rider?
  • What does AIDA plan to do with the brain she is designing? Is she building herself a male companion?
  • What does Eli Morrow plan to do with his newfound powers?
  • What scores does the Ghost Rider have to settle?

Next Episode - "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics"
With the lives of everyone in Los Angeles hanging in the balance, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider find themselves working together.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x06 - "The Good Samaritan"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x06 - "The Good Samaritan"

Synopsis

Eager to catch up with Lucy Bauer and Eli Morrow before they can replicate their experiments with the Darkhold, Coulson must first deal with a disgruntled Director of SHIELD as Jeffrey Mace searches for Quake and Ghost Rider aboard the Quinjet. Meanwhile, Robbie reveals the truth behind his transformation into the Ghost Rider.

Review

Littered with flashbacks to Robbie Reyes and Eli Morrow’s chequered pasts, this was a surprisingly revelatory episode of Agents of SHIELD, yet there were plenty of unanswered questions to tantalise viewers over the November hiatus until the show returns. After hinting at a ‘deal with the devil’, we finally got to see the exact circumstances behind Robbie Reyes’ transformation into the Ghost Rider and while most of it played out as expected, the biggest shock was the cameo appearance of another Ghost Rider – presumably Johnny Blaze – transferring the power of the Spirit of Vengeance into Robbie. Clearly, this presents us with more questions than answers and hopefully the show’s writers will continue to develop the mythology of the Ghost Riders, even if they don’t refer to Johnny Blaze by name. I wonder if we might see an incarnation of the Western Ghost Rider known as the ‘Phantom Rider’ at some point in the future to flesh out the legacy of the title. Robbie’s flashback to his death and rebirth was absolutely chilling and much more effective than Nicolas Cage’s attempt to bring the character to screen in the lacklustre Ghost Rider movie and its sequel. This incarnation of the character has a much stronger motivation than Cage’s version and benefits from the slow-burn approach (pardon the pun!) to his origin story.

The series attempted its usual ‘bait-and-switch’ technique regarding the villain of the piece, revealing Lucy Bauer to be selfish and callous in her attempts to regain corporeality, but not malicious by any means. Instead, Eli Morrow was revealed to be under the sway of the Darkhold, purposefully turning the Momentum Labs scientists into ‘ghosts’ but locked away in prison for attacking Joseph Bauer before he could get his hands on the book to finish his scheme. While the twist might not be a shock to fans of the All-New Ghost Rider comic series, I did find myself surprised by the revelation that the experiment was an attempt to recreate the Zero Matter / Darkforce experiments performed by Isodyne Energy in the late 1940s. This was a direct reference to the plot of Agent Carter’s second season, which saw the plucky SSR heroine attempting to prevent Hollywood starlet Whitney Frost from opening up a tear between dimensions and letting Darkforce energy flood reality. I feel slightly stupid for not seeing the similarities between the two storylines as Agent Carter’s love interest was turned incorporeal upon contact with the Zero Matter formula. The fact that Agents of SHIELD is picking up on an Agent Carter sub-plot is great news as it maximises the potential of seeing Hayley Atwell returning to finish off some loose ends in a flashback episode – annoyingly Season Two ended with a big cliff-hanger, so hopefully we can see those points resolved in future episodes!


The tension between Coulson and Mace begun to increase as the former director and new director clashed over Quake and Ghost Rider. Unimpressed with Coulson’s attempts to hide his fugitives, Mace was quickly taken out of commission by Reyes – although I suspect that the growing division between the two heads will resurface again once the dust settles. While I understand Mace’s attempts to keep SHIELD looking efficient and free from controversy following the Hydra attacks in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he is positioned as the bad guy here as the audience is inclined to side with Coulson and the team – even if they are being fairly reckless in their behaviour. The relationship between Old SHIELD (Coulson) and New SHIELD (Mace) hasn’t really been explored in too much depth since the season begun, with most of the changes occurring during the time-jump, so it would be great to see this aspect given more prominence in future episodes. I’m enjoying the return to the Season One status-quo with Coulson’s team working as part of a core organisation, although Coulson doesn’t quite have the same carte blanche as before.

