Last night, ABC’s Marvel drama “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” offered up an answer to one of its longest running mysteries, but maybe not one of its biggest. Since actor Patton Oswalt showed up in Season 1 as the stuffy nerd Agent Koenig and was soon joined by a similarly inclined twin, fans have been pointing at the characters and crying “LMD!” It made sense that the slightly out of touch lookalikes (of which there are at least four) would be early version of the Life Model Decoy androids so closely associated with the S.H.I.E.L.D. franchise. But in finally answering that question, this week’s “Hot Potato Soup” ends up dragging a lot of the fun and mystery out of the Koenig characters and the show in general.
We open with two versions of Oswalt playing the type he’s best known for in the geek world – the ever-quoting pop culture obsessive – before the kidnapping of one Koenig propels the entire plot forward. It’s a bad sign that the actor recycling “Star Wars” lines is such a common sight (it’s just like “Parks & Rec!” or “Young Adult!” or his standup! cry diehards) because Oswalt is actually a fantastically talented performer. But the Koenigs come off on one level, and our investment in their fate plummets early as a result.
The broad strokes of the story are easy to latch onto. On one front, the kidnapped Koenig finds himself captive aboard a Russian sub with the renegade Dr. Radcliffe. The LMD creator is supposedly also tied up after his villainous partners betrayed him, but no one who was even half awake during these scenes were seeing anything but Radcliffe’s flimsy attempts at winning info on the Book of Darkhold by guile rather than torture. Meanwhile, the remaining Koenig hooks up with Coulson and company who explain that the lookalike brothers were entrusted with the mystic tome because they can “make things disappear.” The gang take off on a dual hunt for the book (spirited away to a secret location by one of the Koenig clan) and for the lost brother. As Coulson, Daisy and May zero in on the practical chase, Fitz, Simmons and Mack are left to interrogate the leftover Radcliffe model LMD for clues as to the doctor’s plans with the Darkhold.
Tonally, these scenes are all over the place. Daisy fends off her own Koenig who is comically in love with her status as a genuine superhero before they come across a third brother (this one a bland parody of an anti-establishment slam poet) and a Koenig sister (played almost like a parody of a superspy by “It’s Always Sunny” and “Scandal” alum Artemis Pebdani). The Fitz/Radcliffe plot dives deeps into melodrama as the android take on Leo’s latest surrogate father figure teases the young genius with supposed info on his real estranged father.
The two stories are as awkward next to each other as your divorced parents at your wedding, and the stillborn “Will they, won’t they?” subplot between Coulson and the undercover LMD May being shoved in there doesn’t help either. It’s fine for a show to juggle a more comedic story alongside a more serious subplot, but “Hot Potato Soup” can’t seem to pull either off in full. It’s particularly tragic for fans since a backstory for Leo is the kind of detail that Season 4 of a series should deliver on in spades, but the zig-zag effort to put Oswalt front-and-center gives us whiplash.
Like so many “Agents” stories before now, everything comes to a head when both heroes and villains arrive at the MacGuffin’s location at the same time. The sister Koenig realizes that the clan’s kidnapped brother actually did stash the book at the same moment as Radcliffe extracts the info out of his head while muscling his way to the top of the foodchain with the Inhuman-hating Russians who are supposedly running this whole show (a somewhat ripped-from-the-headlines twist that is severely undercut by the fact that no one who watches really cares about the third rate Russian stereotypes we met last year for five minutes). Fitz taps into the head of faux-Radcliffe just in time to force the LMD to let slip the idea that May is also a replacement – a moment that the show runs over at full speed with little drama or even logic. It’s just “May had her brain mapped, right? Warn the team!” For all the time the show spent trying to play up the internal conflict of the May LMD as its own character, seeing her quickly dispatched and forgotten wasn’t emotionally effective. It was an afterthought.
And this is really the way the entire finale of the episode plays out. Fake May dies ignored. Radcliffe sneaks in to steal the Darkhold in a manner so vague that they need to reexplain it one scene later. And all the time, there’s a new team member with virtually no role to play that one of the Koenig’s correctly identifies as a Red Shirt. It’s just misfire after misfire all tied into the most forgettable of plots with the most forgettable of big bads waiting in the wings.
The final indignity is that after dropping the Koenig quadruplets back into play at a vital moment in the LMD saga, their own android status is finally revealed as a jokey headfake. “Oh you thought we said we were androids? No! We just helped designed them. Okay. Bye forever.” It feels like the show once planned on making the character exactly what fans expected but then decided against it even as they felt they owed some kind of explanation. Well, we got one now. Is anyone that happy about it?