Monday, August 10, 2015

Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 2, "Bridge and Tunnel" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Just about every episode of Agent Carter can be seen in terms of how strong Peggy is.  Peggy is a strong, capable, independent woman.  In fact, occasionally she proves to be far more resourceful and intelligent than her male colleagues.  This stands in direct contrast to the “damsel in distress” motif which is so prevalent in the culture of Peggy’s era, from the way that the male agents treat Peggy to the way that men consistently ignore, underestimate, and even demean the women on the show in general.  However, nowhere is this more obvious and exaggerated than in the “Captain America Adventure Program,” a radio show embellishing Captain America’s supposed exploits during the war for a peacetime audience.

And that is really what makes Peggy’s story in this episode so interesting:  she does not want to fall into that “damsel in distress” trope and she does not want to put those close to her in danger.  But in this episode she discovers that regardless of how capable she may be, she still needs others.  She can’t cut herself off from everyone to avoid suffering another loss like Steve Rogers or Colleen.

Reminder:  Retro-Reviews contain potential spoilers for all of season 1.

The episode begins with Peggy at the Automat listening to the “Captain America Adventure Program,” which comes complete with a shameless stand-in for her:  Betty Carver, the camp triage nurse who seems to get captured by Nazis every five minutes.  After only listening to a few minutes Peggy asks Angie to turn it off, leading to some fun banter between the two of them.  One of my favorite aspects of Angie’s character is how different she is from Peggy in terms of personality and outlook.  She sees the world much differently than Peggy does, and she works really hard to draw Peggy out and treat Peggy like any other woman.  Considering the serious nature of most of the series, the lighthearted moments with Angie (and the “Captain America Adventure Program”) are a nice touch.

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However, Peggy’s conversation with Angie leads into one of the major subplots of the episode:  Peggy wants to keep everyone at arm’s length.  When Angie suggests that she move into the apartment building where she lives, Peggy rebuffs her because her previous roommate was killed simply for her association with Peggy.  When Jarvis offers to accompany Peggy to investigate the Daisy Clover Dairy (the company whose truck Leet Brannis was using in “Now is Not the End,” 1x01), Peggy insists that she will go on her own—though she does succeed in getting the information she needs from the Dairy manager.  At the office, Peggy tries to do just about everything herself.  When Dooley and Thompson are trying to identify the Roxxon employee who was present for the implosion, Peggy is the one who suggests checking civilian clothing, spooking the man so he fled.  And then Peggy is the one who cuts him off and knocks him to the floor while Thompson and Dooley are trying to chase him down.  The only mission at the office in which Peggy fails is trying to retrieve Sousa’s pictures from the club—but even that is not a big deal just yet because none of the pictures caught her face.  Ultimately, for most of the episode Peggy is going it alone and succeeding.  It is not until she is tracking down the truck driver, Sheldon McFee, and needs to go into New Jersey that she finally calls Jarvis and asks him to drive her.  But on this particular mission she absolutely needs the backup.

As soon as they arrive at McFee’s house, Peggy tells Jarvis to leave, but he refuses.  She enters the house and engages in a fight with McFee, comically intercut with clips of the actors for the “Captain America Adventure Program” and the various ways they create the sound effects for their fight scenes.  I think my favorite of those cuts is when they cut from Peggy forcing McFee’s elbow out of joint to a guy ripping apart a crab leg:  You get the visual and the audio… but it’s technically not the same thing!  Peggy absolutely destroying McFee while we listen to her radio double looking on helplessly while Captain America saves the day definitely drove the point home that Peggy is far more capable than her time period gives her credit for.  After the fight, Peggy hears someone trying to start the truck and goes out to find Leet Brannis—but the only reason he couldn’t get away was because Jarvis sabotaged the truck’s engine.  Peggy grills Brannis for information and learns that Leviathan is an organization he used to work for which is only interested in one of Howard Stark’s inventions; Brannis has chosen to leave them and go into business by selling the inventions himself.  Peggy tells him that if he provides good information, the S.S.R. will take him in and protect him.  This—and the gun pointed at his forehead—is enough to convince him to cooperate.  The three of them drive back toward town, but they are found by the Leviathan hit man, the nameless man in the green suit, who jumps on top of the truck.  This is when Peggy really needs help to complete her mission.  She has to take on green suit on the roof of the truck, leaving Jarvis to take care of business inside.  When she gets shot in the leg and loses her own gun, she needs Jarvis to shoot through the roof and throw green suit off-balance.  When green suit shoots out one of the supports holding the nitramene bombs in place, Jarvis has to hold them back and keep them from falling and activating.  When Brannis takes a bullet, Jarvis then has to hold the truck steady and keep it from crashing.  And when the truck is about to implode, Peggy and Jarvis together get themselves and Brannis away.  Long story short, Peggy would not have succeeded in carrying out her mission if she had tried to do it alone.
When Jarvis points this fact out to her while stitching up her wound, however, Peggy scoffs at it, saying that his contributions barely register and she could have handled it by herself.  I like how Peggy really has two reasons for asserting her independence so much.  In the first place, she does not want to get close to anyone—Jarvis, Angie, Sousa—because she does not want to put them in danger.  Everyone she’s gotten close to recently (specifically Colleen and Steve) has been killed.  In the second place, she seems to crave this feeling of being useful and strong and able to do things on her own, something which the S.S.R. doesn’t give her.  However, Jarvis points out to her that everyone needs support; “no one, man or woman, can carry the whole world on their shoulders.”  When Peggy claims that Steve could, Jarvis returns that she herself was Captain America’s support; he needed her far more than she seems to realize.  This is what allows her to finally get close to Angie, shown when Peggy decides to move into Angie’s apartment building.

