Warning: This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Proceed with caution, agents. If you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, “Deals with Our Devils,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Then let’s go.
Of the three shows I recap each week for Nerdist.com—The Walking Dead, The Flash, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently the one to which I most look forward. Sure, it’s a case of apples and oranges to compare three TV series so different from one another, but there’s just no denying that S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s rambunctious energy, go-for-broke bravura, and willingness to try new things with a minimum of fuss and preciousness makes it the kind of pop culture we could all use more of these days. “Deals With Our Devils” is a perfect example.
While other shows might labor for weeks to explain exactly how Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie were absorbed into the ghost dimension at the end of “The Good Samaritan,” S.H.I.E.L.D. hit the ground running, realizing that our main concern isn’t how it happened, but rather the effect it has on the relationships with those from whom they’ve been cut off. Specifically, May, Jemma, and Daisy. (Sorry, but Robbie’s brother continues to teeter between boring and annoying.)
Fitz is understandably worried that Jemma will be devastated by his disappearance, especially since she was trapped on another world not all that long ago. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), the good doctor’s a bit distracted, having been sent on a secret mission by Director Mace to examine the Terrigenesis of Senator Nadeers’s brother. May, however, reveals a new side of herself when she believes Phil could be gone for good—a side that will have “Philinda” fans pumping their fists in appreciation. As for Daisy, well, she’s just been through too much weird shit to accept anything at face value ever again. (At least for the purposes of this week’s plot.) What sixth sense drives her to say Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie don’t “feel” dead isn’t explained. But it’s enough to propel her into action when Mack winds up possessed by the spirit of the Ghost Rider, chasing after him as he races off to Chinatown to exact some bloody vengeance with his fiery shotgun axe.
All the while, the show finds time for some nifty Rashomon-style presentation of scenes, from the perspective of those in the “real” world as well as those trapped in the color-desaturated ghost dimsension (the S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent of Stranger Things‘ Upside Down). It’s the kind of high-concept storytelling that was once the territory of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s grown increasingly uncommon in the today’s big-budget soap-opera era of genre TV.
Yet when it comes to genre, S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s willingness this season to experiment, or to mix science-fiction, fantasy, and horror like three primary colors in an effort to paint heretofore unseen landscapes, is equally impressive. If the Next Generation puzzle box doesn’t grab you, maybe the Lovecraftian overtones of May and Radcliffe’s too-much-for-a-human-mind-to-bear debate about whether or not to use the Darkhold to retrieve their friends might do the trick. Or Fitz’s idea to use Radcliffe’s resident AI Aida to decipher and find a solution from the book’s pages; which she does all too well in one of the show’s best set pieces to date. Props here to Mallory Jansen, whose endlessly expressive face really sells the idea that she’s not only learning a new language in seconds, but a new way of comprehending the universe.
The consequences of that comprehension, however, remain to be seen. In this episode’s final scene, Aida is seen creating an artificial brain. Is it one for which she’ll also create a body? Is it a quantum upgrade to her own software? Will her technology—as the saying goes—save S.H.I.E.L.D. or destroy it? And just how will this new alliance between Robbie and a deeply troubled Mack come into play? In any case, I’m looking forward to the inevitable clash of next-level technology and primeval, supernatural hellfire that that this season seems heading towards. Especially with the human stakes now higher than ever. After all, saving the world is important. But family is what makes the world worth saving. So Phil and Melinda finally admitting to one another that what they want most is to share a bottle of wine? That’s essential!
— “What are they doing? Do we look that stupid on coms?”
— Mack is apparently holding enough pain for Ghost Rider to survive off of “for years.” Methinks we’re gonna learn a lot more about the agent in the weeks to come.
— “They’re out of their minds! Driving off against orders? With no helmet?!”
— While “The Good Samaritan” revealed the origin of Robbie’s fusion with Ghost Rider, this week’s episode essentially finishes the tale; with the young man promising to settle all of the Rider’s scores from here on out. Thereby binding his deal with the devil for the foreseeable future.
— “My axe is plenty sharp. And a shotgun.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).