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Recap / Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S4 E1 "The Ghost"

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"I'm not the one who decides."
S.H.I.E.L.D. is re-legitimized in the wake of the Sokovia Accords, and Coulson's team investigates leads on Daisy's whereabouts and another case involving a new person with powers.

Tropes in this episode:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Fitz and Radcliffe discuss this concerning Aida, with Fitz specifically mentioning Ultron, whose creation and subsequent rampage seems to have resulted in Artificial Intelligence experiments officially being banned in the MCU. Radcliffe believes he's not creating AI, but rather mimicry of human behavior with Aida.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Mack and Fitz still refer to Coulson as "sir" and "Director" purely out of habit.
  • Asshole Victim: Every one of Robbie's kills.
    Daisy: You killed a detective!
    Robbie: He had blood on his hands.
    Daisy: A teacher?
    Robbie: A pedophile.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The new Director has put in many security measures because he refuses to trust anybody—especially Coulson's team.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: The new Director split up Team Coulson, probably deliberately so they wouldn't be a threat to his authority.
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  • Cast From Hit Points: Without her custom gauntlets, Daisy's use of her vibration-controlling powers is slowly shattering her own bones, necessitating the use of specialized drugs to avoid going into a full-on Heroic RRoD. Yo-Yo has been smuggling them out of S.H.I.E.L.D. for her.
  • Category Traitor: Jemma is subtly accused of being one by May for being an assistant to the new Director.
  • Character Tics: Whenever the Rider is taking control, Robbie has a very deliberate way of flipping his keys in his hand.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The virtual simulation that Simmons is trying out at the start of the episode becomes plot crucial later in the season.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Aida walks into the living room, naked and stuck in a loop repeating half a greeting. When Dr. Radcliffe explains who she is, Fitz can only respond "What the hell?" Dr. Radcliffe starts explaining that her programming crashed, as opposed to the far more salient issue of why there is an AI in a naked human body in his house.
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  • Cool Car: Ghost Rider's classic gloss-black 1969 Dodge Chargernote  with through-the-hood supercharger; among other things, its wheels can literally catch on fire. Not to mention it can tank a rocket-propelled grenade and be no worse for wear.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Jemma's new role as assistant to the Director causes a lot of conflict with her former team members, which is exacerbated by the daily lie-detector test that she is given.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: According to Mack, Robbie killed one of the Aryans in his introduction scene by ripping his spinal column out of someplace nasty.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: When Robbie lets the Rider take over to fight Daisy, he floors her in one punch. The only shot she gets against him is to knock away a car bumper he had planned to use as a weapon.
  • Death Seeker: Daisy doesn't have her gauntlets anymore, so she breaks her bones when she uses her powers—and given how recklessly she uses them, she clearly doesn't care if she lives or dies anymore. The most likely cause would be an It's All My Fault attitude or Despair Event Horizon over Lincoln's death at the end of Season 3.
    Daisy: [pinned to the ground, as Ghost Rider watches] Do it. I deserve it.
  • Demonic Possession: There's some sort of spirit in the box which attaches itself to people and incites them to violence with whispered words and nightmarish hallucinations. After taking out the people who initially stole the box, the spirit is now attached to May.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: While it's partially justified due to the new director's Big Brother Is Watching nature, secrecy that induce We ARE Struggling Together, and absurdity behind colourful-themed clearance level, the main cast's (sans Daisy, who has left the organization) open distrust and dislike to the new director eerily resemble Post-Power Syndrome given that they show attitude in which they don't enjoy how their authorities are far more limited than before. Oddly enough, Coulson is at least quite reasonable to humble himself, but the others are not, particularly May, a veteran agent, who is disrespectful enough to undermine the new system by doing what will be explained under Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! below. It only gets worse throughout the "Ghost Rider" arc up to the end, when Mack callously insults the new director that he should've just kept being S.H.I.E.L.D.'s poster boy and Slave to PR more than anything else. It's only until they found out about the truth behind his superpowers and his directorship is nothing more than just a Puppet King to the U.S. Government that the main cast start warming up to him. Overlaps with Break the Haughty to the main cast, somewhat, given that they did get high-ranking position and near-unlimited authority ever since Coulson became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (much to the chagrin of Gonzales's S.H.I.E.L.D. faction).
