While the big challenge at hand during tonight's episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have been the desperate attempt to rescue Coulson (Clark Gregg), Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Robbie (Gabriel Luna) from whatever dimension the blast in Eli's lab sent them to, another equally pressing matter rose presented itself when the spirit of the Ghost Rider, unwilling to accompany Robbie to the hell he was en route to, parted ways with his host and found a new home in the angriest body on the right side of the dimensional divide he could find.
That unlucky soul? None other than Mack (Henry Simmons).
That's right—we got the unique delight of seeing Simmons' beautiful face go all aflame tonight, and no one was more surprised that it was happening than the actor than himself. "I was shocked. I was completely shocked, and flattered because that's pretty big property. I mean, Ghost Riider, that's a lot of responsibility. I started my work beforehand," he told reporters during a recent visit to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. set. "The one thing that they told me to do was they said, 'OK, we want you to have something that's a little different from Robbie Reyes, what Gabe is doing. We want to put your spin on it.' And I said, 'OK, OK.' But when I went home and I started thinking about it, it's already different because it's me."
It was then that Simmons realized that he needed to focus on incorporating some of Luna's performance into his own, to keep the continuity of the Rider's spirit regardless of which character he was inhabiting during the episode. "I tried to incorporate some of the things that he did physically, but, you know, in my own way. Let me tell you one thing, though. It was great for one episode, but I wouldn't want to do it all the time. Geez. The guy is—where's the humor? You know what I mean? It's a little different," he said, laughing. "It's hard to crack jokes when you're a skull."
Harder still might be Mack's recovery process after the spirit of the Rider made a new deal with Robbie and returned to his original host at the end of the episode. "The Ghost Rider has a way of tapping into pain and rage, the things that you protect. Your vulnerability. He has a way of tapping into that and using it for strength, and when he does it opens wounds. It opens doors that people have tried to close for a long time and may have buried, but he brings all that up," Simmons warned. "So I'm no longer the Ghost Rider, I have issues I have to deal with and, because of those issues, it effects other relationships that I have. I'm grateful that the writers gave that to me. It was absolutely wonderful."
Something tells us that we haven't seen the last of that photo of whoever this Hope person is from 2006 that Mack was staring at, haunted by, while he awaited Robbie's return via Aida's interdimensional portal.
And speaking of Robbie's return, it looks as though he and Mack are going to team up to take down Eli. As they do, it'll be done with a newfound respect on Mack's end for the tortured auto mechanic thanks to their shared misery at the hand of the Rider. "Before that, you've seen the episodes that have already aired, he doesn't care for Robbie. Another superpowered person, unpredictable. I just don't like that stuff," Simmons explained. "But after experiencing the spirit of the Rider and knowing what that's about, there's absolutely a great deal of respect that he has for him. And empathy, as well. I understand that that's a burden. It's not a gift by any means."
Were you shocked to see Mack become the Ghost Rider? Any theories on who Hope might be? Let us know in the comments below.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.