'Agent Carter' recap: 'A Sin to Err'
For much of Agent Carter‘s run, the show has felt like it was holding back. It had all the pieces of a fantastic show—and was never bad, or even dull—it just never seemed to click everything into a tightly wound and polished hole. It’s brevity, which might have been a strength, proved to be the opposite, as Carter ultimately needed the time to find its footing and become as assured in its storytelling as it was in its performance.
In short, it had to live up to its star.
Haley Atwell deserves every bit of praise she’s gotten for this show, but it often felt like it was making her run through it with one arm tied behind her back, unable to cut loose and just run. The charisma she (and her absolutely delightful costars James D’Arcy and the woefully underused Lynsdy Fonseca) brought to the series felt sapped by a lack of momentum and energy in its plotting. “A Sin to Err” has none of these problems, however, and Agent Carter finally takes off.
In another unsettling cold open (the show’s gotten pretty good at these), Russian prisoners in 1944 are selected to participate in their top-secret Leviathan program. They’re given the chance to opt out, of course—but opting out means getting knifed in the throat, as one prisoner finds out.
The action then shifts to the present day of 1946, where one of those prisoners now sits in Agent Dooley’s office, telling him what he knows about Leviathan and looking at the blueprints the team found in Russia. Agent Carter is present, but gets a bit overzealous, hijacking the session with questions of her own and irritating Dooley. When he calls her outside to find out what her deal is, she explains that the strange orphanage they found in Russia designed to turn girls into trained killers is the missing link they’ve been searching for. Krzeminski’s killer, Carter argues, was a woman, and Stark’s implication in selling weapons could easily have been the machinations of a female agent exploiting his penchant for chasing skirts.
To Peggy’s surprise, Dooley tells her she might be on to something, and tells her to chase down the lead. So she recruits Jarvis to help her track every one of Howard Stark’s hookups for the past six months—a daunting task where Howard Stark is concerned. With the help of a jeweler’s list (who sold what he called “The Stark Special” as a consolation gift to Howard’s spurned lovers) Peggy and Jarvis begin knocking on doors—and the women behind them all slap Jarvis, because Stark always made the poor guy break up with them for him.
But Peggy isn’t the only one making house calls. In a prison visitation center, Sousa meets with Sheldon (a.k.a. Buzz from Home Alone), the man in the farm house that Peggy beat down in episode two after chasing down the milk truck full of Nitramene. Sousa wants to know if he can ID the woman who attacked him and shows him Peggy’s photo. Sheldon confirms it: Peggy Carter is the woman who attacked him.
NEXT: Dottie is either really great or really bad at job interviews…
Meanwhile, Dottie visits a dentist’s office for a job interview, but the dentist turns out to be a creep—and she didn’t really want the job anyway, as she subdues him and puts his dental drill through the side of his head. It turns out she wanted his office for its vantage point for her collapsible sniper rifle—a window directly facing Agent Dooley’s office, where the Leviathan survivor is still being interviewed.
In an extremely clever sequence, the survivor makes his way to the window, and into Dottie’s cross hairs—but she keeps hesitating. And then the episode’s big twist drops like a ton of bricks: She’s not there to kill him, but to signal him, as he secretly relays a response in Morse code: Kill Peggy Carter. He then turns away from the window and begins to bond with Dooley, asking him about his wife and surmising that things are bad for him at home—but slowly taking on a strange rhythm in his speech. He’s hypnotizing Dooley.
Luckily, Sousa interrupts with urgent news—which is not so lucky for Peggy Carter.
Speaking of Ms. Carter, it appears she’s found the residence of the Russian agent that may have seduced Howard Stark, but she’s not around—so she and Jarvis go to the Automat to discuss things further, and then everything goes to hell. S.S.R. agents covertly empty the place out, but Peggy notices and tells Jarvis to get ready for some rough stuff—and then launches into one of the best fight scenes on the show so far.
After making quick work of the suits inside the Automat and setting a rendezvous with Jarvis, she takes down Thompson and pleads her way past Sousa and races back to her room at the Griffith in order to retrieve Captain America’s blood. She barely makes it ahead of the S.S.R. agents, who have declared her a fugitive and priority number one following the Automat fight. Out on the thin ledge outside of her window, she starts to make her way along the side of the building, only to be spotted by Angie.
Peggy is upfront about it, telling her that the Agents are there for her—and without a word, Angie delivers another very funny scene in an episode that’s surprisingly full of them, concocting a story about Peggy’s grandmother and growing hysterical while generally making Thompson and Sousa really uncomfortable. After they leave, she let’s Peggy in—but Dottie runs into her in the hall, and kisses her with her drugged lipstick, knocking Peggy unconscious.
Dottie wouldn’t have stopped there, but it turns out Sousa and Thompson are still there, and take Carter back to S.S.R. for interrogating. During all this, the Leviathan expert—who is in fact, a Russian spy working with Dottie—has hypnotized the S.S.R. agent assigned to guard him into telling him everything he needs to know about S.S.R. headquarters—before instructing him to go to a bar, order himself a nice drink, and step in front of an oncoming truck.
- Tonight’s episode finally starts to take steps toward a meaningful examination of its portrayal of the era’s institutional sexism in a very organic way, with everyone from Howard Stark, The S.S.R., and the tenants of the Griffith all rendered painfully vulnerable due to their strict adherence to their gender roles. The Black Widow program (not its real name, but come on) is expressly designed to exploit that vulnerability—and Dottie is very clearly being set up as the anti-Peggy Carter.
- It was a great week for Jarvis, but as funny as that montage was, my favorite scene was when he’s shook down for a quarter by the “future mafioso.”
- Did I mention how great that fight scene was? I wish it were longer.
- NEXT WEEK: The interrogation of Peggy Carter. Dottie makes her move. EXPLOSIONS. These last few episodes are going to be so fun.
Marvel's Agent Carter
Marvel’s second TV series on ABC tracks the exploits of Agent Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell, last seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.