Agent Carter began with a scene from Captain America‘s final moments—Steve Rogers, in that Hydra bomber, flying toward what was—as far as everyone else knew—his death. He spends his last moments on the radio with Peggy Carter. Then Rogers crashes, his romance with Peggy goes unfulfilled, and his deep freeze into the present day begins.
For better or worse, all eight episodes of Agent Carter were haunted by that scene—something that became painfully apparent when the last sample of Rogers’ blood became a vital plot point halfway through Carter‘s run. It’s also hammered home from the very first scene of the finale—with the Captain America radio show doing their rendition of Cap’s farewell to Peggy. It’s not the last time that scene will be evoked.
But first, we have the issue of a theater full of dead people to address. Sousa, Thompson, and Carter arrive at the crime scene and start poking around, only to have Sousa find the cannister Dottie planted inside—and the little bit left inside goes off in his face. Sousa, enraged, tries to strangle Thompson, but is knocked out by a police officer.
As frightening as that may have been, it was the lucky break S.S.R. needed in order to figure out what Dr. Ivchenko and Dottie had stolen and what it does, after taking Sousa in for observation and a little bit of science. Of course, the next question is, what do the bad guys intend to do with the murder gas? The question is answered by none other than Howard Stark. (Meanwhile, Dottie and Ivchenko are pulled over by a police officer for running a red light. When he hears the dispatcher describing them, Dottie pulls a gun on him. This’ll be important in a moment.)
Stark tells the S.S.R. that the gas is called Midnight Oil and was meant to keep soldiers up through the night. Instead it induces psychosis and all the negative effects of sleep deprivation, with a side of asphyxiation. When the army found out about this, they stole it from Stark and dropped it on the Russians in Fennel—thereby inciting the grudge held by Ivchenko (whose real name is Fenhov but all these characters have like three names at this point and “Dottie” is sure as hell a made up name so who the hell even cares anymore), who was on the field that day; this also explains the laryngectomy scars on the Leviathan operatives from the first two episodes.
After explaining everything to the S.S.R., Stark volunteers to lure Ivchenko out by making a public return to New York and being bait (he also, when asking to see his tech, lifts the sample of Captain America’s blood from the S.S.R. lab). This works like gangbusters—after hearing the news bulletin on Stark’s return to New York, Ivchenko and Dottie abandon a plan to steal a plane (although not before Dottie kills a dude) to head back into the city. Agent Thompson holds a press conference, where Stark hilariously whispers superlatives he wants Thompson to recite about him.
It’s all interrupted by gunfire (a ruse) and Stark is rushed to a patrol car—that, unfortunately, is driven by the officer that pulled Dottie over earlier and is now under Ivchenko’s hypnotic sway. By the time the agents figure this out, Stark is long gone, in the custody of Ivchenko and Dottie. But at least they know their plan, which is horrible: releasing the gas over Times Square during the V-E Day celebration. That said, the how of said plan escapes them—until Jarvis fesses up to a second secret Stark vault, one that’s full of planes.
In that vault, Ivchenko tells Stark about the bone he has to pick with him, how he wants him to suffer for what he did—so he hypnotizes him into thinking what he’s about to do is rectify his greatest failure—losing Captain America. While under Ivchenko’s spell, Stark believes that he’s going to find Captain America and save him, when in reality he’s carrying the Midnight Oil and going to drop it over Times Square.
Carter and the other agents, unfortunately, don’t arrive until Stark takes off, so Jarvis (the only trained pilot there) takes it upon himself to take off in pursuit and shoot Stark down if Carter fails to find Ivchenko and break his grip on Stark. She finds him with Dottie in the hangar’s radio room, feeding instructions to Stark via radio. We are treated to a kick-ass fight scene between Dottie and Peggy that ends with Peggy kicking Dottie out of the window onto a parked airplane below and Ivchenko getting away—but more importantly the radio connection between the hanger and Stark is still intact. She tries to talk him out of his fantasy, but he’s pretty far gone.
Meanwhile, Thompson and Sousa go on the hunt for Ivchenko. The good doctor manages to get the drop on Thompson, but Sousa finds him before he can get away. Ivchenko does his hypnosis trick on Sousa, instructing him to shoot Thompson, and it almost works—until Sousa cold cocks Ivchenko and reveals he was wearing earplugs.
