Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD returns from its winter break on Jan. 10, and after a fiery batch of fall episodes courtesy of Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna), the next story arc is taking an altogether more chilling turn. Starting with episode 409, the focus shifts to Life Model Decoys — lifelike androids that are designed to be indistinguishable from humans, like Aida (Mallory Jansen).
Unbeknownst to our heroes, they already have another LMD in their midst, after the midseason finale revealed that Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) had been captured and replaced with an LMD duplicate by Aida.
Since we still have no idea why Aida made the switcheroo, the implications are pretty worrying — but they’re even more disconcerting in light of the final moments of episode 408, which saw the LMD version of May sharing an intimate drink with Coulson (Clark Gregg).
During a recent Agents of SHIELD set visit, Jansen was cagey about Aida’s motivations for kidnapping May, teasing reporters, “I was made a specific way and anything I do is really what I think is right, or what I’m programmed to do.”
Was she acting under her own burgeoning free will — if she has it — or is her creator, Dr. Radcliffe (John Hannah) calling the shots?
Executive producers Jed Whedon and Jeffrey Bell told press that those are the kinds of questions they want the audience to be asking (but they’re not providing answers just yet).
“Any time you do a spy show, secrets and trust are kind of the bread and butter,” Bell said, “but I hope we’re doing it in a different way, and we’re not really coming at it specifically from that issue so much as who you are, and what you want, and what makes you who you are?”
Whedon agreed, “Trust is always an issue in a spy organization. It’s much worse when you don’t know if the person next to you is the person next to you. Obviously, we want to not just tell scary stories of things popping out of closets, but the emotional stories, and when you get into trust, that’s when things get emotional.”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has already delved into the issue of machines gaining sentience in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the producers promised that the LMD storyline isn’t a repeat of that movie’s plot.
“We said at the beginning of the season that they were mimicking human behavior, but we’ve seen that Aida took some sort of leap and built a brain of her own. So the real difference is that they represent people that we know, and that it’s not a big robot baddie,” Whedon explained. “There is some of that, obviously, but right now, we know that there is one among us who is someone we know. How much they know and how much their agenda is mixed with their own emotions, those are the sorts of questions we’re going to dive into. But I think the main difference is these are our people. That’s what makes it scarier.”
“And they’re not omniscient. They don’t have access to all knowledge, and all information, and all other machines the way that Ultron, and to a lesser extent, Vision did,” Bell added. “We’re much more interested in the knowledge that [May] has, and how does this being deal with that?”
While one agent is missing, another has come back to the fold — Daisy (Chloe Bennet) has been coaxed back into the ranks of SHIELD by Director Mace (Jason O’Mara), but Gregg noted that it won’t be an easy homecoming for Coulson’s prodigal daughter.
“She’s no longer on the run; she’s part of SHIELD again. I don’t think that the government agencies that are watching and running SHIELD are comfortable with that yet, and even though she’s home, I think a part of her is still very damaged and hurt, and feels guilty about the things she did and the people we lost while she was under HIVE’s control,” Gregg told Mashable during our set visit. “She’s like a protégé and a daughter, and I have a daughter, and loving a daughter doesn’t mean telling them what to do or when to do it, even though that’s awfully damn tempting sometimes. You’ve got to let them find their way, and you’ve got to let them find their way back to you sometimes. And I think that’s where he is.”
Whedon noted that Daisy’s relationship with Director Mace will be markedly different from her bond with Coulson. “She’s been thrust into a new role. One of the things is that she’s now famous, which changes your dynamic,” he said. “She’s going to have to just be a soldier for a little while and put some of those emotional issues on the back burner, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. They will probably rear their ugly head in ways that she’s not ready for.”
“One of the things that we’re always trying to do is we’re always trying to pair people in different combinations,” Bell added. “She has an Inhuman Director. Suddenly, there is someone who is like her. We had a lot of fun with Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) coming back into it. They have similar issues. We’re not playing a romance the way we did with Lincoln last year. I think by creating new duos and trios, we can find new stories to tell.”
Find out how the LMD storyline will affect our team when Agents of SHIELD returns Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 10 p.m. on ABC.