Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"The Good Samaritan" Starts To Flesh Out Ghost Rider On Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!


The Good: Decent performances, Moments of character, Good effects, Decent tie-ins to the larger MCU
The Bad: Does not go far enough to satisfy viewers, Weakens Director Mace
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. tries to flesh out Ghost Rider and the current conflict in "The Good Samaritan."


Since the first appearance of Ghost Rider on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., viewers have had to take the character's word for his backstory. Robbie Reyes has told Daisy his story in broad terms, but there has been shockingly little on-screen history for the character. Until "The Good Samaritan," Ghost Rider was a somewhat forced addition to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that viewers have been waiting to get an explicit backstory for. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts to deliver that explicit backstory with "The Good Samaritan," but it falls short of giving truly satisfying answers to the existence of Ghost Rider.

"The Good Samaritan" is preceded by "Lockup" (reviewed here!) and given how many serialized elements carry over from "Lockup," it is tough not to review the new episode without some references to the prior one. After all, "Lockup" climaxed with Dr. Eli Morrow ending up in the custody of the ghostly Lucy Bauer, which put S.H.I.E.L.D. in an inherently defensive position going into "The Good Samaritan." With Director Mace outing himself as an Inhuman and now, apparently, under the thumb of an anti-Inhuman Senator, "The Good Samaritan" has the work of humanizing Robbie Reyes (Ghost Rider).

Opening with Morrow arriving at the laboratory for a test conducted by the Bauers, Morrow witnesses the scientific team essentially creating a replicator when they create carbon out of air. Lucy tells Morrow about the Darkhold before her husband shuts down the conversation. In the present day, S.H.I.E.L.D. raids the Momentum Alternative Energy Lab and Fitz is able to recognize that Lucy Bauer and Morrow have removed components from their machine. After Daisy visits Gabriel Reyes to bring him back to Robbie, Simmons is assigned by Mace to a clandestine mission. Mace himself arrives at Coulson's plane to recover Quake and the Reyes brothers.

While Mace's forces search The Zephyr, Fitz tries to get answers on the ties between Morrow's company and Isodyne. In hiding, the Reyes brothers reconstruct the events that made Robbie into the Ghost Rider. But when Mace shows up around the containment module, Ghost Rider emerges to confront him! Fitz manages to defuse the situation by tracking down Lucy Bauer and Morrow, which leads a S.H.I.E.L.D. team to the power plant where Bauer is risking thousands of lives to make herself corporeal again!

"The Good Samaritan" has the chance to start to scientifically explain the apparent supernatural elements that have been rising in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the first few episodes of the season. The Darkhold initially appears to be a magical book, but the fact that the Bauers use it to build technological devices opens the door for a Thor-like explanation that science and magic are just different technologies. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. started with the resurrection of Coulson using alien technology, so the idea that Robbie Reyes could actually have been dead is not an inherently bad one, but it does deserve a scientific explanation.

The essential conflict between Mace and Coulson in "The Good Samaritan" is one that has Mace dealing with the potential public relations problem of having a murderer in S.H.I.E.L.D. As the Ghost Rider, Reyes killed a prisoner in "Lockup" and was caught on camera. As a result, Mace has the potential exposure of Reyes being revealed as an Inhuman or working adjacent to S.H.I.E.L.D. So, Coulson is worried about actually saving lives, protecting Inhumans and keeping S.H.I.E.L.D. active and effective, while Mace is just worried about appearances. Mace's concept of a transparent S.H.I.E.L.D. is somewhat ridiculous

The story of the Ghost Rider is finally made more explicit out as Robbie has to tell his story to Gabe while they are in confinement, avoiding S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The backstory starts with Robbie taking Morrow's car for a street race and bringing his studious younger brother, Gabe, with him. En route to the race, the pair is attacked by thugs and Gabe is paralyzed, the car is totaled, and Robbie has a near-death experience after being thrown from the car. "The Good Samaritan" gets its name from the mysterious man who Gabe sees after the accident who rides up on a motorcycle and - to Gabe's mind - saved their lives. From Robbie's perspective, he was dead and was resurrected by the Ghost Rider to get vengeance on those who put Gabe in the wheelchair . . . who were thugs hired by Joe Bauer! But the origins of "The Good Samaritan" are not laid out and that is disappointing. As a result, Ghost Rider still seems more supernatural than anything else.

"The Good Samaritan" ties well into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe by actually trying the second season of Agent Carter into the backstory of Ghost Rider. The current events with Lucy Bauer and the Darkhold ties to Isodyne and Roxxon, which are companies fleshed out and used in Agent Carter extensively.

The reversal in "The Good Samaritan" is good, but the episode lacks true thematic depth, though it does seem like it could lead into a satisfying remainder of the season.

The performances in "The Good Samaritan" are good, but none of them have true depth that allow the performers to shine out of their element. Jason O'Mara plays Mace as surprisingly dull, which continues to undermine him. Sure, it is reassuring to see Mace be smart enough to recognize the game that Coulson is playing, but the revelation is not terribly impressive and it does not give O'Mara anywhere new to go with the character. Instead, Mace starts to move into the realm of gamesmanship that made Coulson and Fury such good Directors of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Beyond that, the performances are simply adequate. Jose Zuniga makes the final act of "The Good Samaritan" engaging to watch, but it is also an act that includes the most intense special effects, so it is a visually exciting act regardless.

"The Good Samaritan" feels like a transition episode as the Darkhold becomes the key element for the current season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the main villain for the season makes an abrupt transition away from the obvious use of Lucy Bauer as the primary antagonist. Ghost Rider gets the chance to mix work and pleasure in "The Good Samaritan" and that is cool, but the episode stops short of being truly satisfying for detailing the true nature of the new Inhuman-adjacent entity in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

For other works with Jose Zuniga, please check out my reviews of:
"Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Twilight
Mission: Impossible III
Constantine

6/10

For other reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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