For Peggy, this episode is all about learning to accept support—and showing that there are some limits to what she can do on her own.  In other words, she can be on a team without having to serve coffee and file reports!

The rest of the episode is fairly straightforward.  While Peggy is working to track down the nitramene, the S.S.R. and green suit are also trying to get information.  Green suit goes on a killing spree, torturing potential buyers and club patrons for information.  The S.S.R. looks into the Roxxon implosion, working under the assumption that Howard Stark was somehow behind it.  And according to Hugh Jones, the owner of Roxxon Oil (and a comic book character), Stark had wanted to buy that particular refinery a while back, but he refused to sell.  This leads to them scanning all the Roxxon employees for Vita Radiation, which in turn leads them to Miles Van Ert, the man Carter had stunned with her light ray gun.  Dooley tries talking to Van Ert, but he refuses to cooperate, and Dooley lets Thompson beat the information out of him.  I wasn’t too thrilled with that scene, mostly because I’m pretty sure beating a suspect for information was also illegal back in the 1940s!  Plus, beating someone will just get the first lie that will make the pain stop.  It worked this time, but that doesn’t exactly make it right.

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The S.S.R. follows Van Ert’s information to McFee’s house, but on the way they find the man himself running down the side of the road while tied to a chair. He tells them that he was beaten up and tied to the chair by a woman, and Thompson and Dooley connect the dots between the blonde at the club and this mysterious woman.  At the implosion sight, they find footprints from a woman’s shoe, which they also connect to the mysterious woman they’ve been chasing.  Remember how I said that the male S.S.R. agents start off as stereotypes and become more defined over the course of the season?  This is when that starts.  For the S.S.R., this episode starts to showcase how competent they are.  Whereas in “Now is Not the End” they appear relatively incompetent, here they are able to make major headway in the case and even get close enough to realize that they are looking for a woman.  That the woman happens to work in their office, however, doesn’t come out for a while.  But Krzeminski finds the first piece of evidence that can lead them to her when he pulls Stark’s license plate out of the ball of detritus remaining from the Roxxon implosion.

Unfortunately, while the S.S.R. doesn’t realize that Peggy is the woman they’re looking for, green suit did learn her name (but I’m not sure how; was it while he was in her apartment?) and pass that information on to his superiors.  So Leviathan now knows that Peggy is on their case and may be getting close to finding the rest of the inventions.  I’m not sure how I feel about Leviathan as a villain.  On the one hand, green suit makes for a good ruthless killer.  On the other hand, however, we are yet again given a face for the nameless organization which gets killed a couple episodes in.  This is starting out a little too much like Centipede from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1.

Overall, as a second episode this does a good job of further developing Peggy’s character and setting up the primary conflict between the S.S.R., Leviathan, and Peggy.  Green suit is a scary enough villain, but not the most well-developed villain ever.  Good thing the two primary villains get so much more development later in the season.  The best parts of the episode are definitely the moments between Peggy and Jarvis and Peggy and Angie, which I suppose is a mark of a good character-driven TV series.

What was your favorite part of this episode?  What did you think of Green Suit as a villain?

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