Howard Stark returns for a final showdown that raises the stakes for everyone

By Andrea Towers
March 01, 2016 at 11:12 PM EST
Kelsey McNeal/ABC
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And… cut! That’s a wrap. After 10 episodes, our favorite SSR agent’s L.A. adventures have come to an end. I have to admit, I got a little misty-eyed watching Peggy pack her bags and prepare for her inevitable return to New York — especially given the fact that the jury’s still out on whether we’ll see more of this show. For what it’s worth, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this season, which succeeded in taking a character that was already complex and interesting and making her even more intriguing.

Our finale starts where last week’s episode left off: with Thompson holding his colleagues at gunpoint, threatening them to fix the machine blocking the detonator. (And we all believed Peggy WOULD actually shoot…) Before anything can happen, though, the explosion happens itself via Wilkes. Upon inspecting the damage, Peggy, Sousa and Thompson find out Wilkes is still alive and has expelled all the Zero Matter, which is just hanging out on the floor existing in our space and time. Unfortunately, so is Whitney. Whitney finally gets the Zero Matter she wants (“everything is where it belongs!”) and pursues them, only to be thwarted by Jarvis — and one Mr. Howard Stark, who always needs to make an entrance and who is more concerned that they just hit a two-time Oscar nominee than the fact that they hit a woman at all.

Back at Stark’s mansion, Wilkes is describing what happened when the rift opened and what he saw: nothing except darkness, apparently, with Zero Matter consuming everything. Howard is disappointed that he’s sitting next to living proof of someone who went “above and beyond” and there’s not really anything more exciting. Wilkes says Zero Matter is like a disease, consuming everything, and it’s now looking for a new place to affect. In other words, Zero Matter is supremely dangerous to our world, so everyone make sure you remember this inevitable piece of information this summer when you watch Doctor Strange.

Whitney, meanwhile, has gone full-on Carrie Mathison. She’s holed herself up in her room to work tirelessly and obsessively on formulas and equations so that she can figure out how to open a new rift. Manfredi is actually concerned about her and tries to get her to eat and, you know, be social with more than just her pens and paper. Whitney’s so focused she’s bordering on unhinged, snapping at him not to disturb her while she’s working. Backed into a corner, Manfredi goes to all-knowing Nona, admitting how happy he was when Whitney came back into his life. It was all good, for a while, but now his “ray of sunshine” has turned into “a ray of garbage.” Nona advises he should make a deal with the devil if he loves her… which he does. Who knew Manfredi was just a lovesick puppy who got caught up with Whitney’s schemes?

Back at Stark mansion, Wilkes and Howard and Peggy are discussing fixing the gamma cannon. Well, really, they’re arguing and Howard is hollering for mustard because of course he is. Jarvis is a little slow to bring his master what he wants, because he’s being held hostage by Manfredi. It’s all a ruse, though — apparently Manfredi and Howard are BFFs, and why am I not surprised. (Is there anyone in L.A. or in the world Howard ISN’T friends with?) As with Vernon, Peggy is hesitant to believe Manfredi is there to help, but he’s there because they’ve all got something in common: being concerned about Whitney Frost. Who says evil doesn’t bring people together?

NEXT: Madame Masque versus The SRR

Manfredi believes they can save Whitney… not that people think she’s worth redemption. But he lets them know that she’s working on another way to open the rift, and that gives Peggy an idea. To end this, they need to send the Zero Matter back to where its origins are and get it out of Whitney. I’m so glad Peggy thinks of simple, easily executed plans! Although according to Howard, it IS simple. How do the most successful scientists achieve greatness? “Given your situation, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and cavorting with loose women” is Jarvis’ answer. The real answer is, getting smarter people to do the work and then stealing it. Howard Stark’s parental advice for Tony must have been off the charts, honestly.

The one problem with this “solution” is that Whitney never leaves the room. Ever. So it’s up to Manfredi to coax her out, which he does by appealing to her power trip and telling her he needs her help in getting information out of some uncooperative guys. Whitney finally relents, which allows Peggy and Sousa to sneak into the Homeland room. They try to gather as much intel as they can using cameras, while I silently beg the two people on screen to PLEASE talk about their feelings. Manfredi’s plan backfires early when Whitney grows bored with the pretend interrogation, figuring he’s got it all under control, but Peggy and Sousa manage to escape safely Clarissa Explains It All style (a.k.a. through the open window). BUT, not before Sousa changes a part of her formula to slow her down. What a genius!

Back at the house, Howard has realized the machine works by cutting a fissure between our world and the Zero Matter dimension. This leads to a hysterically egotistical discussion between Wilkes, Howard, and Samberly about naming rights. There are risks, obviously, to opening the rift. How do they not lose control of it? How do we avoid bringing Zero Matter back into the world? Wilkes suggests using high energy x-ray projectors, which would help keep the Zero Matter at bay. They need a large, safe space to pull this off, so naturally, Howard suggests the perfect place for potentially dangerous special effects: the lot at Stark Pictures. (Oh, and by the way, Howard? It’s not “shears of God,” it’s “a rift generator.” You and history can thank one Mrs. Margaret Elizabeth Carter for that one.)

