Is the Agent Coulson on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. a Clone or Life Model Decoy?

by     Posted 1 year, 14 days ago

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Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) became a much beloved character over the course of Marvel’s Phase One, and that’s why his death in The Avengers was such a gut punch.  Joss Whedon has never shied away from killing fan favorite characters, but he also makes sure those deaths mean something.  When it was revealed that Coulson would lead Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it built in the mystery of how he came back.  It’s a mystery that’s supposed to be teased out over the course of the show (I assume they’ll explain it at the end of the first season because any longer and it will become tiresome), but I already have a theory about his resurrection.

The Phil Coulson we’re seeing on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t exactly the same Phil Coulson from Phase One.  Hit the jump for more.

agents-of-shield-clark-greggFor those who haven’t been keeping up with the show, the official story—or at least what Coulson thinks is the story—is that he survived getting impaled, spent a few weeks healing up in Tahiti, and is now back on the job leading a specialized team for S.H.I.E.L.D.  But in the pilot, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass) conspiratorially say that Coulson doesn’t know the truth, and he can never know the truth.

DUN DUN DUNNNNN.

I’ll say up front that I’m not great at predicting mysteries.  I’m pretty sure every prediction I made about Lost turned out to be wrong.  But I have a few reasons to believe Agent Coulson is a replica of some sort, and I started formulating this theory last week.  He occasionally mentions he’s rusty, and whenever his “injury” is brought up, his response about Tahiti almost seems programmed.

But then in last night’s episode, Coulson has trouble with his gun.  He tells Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) that he should have the muscle memory to handle it properly, but he doesn’t.

I believe the reason the muscle memory is gone is because this Coulson is either a clone or a “Life Model Decoy” (LMD).  Coulson doesn’t have the muscle memory because whatever he is, he can’t fool his body.  All of his personal memories may be intact, but the body isn’t “rusty”.  It’s new, and it can’t remember particular actions it hasn’t done.

I was unfamiliar with the concept of the Life Model Decoy until I floated my clone theory on Twitter earlier today.  Silas Lesnick from ComingSoon and Dan Bettenhausen mentioned the Life Model Decoy, and then Silas took it one step further by saying that Coulson was a clone/LMD even before Phase One.  Coulson could have been a real person back in the 1940s, which “explains his love of Cap and vintage items.”  That’s a very cool extrapolation, and it would neat if Marvel took it that far.  However, if Coulson is an LMD, then that’s some pretty advanced technology for the 1940s.  It would be tough to believe that Howard Stark, the best inventor of his time, couldn’t make a flying car, but he could make a perfect android.

agents-of-shield-clark-gregg-7As to whether or not the current Coulson is a clone or a Life Model Decoy, I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter.  The LMD is rooted in Marvel Comics history, and specifically in the history of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Per Wikipedia, “LMDs first appeared in Strange Tales #135 (August 1965), in which the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. created LMDs of agent Nick Fury to use as decoys for an attack by HYDRA.”  Furthermore, the Life Model Decoy has been mentioned in the Marvel Movie Universe.  It’s used as a joke in The Avengers when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to avoid a call from Coulson by saying the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent has reached Tony Stark’s Life Model Decoy.

The biggest flaw I see in my theory is the problem with any hero resurrection: it negates the power of death and can even make it impossible.  If any character can simply receive a Life Model Decoy that for all intents and purposes is indistinguishable from the flesh-and-blood original, then what’s the emotional cost?  If Coulson discovers he’s actually an LMD, it will certainly be a shock, but he’ll probably get over it because what’s the alternative?  Is he going to go Ultron on everybody?  Additionally, if they try to kill off any character, will the death be permanent?  There are ways to write around this problem, but it could be a can of worms.

From a business standpoint, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. almost had no choice in bringing back Coulson.  He’s the anchor of the show, and the constant connection to the movies.  Also, it turns out he’s far and away the best character, and if they killed off all the supporting characters, it would be a welcome opportunity to bring in more interesting ones.  The show is slowly improving, but it’s not a great sign that none of the new characters have broken out and we’re already three episodes in.  Audiences are clearly feeling the same way as viewership continues to decline.

