Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be leaning hard into Marvel lore during the second half of the season after finally featuring Life Model Decoys.
At the close of season 3, S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the comic book concept with a brief nod to AIDA, the artificial intelligence data analyzer used by Dr. Radcliffe (John Hannah), who later brought his creation to life in season 4.
But the concept of Life Model Decoys in the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. dates back to the conception of the show, with many fans believing that Coulson (Clark Gregg), who had perished in Marvel’s The Avengers, was actually an LMD. He’s not, for those who may not have kept up with the show, but the seed has slowly been sprouting over the last four seasons.
In the winter finale, stalwart S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) was revealed to be unconscious in Dr. Radcliffe’s lab, under the care of Life Model Decoy Aida (Mallory Jansen). And yet, May was still out in the field. How? A Life Model Decoy version of the stoic agent is now among S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks for purposes that have not yet been revealed — and no one is more delighted by that fact than Wen herself.
“When they told me that there was going to be an LMD May, it was a real surprise,” Wen tells EW.
Though she’s not necessarily human, this new version of May, or Robo-May, seems to have all the same memories that the original version does, which is how she’s so far gone undetected; we’ll find out soon when the big switch happened. “One of the key factors about an LMD is that, right now, AIDA has created a replica of May using all her brain data that they downloaded when she was dying,” Wen says. “For me, when I was playing LMD May, it’s not very different from playing the real May, so the challenge was keeping track of what’s going on, who’s who, and how to somehow find little moments [to differentiate her]. You could have twins that are identical, and yet you’ll always find a little something that’s a little different, so that’s what I try to incorporate into it.”
Suffice it to say, the real May will not be happy with the situation once she’s conscious. “I think she’ll be a little pissed, don’t you?” Wen says. “And a little disappointed in herself for having been imprisoned.”
However, the switch allows the series to lean into the fan-favorite relationship between Coulson and May, with Gregg previously hinting to EW that the show would finally be exploring the Philinda dynamic. “It was a real clever way for the writers to come up with a way to fulfill the Philinda fans’ fantasies,” Wen says, “and also delve further into May, because she doesn’t open up about much. It’s an interesting way to look into her mind through Robo-May.”
Wen’s comments seem to suggest less nefarious intentions for Robo-May growing closer to Coulson instead of, say, sleeping with someone to distract them, as Ward (Brett Dalton) did to May in season 1. With that in mind, would Robo-May’s feelings for Coulson eventually force regular May to confront those same emotions in herself? Wen laughs: “Let’s see if she gets out of the prison first!”
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.