"You have reached the Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark. Please leave a message."
When we heard that line in 2012's The Avengers, it was nothing more than a cool Easter Egg. Four years later, though, we were introduced to Doctor Holden Radcliffe's next-generation Life Model Decoys — and that witty one-liner became a bit of a continuity problem. If Life Model Decoys weren't invented till 2016, why was Tony Stark joking about them in 2012?
The latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Hot Potato Soup", solved the problem — and in doing so, it revealed a lot of secrets. Hang on to your lanyards, True Believers, because we're about to get a whistle-stop tour of one vitally important secret S.H.I.E.L.D. experiment!
The Secret History of LMDs
As long-term fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will know, Patton Oswald's Agents Koenig were introduced in the tail-end of Season 1. A group of high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, trusted even with Nick Fury's greatest secrets, the Koenigs seemed to be identical brothers. An early fan-theory was that they were all actually androids based on the same man — that they were actually Life Model Decoys.
We now know that's not the case. "Hot Potato Soup" reintroduced the Koenigs, and gave us our first glimpse of their sister: Artemis Pebdani's L.T. Koenig. Where the other Koenigs are outright geeks, L.T. is a hard-as-nails warrior; it seems she was the one who introduced her siblings to S.H.I.E.L.D.. And here's the thing; the Koenig brothers were originally technicians on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first Life Model Decoy project, which predates Radcliffe's LMD project!
Linking This to the Present Day
Back before 2008's Iron Man, Stark Industries was one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s major weapons suppliers. In the aftermath of Iron Man, Tony Stark became a S.H.I.E.L.D. consultant — so it stands to reason that Stark was involved in, or at least aware of, this earlier LMD project, and explains why he referenced them all the way back in 2012.
This reference to the first LMD project neatly ties up the plothole created in The Avengers, but it opens the door for a wider, secret history of the ever-nebulous S.H.I.E.L.D.. For instance, was Stark the only consultant who knew about this early program?
We were introduced to John Hannah's Doctor Radcliffe in the tail-end of Season 3. A former employee of GT Agrochemical, he had become a controversial figure due to his focus on transhumanism, and ultimately got the sack, presumably for ethical breaches. There's no evidence that he was historically tied to S.H.I.E.L.D., but — given his specialisms — it's possible that he was occasionally brought in as a consultant, and that he was called in by the early LMD project.
But that's unlikely. As you can see above, "Hot Potato Soup" featured a scene in which Billy Koenig was held captive by Radcliffe's Watchdog allies, and he didn't recognize Radcliffe. If Billy Koenig was originally a technician on the project, it's likely that he'd have crossed paths with any consultants.
The more likely connection is a little more complicated. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Black Widow uploaded all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secrets on to the Internet. While we've since learned that many of the files were encrypted, but no doubt a lot of people are trying to decrypt them. Governments would be interested; technology companies would be hoping they could gain an edge by learning of advanced or discontinued projects; and grass-roots movements like the Rising Tide would want to expose these secrets. We can assume that someone managed to decrypt files pertaining to the LMD project, and these files made their way into the transhumanist circles we briefly glimpsed in Season 3. Doctor Radcliffe learned of them, and was intrigued by the idea. Seeing his friends' grief, Radcliffe decided to relaunch the LMD Project, and likely even drew on that initial research when he was building Aida.
The Next Generation of LMDs
Doctor Radcliffe managed what the Koenigs could not, creating Aida — the first fully-functioning LMD. But the next breakthrough came when Aida read the Darkhold, and learned to manipulate reality on the quantum level. She used this to recreate quantum maps of the human brain, neural interfaces that are composed of pure light. Combined with Radcliffe's technology, this generation of LMDs can perfectly duplicate any human.
But here's the really interesting thing. As we saw with the LMD of Agent May, Radcliffe has learned how to tweak the neural interface, giving an individual LMD a subconscious mission that will guide its every behavior. So the May LMD sought the Darkhold relentlessly, and even betrayed Agent Coulson in order to acquire it.
Incidentally, at first glance it's tempting to assume that Aida — as the oldest LMD — doesn't have one of these quantum brains. But that assumption is probably wrong; remember that Radcliffe built a duplicate of Aida, likely using the advanced science of the Darkhold. Aida will already have crossed a very dangerous threshold for Artificial Intelligence, where she alone can understand the science she uses to improve herself. In the real world, scientists are extremely concerned about the possibility that threshold will one day be passed by an Artificial Intelligence, as it raises disturbing visions of an AI that no longer needs humans — and reshapes itself in ways that humans don't predict or expect. Radcliffe should be very concerned indeed.
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The smart continuity is one of the reasons many fans love the #MCU, and "Hot Potato Soup" included some of the most subtle retcons we've seen to date. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always had an eye for detail, but in this case we've seen a minor wrinkle in #Marvel continuity turned into an intriguing backstory. I'm impressed.
Do you think Aida will ultimately get out of control?
(Poll Image Credit: ABC)