Agent Carter‘s latest episode began with an appropriately creepy scene of the school responsible for eventually training Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Girls are handcuffed to their beds while asleep, shown a cartoon, attend classes, and then proceed to assault, and potentially kill, one another in mortal combat. With this tense and terrifying set up, we’re treated to what I feel is the best episode of the season so far. The name of the game for tonight was humanization. Characters near and far were given more character than we’ve seen in the entire run to present, and established characters were given ample time to shine.
Peggy takes center stage this time around, no longer having to play nursemaid to Howard Stark as she had last week, but instead getting to travel to the cold landscape of Russia with the squad that backed up Steve Rogers in Captain America: First Avenger, the Howling Commandos. Hayley Atwell with the rowdy group of soldiers is a spectacular breath of fresh air, and everyone involved manages to play off one another so well that it makes you wish that the Commandos were a permanent fixture on the show. Agent Carter has been a successful experiment so far, allowing us to see a side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would probably have otherwise gone unexplored (aside from a scene here and there in a Captain America sequel at best), though I think we got something different here in this installment. I think this episode showed us what could have elevated this miniseries from simply solid to amazing.
Tonight’s episode cut nearly all the dead weight from the show that tended to slow things down for the overall story. Gone were the misunderstandings of the Griffith and the somewhat redundant buffoonery of Howard Stark; in it’s place was fast-paced action and good humor bristling from nearly all angles. I almost wish that we had seen the show take the stance of Peggy being only in the field, rather than trying to work her way up from secretary at the S.S.R., attacking foreign installations alongside the Howling Commandos. Even the quiet moments around a campfire gave us more character development for most of the folks involved than we had seen previously. The comically one-dimensional Thompson was finally given more to his background, recounting his experiences during wartime, his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and his horrifying mistake that caused it all. I have to tell you that as the plane was heading back the States at the end of the episode, I was hoping it would crash so Peggy would have to spend the rest of the series there.
Now, while I say it nearly cut the dead weight, there was still a little to be found. It seems to be a running theme in the series that the weakest aspects are set squarely in the Strategic Scientific Reserve and the men leading it. Dooley was especially strange this time around, seemingly deciding that it’s a-ok to no longer hunt for Howard Stark frantically after one of his own’s death. Granted, this could be a play he was using to try to trick Jarvis into having Stark reveal himself, or a hint that he is in fact secretly working for Leviathan, but it seemed a little off. I also thought that the men’s locker room scene where Peggy absolutely insisted that she be allowed to change next to the men was a bit out there. I can understand her need to be seen as an equal and rightfully so, but this was a bit much and doesn’t really bring that point across. It just came across as the writers looking to inject some awkward humor into the mix by having Sousa stumble in.
It was also a shame to have yet another episode where Jarvis was committed to the sidelines, though I can understand in this case. He didn’t have much of a part to play, and having him tagging along with the Commandos would have certainly seemed out of place. On the subject of side characters though, Dottie managed to be a show-stopper in her own right, giving us a deeper understanding of Russia’s “Black Widow Program.” Sometimes, in television and movies, the best insight into characters can be quick and completely silent, and such was the case here with Dottie. Seeing her getting ready for bed by handcuffing herself to the bedframe spoke volumes as to who she was and how damaged she is from the Russian programming. I’m anxious to see the all-out brawl Dottie and Peggy have coming.
This episode knocked it out of the park, offering a fantastic blend of what made this character so special in terms of Peggy herself, her environment, and the people she’s met along the way. There were a few missteps here and there, though that didn’t stop this from not only being far and away the best episode of Agent Carter to date, but also the best live-action Marvel television entry we’ve seen. Great work all around.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ – Damn Fine Television
Agent of M.I.S.C.E.L.L.A.N.E.A.
– The showing of Snow White at the “Black Widow school” at the beginning is another nice perk of Marvel being merged with Disney, on top of being able to use the song from Pinocchio in the Avengers: Age of Ultron
– John Glover making an appearance as a source for the S.S.R. was a nice surprise. Glover of course was Lex Luthor’s dad on the WB’s Smallville a few years back. I wouldn’t be shocked if he showed up again in the series.
– I’m a sucker for foreboding Soviet-Union-style music in movies and TV, and this episode was packed with it. Also, see Pacific Rim for my entry of the best example of this in film you can find outside of, say, Rocky IV.
– Sousa discovering Peggy was sneaking behind the S.S.R’s back in the first episode by coloring in her hair with a red pencil is still completely ridiculous. Honestly, why didn’t they just go with the shoulder scar right from the start?
– Can we just somehow get a Dum Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandos TV show/movie? Neal McDonough and crew have such a firm grasp on these characters.
– Dottie: “I’m off to Brooklyn! How do I get to Brooklyn?”
– Peggy: “She is trying to concentrate, thank you.”
– Dooley: “I don’t have time in my docket for your crush on Carter.”
– Pinky: “Carter, Dugan forgot the password.”
– Dum Dum: “No one knows Bourbon like the U.S. of A.”
– Peggy: “You smell bad enough.”
Dum Dum: “YOU USED TO BE FUN!”
– Peggy: “You see an abominable snowman like you did in Nepal?”
– “Why are there shackles on the beds?”
“It’s Russia, man.”
– Dum Dum: “WAHOO!”
Peggy: “Stop Wahoo-ing and help!”