Playing up to its one month hiatus, this episode of Agents of SHIELD leaves us with plenty of cliff-hangers to chew over for the next few weeks. Firstly, where on earth did Coulson, Fitz and Ghost Rider disappear to once the explosion happened? The natural explanation is that they become incorporeal ghosts like Lucy Bauer and her team, but I suspect that might just be misdirection – after all, Lucy and her team only became incorporeal when they were placed inside the special chamber. I think the side-effect of the Momentum Labs blast has seen the three characters teleported somewhere else – in an ideal world, they’re trapped in the Darkforce Dimension, but this is network TV so they’ll probably just turn up in a car park outside somewhere. The other mystery, which was given a lot less focus than the rest, was the whereabouts of Jemma Simmons. Sent by Mace on a secret mission that required her to be blindfolded and taken somewhere against her will, there was no post-credits reveal on where she was and aside from a slightly worried Fitz, little consequence to her absence. Given Mace’s recent chat with Senator Nadeer and her attempts to blackmail him, I think it might involve her working with Nadeer to do something with her Inhuman brother.

While the month-long gap between episodes disrupts the flow of the storyline somewhat, Agents of SHIELD wisely loaded up on the cliff-hangers for this episode to keep anticipation at a high throughout the hiatus. Revealing Ghost Rider’s origin and this season’s ties to Agent Carter was another masterstroke, offering viewers a glimpse at where Season Four is headed when it returns. These past six episodes have really reinvigorated the Agents of SHIELD format, showcasing the skills it has learnt from its Netflix and cinematic ‘cousins’.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Isodyne Energy was featured heavily during Season Two of Agent Carter, and a similar mishap with Zero Matter left Doctor Wilkes equally as incorporeal as Lucy Bauer and her staff.
  • The Momentum Labs experiment results in the creation of Zero Matter / Darkforce – the same energy seen in Season Two of Agent Carter and from Blackout in the Agents of SHIELD Season One episode “The Only Light in the Darkness”.
  • Eli Morrow’s transformation and ability to control Zero Matter is reminiscent of Whitney Frost’s own transformation during Season Two of Agent Carter.

Mysteries
  • Where has Director Mace sent Simmons?
  • What happened to Coulson, Fitz and Robbie once the Experiment happened?
  • Who was "The Good Samaritan" that gave Robbie his powers?
  • What is Eli Morrow's endgame now he has super-powers?

Next Episode - "Deals with Our Devils"
With the loss of half the team, the remaining members search for answers as the clock counts down for Ghost Rider.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x05 - "Lockup"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x05 - "Lockup"

Synopsis

It’s a race against time as the Agents of SHIELD, along with Ghost Rider, attempt to free Eli Morrow from prison before the Momentum Labs Ghosts can get to him. Meanwhile, Simmons finds herself working closely alongside the new Director of SHIELD as he engages in a public debate with anti-Inhuman politician, Senator Rota Nadeer.

Review

With Ghost Rider and Quake both working alongside SHIELD in a regular capacity, this episode of Agents of SHIELD got to show off one of the series’ strengths – the relationships between its core cast. While having the team scattered and resenting each other was a nice way to inject tension into the story, it is far more satisfying from a viewer’s perspective to see the team united and working towards a common goal. Returning to the series’ Season One roots, we have Coulson operating a team of hand-picked agents on globe-trotting missions whilst the larger SHIELD organisation deals with maintaining the peace and handling Human-Inhuman relations. I like this multi-tiered global structure much more than the underground, rebellious stylings of Seasons Two and Three where SHIELD was the underdog fighting against Hydra and the Inhumans in the shadows. It certainly fits in better with the established MCU and makes Agents of SHIELD feel like a cornerstone of the cinematic universe once again – although, behind-the-scenes it remains the faithful ‘lapdog’ to Marvel Studios' bi-annual movie releases.

