The Season 3 finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” took one small step for Inhumankind and a giant leap for technology when the episode flashed forward six months, revealing an entirely new status quo for the team. Daisy broke bad! Coulson and Mack are hot on her trail! There’s a new S.H.I.E.L.D. director in town!
But however startling these teases may be, none is quite as profound as Holden Radcliffe’s last major scene, which introduced AIDA and explicitly referenced LMD (Life Model Decoy) technology to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Before we get into LMD technology — a widely used plot device from the comics — let’s talk a little about AIDA. In the closing scene, Radcliffe walks into his lab and speaks with a female-voiced AI he calls AIDA; think Iron Man’s new AI Friday, but less Irish. The name “AIDA” calls back to Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall and Paul Ryan’s “Squadron Supreme” series from 1985, which introduced AIDA into Marvel Comics canon. In the comics, the Artificial Intelligence Data Analyser — AIDA for short — was created by a scientist named Thomas Thompson, better known as the Squadron Supreme’s Tom Thumb. She aided him as he attempted to cure previously incurable diseases, while the diminutive hero treated her as a friend, and occasionally like a lover.
Over the course of the series, AIDA proved herself to be much more than “just” a program. Like Tony Stark’s Jarvis and Friday in the MCU, she showed inklings of personality and capabilities that far surpassed the completion of simple tasks. For instance, when Tom Thumb’s cancer began to take its toll on him, she overrode her protocols in order to tell Ape X — Thumb’s assistant and friend — that he needed her help. The comic goes so far as to show AIDA experiencing moral quandaries; in one scene, she’s shown to think, “Was it wrong to report the data she did to Ape X?” In this, the comics version of the AI showed hints that there’s more to AIDA than meets the eye.
While “S.H.I.E.L.D.” obviously doesn’t follow its comic book source material to the letter, it is certainly informed by it. We don’t hear or see much of AIDA in her on-screen debut, but the implications of her name hint that there will be much more to the character in Season 4. The episode concludes after Radcliffe has a full discussion with her about his trial and the subsequent clearing of his name, before he reveals that today is her “birthday”; as he says this, the camera cuts to a human-like figure behind frosted glass. The implication being, she’ll likely follow in the footsteps of Iron Man’s own Jarvis, who eventually became the Vision (thanks to a little Mind Gem magic, of course).
What’s more, Radcliffe is himself a character straight from Marc Sumerak and Mike Hawthorne’s “Teen Machine” comic series. In addition to his role as a scientist, the comic version of Radcliffe is a businessman intent on developing androids as combat soldiers. In the comics, too, he develops ADAM (Autonomosly Decisive Automated Mechanism), an AI who doesn’t even realize he’s an android for quite some time. Of course, on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” Radcliffe has been less a business man and more a mad scientist, obsessed with cybernetic enhancements; however, his quest to “better” humankind — including himself — through technology has led him down a path to something not quite human (or Inhuman), but not quite automated: LMD technology.
If you’re a fan of the comics, you’ve probably come across LMD technology in your reading. LMDs are incredibly lifelike androids that are frequently employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. — and especially Nick Fury Sr. — to get out of sticky situations without personal injury; they act and behave as humans, particularly the one they’re modeled after, until such time as they’re attacked. Though Tony Stark name dropped LMDs in 2012’s “Avengers” film, and fan-theories tagged Patton Oswalt’s Agents Koenig as LMDs, the technology itself hasn’t surfaced in the MCU — until now. As Radcliffe prepped AIDA for her “birthday,” he initiated a program titled “LMD,” which is more or less a confirmation that he has successfully introduced the technology into the MCU.
Now, that’s a lot of information to swallow. And though all of this technology is familiar to Marvel Comics, the question remains: how will that all tie together in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 4? It all circles back to “Squadron Supreme” and Tom Thumb’s death. After Thumb passed away, AIDA worked with Ape X on a secret project: installing Thumb’s pre-recorded brain patterns into a very LMD-like android. In the comics, Ape X and AIDA never have a chance to finish this project, so we never get to see the results of it. However, if “S.H.I.E.L.D.” uses the “Supreme Squadron” blueprint, we could see the MCU’s version of LMDs, one that fully, truly believes it is human. Or, worse, believes it is better than human, another Ultron (or Jocasta) in the making.
Taking this thinking a step further, that also means the show could resurrect any number of its fallen agents — something fans of Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward will be happy to hear. Though we haven’t seen S.H.I.E.L.D. copy its agents’ brainwaves per se, we’ve witnessed something very, very similar. The device the Clairvoyant — and later S.H.I.E.L.D. — used to force memories to the surface of its subject’s mind. This device enabled Coulson to remember project T.A.H.I.T.I. and for Werner von Strucker — himself in a coma — to recall the moments just before his death. While crude, the show has set a precedence of technology that could enable Radcliffe to record brain patterns and install them in his shiny new LMDs.
At this point, the implications of this kind of technology are completely unexplored territory in the MCU. How would a fallen agent react to learning of their own death? To realizing they weren’t human? Would they face the same harsh treatment as Inhumans? What becomes of a former human who is now an android? What’s more, where does AIDA — an AI we’re presuming will be placed in a human-like body — fit into the scheme of sentient beings? Would she be considered subhuman? Would this treatment lead to an Ultron-like outburst? And what are Holden Radcliffe’s plans? Does he hope to overcome the limitations of his human — albeit modified — body and transcend death by putting his own brain patterns into an LMD? How does such a sentient LMD cope with being a copy of an original human being?
Of course, we’ve seen but a glimpse of the technology so far, but the implications of that final scene carry a lot of weight. It’s a dangerous subject, but Holden Radcliffe seems prepared to dive in headfirst — and the results of his recklessness should make for some great TV.
Starring Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” will air Tuesdays at 10 pm EST on ABC this fall.
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