I hope Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. improves, and I’ll stick around through November sweeps to see if it does.  Clark Gregg is charming actor, and unlike the other characters on the show, Coulson has been endearing from when we first met him in Iron Man.  If I solved the mystery this early, I’ll pat myself on the back, but I’d be far happier if the show started improving overall.

How do you think Coulson is back from the dead?  Sound off in the comments.

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  • http://www.scifihistory.net/ E. Lee Zimmerman

    Is this show even still on?

    • Liderc

      The third episode just aired last night, so yes.

      But the point stands that the show isn’t very good. I would agree with the author in saying that if Coulson is a LMD, then there is no point to the show. If you can bring back dead people, then there is no cost of doing what they’re doing.

      Death is the ultimate motivator, it’s what makes humans do what they do and if it’s removed from the equation then game over folks.

      Think of Breaking Bad where death doesn’t matter, wouldn’t be a show. The entire show was about trying to stay alive long enough to complete goals.

      • http://modmyi.com/forums/iphone-4-new-skins-themes-launches/740147-neurotech-hd.html#post5637502 Jay

        I haven’t seen the show, but does it show Coulson actually interacting with objects in his environment? He could be a hologram or simulation of some kind. (although, just the fact that LMD’s exist in the Marvel Universe makes that far more likely, I suppose)

      • FoonZeeS

        Yes. He fights people, uses guns and whatnot. So he’s not a hologram.

      • mbmarquis69

        The rebooted Battlestar Galactica got quite a bit of mileage out of the concept of resurrection and what it means when death is irrelevant.

        With a little smart writing, it can be a great concept to explore. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like S.H.I.E.L.D. is that kind of show.

      • Owens

        Totally fucking missing the point. And I am so sick of people praising Breaking Bad. They love that show for the exact same reason Grand Theft Auto is so wildly popular.

        If Coulson is a Life Model Decoy, which he obviously is, the point is NOT about the consequences of death (leave that to the Breaking Bad death-worshippers) but about “what constitutes life?” The real drama will come from the fact “Coulson” does not even know he is a replicant. There are 10 different angles to approach commentary on the morality of that.

      • Owens

        Totally fucking missing the point. And I am so sick of people praising Breaking Bad. They love that show for the exact same reason Grand Theft Auto is so wildly popular.

        If Coulson is a Life Model Decoy, which he obviously is, the point is NOT about the consequences of death (leave that to the Breaking Bad death-worshippers) but about “what constitutes life?” The real drama will come from the fact “Coulson” does not even know he is a replicant. There are 10 different angles to approach commentary on the morality of that.

    • Owens

      Typical total wanker above. He hates Marvel and Joss Whedon. 4 shows in and he derides it and hates it, but I bet he never missed an episode of Jersey Shore. That is, when he wasn’t fiercely tugging on his privates while watching the latest Christopher Nolan release.

    • Owens

      Typical total wanker above. He hates Marvel and Joss Whedon. 4 shows in and he derides it and hates it, but I bet he never missed an episode of Jersey Shore. That is, when he wasn’t fiercely tugging on his privates while watching the latest Christopher Nolan release.

  • Lance

    I think the (too) oft-repeated phrase, “It’s a magical place” indicates Coulson was resurrected through magic. The fact he was killed with a magical weapon opens up that possibility. For example, we could learn that the blade “absorbed” Coulson’s soul, therefore allowing it to be extracted and put back into a duplicate body later.

    But in the end, is any explanation really that interesting? And how does it change anything? Not to be too negative because I like the show, but I’m already a little tired of this particular mystery. And why can’t Coulson ever know the explanation? Will it cause him to go insane, when he learns that Red Skull is his father? What?

    • Liderc

      Great point about why it doesn’t matter if Coulson knows. Coulson is a veteran SHIELD agent, and he can’t handle the notion that some frankenstein magic had to be used to bring him back to life? lol I’m sure he’ll be quite happy to know that they were willing to use such a thing to keep him alive.

      The big twist is, it doesn’t matter how he was brought back, but that he was thought to be so vital to SHIELD that they brought him back to life.