  • Double-Meaning Title: The episode title refers both to Daisy being elusive and Robbie, who is the Ghost Rider. It could also refer to whatever is in the box, as it has ghost-like traits, and even the new Director not showing up in the episode.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Fitz notes that Jemma's position as Special Advisor to the Director in Science and Technology spells out S.A.D.I.S.T. and that the Director's Widespread Infiltration Monitoring Program (intended to quash anything like HYDRA's incubation early) spells out W.I.M.P.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Robbie, despite his brutality, is the good cop. As he warns the mook he's interrogating, if he doesn't get the answers he wants, the Rider will.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity:
    • Daisy; due to her vigilante actions against the Watchdogs and their allies, the public only knows her as a dangerous bank robber and terrorist.
    • Robbie, as well. Since he supernaturally knows who deserves to die, he never bothers producing any proof that any of them have done anything wrong. While this is fine for common criminals, Daisy mentions a cop and a teacher—a Dirty Cop and pedophile, respectively—who did nothing wrong as far as the public knows. Even when told why they were killed, Daisy still takes issue with just outright murdering them.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Jemma insists to May that she trusts the new Director no more than the rest of their team, but getting herself into his inner circle is the only way to exert some measure of control over what happens to them, even if it means her own team can't trust her with information that she'll inevitably have to reveal to him.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Aida. Apparently, Dr. Radcliffe hasn't gotten around to programming a nudity taboo.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Fitz is quick to insist Aida is a "she", not "it", having seen more than enough evidence that she's anatomically accurate.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Robbie's method of interrogation is lots of beatings. The Rider is even worse.
  • Karma Houdini: Averted, as Radcliffe wasn't let off scot-free: he was given a pardon (which is technically an admission of guilt), but he's not allowed to do experiments unsupervised, and by creating a body for Aida he's risking being imprisoned.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: A justified example. Former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daisy is tracking down Ghost Rider because she believes him to be a Gifted serial killer. Then the skull comes out.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Jemma is given a daily lie-detector test as an assistant to the new Director, which means that nobody from Team Coulson can confide in her anymore.
  • The Masquerade: Coulson's removal as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is due in part to maintaining the facade that he died during the events of The Avengers.
  • Mook Horror Show: Daisy bears witness to Ghost Rider beating on a group of criminals from the shadow at the beginning of the episode. She doesn't get a clear look at him, only the resulting and inevitable slaughter.
  • Morality Chain: It's obvious that Robbie's crippled brother is his. As Daisy notes while they brotherly bicker, "everyone's attached to something".
  • More Expendable Than You: Aida states that her purpose is to serve as a decoy in the field, taking hits so living humans won't have to.
  • Mythology Gag: Ghost Rider's entrance is near identical to his first action sequence from All-New Ghost Rider, complete with a mook with a rocket launcher, and its ineffectiveness.
  • Naked First Impression: Fitz first meets Aida after she wanders out of Radcliffe's lab before he's had a chance to put some clothes on her.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Jemma calls out on May for not trusting her and telling her that Mack and Coulson were searching for Daisy in Los Angeles in secret. Had May told Simmons, she could have used her connections as Assistant to the new Director to help them go to LA without suspicion. Because of May's actions, now she has to order May to retrieve Coulson by force if necessary to keep the Director's trust, which Simmons worked hard to earn after the team was split up.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Talbot sent a military force to retake the Playground after Hive's Terrigen-based bomb was set off, but this in turn meant that S.H.I.E.L.D. could no longer deny that it had reformed. Simmons and May speculate that the new Director who was installed has since intentionally broken up Coulson's team as a way to secure his own authority.
  • No Respect Guy: Nobody really respects the new Director, but he has brought this situation upon himself to some extent, because he split up Team Coulson and is more concerned with consolidating his own authority than anything else.
  • Oh, Crap!: Daisy is appropriately shocked when Robbie's flesh burns away to reveal the Ghost Rider.
  • Outside-Context Problem:
    • Whatever was in the box is nothing this setting has seen before; it's some kind of spirit that drives those it possesses to kill.
    • Ghost Rider, as well. He is the first supernatural entity the team has ever had to deal with (the Hand being the first in the overall MCU), and is the first explicitly supernatural entity. Even Daisy, who has seen a lot of strange things as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, is shocked and horrified to see a man's flesh slowly burn off his skull.
  • Over-the-Top Secret: The new Director has replaced the old numeric classification system used in Fury's day with a more complex system based on the color spectrum.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: As per usual, the Rider.
