Television

'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.': "The Good Samaritan" Leans Too Heavily on the Supernatural

Daniel Rasmus
The latest episode offers Ghost Rider’s (Gabriel Luna) origin story.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a little too magical for a science fiction series, with decidedly mixed results.


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Gabriel Luna
Subtitle: Season 4, Episode 6 - "The Good Samaritan"
Network: ABC
Air date: 2016-11-01
Amazon

Journalists are taught not to bury the lead, but Marvel television makes burying the lead a habit. It’s taken until episode six, "The Good Samaritan", for the series to finally provide the background on Robbie Reyes’s (Gabriel Luna) faithful transformation into Ghost Rider. We also learn about the origin of the next super bad, and the stories are intimately connected. It turns out that all of the quantum undoing derived from good old Uncle Eli Morrow's (José Zúñiga) quest for power. But let's back up a bit.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that all of that arcane machinery discovered at Momentum Labs turns out to be an alchemist's dream, a way of creating new material by transforming other matter, but from pure energy. Unfortunately for science, this doesn't work; the process can't work because it violates the First Law of Thermodynamics. The experiment creates more energy than is input into it, but even then, it needs more energy.

Rather than go with the "Thor as god" theory because we don't understand the advanced science, Marvel's creative team seemingly went full supernatural with the introduction of the Dark Hold, a mystical book that explains how to make these miraculous transformations take place.

Cut to the present day and we find Lucy Bauer (Lilli Birdsell) attempting to unghost herself by bringing back an old power plant from the dead. Poor Bauer enlists the help of Morrow as engineering muscle. Unfortunately, she finds out way too late that the ghosts in the machine were the result of Morrow eliminating the competition for power by trapping his colleagues in the quantum power cells.

While all of this is going on, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and crew -- with Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Robbie in tow aboard the Zephyr One -- are found out by new director Jeffery Mace (Jason O'Mara). To stall his stalwart leader, Coulson drops the containment field to its exterior hold and claims that neither Daisy nor Robbie on "onboard" the Zephyr.

Some very Disney-as-Lucas-Films banter ensues between Coulson and the Director employing Hans Solo and General Akbar as metaphors for S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson favors Akbar as a military mastermind leading rebels against the empire, while Mace sees Hans Solo as a rebel rule-breaker and lone wolf who only looks out for himself.

The squabble seems more meaningful as a creative sidebar that the writers and producers are having about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; the dialogue seems lifted directly from writer's room repartee. Perhaps the writers were arguing about how to center the show again. Perhaps they were attempting to make sense of how, after a decades-long Hydra infiltration, S.H.I.E.L.D. finds itself again in the good graces of the US government. Or maybe how odd it is that the once-legit global guardian turned stealth actor seems to have found a way to rapidly refill its ranks with trusted operatives.

Meanwhile, while dangling from the bottom of the Zephyr, Robbie finds himself forced to relive his origin story and share it with his brother. The thugs, we learn early from a conversation between Bauer and Morrow, were sent for Morrow, not for Robbie. He and Gabe (Lorenzo James Henrie) were victims of a hit gone bad. Gabe remembers the gruesome details, but then recalls a "good samaritan" who pulled him from the car and revived Robbie.

That's not how it went down. Robbie comes clean, informing his brother that the "good samaritan" was the devil. Robbie was dead and the world was dark, but before he died he shouted out to God and the universe for a change to extract vengeance. As luck would have it (although Robbie tells his brother that there is no such thing as luck, only "decisions and consequences") a vengeance demon (or the devil), happened by to reinvigorate his life force with vengeance and set him on a path to kill evildoers.

Gabe hints earlier that he had his suspicions about Robbie, but the secret agent smoke screen that Robbie and Daisy start with blinds him for a commercial break or two. Now with the truth revealed, Gabe disavows his brother's vengeance and asks that the blood on Robbie's soul not be on him. Gabe doesn't need vengeance; his inability to walk isn't ideal, but he's "OK with it".

Mace, of course, isn't as stupid as Coulson hopes he his, and so up comes the containment module. Robbie wants out, so the demon inside of him promptly dispatches an adaptive material structure that not even Slash could dismantle. (The supernatural again.) As Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) observes this, the scientist in him tells us what we just saw was impossible.

With that, we've returned to the strange brew of supernatural that has infected Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Magic is a convenient plot tool for removing constraints, but in a science fiction show, it's the constraints that create the tension. In a world of magic, anything can happen. It may be that the physical world rules simply do not apply, as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) learns during his indoctrination and transformation in Doctor Strange.

The new big bad turns out to be Morrow, who exits the pod with the ability to transform nothingness into somethingness. His first act is a lump of coal. A lump of coal; a metaphorical gift that pretty much sums up how I feel about this plot line. We learn in Doctor Strange, however, very explicitly, that the Avengers protect the physical world, and that magicians protect the mystical realm through three Sanctum Sanctorums. So far, although we know in the books Strange aligns with the Avengers, there’s no hint of Ghost Rider's more traditional literal heaven and hell intersecting with Doctor Strange's Marvel Cinematic Universe rabbit hole.

Doctor Strange, however, presages connections between the film and the Infinity Wars films by sharing that the time device known as the Eye of Agamotto and powered by an Infinity Stone. It remains to be seen if S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a role in those films however, after their central comic book role was completely eliminated from Captain America: Civil War.

Just before Morrow's transformation, a blast of other worldly energy disburses. Reyes, Coulson, and Fitz seem simultaneously erased from where we thought they were moments before. With Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) off on some head-bag-required secret mission likely perpetrated by Senator Rita Nadeer (Parminder Nagra), the after Thanksgiving return of the show is probably going to involve bobbing for agents (or perhaps in this universe, actually looking for lost souls), which is an activity all too common when common sense and logic find themselves locked away in the quantum realm.

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