Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Inevitable Firefight For Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.: "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" Is Cool!

The Good: Good performances, Character interactions, Special effects, Direction
The Bad: Painfully predictable plot progression, Two of the smartest characters are suddenly surprisingly dumb, Chase scene filler
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. delivers a good episode with "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire," which starts to restore some of the show's critical character dynamics.

As Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes its somewhat inevitable move toward alluding to Doctor Strange (as the television element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe does for all of the film works in the franchise!), viewers of the series are left with a show that is very much in the middle of a transition. With the episode "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire," Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues its transition from a spy series into one that is obsessed with protecting the Earth from an apparent paranormal threat. The fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a jumble as it tries to redefine itself. Elements like the Life Model Decoy being infused into the new season might have worked far better when the show was trying to be a tense spy drama with adversaries with superhuman abilities and the political elements of the new season have gelled poorly with the Ghost Rider plotline. "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" is another episode that puts Ghost Rider at the forefront and it is blended with a plotline that puts the Inhuman James back into the narrative. And "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" is executed surprisingly well.

"Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" picks up shortly after where "Uprising" (reviewed here!) left off and it is tough to discuss the new episode without some allusions to where the prior episode went. While the "ghosts" are now on a quest to find the book used by the scientist who created them, Daisy was severely wounded and needs help after abandoning Ghost Rider following the blackout.

Simmons and Fitz are shopping for an apartment (Simmons out in the field, Fitz by phone) when Daisy turns to Simmons for help. May wakes up and realizes, to her dismay, that it was Dr. Radcliffe who saved her. After revealing that the Watchdogs have a list of Inhumans and their powers, Daisy extorts Simmons to help her get the same information as the Watchdogs. Coulson approaches Eli Morrow to try to learn what created the "ghosts," who were his comrades (or test subjects). While leaving Morrow, Coulson and Mack see Robbie Reyes skulking around and they initiate a chase with him. While S.H.I.E.L.D. captures Reyes, Fitz discovers that Radcliffe is using May to evaluate Aida's new subroutines without her knowledge. Simmons and Daisy go off to find James - who took removal from Hive worse than Daisy.

Reuniting with James, Daisy warns him that the Watchdogs are after Inhumans like him and he is reluctant to move on from even his new crappy life. Coulson extorts Reyes to meet with his uncle Morrow and Morrow quickly figures out that Reyes is working with S.H.I.E.L.D. to find the woman from Morrow's team who is out killing people. As that woman hunts for the book, James lures Daisy into a Watchdog trap. The trap, however, goes awry when Ghost Rider shows up to confront James!

Simmons and Daisy sharing a scene is a refreshing return to form for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The chemistry between Elizabeth Henstridge and Chloe Bennet is good. For the first time in the new season, there is some sense that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. could effectively restore the dynamic it had worked to over the prior three seasons. One of the delightful character moments in "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" comes when Daisy learns that Simmons is now a high-level agent in the new S.H.I.E.L.D. The buddy cop vibe of Daisy and Simmons working together makes for a fun tone for those scenes in "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire."

"Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" includes a fairly banal car chase scene and it is far too late in the chase before Mack delivers a throwaway line to explain why Coulson and Mack are not simply flying Lola over the traffic as they pursue Reyes. Mack also makes a fun allusion to Luke Cage (reviewed here!), which is almost enough to make viewers wonder if Mack is destined for some form of super-power before Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to an end.

When Ghost Rider was first teased as being in the fourth season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., my first reaction was, "What's the point; they already have an Inhuman with the same, essential, powers?!" So, a conflict between James and Ghost Rider was almost inevitable and "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" does a surprisingly good job with it. The joy of that conflict in the episode comes largely because James is characterized well in "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire." James was pretty much a jerk in the prior season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and in "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire," he is a self-loathing Inhuman. It is interesting to see him lash out at Daisy and call her out for transforming him into an Inhuman. While it might seem spoilerific that James is leading Daisy and Simmons into a trap, it is so telegraphed that only the heroes fail to recognize that they are walking into an obvious trap. For all the conceptual issues with putting James and Ghost Rider in the same place and time, the truncated nature of their battle is disappointing.

"Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire" uses Simmons well, ultimately, despite her not seeing the obvious trap. Simmons recognizes Aida for what she is instantly and it is nice to see she continues to be characterized as the super genius she is supposed to be. In a similar fashion, Coulson becomes a true leader for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team once again . . . which makes it seem all the more silly that his character had been undermined and replaced as Director for the other episodes in the season.

What is shown of the Ghost Rider and James battle is a wonderful execution of the special effects; it is a shame it is not a longer and better-developed fight. Between that and the character elements, there is a lot for fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to enjoy in "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire."

For other works with Ghost Rider, please check out my reviews of:
Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
Shadowland: Blood On The Streets

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the fourth season here!


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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