When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for season four in its new, later timeslot, with a six months jump ahead of the events of last season, don't be surprised if you find yourself thinking you're watching an entirely new show. That's by design.
There will be new dynamics to suss out within S.H.I.E.L.D. now that the organization is once again legitimate and operating under the watching eye of the American government. There will be someone else answering to the title of director instead of our beloved Coulson (Clark Gregg). And there will be the small matter of the vengeful, flaming Ghost Rider to deal with. It's a season of change, one with bigger mysteries (and mysticism) than ever before.
And, thanks to that new timeslot, things will be a little hotter, too. (And no, we're not talking Ghost Rider's flames.)
"It's definitely as dark and sexy as the network will let us be, so there's that. It feels like a different chapter. Everything that we started from the pilot pretty much got closed up, you know? Between Hydra and Ward, all those storylines kind of got closed up by the end of the third season, so season four seems like either a new book or a new chapter or something different," Chloe Bennet told E! News as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season four premiere. "Definitely, there's different energy. A lot of that is brought in by Jason O'Mara who plays the new director. It's kind of fun to drop the audience into this new version of S.H.I.E.L.D. that's run and organized in such a different way. It's still S.H.I.E.L.D., but it's definitely a little bit different. It brings different colors to the show. Literally, different colors." (You'll understand that last part once you watch the premiere.)
As Elizabeth Henstridge, one half of everyone's favorite couple FitzSimmons, told us, the move to 10 p.m. has also allowed the writers to let the show get a little spookier, too. "I think our gallery shoots and the press that we've put out so far have shown that we've grown up this season. I think its kind of got a cooler edge somehow. The writers are so excited about it because they just get to explore new territory that they haven't been able to do before," she said. "It's scary. I mean, I can't watch horror films because I get too scared and this is getting up there. I think it just allows them for maybe more complicated storylines or some that involve more sexy times—and scary times."
That said, don't expect the show to completely abandon what made it special to begin with, as Marvel Television Head and S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producer Jeph Loeb stressed. "We're maybe a little racier, maybe we're a little grittier, but most importantly, we're still the family that you love," he said. "We're still Phil Coulson trying to figure it all out. We're still Daisy trying to figure it out. It's just a great cast, and a great show. And then add to that, Ghost Rider is this year, so you have a real reason to jump on board."
Now, about that Ghost Rider. Prepare for his very existence to throw the team's world into a tailspin. "What I love about Ghost Rider is that it's a flaming skull and then he goes back and he's fine," Bennet said about rogue Daisy's (or is it Quake?) reaction upon meeting Robbie Reyes (played by Gabriel Luna). "So scientifically, that's definitely difficult to prove, but I think she's fascinated with him. At first, it's not quite fascination. It's more like, I don't know, you'll see in the beginning episode. They don't get along very well."
"I think whatever it is, when they are to find out, I just think they're always going to be skeptical of things like that," Iain de Caestecker admitted about Fitz and Simmons' eventual reaction to the guy. "How do they prove it in scientific terms? That would be our first thought."
"We'd think we knew everything by now," Henstridge added. "We'd figured out the Inhumans, you know? What else could there be? Oh, this guy. Is he an Inhuman? We'll see."
That desire to understand the facts behind the mystical forces they'll be faced with just might prove to be the season's driving force. "It was Thor who said it best, and that is ‘Magic is just science we don't understand.' I think what people are going to find is that this isn't ‘Bibbidy-bobbity-boo,' and my guess is ‘Bibbidy-bobbity-boo' had an explanation too," Loeb explained. "But you know, if you go back far enough, I'm sure there are people who looked at fire and went, ‘What is this? How is this happening?' Of course that looks like magic. And now we know, a little butane, flint, and you're on."
Of course, the reaction to meeting Ghost Rider might be a little more primal than all of that.
"I also just think as you're seeing someone with a flaming head, you're probably gonna s--t a brick first off," de Ceastecker joked.
"Oh that's been done, yeah," Henstridge replied. "There's been a house made of that."
Consider yourselves warned.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season four premieres Tuesday, Sept. 20 at its new time, 10 p.m., on ABC.