Monday, September 14, 2015

Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 7, "Snafu" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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After “Peggy’s bad day” in the last episode, this episode only let things get worse.  Peggy is now in custody, and everything is starting to unravel around her as the S.S.R. focuses all of its energy on breaking her while the Leviathan operatives continue to work their conspiracy.  We still don’t know exactly what they are up to, but the pieces are just about in place by the end of the episode.

Reminder:  Retro-Reviews contain potential spoilers for everything to-date.

The episode begins with a bit of a twist reveal:  “Doctor Ivchenko” is not who he claims to be; he is actually Johann Fennhoff, a villain from Marvel Comics who is also known as “Doctor Faustus” due to his incredible ability to hypnotize people into doing his will.  For as cool as it is to find out at the beginning of the season who the villain will be (such as season 2, with the reveal that Madame Masque will be the villain), I also enjoy the twist reveal when we find out that the villain is someone unexpected (such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., both seasons)—though in this case we already had some idea from the previous episode.  Depending on the story they are trying to tell, both options have their merits.

We see at the beginning of the episode just how effective Fennhoff’s hypnosis really is:  powerful enough to keep a young soldier from realizing that his leg is being amputated.  Wow.  And as an added bonus, we also discover just how Fennhoff came up with the alias “Ivchenko,” as the young soldier’s last name is “Ovechkin” (a palindrome of “Ivchenko”).

Meanwhile, we cut back to Fennhoff in the observation room watching Peggy’s interrogation, as Sousa, Thompson, and Dooley all try in turn to break her and get information out of her.  We don’t know exactly how long the interrogation has been going on, but Peggy doesn’t say a word until Sousa accuses her of killing Krzeminski.  This is finally what gets her to open up.  All of her “admissions” under interrogation are very enlightening.  The two things that get under her skin are the accusation of killing Krzeminski and the implication that she slept with Howard Stark.  She tells them that she has simply become a stereotype in their minds:  a stray kitten… a secretary-turned-damsel-in-distress… the “girl on the pedestal.”  None of them really know her because none of them are interested in knowing her.  None of them caught on to her because none of them were paying any attention to her.  I think this is the most that Peggy has opened up to them in the entire series so far.  I really like how much this series has focused on the characters.  If this interrogation scene were just about revealing the facts of the case, it would be boring and fall flat—we already know everything that Peggy knows.  However, revealing facts is not the goal.  Instead, it is all about learning what makes Peggy tick.

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The interrogation comes to a sudden and surprising conclusion when Jarvis walks into the phone company, goes right up to Rose (the switchboard operator), and requests a meeting with Dooley to deliver a signed confession from Howard Stark.  This is not enough to secure Peggy’s immediate release, but it is enough for Dooley to agree to release her once he has Stark in custody.  That would be just great… if the confession were legitimate.  Unfortunately, Jarvis forged the confession in the hopes that the S.S.R. would allow him and Peggy to leave (yeah, really thought that one through…).  However, before Peggy and Jarvis can come up with an alternative (“‘Get the drop on them?’  You’ve been in custody all of an hour and already you’re Jimmy Cagney.”), Peggy notices “Ivchenko” using Morse Code to communicate with someone (Dottie) through Dooley’s window.  Peggy and Jarvis translate the Morse Code and realize that Leviathan is planning something which will happen in less than 90 minutes.  This pushes Peggy to make her play:  she tells Sousa, Thompson, and Dooley that she is ready to confess and tells them everything about her investigation, up until she discovered the boat full of stolen inventions and called it in.  This, along with revealing the contents of the Blitzkrieg Button, is almost enough to make the others believe her story about “Ivchenko.”  At the very least, they are willing to check it out by sending Thompson and Sousa across the street with a small team to find out if “Ivchenko” was really passing messages to someone.  Unfortunately, this leaves Dooley in the office alone with “Ivchenko”/Fennhoff, who realizes that his mission is in danger and puts it into overdrive.  Yet again, most of the action here is character-driven:  Peggy and Jarvis working together, Thompson and Sousa deciding to believe Peggy for their own reasons.

Fennhoff hypnotizes Dooley using his troubled home life and uses Dooley to lock Peggy and Jarvis up in the interrogation room.  They then clear out the lab, allowing Fennhoff to discover the Stark invention which brought about this conflict:  Item 17, whatever that is.  Fennhoff takes Item 17 with him and leaves Dooley behind with instructions to put on a special piece of experimental body armor.

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Meanwhile, Thompson and Sousa search the building across the street, where Sousa confronts Dottie.  The two engage in a quick fight, though Dottie succeeds in taking the upper hand very quickly.  I was actually a little surprised by how well Sousa could fight despite his injury, even using his crutch as a weapon.  However, I don’t think the outcome was ever really in question; the only thing that saved Sousa’s life was the proximity of his pistol and the fact that Dottie cut and ran as soon as he got close to it.  It was really cool to see Dottie jumping between the railings of the stairwell to descend quickly.  She escapes after killing the final S.S.R. agent and picks up Fennhoff in a car, at which point the two of them go to test out Item 17 in a crowded theater.  As the people inhale the gas, they start coughing, going berserk, and beating each other up, creating a grisly scene for the theater usher who makes the discovery.  At this point most of the pieces are in place for us to figure out what exactly happened at Finow, but we still need someone to put it all together in the finale.  And I wonder who that will be…

Back at S.S.R. headquarters, Peggy and Jarvis try to rescue themselves, though they only succeed in drawing Thompson’s attention.  They all go to Chief Dooley’s office, where they discover that he put on the body armor and activated it… and like all of Stark’s inventions it doesn’t work properly.  This particular prototype uses an experimental energy source to generate heat, but it inevitably overheats and causes an explosion.  There is no way to stop the reaction and no way to remove the armor, so Dooley chooses to sacrifice himself to save the rest of the agents.  It’s actually a pretty cool shot when he grabs Thompson’s gun and runs at the window, using the gun to shoot out the glass.  He just barely clears the building before the armor explodes, killing him.  I think Dooley’s death was much more effective and shocking than Krzeminski’s because of how well we had gotten to know Dooley over the course of the season.  At the beginning he was just another agent who disregarded Peggy; by the end of the season he was more interested in the truth than in Stark and more willing to give Peggy a chance despite being a woman.  Even after the revelation that she was running an off-the-books investigation he is still willing to believe her—or at least give her the benefit of the doubt.  They did kind of telegraph that he was going to die by revealing his troubled home life and giving him multiple idyllic scenes with his wife and kids, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It certainly helped to humanize him much more than the little glimpses into Krzeminski and Yauch did before their deaths.  I’d like to see more shocking twists from these series going forward, but even then they can’t make them all shocks.

Overall, this is a very good character-driven episode.  It ups the emotional stakes for our heroes with Peggy’s struggle to regain trust and Dooley’s death.  It delves into the characters’ motivations.  It sets up the conflict for the season finale by showing just what the villains are capable of.  Long story short, it definitely makes me excited for the season finale.

What did you think of this episode?  Do you like the surprise twist of “Dr. Ivchenko” turning out to be Johann Fennhoff/Doctor Faustus?  What other villains do you want to see on Agent Carter in the future?  Let me know in the comments!

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