Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Project Looking Glass Explained

SPOILERS for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ahead

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed Aida's plan for Project Looking Glass as the series sets up its season 4 finale, but the endeavor could have farther reaching effects on the show's reality going into season 5. For the most part, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 has been broken down into three distinct story arcs. The first introduced Ghost Rider, Eli Morrow, and the Darkhold, ushering in a new realm of mysticism to the Marvel Cinematic Universe TV offshoot; the second followed Dr. Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah) and his LMD Aida (Mallory Jansen) as they attempted to retrieve the Darkhold from S.H.I.E.L.D. and create the Framework. Now, the third storyline has taken viewers inside the Framework, a virtual world that mirrors reality, but with certain significant changes.

Within the Framework, S.H.I.E.L.D. never defeated Hydra and, in fact, the villainous organization has become a powerful branch of the U.S. government and spread an alternative history that demonizes Inhumans - inspiring a counter-movement called the Resistance. While this complicated virtual world plays out, Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) have infiltrated the Framework as a means to connect with their fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that had been taken captive by Aida in the real world and imprisoned within the digital reality. But within the Framework, Aida - who goes by the name Madame Hydra as the head of the organization - is all powerful, and she has an endgame.

Previous episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. featured both Aida and the Framework version of Fitz referencing something call Project Looking Glass. However, it wasn't specifically explained until this week's episode, 'All the Madame's Men', which featured Fitz completing the project while Simmons figured out what exactly it was meant to achieve - along with the help of returning S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt). Now, we break down what Project Looking Glass is, how it sets up the season 4 finale showdown, and how it could affect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into season 5.

What is Project Looking Glass?

Project Looking Glass is a machine similar to the Quantum Particle Generator constructed by Eli Morrow during the season 4 Ghost Rider pod. However, while Morrow used the machine to give himself the ability to create matter out of nothing (though he could only create simple matter like pure carbon), Aida's generator will be able to create living beings out of nothing - a much more complex process. As Simmons reveals in 'All the Madame's Men', Aida's machine will be able to do this thanks to her having read the Darkhold, and presumably programming Framework Fitz with that knowledge, since he's the one to complete the project.

With her persona in the Framework as a blueprint, Aida will be able to use the Project Looking Glass machine to give herself a real, living body - one that, as she points out to Anton Ivanov (Zach McGowan), won't be limited by Radcliffe's programming. Aida will have gained what she wanted most of all: Free will. Subsequently, Ivanov - who is at the moment an LMD body being controlled by his brain that Aida salvaged from his battle against Daisy - won't be limited by the LMD programming either. Essentially, Aida plans to use her Quantum Generator to "print" humans in the real world, bringing people from the Framework into reality.

But, Aida's plan doesn't only include herself and Anton. At the end of 'All the Madame's Men', Framework Fitz asks that she take him with her to "the other world" and she says she was hoping he'd say that, indicating she always planned to bring her Fitz along with her into reality. Furthermore, given the nature of Project Looking Glass and its ability to bring to life whole people, the machine could be used on anyone within the Framework (more on that later). More importantly, once Aida gains free will and is able to do whatever she wants, she can shut down the Framework, dooming any agents left inside to death. As such, next week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode will see the team traveling back to reality just in time for the show's season 4 finale showdown.

How Project Looking Glass Sets Up the Season 4 Finale

It was established earlier within the Framework pod that humans whose consciousness has been uploaded to the digital reality can live on in a manner even if their body dies - as was the case with both Agnes, the woman in whose image Radcliffe made Aida, and Radcliffe himself. However, if someone dies within the Framework, their body dies as well, as shown during last week's episode, 'No Regrets', which featured Jeffrey Mace (Jason O'Mara) sacrifice himself within the Framework and die in reality. That said, it seems the rules for Aida are a little different since she is as much a digital creation as the Framework itself. This is proved in 'All the Madame's Men' when Daisy pushes Madame Hydra out of a window high up in the Triskelion and she manages to survive what should have been a deadly fall.