    • FoonZeeS

      I think somehow SHIELD got Death to bring Coulson back. Having her bring him back would tie-in very nicely with Thanos, if they wanna go that route. Which I think they’re going to since Thanos smiled really wide when his aide said that to go against humans was to court Death itself.

      • Owens

        SHIELD has no knowledge at this point of the existence of Death, Eternity, or magic. They approach everything from a scientific standpoint. That is the point. They are clueless about the scope of otherworldly affairs. Not until the release of the inevitable Dr. Strange film will any of that change. That is the whole point of a Dr. strange movie. He is going to rock everybody’s worlds. Especially SHIELD.

      • Owens

        SHIELD has no knowledge at this point of the existence of Death, Eternity, or magic. They approach everything from a scientific standpoint. That is the point. They are clueless about the scope of otherworldly affairs. Not until the release of the inevitable Dr. Strange film will any of that change. That is the whole point of a Dr. strange movie. He is going to rock everybody’s worlds. Especially SHIELD.

      • FoonZeeS

        I know it’s far fetched. It was my first guess and I like sticking to my weird theories.

        For example, Batman survived the blast in Rises because Superman came and saved him.

        I’m sure Coulson will end up being Vision or something similar. I just like the idea of tying things together, ie Death.

      • Owens

        Now, Coulson becoming Vision to me is far-fetched but a really cool idea. I like your ideas. I just think they are saving the magical ones for Dr. Strange. I know if I wrote it, I’d probably do the same thing. He’s the game-changer.

      • Owens

        Now, Coulson becoming Vision to me is far-fetched but a really cool idea. I like your ideas. I just think they are saving the magical ones for Dr. Strange. I know if I wrote it, I’d probably do the same thing. He’s the game-changer.

      • Tyler

        If they have Death, they definitely should have Deadpool. Just sayin’.

    • Owens

      He is an LMD. The “magical place” reference signifies the haziness of his memory/engram implantation process.

      Anyone who knows Whedon as a writer knows he never goes for the easy-out. He didn’t “resurrect” Coulson for this series. It was always written this way. Re-watch Avengers now knowing that Coulson would come back as an LMD and all the clues are already there. It was written that way from the get-go.

    • Owens

      He is an LMD. The “magical place” reference signifies the haziness of his memory/engram implantation process.

      Anyone who knows Whedon as a writer knows he never goes for the easy-out. He didn’t “resurrect” Coulson for this series. It was always written this way. Re-watch Avengers now knowing that Coulson would come back as an LMD and all the clues are already there. It was written that way from the get-go.

    • Owens

      The writers for SHIELD have specifically stated that there will be absolutely no elements of their plots that cannot be explained by science. They have a NO MAGIC/NO SUPERNATURAL law they agreed to.

    • Owens

      The writers for SHIELD have specifically stated that there will be absolutely no elements of their plots that cannot be explained by science. They have a NO MAGIC/NO SUPERNATURAL law they agreed to.

  • Kota Lancaster

    Nicely done Goldberg, this sounds like it could be possible. Only time will tell.

    • Guy Smiley

      Nicely done, Goldberg… Way to make that call that so many of made, oh, since Agents of SHIELD was announced last year!

  • NICK НΛRT

    regardless of the explanation, and even the quality of this show, i still think it would be great to see coulson and loki face off again in the future

  • Lenny

    After Firefly, Angel and Dollhouse another cancelled show brought to you by Joss Whedon… It’s incredible this king of nerds have a free pass from networks to do whatever he wants.

    • blakeavon

      Well because unlike most of Hollywood and tv creators he actually believes in what hes doing. He isnt after ratings, or success but to just entertain and isnt inspired by money. Based on a long history of people loving him and what he is doing. Not everything a genius touches is gold. That is true of every artist in the world. The cancellation of Firefly in no way his fault. It was FOX refuses to take a chance on a pricy sci-fi show. They showed it out of order and generally had no regard for it. Angel was great, sure it misstep for a season but went out on a high at a perfect time. I found Dollhouse was his weakest show because felt like there were too many controls in place to stop his creative freedom.

