Ghost Rider roared into the Season 4 premiere of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” pushing the series — as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe — into a new magical era. It’s only appropriate, then, that the Spirit of Vengeance has been at the center of so much discussion leading up to his television debut. However, we can’t forget the other three important elements of the drama going into Season 4: Life Model Decoys (LMDs), Inhumans and, naturally, S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has found itself juggling three rather disparate subjects, a mish-mash of super-technology, superheroes and super-espionage, with a pinch of magic. Executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tanchareon have touched on this ideological divide, describing it as a challenge for the writers’ room. But while they’ve remained mum about how the series will unite these ideas, the key could lie in Fitz’s fear of what the new, government-run S.H.I.E.L.D. would do with LMD technology if it ever got its hands on it.
Let’s backtrack a little. In the Season 3 finale, Holden Radcliffe was officially cleared of charges that he willingly collaborated with Hive, the Inhuman who attempted (and failed) to make everyone on Earth just like him. However, Radcliffe’s “get out of jail” card wasn’t quite so free. He was only allowed to walk on the condition that he not pursue personal projects, which — coincidentally — is just what he did when he created AIDA, his first LMD. As such, upon Fitz’s discovery of AIDA, his concerns are twofold: first, that his friend Radcliffe broke the terms of his parole and doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by the implications of that; and second, that S.H.I.E.L.D. finding out could have disastrous consequences — not just for Radcliffe, but for the world.
While the conundrum certainly exists to put a strain on Fitz’s relationship with Simmons, who would have to tell the new director in order to maintain his trust, it serves a dual function by raising the question: Why would Fitz be concerned about S.H.I.E.L.D. having access to LMD technology, particularly after Radcliffe’s impassioned speech about saving S.H.I.E.L.D. lives? Well, for one, it could factor into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s adherence to the Sokovia Accords, big time.
If you need a brief refresher, the Sokovia Accords is the United Nations-approved document that created the central conflict in “Captain America: Civil War”; that is, it requires government oversight for any enhanced individuals who want to use their abilities to help others. It’s a variation of the Superhero Registration Act from Marvel Comics, which required all superheroes to register their true identities with the government. As such, it impacts Inhumans, a central piece of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” mythology.
Alhough it wasn’t stated outright in the premiere, it’s likely that S.H.I.E.L.D. still monitors the growing Inhuman population. Either way, Inhumans will remain a hot topic in the scope of the show; after all, Parminder Nagra recently joined the cast as an anti-Inhuman politician. With S.H.I.E.L.D. being transparent and taking cues from the government, the organization could begin to crack down on Inhuman activity, whether or not the new director likes it. However, S.H.I.E.L.D. is pretty unequipped to do so; your average human agents — even several of them — would be no match for an Inhuman as powerful as Daisy or Lash. Approaching a new Inhuman is doubly dangerous when you consider they probably don’t have control of their newfound abilities, just like Joey Gutierrez in the Season 3 premiere.
Dealing with enhanced individuals is treacherous business, whether or not the enhanced person intends it to be, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is in need of a serious leg up. As Radcliffe suggested, LMDs could be a potential resolution for this dilemma. LMDs look human enough to pass, and a terrified new Inhuman would likely respond differently to one than, say, to one of Iron Man’s faceless drones. If the enhanced person ends up being more volatile, an LMD would prevent any real injury in the field, as it is not truly an agent — just a copy of one. In theory, it seems entirely beneficial for S.H.I.E.L.D. to apply this technology in the field, particularly for handling Inhumans.
But this wouldn’t the first time in Marvel history that the government has tried to monitor a subgroup of superpowered individuals with humanoid robots. Flash back to 1965 with the release of “The X-Men” #14, which introduced what would become a Marvel Universe staple: the Sentinels. (If you’re more a movie kind of person, check out “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” where you’ll get Sentinels in spades.) Sentinels — massive, human-shaped robots designed to hunt mutants — have long been go-to villains in X-Men mythology, often terrorizing everyone’s favorite team of mutants. Unlike LMDs, however, Sentinels aren’t capable of independent thought (with a few notable exceptions here and there, of course) — and that’s exactly what could go wrong in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 4.
Now, it’s true that Radcliffe’s AIDA has not yet developed artificial intelligence in the way of Ultron (as far as we know), but she’s well on her way. After all, Fitz offered to help Radcliffe “perfect” her in the season premiere, which suggests they’ll join forces to make her even more human-like. What’s more, she’s already showing signs of independence; when Fitz came over to visit, she left the lab of her own accord and had a brief — if guided — conversation with him. In that exchange, he also insisted to Radcliff that AIDA was a “she,” not an “it,” further personifying her. AIDA developing intelligence and a personality isn’t a question of if, but when.
It’s inevitable that Radcliffe’s little project will be discovered by S.H.I.E.L.D., which could commandeer the LMD tech and apply it in some seriously damaging ways, not the least of which would be monitoring Inhuman activity. And what happens to the Inhumans if these LMDs begin to develop sentience? Will they take the Inhuman initiative into their own hands — and perhaps deem them too dangerous to live? For that matter, what happens to the LMDs’ human handlers, particularly if the LMDs are modeled after living agents?
No matter which way you cut it, the invention of LMDs in the MCU will lead to a lot more trouble for S.H.I.E.L.D., and probably for the Inhumans as well. “It’s all connected,” after all! LMDs are risky, unknown elements on their own; throw in some bureaucracy, the unknown element of the new director, and Radcliffe’s own moral ambiguity, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is headed straight toward another disaster. However, this combination could prove especially deadly for the Inhumans — and Ghost Rider, the wild card, may be the only one who could feasibly put a stop to it.
Starring Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesday nights at 10 ET/PT on ABC.
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