Agent Carter recap: Smoke and Mirrors
EW was so excited about Agent Carter that two staffers — Gina McIntyre and Andrea Towers — decided to recap Peggy’s L.A. adventures together. Below, a discussion about tonight’s episode.
GINA MCINTYRE: Let’s just start with those FLASHBACKS. I’m fairly certain I love every episode of Agent Carter, but this one might rank as my all-time favorite. Learning that many details about Peggy’s background — her time as a code breaker at Bletchley Park (so there is some kind of alternative realm in which she worked alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, right?), her engagement, her losing her adoring brother — was deeply moving, a fascinating way to enrich an already compelling character. The sheer genius of tonight’s installment, though, might have been the parallel structure, seeing young Agnes’ formative experiences through a similar lens, watching the circumstances that transform her into Whitney Frost, fading super star, now emerging super villain. I know we’ve already mentioned the idea that she and Peggy are perfect foils for one another, that they both must navigate the world of the early-to-mid 20th century in needlessly complicated ways merely because of their gender, but tonight’s episode underscored that in so many thought-provoking ways. And just to refer to my other favorite Marvel show, Jessica Jones, for a moment, weaving in that line where Whitney is told (by two different men) to SMILE??? Who knew that Marvel would become a bastion of feminist television, but wow, am I thrilled.
ANDREA TOWERS: I’m with you on the favorite episode train! I remember saying at the beginning of the season, when Peggy was at the bar with Wilkes, that I wanted to learn more about her early life. I never thought the writers would hand it to us like this, but I am so glad they did. Peggy was ENGAGED! She had a brother! We met her mom! I loved seeing Peggy as she existed before we knew her in Captain America: The First Avenger and even Agent Carter — like you said, she was always one of the more compelling characters in this universe. Learning all this new background only served to make her MORE interesting. (I still want to know more about Peggy’s life as a code breaker. Where is that spin-off?!)
GINA: Couldn’t agree more. It was fascinating to me to see Peggy as someone who had managed to suppress her skills and abilities to a certain degree in order to conform to societal norms — that she had resigned herself to be “less than” because she felt she had no other options. It absolutely makes sense, given the era, but it was a surprising detail to learn about her earlier life, given the confidence she always projects. Then again, in her line of work, she can’t exactly afford to openly concede to any vulnerability, as that obviously would be used against her.
Just as an aside, in those scenes with poor Fred — who in fairness, seems like a perfectly decent chap — weren’t you just looking at him the whole time, thinking, “That guy’s no Captain America…”? I did love her interaction with her brother at the engagement party, too. The fact that he would believe in his sister to such a degree, that he’d want her to go out and seek the life of adventure that she truly wanted, is so touching.
ANDREA: The contrast and parallel to Agnes’ early life was both a delight and a surprise. From a story-telling standpoint, I thought it was a creative and nuanced way to build up a relationship between Peggy and (as we know her today) Whitney. We’ve only gotten a few surface interactions in the present day, but understanding how their pasts shaped them both growing up adds an extra layer that makes us care about them as adversaries. I mean, I may even end up feeling bad for Whitney by the time this season is over!
I also love the differences in how Peggy and Agnes grew up. Peggy grew up thinking she “wasn’t cut out for that kind of work” when approached about the S.O.E. job, and Agnes was the opposite: She had big dreams that were crushed by society and her mother. The irony is that Peggy ended up embracing dreams she didn’t think she was fit for, and Agnes became the person who gave up her dreams, but they both did what they had to do in order to survive. Though Peggy and Agnes ultimately grew up differently and with different ideals and experiences, they both had to make their own lives for themselves, despite what others wanted them to do. That “breaking away” aspect is huge, and it’s also a huge element to many Marvel characters (think: Tony breaking away from his father’s hold after all those years, Captain America fighting against who America and S.H.I.E.L.D. want him to be, etc.)
And I love that you brought up Jessica Jones because when Whitney is told to smile, that was my first thought as well. The talent agent may not be the Purple Man, but Whitney is certainly being ushered into a brainwashed mindset that will set her on a path she can’t deviate from easily.