Back in the radio room, Jarvis calls in to tell Peggy he has Stark in his sights. She still hasn’t been able to talk him down—he’s disturbed by all the destruction his work has done, and believes Project: Rebirth was the only good thing he did. In a scene that is an effective and artful riff on Peggy’s farewell to Captain America, Peggy implores Stark to move on from the memory of Steve Rogers, like they all have to. It works.
NEXT: And that just about does it.
There is one major loose thread—Dottie Underwood gets away—but the day is saved, Ivchenko is apprehended, and Peggy Carter is met with a standing ovation the next day at the S.S.R. office. In a cynical but smart touch, a Senator Cooper arrives at the offices looking for Jack Thompson so he can congratulate him on averting a terrorist attack and talk about introducing him to the President—and Thompson willingly takes all the credit.
When Sousa sees this, he’s furious and doesn’t get why Carter just lets him take the credit. Carter says its because she knows her self-worth and doesn’t really care about what anyone thinks. After a moment, Sousa reflects on this, and asks her out for a drink. She says maybe some other time; she’s got something else to take care of first. He’s dejected, but she smiles.
That other thing? It’s Captain America’s blood. Jarvis took it upon himself to take it from Stark and entrust it to her when delivering the news that one of Stark’s residences now belonged to Peggy and Angie for as long as they needed it.
She takes the vial to the Brooklyn Bridge, uncovers it, and pours it over the edge as tears run down her face.
So ends Agent Carter.
Agent Carter wanted to be about a lot of things. It had tremendous talent behind it, something it both knew and threw itself behind with Atwell, D’Arcy, and the few appearances Dominic Cooper made as Howard Stark. It also seemed to forget this at times, with Lyndsey Fonseca only briefly (albeit hilariously) showing up throughout the series, and Enver Gjokav not being used as much as I would have liked—I really liked him in Dollhouse, okay?
But it seemed like what Agent Carter really wanted to be was a story about a woman mourning the loss of her love. Admittedly, featuring footage from Captain America in the first episode was a smart move to hook those who might not have otherwise known about the show, but extending his influence over the rest of the season (series?) seemed to run against a lot of the hard work the show put into building up Peggy Carter as a capable, self-sufficient woman in an environment deliberately constructed to undermine her. What’s more, centering the plot around the sins of Howard Stark leaves Peggy without much of an arc of her own—or at least, one that doesn’t have to do with how men see her.
It’s for this reason that, while I appreciate the scene where Thompson takes all the credit—she has her colleagues’ respect, but the system is still the system and it isn’t built to acknowledge women—I’m not sure how I feel about her reaction to it. On the one hand, Peggy Carter really could not care less about what anyone else thinks, but on the other… well, that feels a bit toothless for someone like Peggy Carter, who comes out with guns blazing once she has all the ammunition she needs.
That said, I liked Agent Carter, and hope it comes back. “Valediction” was a tremendously fun—and very funny—hour of television, and even at its worst the show was carried by its fantastic cast. At the very least, it’s a shame that Peggy Carter can’t be frozen in the arctic and brought to the present day.
Howard Stark is a dog. But he is a very funny dog, with a number of great moments throughout the episode. The best might be the running bit where he can’t remember Dottie’s name from a fling six months before—until the very end of the episode. “Ida! That’s her name!” he laughs. “I knew I would remember. Steel trap!”
That ominous ending. In a surprise cameo, Toby Jones reprises his role of Arnim Zola in the episode’s tag. He’s Ivchenko’s new cellmate, and talks about working with the muzzled Doctor. Maybe that’s where the brainwashing technique we saw Hydra use in the first half of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s second season comes from?
Cap’s Blood. Okay, I’m sorry, I’m not done with this. While Peggy dumping the blood made for nice closure to the Peggy/Cap love story (which, I reiterate, shouldn’t have been the focus of the series), having Peggy dump the blood also means that its only purpose was to be a narrative device for illustrating the closure of said romance. And yes, it was her decision, and that’s great—but ultimately it doesn’t do anything for Peggy’s story in and of itself. Am I harping on this too much? I suppose I’m just bummed out that the only tangible victory for Peggy is making a bunch of guys look good. That might be the point of it, but I’m not sure that sits right with me. Maybe I’m wrong! The show just aired. These things take time to settle.
NEXT WEEK: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns! Remember that show? It was the one we were talking about before we started talking about this one. Now it’s time to stop talking about this one and start talking about that one again. Should be a fun time. Bring your friends.