    Mack: Mysterious burns, heads bashed in, spine pulled out of its—ow.
  • Properly Paranoid: The new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. monitors his agents constantly, with everyone equipped with watches that must be scanned to confirm location, while also doing blood tests and sending automated reports. Considering the amount of Inhumans out there, each with abilities that could be used to mind control or otherwise subvert field assets, and HYDRA's infiltration of the original S.H.I.E.L.D., such measures are absolutely justified. However, this is also deconstructed because the above measures are just a smokescreen to keep himself in power, which means that none of the agents (especially Team Coulson) trust or respect him, which only justifies the measures further.
  • Punk in the Trunk: The mook that Ghost Rider doesn't kill gets stuffed in his trunk for later interrogation.
  • Rank Up: Jemma has become an Assistant to the new Director, which means she outranks all of her old teammates who've been demoted to field agents—May in particular chafes.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Daisy left her gauntlets behind when she left S.H.I.E.L.D. Without them, her constant use of her powers is destroying her bones, necessitating the use of stolen drugs to repair them.
    • Coulson had to step down as Director since S.H.I.E.L.D. is now a legitimate agency again, and since he's still "dead" he can't publicly lead it anymore.
    • Following Ultron's rampage in Avengers: Age of Ultron and the destruction of Sokovia, given it was the first true Artificial Intelligence and showed that A.I. Is a Crapshoot from the onset, artificial intelligence research has been formally banned by at least S.H.I.E.L.D., and likely the rest of the world.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Following their finally consumating their romance in Season 3, Fitz and Simmons are now living together in the base.
  • Robot Girl: After formerly meeting through circuits, Aida now meets Fitz in the flesh.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Coulson, Mack, May, Fitz, and Yo-Yo are willing to ignore the new Director's orders and protocols to help Daisy. Jemma is the lone exception, because she has to take a daily lie-detector test as an assistant to the new Director. She doesn't trust him either, and is simply in too deep after trying to maintain some control over her situation in the wake of the restructuring to go against said Director.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Whatever it was in the box that caused the mobsters to hallucinate and turn on each other.
  • Ship Tease: Mack and Yo-Yo. Unfortunately for Mack, S.H.I.E.L.D. regulations prevent fraternization, though Yo-Yo would disregard it on the spot were he willing to do the same.
  • Shout-Out: Mack gets an exploding pen. Not that he needed one, he just really wanted one.
  • Sinister Car: Robbie's car can shoot flames and heal itself.
  • Spotting the Thread: Daisy figures out that Robbie is the "serial killer" she is looking for when she hears him spinning his keys.
  • Uncanny Valley: In-Universe, Radcliffe believes that the LMDs can cross the valley, at least in terms of physical appearance, thanks to the artificial skin that Fitz-Simmons developed for Coulson's hand. However, Radcliffe admits that Aida's current state (mimicking humans rather than being a self-sufficient AI) wouldn't pass a Turing Test.
  • The Unreveal: The new Director is spoken of without ever revealing his identity.
  • Vigilante Man: When Daisy left S.H.I.E.L.D she became one of these; she takes out banks and bridges to take down the Watchdogs' resources and funding, but only her own team really knows this is what she's doing it all for. The rest of the world knows her as the outlaw "Quake".
  • Wham Line:
    Quake: You don't get to decide who deserves to die!
    Robbie: I'm not the one who decides. [transforms into the Rider]
  • Wham Shot:
    • Robbie's face burning away to reveal the skull visage of the Ghost Rider.
    • May having a brief hallucination of Coulson, showing she was affected by the spirit in the box.
  • Worf Had the Flu: Daisy's cracked bones don't do her any favors fighting Ghost Rider, as she struggles to hold up a metal shelf she should have been able to easily repel.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: Ghost Rider's hellfire doesn't just burn the body, it burns the soul, which cannot heal. A guy with a chest burn bled out by the next day, despite medical treatment.
  • You Have Failed Me: The new Director took Mack and Coulson off of Daisy's case as he believes they deliberately let her go (when in fact she was just really good at escaping), but this also means that Daisy is to be taken in dead or alive.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After Robbie gets what he wants out of the Aryan, he immediately gets into his car, transforms, and smashes him with his car.
    Skinhead I don't deserve to die!
    Robbie: [eyes glowing] Everyone says that.


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