As Season 4’s “Ghost Rider” arc came to a close, two agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally cracked open that bottle of Haig, sharing extra-warm, knowing smiles across the rims of their Old Fashioned glasses.
Thing is, one of those agents is not who they seem to be.
But more on that in a moment. For now, let us talk simply of the idea that Phil Coulson is finally steering his oft-tested friendship with longtime colleague Melinda May in a very new direction. “In different moments, it’s certainly something that has to have popped into their heads,” Clark Gregg tells TVLine of the fall finale’s sharing of whiskey. “And I love the difficulty of it. I love how dangerous it is because this is a job where family relationships really are not possible in the normal sense. She is so much more to him than a coworker.”
Why do we feel like there is a “but” coming…?
“But I think there’s a reason that they’ve been working together for more than 20 years, off and on, without crossing that line,” Gregg continues. “Certainly, with the passing of [May’s ex-husband] Andrew Garner, something is different now, and that possibility is being explored. But… I don’t know. I have really passionate feelings [about it], pro and con, you know what I mean? We’ve all been in a situation like this with a very close friend, I think, and… boy, it makes me nervous just talking about it. If it’s anything like the rest of the show for poor Coulson, it’s going to end up in heartbreak.”
Acknowledging the growing closeness between the agents, Gregg says, “These poor horses at some point should be let out of this barn before they kick the rest of the slats out. On the one hand, it’s like, ‘All right already. If it’s going to happen, let’s go.’ But nothing is that simple on this show.”
The specific complication here being that, unbeknownst to anyone at S.H.I.E.L.D., Dr. Radcliffe’s first successful stab at an uncanny android, Aida, has stealthily replaced May with a lookalike LMD (Life Model Decoy).
“That’s certainly a whole new part of the equation,” Gregg notes. Though it should not discount the significance of “Philinda” finally happening. Says Gregg, “I think there’s something going on between the actual Phil and the actual Melinda that is different.”
Director Mace of course flagged, loudly, the unknown element that LMDs present, name-checking the villainous A.I. from the second Avengers film: “Does no one remember Ultron?!” So how might Aida and any “offspring” differ?
“The real difference is that they represent people that we know, and that it’s not a big robot baddie,” showrunner Jed Whedon explains. Adds EP Jeffrey Bell, “And [LMDs] are not omniscient. They don’t have access to all knowledge, and all information, and all other machines the way that Ultron, and to a lesser extent, Vision did.”
Rather, “How much they know and how much their agenda is mixed with their own emotions, those are the sorts of questions are what we’re going to dive into,” Whedon says. “But I think the main difference is these are our people. And that’s what makes it scarier.”
Oh, and there is one other difference: “They also won’t build 10,000 versions of themselves,” Whedon says, “mostly because we don’t have $200 million.” (With reporting by Scott Huver)