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Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Phil Coulson is coming back for the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he won’t quite be the agent and former organization head that viewers have come to know. The version of the character that fans will see this year is an LMD (Life-Model decoy) that was created to help guide the team during their final mission. If this development was somewhat jarring for you, then don’t worry, because Clark Gregg felt the same way.

Clark Gregg has played Agent Phil Coulson for over a decade and, in that time, he’s become very in tune with who Coulson is and what he wants and doesn’t want as a character. So the actor was a bit surprised when he found out his character would become a Life-Model Decoy. Regardless, he sought to make this iteration of the beloved character more than just a machine:

I was a little thrown at first. I internalize everything Coulson cares about whether I want to or not. He was really adamant that he didn’t want that. And even though I love [the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” character] Data, I didn’t want Phil Coulson to be Data, you know, the cyber being following them around doing fast math. Their idea around it was very different. He’s wrestling with some of the stuff that classic AI characters have dealt with in the past: What am I? What am I now, in his case. And he’s also not really the kind of typical LMD. There’s other, much more advanced stuff going on. I think someday when there is extremely advanced AI, it’ll be harder to really tell the difference between organic intelligence and that form of artificial intelligence. [Pause] I went full nerd on you, didn’t I?!

Clark Gregg’s recent interview with Variety further proves just how much he loves Phil Coulson, but it also shows that even he can still be surprised as to how the character’s story plays out.

Phil Coulson has had an interesting journey since he debuted in Iron Man back in 2008. The committed and humorous operative would be instrumental in getting the Avengers together, with his death at the hands of Loki propelled them to assemble for the first time. Of course, he was later revived and was tasked with leading his own covert team on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before becoming the organization’s new director.

Unfortunately, due to an agreement made with Ghost Rider, Coulson died sometime between Seasons 5 and 6, though Gregg still remained on the show. During Season 6, he played Sarge, a villain possessing Coulson’s appearance.

Sarge would meet his end in the season finale, but, with the team having been thrust into a time travel mission to save S.H.I.E.L.D., they need someone with a wealth of knowledge on the peacekeeping entity’s history. This is where LMD Coulson comes in.

Although turning Coulson into an LMD may not be what anyone (including Clark Gregg) would’ve expected for the final season, it makes sense. The android appears to possess the attitude that Coulson exuded during the first season, which essentially brings things full circle.

We’ll get an idea of how he’s able to aid the team when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for its final season on Wednesday, May 27 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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