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GINA: It just felt like such an obvious reference to Jessica Jones! That had to be intentional, right? Moving on to the more comedic moments, Jarvis, once again, might have had my favorite line of the night, when he’s explaining his facility with firearms by referencing a violent encounter with a koala. “Its adorable appearance belies a vile temperament.” The lines the writers give that character are entirely priceless, and James D’Arcy delivers them with aplomb.
ANDREA: Jarvis is, once again, making everything wonderful by just being his flustered, genuine self. I have so much praise for James D’Arcy when it comes to this role, but he is absolutely killing it this season and parts of this episode made me laugh out loud — especially the “I got you a button” exchange after he visits Chadwick’s campaign and his tranquilizer adventure. (Shall we take bets on what OTHER animals Mr. Stark has?)
NEXT: Trouble in paradise
ANDREA: It seems like trouble, as well as conspiracy, is unraveling at the Arena Club. There’s sneaky and sleazy Vernon who tries to shut Peggy and Sousa down while warning them about going too far, there’s Chadwick realizing finally what’s going on with Peggy and her investigations…and I’m really interested to see where Dottie fits into all of this since we know she’s coming back. Plus, we keep mentioning the Council of Nine, and it seems like they’re the ones behind most of this. I think I’m most interested to see if any of these story lines that Agent Carter is weaving will end up tying into the greater Marvel universe, like that last shot we got of Zola in the season finale last year.
GINA: Well, we do know that this season does link up with Doctor Strange in some fashion, but most likely we’ll have to wait until November to learn exactly how. Unless maybe Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton are going to cameo on the Agent Carter season finale, in which case I might implode with joy.
ANDREA: Do we have any theories about Wilkes and what might be happening to him? (He seems stable, but those swirling letters he sees makes me a little nervous.) I’m a little worried we’re going to have Peggy experiencing heartbreak all over again at the end of the season, but maybe I’m wrong. It’s evident that she really cares about him, though, and I find myself rooting for their chances, if only because Peggy deserves at least ONE happy moment concerning a relationship!
GINA: Well, we know Peggy does marry some lucky guy, so she is (maybe?) guaranteed a little bit of happiness at some point. Whether it’s now or much later, though, who could say? I feel like it would be strange to give Wilkes such prominence in the story line only to have him vanish onto the zero matter plane, so even though I still have doubts, I’m going to bet that Howard returns with a genius plan to get him back into tip-top physical shape before the season’s done.
ANDREA: Bringing it back to Whitney and zero matter (those poor mice), how great was that last scene? Chadwick asks, “What are you?” And Whitney’s response is, “Whatever I want.” Here’s a woman who was told her whole life that she has nothing to offer but looks, and she’s finally being able to embrace the one thing she’s wanted to do since she was a little girl: being a smart, powerful woman thanks to her knowledge and brains. (Okay, so she’s got the added benefit of, uh, being able to absorb people in the process thanks to zero matter, but still.) She’s clearly done letting people push her around, and it’s kind of a culmination of her flashback story that I think will really lead us toward an intense showdown.
Notes From The L.A. Bureau:
- Peggy dropping crumbs and food onto the papers Wilkes is looking at (a nice segue with the flashback at the beginning of the episode) was one of those moments that makes me realize why I love Hayley Atwell. We all know how much Peggy loves to NOT be a lady.
- I find it interesting how, so far, Chadwick isn’t really that terrible. In fact, he seems totally appalled by his wife’s actions, being so focused on his own agenda. It’s such a refreshing switch to see the woman being the one holding the cards, especially in a show like this.
- Does Rufus Hunt have some sort of super-serum strength? Because that was a LOT of tranquilizer, and he barely went down! But I thought the torture process of “injecting” him with malaria was ingenious (thanks, Howard). And I love how Sousa doesn’t care how much trouble he gets in; he just wants to help Peggy…even if it means having to deal with things like “I was thinking I’d kill him.”
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.