Monday, August 24, 2015

Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 4, "The Blitzkrieg Button" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Peggy’s been having a terrible time lately.  She is ignored and taken advantage of at work, her roommate was killed, she’s been shot at least once in the series, and it seems like everyone she’s close to has been taken away.  However, up until this episode she’s been able to count on Howard Stark trusting her and giving her all the information she needed to complete his mission.  Or so she thought.  Turns out, Howard doesn’t trust her and is taking advantage of her almost as much as the S.S.R. does.  What’s a girl going to do?

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

The episode begins with Peggy and Jarvis on a mission to acquire something which Howard Stark had paid smuggler Otto Mink to bring into the country for him.  While Jarvis pays the smugglers, Peggy dispatches all three of their lookouts in a matter of moments.  When the smugglers try to triple the price, Jarvis activates a device on his briefcase that releases sleeping gas.  The two of them take the money and open the shipping container to find none other than Howard Stark playing pool.  On their way to one of Stark’s least-known residences, Peggy recognizes a pair of S.S.R. agents staking the residence out, so she decides that the safest thing would be to bring Howard back to the Griffith and let him stay in her room while he’s in town.  Miriam Fry, the prudish landlady, nearly discovers Howard as Peggy is smuggling him upstairs in the dumbwaiter, but Howard succeeds in escaping getting out of the dumbwaiter before Peggy and Miriam get up to her floor.  Naturally, Peggy discovers Howard in the room of one of her neighbors—which happens at least one other time during the episode.  While his “visiting” Peggy’s neighbors is funny and plays up the dynamic between Howard and Peggy, I’m not sure if it is entirely necessary.  We get that Howard Stark is a playboy—and that Tony came by it honestly—but do we need to be reminded of it four times in a single episode?  However, like I said, those moments are funny and build Peggy’s character as she starts thinking of Howard less as an old friend and more as another man who sleeps around and doesn’t respect women.

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Of course, Howard isn’t just back to chase women; he has a new mission for Peggy:  first he needs her to take pictures of all the inventions which the S.S.R. has recovered.  Once she does that using a camera-pen of Howard’s invention, he tells her that all the inventions are there, but she needs to steal one back from the S.S.R. and return it to him because it is too dangerous for the government to get their hands on it.  This device, which he calls the eponymous “Blitzkrieg Button,” was designed for the Brits so they could hide their cities from German aerial bombings.  Activating the device was supposed to turn off all electricity in the city, turning off the lights and taking away the Germans’ ability to see their targets.  Unfortunately, the device could only turn the lights off; it couldn’t turn them back on because it simply blew out the infrastructure.  Consequently, setting the device off in New York City would kill the power in the Tri-State Area for years.  Howard gives Peggy a mock-up of the device and tells her to switch it out for the real thing and bring it back to him without setting it off.  And surprisingly, Peggy has very little trouble completing this mission—unusual, to say the least.

However, as soon as she switches out the mock-up for the real device, she gets suspicious of her mission.  While Jarvis was driving her to the S.S.R., she noticed him tugging his earlobe a couple times when she suspected him of lying—which was actually an interesting callback to the old-school spy genre, where a character having a “tell” was used somewhat regularly (think James Bond and Casino Royale, which also subverted that trick).  Peggy ducks into a storage room and presses the button on the device, which does not destroy the entire city’s infrastructure but instead opens the top, revealing a vial containing what looks like blood.  She makes her way back to the apartment, where she finds Howard and demands to know what’s in the vial.  After his attempts to deflect fail, Howard finally admits that it is a vial of Steve Rogers’ blood—prompting Peggy to give him a black eye!  He explains that he received a vial of the blood as one of the lead scientists on Project: Rebirth, and the government took the other 11.  He believes that Steve’s blood can potentially unlock cures to various diseases—Peggy accuses him of simply wanting to profit off Steve Rogers’ sacrifice.  I find this whole scene fascinating for the insight it gives us into both their characters.  Howard does not come from money; his parents were extremely poor and he had to work to get ahead.  Because of this, lying has become second-nature to him.  For her part, Peggy had been feeling underappreciated at the S.S.R. because they were not using her skills properly, and that drove her decision to help Stark.  Seeing Steve’s blood, however, brought her to the realization that working for Howard against the S.S.R. was wrong, especially when he is just out for himself and not for the greater good.  I feel like I understand these two characters a lot better after this episode, which is the definite benefit of having Dominic Cooper return as Howard Stark for more than just a couple brief cameos.

