The Howling Commandos return, and Peggy gets to show the boys what she's made of.
Earlier this week, Salon TV critic Sonia Saraiya wrote a pretty great piece about Peggy Carter’s lipstick. As anyone who’s seen Agent Carter—or even its very stylish and cool posters—can attest, it’s a striking shade of color that simply cannot be ignored. But, as Saraiya discusses at length, makeup—like fashion, or one’s pop culture preferences—aren’t just aesthetic choices. They’re statements. They mean something.
Five episodes into Agent Carter, and it’s not very clear what the show is really about. Like Carter’s lipstick, its depth is only skin deep—the series is very dedicated to depicting how difficult it was for a woman to exist in a world that wouldn’t let her be what she is—capable. Professional. Just as qualified—if not more so—than the privileged, preferred men that fancied themselves her betters when they were, in reality, her peers.
But pointing something out is not the same as engaging with it, and it’s the latter that makes for good storytelling. After five weeks, we don’t know any more about Peggy Carter than we did at the start. The adventures she’s gone on only skirt the Big Bad lurking in the shadows—the mysterious Leviathan—and the supporting cast hasn’t had much to do, either. Sousa got a few good scenes in last week, and this week takes some steps toward humanizing Agent Thompson—but there is a serious lack of momentum, a shallowness that cannot be ignored—even with the appearance of The Howling Commandos, which is actually a big deal that should’ve been a lot of fun!
It wasn’t though. While they were clearly there for a purpose—giving Peggy Carter the opportunity to take charge in the field and really demonstrate to the S.S.R. boys just who, exactly they had taking their lunch orders—it all felt rather slight.
A big part of it has to do with the general inconsequential feeling of their mission. After surprising Thompson and Dooley with her codebreaking skills and translating the message that Dooley saw the weird Fringe typewriter print out, she convinces them to let her go on a mission to Russia—where the message indicated an exchange was happening.
However, what they find is far from what they expected: It’s an abandoned orphanage, one that we know from the episodes opening—the best sequence in the entire episode. In that facility, little girls are shackled to their bunks by cruel headmistresses and taught English via cartoons before being taken out to fight—and kill—one another.
It’s like a really f—ed up Hogwarts for Russian assassins. It’s where Dottie comes from, and it’s pretty heavily implied that this is the program that gave us Black Widow.
Strangely, this episode doesn’t really delve any further than that. It just shows us a glimpse of Dottie’s life as a girl there, and then has Carter and the team poke around a bit before being attacked by a girl who’s there for some reason before the Russians show up and start shooting things up. There’s a bit about a mad scientist and his psychiatrist who need rescuing—turns out that they say Stark is innocent, and it’s just been them creating Stark tech based off stolen blueprints.
Back in New York, Dottie breaks into Peggy’s apartment and snoops around, finding a hidden photograph of some Stark Tech and generally just being creepy as hell. Dooley chases down some leads, and also begins to suspect that Stark isn’t the real bad guy. And Sousa becomes absolutely certain that Peggy is the mysterious blonde the S.S.R. has been looking for.
That last bit is particularly frustrating, because we already saw him put this together last week, and there just aren’t enough episodes in this show to stretch out those sort of revelations. Which makes the teaser for next week doubly frustrating. It’s shows Peggy Carter on the run, a suspected traitor by the S.S.R—which is something that I would have found terribly exciting, if only it had come two weeks ago.
Author’s note: I watched this episode of Agent Carter the same way I’ve watched them all: live on ABC, at the same time as everyone else. However, the New York broadcast was interrupted twice for breaking news: once at approximately 9:11, and again at around 9:24. There was a pretty terrible train accident around here, and the local ABC station broke in with special reports. As such, I may have missed a few details—as far as I can tell, I don’t think I got cheated out of seeing anything important. But sound off in the comments if you think I did!