      In short im not sure i see your point. Not every genius makes great stuff all the time. The reason why he gets a free pass is because in the world of movies etc he isnt like all others, he is a fascinating and entertaining human being. Qualities he brings to his shows but ones that can very be quantified by ratings or how US people view success.

    • Polarboy

      To be fair Angel went 5 seasons and its last was probably also its best so it didn’t deserve to be cancelled and Firefly should also never have been cancelled, can’t speak to Dollhouse because I never watched it.

    • Polarboy

      To be fair Angel went 5 seasons and its last was probably also its best so it didn’t deserve to be cancelled and Firefly should also never have been cancelled, can’t speak to Dollhouse because I never watched it.

    • milo

      Yeah, only a bunch of idiots would want more content from the guy who just made the third highest grossing movie of all time. Way to cherry pick.

      • Owens

        Exactly. And notice he omits Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which arguably has had a cultural impact on women not seen since the creation of Wonder Woman.

    • Owens

      The King of Nerds did something almost single-handed that Christopher Nolan, the ENTIRE WB empire, and a whole swath of writers and directors COULD NOT do. And what he did had a 1 billion dollar PLUS price-tag attached. The difference between Whedon and others is his aim to exalt, not destroy American Icons.

    • Owens

      The King of Nerds did something almost single-handed that Christopher Nolan, the ENTIRE WB empire, and a whole swath of writers and directors COULD NOT do. And what he did had a 1 billion dollar PLUS price-tag attached. The difference between Whedon and others is his aim to exalt, not destroy American Icons.

    • Owens

      Let’s compare him to Christopher Nolan, shall we. The main difference is Whedon loves his source material, whereas Nolan hates America and uses its icons to attack a culture he vehemently hates.

    • Owens

      Let’s compare him to Christopher Nolan, shall we. The main difference is Whedon loves his source material, whereas Nolan hates America and uses its icons to attack a culture he vehemently hates.

  • brNdon

    It could be that the original Coulson is from the 1940′s and has been cloned several times since.

    • 80sRobot

      This would be cool because then Gregg could show up as the old, original Coulson in either the show or the movies.

      So all the Coulson’s since him have been LMDs with their memories inherited from their predecessor. Each has been led to believe they are real. This would open up existentialist angst for the current Coulson LMD once he learns the truth about himself.

      • RedMercury

        Add in another element: ABC/Disney is supposedly working on “Agent Carter,” set in the 1940s Captain America-type universe.

        …with Coulson as her handler!

  • Kryptonian Knight

    I don’t Know about Coulson but I know this show is a clone of a cheesy poorly acted and written TV series!

  • Zoidbert

    AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. caught me off-guard with the return of Coulson; for a good while, I thought for certain they were priming him to become The Vision (mortally wounded, body whisked away, we see hints of him in the post-credits teasers, then Vision makes his appearance in A2).

    (disclaimer: my knowledge of the Marvel Universe pretty much goes from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s; I have no idea how the character of Vision has been retconned in recent times)

  • HeSaidSheSaidReviewSite

    Nobody cares what he is.

    • f

      So why did you click on the article?

      • HeSaidSheSaidReviewSite

        To say that nobody cares, duh. Should be rather self-explanatory.

      • GGordon

        Nobody cares what you think either.

      • dont_bring_me_down

        So you’re pretty much just a douche bag.

        Good to know.

    • Owens

      Read the screen name this idiot chose. That is all you need to know.

    • Owens

      Except many people care, including you, or you would not be on here commenting about it.

  • Brandon

    Very good post Goldberg. Very good!

  • Nerdgasm

    The issue with him being an LMD which everyone is stuck on is that it is what it says it is. A DECOY a strategic means to keep yourself alive or to grab attention to strike. If Coulson was a LMD he would be controlling the LMDs like Fury did in the comics. Instead Coulson has no clue what’s going on which would deduce him to just an Android or a clone NOT an LMD and because of this if they describe him as an LMD I will be very dissappointed. Further more i hope the secret of WHY they have kept him alive is bigger than the how.

  • Whynot

    Left field pick….he’s now The Vision…or a version of Vision technology.