While the prison break formed the bulk of the episode with some nice action set-pieces sprinkled about the narrative, it was balanced nicely with Simmons' attempts to avoid her lie detection test and Mace outing himself as an Inhuman live on television. These secondary plot threads complemented the main action of the prison break nicely, allowing the tensions within SHIELD's upper echelons to bubble away whilst Coulson and his team got their hands dirty. The fight sequence that pitted Daisy against the imprisoned Watchdogs was very well-choreographed, much like some of Chloe Bennet's scenes from previous seasons. Agents of SHIELD has always done really well with its slickly produced action sequences, but this season's later time-slot has given the series the opportunity to push boundaries and showcase more violence and gore. While it hasn't developed into the same bone-crunching brutality of its 'sister' Netflix shows, the series has definitely matured this year.


Even though the episode leaned towards the action side of the spectrum, there were still plenty of plot developments in store for viewers. The Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired pre-credits sequence revealed some tantalising hints about the Darkhold, which felt like a more sophisticated version of the Necronomicon. We also found out some more information about Robbie Reyes' backstory and the events that led him to becoming the Ghost Rider, although it seems that there is some kind of conspiracy behind the drive-by shooting that left him and his brother fighting for their lives. Gabriel Luna continues to play Reyes perfectly as a tortured man driven by the spirit of vengeance that resides within him – the scene where he had to decide whether to accompany his uncle through the prison or go back for revenge was extremely well-acted and ultimately, I think his choice will haunt him going forward. On a side-note, I loved the bad-ass tone to the Ghost Rider as he walked out of the flaming cell – there was definitely a strut to his walk and the CGI guys made sure the character radiated attitude.

Thanks to its tightened focus and a reunited cast, this was the strongest episode of Season Four yet. Rather than rushing through its big action set-piece in the prison, the writers made it the focal point of the whole episode and dedicated time to setting it up. Even though it appeared that the episode was focused on one narrative strand, the writers deftly addressed a multitude of ongoing plot threads such as the conspiracy surrounding the drive-by shooting on the Reyes brothers, Jeffrey Mace's backstory, Agent May's vision of Coulson during her near-death experience and Eli Morrow becoming swayed by the Darkhold. It all felt organic and seamless throughout – something that Agents of SHIELD hasn't always managed in the past with clunky gear changes and exposition dumps aplenty in past seasons. I am really enjoying how the series is riffing on its Season One roots with its current status-quo, yet still distinguishing itself from its tired 'SHIELD vs. Hydra' plot mechanic of the past few years. This more political side of the Humans vs. Inhumans storyline seems to be a more interesting way to explore the issue than having the Watchdogs become the 'new Hydra' – as seen with the recent storyline over on Supergirl – the Human vs. Super-Powered angle can allow television shows to interpret real-world problems like racial intolerance and hatred through a science-fiction prism. However, I don't think subtext is one of Agents of SHIELD's strengths.


Score - 9.7 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • During the flashback sequence when Lucy and Joseph Bauer are searching for the Darkhold in the former owner's house, there are some visual clues that reference Johnny Blaze, the original Ghost Rider from the comics: the Quentin Carnival poster, a black leather jacket and a motorbike.
  • Senator Nadeer's claims of "blue-skinned men in Wyoming" during her debate references the Kree Reapers from the Season Three episode, "Failed Experiments"
  • Jeffrey Mace became famous for his heroics during the Vienna International Centre bombing, which was seen on-screen in Captain America: Civil War

Mysteries
  • Who was the previous owner of the Darkhold?
  • What exactly is the Darkhold capable of?
  • What secrets does Jeffrey Mace have regarding his heroics at the Vienna International Centre?
  • Who arranged the hit on Robbie and Gabe Reyes?
  • Why did Agent May see Coulson during her near-death experience?
  • Why is Senator Nadeer blackmailing Mace?