Peggy kicks Howard out, and the next morning Jarvis apologizes to Peggy on Howard’s behalf.  After the fact, he talks to Howard at a shoe-shine stand and tells him that he does not approve of what they did in lying to Peggy about the Blitzkrieg Button before leaving.  I find it interesting just how Peggy has changed the dynamic between those two.

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However, Peggy, Howard, and Jarvis actually fall into the background for this episode as Thompson, Sousa, and Dottie all receive more screen time than usual.  Thompson takes charge of the S.S.R. temporarily while Dooley is in Nuremberg interviewing Nazi Col. Ernst Mueller about the Battle of Finow (which never actually happened; the Russian troops were massacred before the Germans ever arrived).  Thompson actually proves himself to be a capable chief, though the most we see him do as chief is put everyone on overtime and tell Peggy to take lunch orders.  Meanwhile, Sousa goes to the docks to print the payphone to try to get a lead on their mysterious tipster.  The payphone is a dead end, but he finds a pair of bums nearby, one of whom refuses to talk to him.  Sousa brings him back to the S.S.R. Headquarters for interrogation, and this gives us some interesting character development from both Sousa and Thompson.  Thompson at first dismisses the idea that the bum knows something, but eventually comes around and bribes the information out of him.  Sousa, meanwhile, tries to coax the information out of him by explaining how he came back from the war damaged—and no one sees him for who he is, only for the crutch he needs.  Thompson always treats Sousa poorly, but in this episode he finally starts to appreciate Sousa as he realizes that Sousa’s instincts about the bum were correct.  I suspect that this is when Thompson’s relationship with Sousa changes for the better—he appreciates him as a partner instead of just “the cripple.”

We also get a huge reveal about Dottie when the smuggler, Otto Mink, comes to attack Peggy at the Griffith.  I really liked how they used Mink to pull the rug out from under us.  Mink was introduced as the evil boss of the smugglers from the beginning of the episode.  He was so angry with his men because Jarvis and Peggy succeeded in taking Howard without paying them that he killed both of them with a 6-barreled automatic mini-gun pistol.  He then spent the rest of the episode following Peggy and Jarvis around while trying to kill them for revenge.  Finally, he snuck into the Griffith through the air ducts and got up to Peggy’s door.  However, before he can break in and kill her, Dottie comes out of her room to find him standing there.  She approaches him, asking if he’s looking for Peggy.  He turns on her and tells her to return to her room.  She sees his gun, and asks the question that any normal woman would ask when confronted by a gun-wielding man in a women-only boarding house:  “Is that pistol an automatic?”  Wait…  And then she followed it up with, “I want that” before leaping into action, jumping between the walls of the hallway, wrapping her legs around his neck, and bringing him to the ground, snapping his neck in the process.  Did this move look familiar to you?  I remember being surprised when this episode first aired but immediately connecting Dottie’s fighting style with that of Natasha Romanoff, the modern Black Widow.  It’s not 100% clear in this episode, but the immediate following episode does make it clear:  Dottie is a proto-Black Widow, a product of the same training and enhancements used on Natasha Romanoff.  I love the twist of introducing her as a somewhat benign character, setting her up against a hardened killer, and then having her immediately wipe the floor with him.  And I also love that they are using Agent Carter to introduce and explore so much of the back story for everything in the MCU.

Overall this was an interesting episode.  It did not contain a lot of action outside of the first few minutes and the last few minutes, but it gave us some needed character development for all the characters, and especially for the background characters.  It also gave us one of our major villains for the season (possibly extending into season 2) as well as a hint at the background of Natasha Romanoff, surprisingly.  I really liked the inclusion of the vial of Steve Rogers’ blood, though I was a bit disappointed with the resolution of that particular plot thread at the end of the season—not because it wasn’t a touching scene, but because I was hoping it would play a part in a future development, like the origin of Isaiah Bradley, the Black Captain America.

What did you think of this episode?  What parts of the MCU’s history do you want to see explored in Agent Carter season 2?  Let me know in the comments!

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