Ghost Rider took a vacation, while the team bent time and space to save missing comrades in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×07.
In “Deals With Our Devils,” it pays to look at the spaces in between. There are holes everywhere this week, gaps not in the narrative, but in our vision. For both viewers and the women and men of S.H.I.E.L.D., the answers are always just out of sight.
The invisible profundity of these spaces is most evident in the yawning chasm felt by the SHIELD team at the apparent deaths of Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie Reyes. May, Mack, and Mace are rocked by the loss, though Daisy — with the kind of insight she has been missing this season — reminds them that “This is S.H.I.E.L.D. Impossible things happen all the time.”
And in fact, she is right. Coulson, Robbie, and Fitz are lurking just out of sight, in a dark, inter-dimensional hole torn in reality by Eli Morrow’s experiment. (Morrow, it should be noted, is all about filling in space with ragged spears of carbon for his brief and deadly appearance in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4×07.)
The two agents and the part-time spirit of vengeance quickly come to realize that they may be on a one-way trip to a very dark place. Deftly repeated scenes reveal Coulson desperately trying to reach a bereft May through incalculable space, first for aid and then to keep her from opening the Darkhold. Fitz is focused on another missing person — Simmons — and grows frantic in tandem with Mace as Senator Nadeer plays keep-away with the team’s foremost scientist.
But no sound carries across the dimensions; the fractional space between the lost and the found seems impenetrable.
Well, for everyone except a certain creature of the spirit. Robbie finds himself in serious physical distress as the Ghost Rider revolts within him. The Rider flees Robbie’s body, crosses dimensions, and inhabits Mack instead to focus his vengeance on Uncle Eli.
Mack, by the way, has been quietly reeling since the apparent death of his friends. His grief is profoundly subtle, and it may be that subtlety that leaves him so vulnerable to Ghost Rider’s dark intentions. As we come to learn, Mack may have experience with holding his tragedies inside.
Anyway, newly possessed and very angry, Mack/Rider tears off to continue the work of Vengeance. “What’s gotten into you?” Daisy yells — quite appropriately — and follows her friend in Robbie’s Hellcharger (again, very appropriate.) Unseen, Robbie rides along with her, and communication between the two is fascinatingly facilitated by the Hellcharger.
Very soon, Robbie finds himself in confrontation with Ghost Rider. This conversation may have been only seven episodes in the making, but it feels long overdue. It is profoundly disconcerting to watch Robbie speak (and theoretically negotiate) with the force he wanted so badly to be rid of, as he struggles against the dark pull of dimensional currents.
“I know where you’re being dragged down to. I’ve escaped it before,” Ghost Rider says, coldly. “I’m never going back.” The spirit is content to live off of Mack’s hidden pain for as long as possible, but defiantly, Robbie makes one last deal with his Devil.
“Give me my vengeance on Eli, settle my score,” he challenges, “And I’ll settle yours. All of yours.”
The spirit finds the terms acceptable. Mack is released, and Robbie is now damned twice over.
Meanwhile, a different potential damnation plays out at the base. Radcliffe and Aida arrive to work on the mystery of Eli Morrow, and May insists that Radcliffe use the Darkhold to save Coulson, Fitz, and Robbie. Radcliffe hesitantly agrees, but the crazy genius makes the smartest move of his life and slams the terrifying tome shut before he can be flooded with its knowledge.
“If the internet is a garden hose, this book is Niagra falls,” he tells May. The knowledge is too great for the human mind to bear.
Luckily (or maybe unluckily!) Fitz and Coulson are also observing the proceedings. Desperate as the darkness deepens around them, Fitz begs Aida to hear him and read the book; somehow, someway, she does.
By this point, it is clear that the repetition at work in “Deals With Our Devils” is more than a trick of storytelling. It is an active metaphor for the forces at play this season, as the seen and unseen amplify one another. What is not there is just as important as what seems not to be there; what looks like nothing is most definitely something.
Case in point: Radcliffe concedes to allow Aida to read the Darkhold, which appears to the android in a torrent of binary. As her programming fills unfathomable knowledge, it’s hard not to feel that some sort of threshold has been crossed here. Aida is being upgraded — being fulfilled — and there is no way to uninstall this deadly download.
After hashing out a bit of abandoment-themed tension between them, Colson assures Fitz that he is “in this fight.” Aided by miracles and science, Aida fills the empty space of Radcliffe’s tossed-together inter-dimensional portal. (Note that the portal seems to be empty to everyone but Aida, and the men on the other side.) With moments to spare, Coulson and Fitz spill through the hole, leaving Robbie behind.
Once back on the mortal plane, Fitz takes the opportunity to confront Mace, but he and Simmons are quickly, finally reunited. (Simmons has been off coaxing Nadeer’s brother out of his chrysalis, a space she fills with humanity rather than clinical suspicion.) May and Coulson also reunite, pondering the new and potent space that may have been exposed between them.
Mack, meanwhile, waits at the portal. He holds a paper that reads “4/18/06,” and finally wears his pain plain on his face. When Robbie returns through the portal, Mack tells him he knows he’s not alone.
“Want to help settle my last score?” Robbie asks.
Seriously guys, vengeance only empties you out, when will you learn?
Speaking of learning, in the tag for “Deals With Our Devils,” Aida continues to let the Darkhold be her teacher. She blends earlier themes of creation ex nihilo with this week’s subject of empty space. With her new, terrifyingly boundless abilities, Aida builds herself a brain.
Who’s a tool now, Radcliffe?