Next Episode - "The Good Samaritan"
The shocking origin story of Robbie's transition into Ghost Rider is revealed as the lives of Coulson and the team hang in the balance.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x04 - "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x04 - "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire"

Synopsis

With the Watchdogs using SHIELD Intel targeting Inhuman assets, Simmons and Daisy team-up to warn their next victim: James aka Hellfire. Meanwhile, Coulson and Mack’s investigation into the mysterious ghosts leads them directly into contact with the Ghost Rider himself.

Review

After three episodes establishing Daisy’s estrangement with her former SHIELD colleagues, this episode went some way towards repairing that rift and bringing the seemingly disparate plot threads involving the Watchdogs, Ghost Rider and the Momentum Labs Ghosts together. It was quite satisfying to see the pieces come together to form something of a bigger picture, and seeing Coulson enlist both Daisy and Ghost Rider into the cause felt like a step in the right direction. Picking up on loose plot threads from the end of Season Three, Simmons and Daisy visited James (aka Hellfire) who’d been put in SHIELD’s Inhuman relocation programme and was now working in a fireworks shop – an irony that didn’t go unnoticed by the characters themselves. While his change in motivations from wanting to be an Inhuman to becoming a self-loathing Watchdog sympathiser were a bit hard to swallow, I appreciate the writer’s attempts to explain away his sudden shift in attitude. Tying his attitude shift to the withdrawal symptoms of Hive’s “sway” helped explain Daisy’s own dramatic change in personality to become Quake.

Running parallel with Simmons and Daisy’s adventure, we saw more from Mack and Coulson – who are fast becoming an effective duo – as they chased the Ghost Rider down in Lola. Obviously, budgetary constraints meant that we didn’t get to see Lola take flight and take-down the Rider’s Dodge Charger, but I liked the sudden and unexpected resolution to their car chase sequence. It was great to see Reyes teaming up with Mack and Coulson, particularly when he came up against Hellfire and used his chain against him. For fans of the Ghost Rider character, it was brilliant to see him realised on-screen with his iconic chain weapon from the comics – even though this is a different incarnation of the character, it was a nice nod to the Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch versions. I was convinced that Hellfire was going to be killed off in this episode, but the writers have spared Axel Whitehead’s character – presumably to have him reappear as a threat later on. I quite enjoy his cocky Australian attitude, and if he could be redeemed, it would be great to have him in the show on a more frequent basis.


This episode was the first in a long while to focus on Simmons as a character as I don’t think she has been given much of the spotlight since her return from Maveth early on in Season Three. It was very interesting to see the changed dynamic between her and Daisy – a far cry from their adventure in Season One’sThe Hub” where she attempted to lie to Agent Stillwell and ended up having to tranquillise him instead. This is a much more confident and self-assured version of the character, willing to deceive and break the rules. However, this may be put to the test in the next episode when she will be forced to cover up her involvement with Daisy and the truth about AIDA during one of her routine lie detection tests. It is also interesting to see how far her relationship with Fitz has developed between seasons with the pair planning to move in together and even saying ‘the L word’ to each other. Given the show’s tendency to play with audience emotions and the fact that no-one on the team is in a functional relationship, I suspect Simmons’ new job and Fitz’s relationship with Radcliffe and AIDA may drive a wedge between them.

The AIDA storyline received some more development in this episode as Radcliffe put his artificial intelligence to the test against Agent May. I was a little disappointed at how both May and Coulson failed to notice that AIDA was a robot – especially after her blunders in speech. These are meant to be experienced SHIELD agents, after all. I guess the point was to emphasise how life-like she had become, but Mallory Jansen still plays the character as being rather stiff and synthetic in tone. I’m still curious to see how this sub-plot fits into the season’s key theme of the supernatural and mysticism. Overall, this was a fire-cracker of an episode that provided some more forward momentum from the season’s main story-arc, blending the Darkhold storyline together with the show’s ongoing Watchdogs threat and reuniting the cast as one team. I’m really appreciating the fast pace to this season, thus far, and the unpredictable nature that the supernatural brings to the show. With Doctor Strange on the near horizon, I’m looking forward to seeing how the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe release impacts the world of Agents of SHIELD.