So, if Daisy and her fellow agents can't defeat Aida within the Framework since she's part of the Framework, they'll need to do so in reality. However, while Daisy and Simmons are headed to the back door that Radcliffe programmed as a way out of the Framework, they're racing against Aida's Quantum Generator because if she gains free will before they escape, she can kill them all. Then, when they do escape the Framework, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team won't be facing a simple LMD foe back in the real world.

Once Aida succeeds in building her Project Looking Glass machine and is able to bring bring both herself and Fitz out of the Framework, S.H.I.E.L.D. will be facing a whole new kind of threat in the season 4 finale. Certainly, it poses a complex moral question: If Aida started off as a programmed consciousness that was enhanced by the Darkhold and created a human body for herself, how do they defeat something both technological and mystical? On a more emotional level, how will the S.H.I.E.L.D. team react to facing off against a flesh-and-blood version of Framework Fitz?

Of course, given how much power and knowledge it takes for Aida to have created her Quantum Generator, it's unlikely she'll settle for simply pulling a Pinocchio - if only because that doesn't provide much conflict for the climactic season-end battle. So, what will Aida do once she's given herself a human body in the real world? Her final endgame still remains a mystery but it will certainly be revealed in the comings weeks. As for the Project Looking Glass machine, its capabilities also open the door to bring anyone from the Framework into the real world. That means, theoretically, S.H.I.E.L.D. could potentially use it to their own benefit as well.

What Project Looking Glass Could Mean for Season 5

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Framework storyline has been a treat for fans of the show that have stuck around since season 1, bringing back characters like Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), Trip, Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides), and even season 4 addition/departure Agent Burrows (Patrick Cavanaugh). However, it seemed each of these characters returns had an expiration date since it was clear from the beginning of the third season 4 pod that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would eventually exit the Framework, leaving the characters who are deceased in the show's continuity within the digital reality.

Now though, with Project Looking Glass capable of bringing anyone from the Framework to life in reality, it's possible that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could resurrect any of these returned characters more permanently. Although it may not necessarily make sense to bring Bakshi or Burrows back to life since they're relatively minor characters on the show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could certainly use Project Looking Glass to resurrect fan-favorite characters Ward and/or Trip.

Of course, whether that happens remains to be seen. Certainly from a story standpoint, it seems unlikely Ward will exit the Framework. He made it clear in his final conversation with Daisy in 'All the Madame's Men' that he wanted to stay in the Framework and be with his Skye. That scene also provides a conclusion for the two characters, who have been entangled since the early days of season 1. The scene provides a satisfactory level of closure for Daisy and Ward, seemingly indicating their story is over and Ward will stay in the Framework.

BJ Britt as Trip in Agents of SHIELD

However, Trip doesn't have any such ties to the Framework, and he's even exceptionally open to accepting his world isn't necessarily real. Given how much of a fan-favorite character Trip was during the back half of season 1 and early episodes of season 2, viewers would no doubt enjoy him returning to the team - no matter whether he was brought to life through Aida's Project Looking Glass.

Additionally, the synopsis for next week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, 'Farewell, Cruel World!' hints that not everyone wants to leave the Framework behind - and presumably this isn't referring to Ward. More likely, it refers to Mack, who has his daughter Hope within the Framework when she died in reality. If the S.H.I.E.L.D. team does leave one of their own behind in the Framework, Mack is the most likely candidate, and it would leave a space open on the team that could potentially be filled by someone else - namely, Trip.

So, perhaps Project Looking Glass is used to bring a S.H.I.E.L.D. ally from the Framework to life in reality and bring one of the returning stars back more permanently to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Or, perhaps the S.H.I.E.L.D. team - or Aida herself - manages to destroy the Project Looking Glass machine before it can bring anyone else from the Framework into reality. Exactly how this storyline plays out on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. remains to be seen, but Project Looking Glass will no doubt be a major factor in the season 4 finale, and undoubtedly has the potential to have a long-term effect on the series as a whole.

Next: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: All the Madame's Men Review

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues Tuesday May 2 with ‘Farewell, Cruel World!’ at 10pm on ABC.

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