  • MainFragger

    An alternate explanation is that they found a way of bringing him back, the yada yada artifact, or maybe made a deal with the Norse Gods, since its their mess that led to Coulson’s death.

    I agree the show has to get better quicker..but I doubt it will. Joss is a character driven writer. And most of his shows (that were cancelled) suffer from the same problem..too little happening, little plot development happening, while he expands on character development at a rate that makes climbing ivy growing seem Quick Silver fast..
    The biggest thing I see getting in the way is that they probably can’t get too involved in Marvel universe storylines. But if they were smart… They’d refer to events in movies not yet released, and find artifacts from those battles. Because if they want people to watch, it better hint at other things going on in Phase 2 and 3 of the Marvel films.

  • Hank Chimp

    Whedon maybe was the perfect creator/producer for the 90′s for geeks, knows about comics and is good with some jokes but visually right now is so bad and antiquated, and as a scenic/stage director not the best by far, on Avengers he had a lot already served, and a show like SHIELD i think is gonna prove how far he can go without the success of the other franchises.

  • CatheyBarrett

    I’ve got my FIRST check total of $550, pretty cool.. You can try it for yourself. E­x­i­t­3­5­.­c­o­m

    • Werefon

      I have $50 for you for another thing)

      • offgaurd

        Ijust blew my swallow of water all over my screen

      • Werefon

        I just offered a better busyness opportunity to her, with me she can make all that money in one day. I am quick shooter but furious.

  • Son of Superfuzz

    The technology to create a life-like android did exist in Howard Stark’s time. One of the more notable easter eggs in “Captain America: the First Avenger” was the Human Torch, an android on display during the Worlds Fair where Steve Rogers first encounters Howard Stark.

    Not that it matters, this show is a stinker. The mystery of Coulson’s resurrection isn’t interesting enough to overcome the laughable bad characters (the hot hacker girl trope is so old that even Jesus was tired of it, and don’t get me started on FitzSimmons) and fart-thin “mysteries-of-the-week”. Unfortunately this is the first misstep in the Marvel media juggernaut. Let’s hope it’s the last.

    • Owens

      I always thought doing this show was a mistake. I predicted they would have to spend 5 episodes establishing the fact they aren’t Avengers-lite, and five more shows to get their directorial and writing style down pat. Meanwhile, they would face criticism from episode one. Especially from tired know-it-alls who have become a trope themself by constantly critiquing things using tropes.

  • Beaver Blake

    I want to like this show—I really do–but something about it just leaves me cold. Once it’s over– I always feel like I’ve wasted and hour watching it in the hopes that it was going to be better than it actually was.

    Maybe if it was about some of the actual S.H.I.E.L.D Agents from the comics and also mixed elements of sci-fi/espionage/superhero lore? Instead of just all the new characters on the team, why not add some actual known S.H.I.E.L.D Agents like Jasper Sitwell & Jimmy Woo, or Bobbi Morse & Clay Quartermain—and since Maria Hill and Nick Fury can’t be on every week– have them report to Dum Dum Dugan?

    You could even have Henry Gyrich come in and disband Coulson’s current team and replace them with any combination of those agents.

    And what about references to other eventspeople in the Marvel U? I want to hear someone reference the studies/theories of Dr. Hank Pym or download a song by Rick Jones or get a legal notice from the offices of Nelson and Murdock. If you’re not going to do any of that and are saving those things up for future movies—why even bother to call it Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D?

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  • Just.a.dude

    During the climax battle in The Avengers Loki stabs Thor with a sharp weapon and breaks it leaving a piece of it in Thor. Thor pries it out and throws it away. And that broken thrown away piece is given a separate shot. I thought that meant the piece was going to play a significant role in the Avengers universe. After all, that weapon belongs to Loki and probably has some magic in it. Also now it has Thor’s', an immortal, blood on it. May be that is what Nick Fury used to bring Coulson back.

    • Owens

      Asgardians are NOT immortal, according to Marvel. They have extreme longevity. Olympians in the Marvel Universe are immortal. The difference is, to truly kill an immortal would take the ultimate dispersion of their molecules at an atomic level. Even then, they might not be killed. Asgardians can be killed, just not easily by human means.

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