Score - 9.2 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • Ghost Rider stealing and using Hellfire’s metal chain was a nice nod to the character’s weapon of choice in the comics – a flaming metal chain.

Mysteries
  • What exactly is the Darkhold, and what was Momentum Labs doing with it?
  • How did Robbie Reyes “make a deal with the Devil” for his powers?

Next Episode - "Lockup"
As Robbie Reyes struggles to control the Ghost Rider, S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrates a high-security prison to unravel the secrets that haunt them all.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x03 - "Uprising"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x03 - "Uprising"

Synopsis

As Simmons and Radcliffe race to save May’s life, the rest of the world find themselves under attack as a terrorist organisation uses EMPs to cause blackouts in key cities. Forced to rely on ‘low-tech’ solutions, can the Agents of SHIELD prevent global riots over the Inhumans? Meanwhile, Daisy discovers more about Robbie Reyes - the man behind the Ghost Rider...

Review

From its Cloverfield-inspired opening to its intriguing cliff-hanger, this was a fabulous episode of Agents of SHIELD which deviated slightly from its wider ‘ghosts’ mythology angle to focus on its core cast of characters. Stepping up to fill the gap left by Hydra, the Inhuman-hating Watchdogs have become the new global threat that SHIELD has to face and ultimately, it’s a case of “same shit, different name” as the groups feel somewhat interchangeable, even down to the same old ‘double-agent in a position of political influence’ angle. Despite this, I found them to be quite threatening especially during the tense confrontation with Yo-Yo at the Bachelorette party and I like the parallels with real-world activists Anonymous. I hope the show’s writers work harder to differentiate the Watchdogs from Hydra in future episodes, but I suspect they will just be treated as disposable fodder, producing a limitless supply of bad guys for SHIELD to take on. I do like that one of their figureheads is a female, with Parminder Nagra putting in a good performance as the anti-Inhuman politician.

After some fan-service Ghost Rider cameos in the first two episodes, “Uprising” saw the writers adopt a change of tactic – possibly influenced by budget concerns – as they explored the human side of Robbie Reyes and his relationship with his brother Gabe. Curiously, hints towards his ‘deal with the devil’ were dropped and it appears his current condition was down to Reyes wanting to get vengeance on those who’d put his brother in a wheelchair, but there was also mention of his uncle and ties to Momentum Labs, which is where the ghosts originated from. Obviously, there is something tying Reyes, the Darkhold, his uncle and the ghosts from Momentum Labs altogether and I like how the series is drip-feeding us this information, rather than dumping it onto us in one go. I wonder if it’ll tie into the new and improved Watchdogs and their mysterious leader. Even though there is a supernatural element to this season, there are plenty of familiar touchstones that help the series retain that Agent of SHIELD flavour.

It turned out Agent May wasn't the biggest fan of Virtual Reality...

One highlight of this episode was the increased focus on ‘Yo-Yo’, who was arguably one of the more interesting and compelling members of Daisy’s Secret Warriors last season. It’s interesting to see her grow in confidence with her abilities and become a more active member of the SHIELD team. I particularly liked the dynamic fight sequence between SHIELD and the Watchdogs at the Bachelorette party, and the brief moment where Yo-Yo stole a knife from a Watchdog and waved it in front of his face playfully as Mack punched his lights out. Agents of SHIELD has never shied away from violence before, but the later time slot has definitely allowed the show to focus more on the brutality of its fight scenes and showcase some blood and gore, albeit implied at times. Perhaps this new direction is a result of the success seen from the grittier Netflix ‘sister shows’ and an active decision to cater towards an older audience than the child-friendly movies. Either way, it has definitely contributed to the series’ recent upswing, displaying a maturity that sometimes felt lacking in previous seasons.