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While they build the machine, Howard (unsurprisingly) hits on Rose, and Wilkes (also unsurprisingly) attempts to apologize to Sousa. Peggy has a moment with Jarvis, where she asks about Ana, but then Thompson shows up, wondering what he can do to help. In what might be one of the best moments of the episode, Peggy tells him he can take dinner orders. And guess what? He obeys. Once they get to the lot, Wilkes instructs them on the important stuff: Once the rift closes, you don’t want to be within 20 feet of it, otherwise you’re in danger of levitation. They open the rift, which they correctly assume will “summon” the Zero Matter in Whitney’s body. And then they wait. And Howard plays golf. And Thompson and Peggy share a moment where Peggy admits she’s not turning him in, even though he probably deserves it. She realizes he was taken advantage of. In return, Thompson shows her what he found in Vernon’s briefcase: the arena club pin, which also happens to be a key. Their moment is interrupted by Whitney’s arrival, and predictably she’s too drawn to her precious Zero Matter to notice that there’s a giant machine ready to shoot an x-ray beam at her.

NEXT: Lights, camera… hover car!

The machine is successful, and the Zero Matter is sucked out of a screaming, protesting Whitney and back into the rift. As Whitney tries to deal (not well) with the fact that she lost her Precious for the second time, the group realizes they have a bigger problem on their hands: the rift is becoming unstable, but they can’t close it and the radio control isn’t responding. There’s a manual override, but it’s within the rift danger zone. This turns into a game of everyone taking on the responsibility to do the deed, arguing why they deserve to put themselves in danger. While they’re busy arguing, Sousa steps forward and takes control.

He tethers himself so he can close the rift, but as predicted, he gets pulled into the vortex. The team bands together Guardians of the Galaxy style to save him, though there’s still the issue of actually closing the rift. They realize that if they put the gamma cannon in Howard’s hover car and fire it at the rift, they can close it safely. Samberly gets the hover car, which finally allows everyone to say goodbye to Zero Matter for good. [ASIDE: I’d say I was going crazy, but I have a good sense I’m not. If the music during this sequence sounded familiar, you might recall it as the theme from Iron Man 3, specifically during the final act. END OF ASIDE.]

The next morning, Peggy and Howard are back to their old selves, arguing about Zero Matter over breakfast. Wilkes tells Peggy that Howard offered him a job at his new facility, working on a new project he came up with in Peru. He’s still sad that he never really had his chance with Peggy thanks to that pesky Zero Matter, but Peggy offers some smart advice with, “I’ve learned that dwelling on what might have been is not a way to live.”

It seems that advice won’t work for Whitney, though. We see Chadwick talking to Whitney, and for a moment, we wonder if the disappearance of Zero Matter has returned things to normal, given that once Whitney expelled it from her body, her face also returned to normal. But then we’re treated to the harsh, sad truth: Whitney’s obsession with Zero Matter has driven her insane… literally. She’s talking to herself, locked in a mental institution, and Manfredi can’t even give her flowers because she’ll use anything to try to claw off her face. While I didn’t want to see Whitney die, this is somehow a worse punishment. Then again, it reminds us that sometimes, power really can be a source of someone’s downfall.

Peggy collects her things just as Jarvis and Ana come home, and after a moment with Ana, Peggy allows Jarvis one last “adventure”: taking her to the airport. (How cute is Jarvis? No, seriously.) He wants Peggy to stay, but not for him. And instead of getting on that plane, Peggy marches into the SSR office where Sousa is closing the Isodyne case, and we finally — FINALLY! — get our long-awaited kiss. As for our newly redeemed Thompson? As he prepares to return to New York, he gets a knock on the door. And… he also gets a shot to the chest. A mysterious man walks in and takes Peggy’s S.O.E. file, before leaving Thompson on the floor looking pretty dead.

And that means we can’t just LEAVE Agent Carter on this cliffhanger, right? There’s so much we need to know! What is that key, and why is the Arena Club so important? Will Zero Matter return? Who shot J.R.? (I mean, Thompson.) Where’s Dottie? Will Peggy and Sousa finally move forward in their relationship? Can Jarvis really give up his life of adventure? What happened to Bernard The Flamingo?

ABC, you know what to do.

Notes from the L.A. Bureau:

  • “Is there a portrait of you in every bedroom?” It took 10 episodes, but Wilkes is finally asking the question I’ve asked myself for 10 weeks now. (“It’s a collection; every one is different.”)
  • Sousa snapping a photo of Peggy while they searched Whitney’s room… bets on whether that ended up somewhere in their apartment after the wedding? (I’m reaching here, but it was a super sweet moment.)
  • “I have all this land in Malibu”: I’m sensing there’s a Stark mansion about to be built somewhere…
  • For more thoughts on tonight’s Agent Carter, be sure to read my discussion with EW staffer Gina McIntyre about what we loved about the finale!

    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.
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