Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 3, "Better Angels" REVIEW (SPOILERS!)

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Agent Carter is really doubling down on the weird in this week’s episode.  Remember how last year the most unusual elements of Agent Carter were a preteen assassin and hypnotic suggestion?  That’s definitely not the case this time around!  We’ve gotten extra-dimensional substances, frozen bodies, invisible scientists, an actress who can make her pervy director disappear, and an over-caffeinated Howard Stark (okay, that’s not all that unusual!).  And that’s just in the first three episodes!  I get the feeling this is going to be a “weird” season—and that’s perfectly fine with me.

The episode begins with Sousa and Peggy looking for evidence at Wilkes’ house which they can use to restart their Isodyne investigation—at this point their only lead is the tie pin.  Of course Peggy discovers a hidden compartment within 5 minutes which holds pretty much everything they could possibly need to make the case that Wilkes was a Russian spy (money, plane ticket, Russian passport, in addition to the same kind of gun that was used to kill the 2 S.S.R. agents in the previous episode).  However, considering how obvious all of this is, it’s no surprise that Peggy is unwilling to accept it at face value.  Instead, she and Jarvis visit the set of Howard’s latest movie, which is evidently a terrible comic book movie that he’s only making as a tax write-off (Can you say “Uwe Boll”?  How about “meta-commentary”?).  Howard is able to identify the tie pin as the symbol of the “Arena Club,” an exclusive club consisting of wealthy white men (evidently Jarvis isn’t even white enough for them; he’s 1/16th Turkish).

On returning to the S.S.R., Peggy and Sousa find Thompson waiting for them.  Evidently he came out to California on Masters’ instructions to cover up the incident at Isodyne Energy.  He tries to press Peggy into signing an incident report which accuses Wilkes of being a Russian spy and blowing up Isodyne, but Peggy refuses.  She tells him to watch the Isodyne film, which he eventually does before Masters comes to see him at the office.  Masters is looking for sensitive material that Wilkes supposedly stole, which turns out to be the film.  Thompson hands it over to him, though he doesn’t mention having seen the footage.  I definitely find Thompson’s story in this episode to be rather interesting, as he is still helping Masters, but he doesn’t seem to trust him entirely.  Going forward I am very curious to see what Thompson will do—will he do the right thing, or will he keep looking out for himself—especially now that he knows Masters’ group is involved in shady dealing like election rigging.

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Peggy comes up with a plan for Howard to help her infiltrate the Arena Club and plant some listening devices by throwing the club doors open and inviting a couple dozen women inside.  Peggy sneaks in, plants a couple devices, and finds her way into the Council meeting room as they are leaving a meeting with the other candidate running for the same Senate seat as Chadwick (in which they forced him to withdraw from the election).  Peggy enters the room and tries to plant a listening device, but it runs into some form of feedback interference which alerts security.  Peggy is able to escape from security, but not before seeing the next day’s newspaper headline which reveals that Chadwick will be running unopposed—the Arena Club (specifically the Council of Nine) are rigging the election.  I enjoyed this part of the episode, particularly Howard making some “modifications” to the club!  I did find it unusual that the Council could deactivate Howard’s listening devices, particularly at this point in history, but I guess it would make sense, particularly if they are connected with the Ancient Hydra organization—unlimited resources.

Peggy and Sousa bring Peggy’s evidence back to Thompson, but he does not believe any of their accusations against the Arena Club.  This gets Peggy all heated against him, to the point that she throws his guilt over the Silver Star back in his face.  Thompson gets steamed at her and orders her back to New York (obviously she’s not going to obey that order until she’s cleared Wilkes’ name and solved the case).  While it is easy to blame this on Thompson looking out for himself, Peggy’s evidence is pretty flimsy and unsubstantiated since she doesn’t have any working listening devices or a newspaper.  If he had clear evidence in front of him and refused to listen to Peggy, then it would be an issue; as it is I think he’s being over-cautious.