Even though we all knew she was safe, the scenes with Simmons and Radcliffe attempting to resuscitate May were very effective and playing with audience’s emotions well. I loved how the power cut out just as Simmons was going to deliver the life-saving jolt to the heart, and I was surprised at Radcliffe’s genuine concern for her safety, even risking having Simmons discover AIDA to save May’s life. This is a far-cry from his initial motivations from Season Three and definitely presents the character as genuine in his intentions. Given John Hannah’s skill for comedic timing, he is a great addition to the cast and I’m glad that he is an ally, rather than a threat, although I’m still not quite sure where the AIDA story-arc is headed. In fact, part of me even wondered whether May would actually die and whether Simmons and Radcliffe would cover up her death with a LMD version of the character. While it didn't happen here, I'm still convinced that might be where this sub-plot is headed in the long-run - either that or AIDA will be possessed by a rogue spirit?

At the moment, I’m really enjoying the various plot threads that are already taking shape throughout Season Four and how they seem to be connecting together – that said, it would be fun to see the series return to the looser serialised structure seen in the first half of Season One to break up the mythology episodes and have some fun.


Score - 9.5 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • After being coy with his surname last episode, we finally get confirmation that the new SHIELD director is Jeffrey Mace - a golden age superhero called Patriot and former Captain America whilst Steve Rogers was 'on ice' - however, this incarnation seems to have little in common with his comics counterpart. (First app: The Human Torch # 4)
  • Robbie references his uncle Eli Morrow, currently imprisoned for attempted murder. In the comics, Eli is the ghostly spirit of a serial killer who bonds with Robbie to create the Ghost Rider. (First app: All-New Ghost Rider # 1)

Mysteries
  • Who is funding the Watchdogs to act on a global scale?
  • How exactly did Robbie Reyes become the Ghost Rider?
  • What happened at Momentum Labs to create the ghosts?

Next Episode - "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire"
As Ghost Rider’s quest for vengeance brings him into an explosive confrontation with SHIELD, Coulson and Mack must rely on an unlikely ally in their time of desperate need; and Daisy reunites with a familiar face to stop the Watchdogs.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x02 - "Meet the New Boss"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x02 - "Meet the New Boss"

Synopsis

While Daisy continues to dig into Robbie Reyes’ past in an effort to discover more about the Ghost Rider, the Agents of SHIELD attempt to discover more about the mysterious ghosts who’ve infected the Yakuza. Meanwhile, Coulson finds himself at odds with the new director of SHIELD over the best way to treat May when she begins to show signs of spiritual possession. 

Review

After a strong opening episode that presented viewers with the new and improved SHIELD, which saw our familiar heroes divided from each other both physically and emotionally, this episode introduced the new director behind these decisions. Rather than being an imposing ogre of a man, Jeffrey was surprisingly affable and ill-at-ease in his position, resembling a pre-Season One Coulson at times – this was a more detached director than his predecessors, focused more on the image of the all-new, all-different SHIELD as he fought to restore the sense of glory and authority to the disgraced name. There were some nice passive-aggressive moments between Jeffrey and Phil as the pair clashed on how best to deal with May’s illness, and I suspect there might be more to the new director than his Inhuman abilities. While the introduction of Jeffrey allows the show to revert to its Season One roots, placing Coulson and his team as a cog in a bigger machine, I’ve grown accustomed to see Coulson in a directorial role, and I suspect he will find it difficult to relinquish control, making this ‘rivalry’ feel similar to the clash between Coulson and Gonzales during Season Two when there were two SHIELD organisations vying for the title.

