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

     October 9, 2013


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.


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.