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Peggy is still steamed at him, and Sousa tells her that he supports her.  However, while the two of them are standing by Peggy’s desk, they notice her keys and a few other knick-knacks floating in the air above the desk.  This freaks them out, and Peggy immediately takes Sousa to Howard, who discovers that not only is there some sort of gravitational anomaly around her which allows small objects to float, but the air around her is about 7 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature.  Howard mixes together a solution which should cause the gravitational anomaly to become visible and sprays it in the air near Peggy.  And what does the anomaly turn out to be?  None other than Wilkes, who apparently was closest to the Zero Matter when it exploded and had his body converted into ultraviolet light.  Howard’s solution bonds to the light, makes it visible to the human eye, and can also give his vocal chords enough mass to vibrate so he can talk.  I think this is the point when Zero Matter stops having an easy scientific explanation and starts to slide into the realm of magic.  I am very curious to know whether Howard will succeed in fixing Wilkes and making him permanently corporeal.  As it is I really like the dynamic between Wilkes and Howard, who are probably two of the three most intelligent characters this season (the third being Whitney Frost).  As Peggy points out, “[Wilkes] managed to do what few have done:  [he’s] impressed Howard Stark.”  Hopefully when Howard gets back from Peru (where he’s tracking down an old professor, Abner Brody), we’ll get to see more of that dynamic.

Meanwhile, there are some interesting developments with Whitney Frost following her Zero Matter exposure at the end of the previous episode.  Peggy sends Sousa to look through the S.S.R.’s files to find information about her while she goes to talk to her in her dressing room at the movie set.  Sousa eventually discovers that Frost is the stage name of Agnes Cully, a scientist who innovated the method by which the Allies could send coded messages across enemy lines during the war.  This explains at least some of how she is able to claim that she knows more about Zero Matter than even Wilkes.  This also implies that Frost is more intelligent than Peggy.  However, Peggy does have one definite advantage over Frost:  she doesn’t react rashly.  After Peggy’s visit, Frost pushes Chadwick into sending the Council’s hitman to kill Peggy.  Though he does not succeed, the fact that he’s there does tip Peggy off that she is on the right track.

The fight between Peggy and Mr. Hunt is the biggest action sequence of the episode, though it’s not terribly exciting.  Of course, the action in Agent Carter really is not intended to be exciting for its own sake; it is intended to help develop the characters involved.  Hence, right before the fight we see Peggy taking out a lot of pent up frustration on a punching bag.  We also get to see Jarvis rescue Peggy, though he doesn’t do a ton of good before getting knocked away.  However, this sequence does give us a fun Easter egg the morning after when Jarvis demonstrates the house’s new security system, which includes his disembodied voice warning intruders that they do not belong.  Among other things he tells Peggy that he does not want to spend all of eternity as a disembodied voice.  Ironically, that’s exactly what’s going to happen:  Howard’s son creates an artificial intelligence, names it “JARVIS,” and makes it his disembodied security system.  Of course, Tony eventually puts the disembodied Jarvis inside an android body to create the Vision, so I guess it all works out for him in the end!

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All of this pales in comparison to the last scene of the episode which picks up with Frost in her dressing room.  Her director walks in and explains that the studio tried to have her replaced with a younger actress but that he went to bat for her so she could keep her role.  Frost is at first very appreciative, but her tone quickly changes when the director starts getting a little carried away looking for excess affection from her (“quid pro quo”?).  While she’s trying to pull away from him, her hair gets pushed back from her forehead, revealing the Zero Matter cut.  He starts demanding to know what happened, and she panics.  Seemingly without meaning to do so, Frost engulfs his body with Zero Matter from her palm and then sucks the Zero Matter back into her palm.  This is a rather surprising development, though I was expecting to find out just what the Zero Matter had done to Frost this week.  Thus far we’ve seen three different uses of Zero Matter in Agent Carter:  absorbing heat (freezing stuff), turning Wilkes incorporeal, and absorbing the director.  I really want to know what other powers they will display using Zero Matter.

As a whole I really enjoyed this episode.  I was a little confused by the antagonistic relationship between Sousa and Thompson, particularly after they appeared to be in a better place than that after season 1.  Of course, since Thompson appeared unexpectedly and demanded that they drop a big case, I think his and Sousa’s disagreement makes sense this episode.  However, I do want to see their relationship get to a better place this season.

Howard Stark added some definite levity to the episode, particularly at the Arena Club.  I really want to see more of Howard and Wilkes playing off each other!

What did you think of the Zero Matter abilities shown this episode?  Do you think Howard will succeed in getting Wilkes back to normal?  Let me know in the comments!

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