Once again, the Ghost Rider scenes were the standout moments of this episode as Gabriel Luna made the civilian side of the character equally as watchable and intense as his supernatural alter-ego. I loved the tension in the air as Daisy popped by his workplace for an interrogation and the script crackled with humour and chemistry as the pair bickered amongst each other. While previous seasons made use of practical effects to depict Inhumans such as Raina and Lash, this season seems to be investing more heavily in CGI effects with Daisy and Ghost Rider requiring computer trickery to appear onscreen. While most TV shows would refrain from action sequences relying on the powers, Agents of SHIELD goes full-throttle (no pun intended) with a brilliant car chase scene as Daisy uses her powers to hitch a ride on top of Ghost Rider’s car.


Without pausing for breath, this episode clipped along at a fair pace, quickly tying the Ghost Rider together with the mysterious apparitions that had been inducing hallucinations in its victims. While the motivations of all concerned remains a mystery, it was interesting to hear the Darkforce mentioned onscreen, signalling the series determination to tackle the spiritual side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Darkforce is a spell book from the Marvel Comics Universe and it seems the ghost-like figures are scientists who may have unwittingly unleashed the supernatural powers contained within – perhaps this could also explain the Ghost Rider’s own origins? With the Rider already fully functional and experienced, I suspect that future episodes may delve into the character’s origin story in greater detail – perhaps it will be a stand-alone flashback episode like the well-received “4,722 Hours” from last season?

Moving away from its focus on the Inhumans has paid off for Agents of SHIELD as it experiences a much-needed re-invigoration during its fourth season – something that seldom occurs in television. Despite this increased emphasis on the supernatural, the scars of the Season Three finale and Captain America: Civil War are still keenly felt on the narrative, influencing the decisions of the cast in the present day. While absent in this episode, the AIDA sub-plot feels slightly out of place and doesn’t quite gel with the season direction and I’m curious to find out how the writers intend to bring it into the mix – perhaps Radcliffe will use the Life Model Decoy technology to revive one of the former cast-members? As much as I’d love to see Brett Dalton return as Robo-Ward, it’s far from likely to happen. There’s a much-welcomed sense of unpredictability about Agents of SHIELD this year as it veers away from the slightly formulaic pathway it carved for itself during Seasons Two and Three and heads into new territory. Although, if the Darkhold plot results in yet another reformation of Hydra with a brand-new leader, I may scream…


Score - 9.4 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • The Darkhold mentioned by the ghosts is a fictional book of sins (or grimoire) from the Marvel Comics Universe used to conjure up black magic, (First App: Marvel Spotlight # 4)

Mysteries
  • Who are the ghosts and how did they become incorporeal?
  • What do the ghosts want and how are they connected to Ghost Rider?
  • How did the Ghost Rider get his powers?
  • Who exactly is the new director of SHIELD and what are his powers?

Next Episode - "Uprising"
As Coulson, Mack and Fitz attempt to track down and neutralise a rogue group looking to end Inhuman Registration worldwide, Simmons and Dr. Radcliffe only have hours to save May before she succumbs forever to her mysterious illness.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Review - Agents of SHIELD: 4x01 - "The Ghost"

Agents of SHIELD
Episode 4x01 - "The Ghost"

Synopsis

Six months after the defeat of Hive, the Agents of SHIELD find themselves scattered across the organisation under the rule of a new director. Unhappy with the changes and the Sokovia Accords, Daisy has become a vigilante hell-bent on taking down the Watchdogs. Meanwhile, a new supernatural threat has arisen on the streets of LA...

Review

Over the past two years, Agents of SHIELD has been tasked with building up the Inhumans corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in preparation for the upcoming movie of the same name, which was unfortunately placed into development limbo. After two years mopping up plot threads from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and introducing the concept of Inhumans to the audience, Agents of SHIELD needed a shot in the arm to reinvigorate its narrative and the final five minutes of its Season Three finale promised just that. Jumping ahead six months, the teaser showcased Mack and Coulson on the hunt for their former colleague Daisy Johnson, who had now adopted the vigilante identity of Quake and was a fugitive from justice. This opening episode of Season Four doesn’t waste any time filling in the gaps and introduces the new status-quo for the team. With SHIELD once again operating under government control, things have taken a bit of a reset to Season One as Coulson and his team are now operating as part of a larger organisation once more, instead of gallivanting about in their own private jet.

