'Agents of SHIELD' Season 4: What Is a Life Model Decoy?

THR dives deep into the history of the major theme of the upcoming season of ABC's Marvel series: Life Model Decoys, or LMDs.
Greg Gayne/ABC

To get an understanding of what's coming up in season four of ABC's Agents of SHIELD, you actually have to look back through the history of Marvel.

While most of the immediate season three finale cliffhangers centered around Daisy (Chloe Bennet), Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Mack (Henry Simmons) and the fallout of Hive's (Brett Dalton) death, the bigger theme that season four is poised to explore is the idea of Life Model Decoys. After the flash forward scene six months into the future, the Agents of SHIELD season three finale featured a very telling tag with Dr. Radcliffe (John Hannah) bringing his A.I. named AIDA to life in a humanoid figure.

"Radcliffe has a good heart, but he's willing to do anything for science," executive producer Jed Whedon told THR at the time. "He's excited about the prospect. He said Fitz [Iain De Caestecker] and Simmons [Elizabeth Henstridge] had friends die and maybe they didn't have to. He's clearly opening a box. Whether or not it's Pandora's box, we'll see."

Executive producer Maurissa Tancharoen confirmed that the tag would be the major season-long theme of season four, adding, "To someone like Radcliffe, he might believe that to be just the next step in human evolution. There are a number of people who are into body modification now, so what does that mean? What's the root of that? Now we are going to dive deeper into this man, Radcliffe, who is into that endeavor."

"He thinks there's something beyond humans. What that will turn into, we'll have to wait and see," Whedon said. "We've talked about what are the differences between people with powers and people without powers and I think our show started as not all heroes are super because we were about the little guy who doesn't have powers. Now, some of our people do have powers and some of them don't. Next year, with the advances in technology, we might be asking the question of, 'If you can have this, do you want it?' And a little bit of be careful what you wish for. That's about as specific as we can get."

With Agents of SHIELD set to explore the concept of Life Model Decoys next season, what exactly is a LMD? The simple answer is that LMDs are robots. But the more complicated answer is that LMDs are a cross between A.I.s, robots and clones.

The LMDs are designed specifically with a person in mind so that the robot can essentially take someone's place as a kind of body double, most commonly used for protection of an important figure like politicians or superheroes. In fact, LMDs are so life-like that they can fool even the toughest of tests, like fingerprints, hair samples, retina scanners, voice recognition and even thought patterns if someone was trying to read their mind. But LMDs are also a step up from being a regular clone, as they can also possess superhuman strength, speed and quick healing via the use of nanites. They can act autonomously, or they can be controlled by their owner. Most LMDs are created with good intentions, but sometimes, something can go wrong. And that's when things get dicey.

One very explosive instance of an LMD going dark is Jake Fury, aka Nick Fury's brother. In Secret Warriors #26, when the Fury brothers discovered the technology that would give birth to LMDs, Jake was accidentally duplicated into the first LMD ever created. His LMD later had a complete mental breakdown, to the point where he forgot he was a LMD and became the villain known as Scorpio. He then stole a LMD of his brother Nick and reprogrammed it to become Max Fury. Max also believed he was a real person, and not a LMD, since he had been programmed with all of Nick's memories and thoughts. Understandably, this caused a lot of problems for both Nick and all of SHIELD. But at least SHIELD was able to reverse-engineer the technology that duplicated Jake to create their own LMDs, and they have been a staple of the MCU ever since that first appearance in 1965's Strange Tales #135.

The most common LMD featured in the comics is Nick Fury himself, as he uses them constantly to infiltrate enemy organizations, throw would-be attackers off his scent or carry out secret missions without fear of risking of his own life. But Fury is hardly the only MCU character to use LMDs. Others include Captain America, Ant-Man, Black Widow, Bucky, Deadpool, Dum Dum Dugan, Iron Man, Glenn Talbot and Maria Hill.

It's interesting to note that while it seems as though Dr. Radcliffe is going to be the first person to successfully bring a LMD to life in the MCU, this isn't the first time that LMDs have been referenced. Back in The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tried to pull a prank on Coulson and avoid his phone call by claiming to be "Tony Stark's Life Model Decoy" instead. But it could have just been that Stark was playing a joke, pretending to be technology that was only a theory at the time. And on Agents of SHIELD, many viewers first believed that Patton Oswalt's multiple roles as the Koenig brothers were actually LMDs themselves, but it looks like this theory can finally be put to bed as LMDs hadn't been created yet. Sometimes, the explanation for something in the Marvel universe can be as simple as twin brothers. 

Are you excited to see LMDs finally come to life on Agents of SHIELD? Sound off in the comments section. Agents of SHIELD returns Tuesday, Sept. 20 at its new time, 10 p.m., on ABC.

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