The reset to Season One is clearly felt in the team’s new dynamic as Coulson finds himself demoted from director and back in active field duty, this time alongside Mack. The two have always had a good rapport and it’s a wise choice to keep them working together as a duo. Agent May remains behind-the-scenes training new recruits, but is on-hand to provide back-up when necessary. Fitz and Simmons haven’t regressed too much, remaining together both professionally and romantically, although the cracks in their relationship are beginning to show now that Simmons has received a promotion. Another return to ‘square one’ can be seen with Daisy, who goes back to living in her van and is on the run from SHIELD, presumably after refusing to sign the Sokovia Accords and registering her powers. This regression is somewhat frustrating, but I think that is meant to be the point – hopefully, the writers have split up our heroes and fractured their relationships in order to rebuild them at a later date.


Without much pause for breath, this episode quickly immersed Agents of SHIELD into the world of the supernatural with Daisy coming into contact with Ghost Rider and Agent May becoming possessed by a spirit before the forty minutes were up. While promotional materials had spoiled Ghost Rider’s inclusion in this series, I hadn’t realised that the supernatural and mystical elements would be so integral to the narrative arc, and I must say that I like this diversion. Hopefully, we’ll see characters like Werewolf by Night, Brother Voodoo and maybe even the previously teased Man-Thing make an appearance during this season. I was blown away by the special effects used for Ghost Rider, who looked just as impressive as he did in the two Nicholas Cage movies. I never once thought the series would introduce a big name Marvel character, and while Ghost Rider seemed like a perfect fit for the Netflix series, ABC has allowed the series to “go dark” with the source material and add a touch of horror to proceedings. In terms of the character, I’m surprised they’ve gone with the Robbie Reyes incarnation of the Ghost Rider, but it makes sense as it keeps things separate from the movies and allows Marvel the option to use the classic Johnny Blaze version in other media.

The Ghost Rider elements were clearly the big draw to the episode and those sequences managed to impress on every level, but some of the other plot threads introduced were less successful. The whole AIDA plot-line didn’t quite grab my attention and on the surface it seems like a rehash of Avengers: Age of Ultron with Fitz and Radcliffe repeating Stark and Banner’s mistakes with artificial intelligence – although obviously on a much smaller scale. Hopefully, the writers will find a fresh angle with this plot device and bring LMD’s into the series to do something interesting with them. Another area of interest was SHIELD intercepting a box containing a ghost, which has somehow attached itself to May – I have no idea where that plot-line could be going as it doesn’t seem to be following any existing Marvel Comics storyline. With Doctor Strange waiting in the wings to reveal the mystical underbelly of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the big screen, this season of Agents of SHIELD seems well-poised to give loyal fans a nice teaser and judging from this first episode, this could be the series’ strongest season yet!


Score - 9.6 out of 10


Easter Eggs/References
  • AIDA appears to be a version of the Life Model Decoys often used by Nick Fury as a way to protect himself from assassination in the field
  • Radcliffe and Fitz mention Ultron as a reason why they should keep AIDA a secret from SHIELD for the time-being
  • Robbie Reyes is the fourth incarnation of the supernatural vigilante Ghost Rider, swapping the iconic motorbike for a Dodge Charger. (First App: All-New Ghost Rider # 1)

Mysteries
  • Who is the new director of SHIELD?
  • What exactly is the Ghost creature haunting May?
  • How did Robbie become Ghost Rider?

Next Episode - "Meet the New Boss"
Daisy goes to battle Ghost Rider at a terrible cost, and Coulson faces the new Director, and his bold agenda surprises them all.
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