Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 5, "The Atomic Job" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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As an aside, I’m really annoyed with ABC right now.  I wasn’t home to watch the episode, so I recorded it on my VCR (a used VCR and some VHS tapes is way cheaper than a DVR).  Unfortunately, somehow ABC must have gotten off last night, so I recorded 4 extra minutes of Muppets and missed the last four minutes of Agent Carter and had to find… alternate means to watch it.  H/T to’s helpful episode recap, also, since that helped me get a jump on my review before I could finish the episode.

Last night’s episode of Agent Carter, “The Atomic Job,” highlights both the best and worst aspects of this series.  Now, don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of best aspects to this series:  the cast is absolutely stellar, especially Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy.  The 1947 setting of the series is a definite plus (and something which they really lean into) which lends itself well to the exploration of both sexism and racism.  I’m a huge fan of the number of comic book characters which Agent Carter introduces, and of the way that they adapt some of the odder ones (Controlling bats?  Really?).  This series is much “brighter” than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which also lends itself well to the 1947 setting.  Oh, and I love the humor in this series.

However, there is one glaring issue with the concept of Agent Carter:  we know the broad strokes of Peggy’s life already.  She works for the S.S.R., leaves the S.S.R. to help Howard Stark found S.H.I.E.L.D., and survives through all the events of the MCU beyond Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The only aspect of Peggy’s life which we do not yet know is whom she marries—the husband who had been saved by Captain America that she mentioned in The Winter Soldier.  And because that’s the only important aspect of Peggy’s life that is still a mystery, that’s what they are really leaning into.  Without spoiling anything, this episode sees a little more payoff for the love triangle they’ve set up—something I am never a fan of.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I like my relationship drama simple and my plot complex.

The episode opens with Wilkes standing over Peggy and trying to wake her up—and she sits bolt upright and points her gun through Wilkes’ head!  Wilkes brings her to the lab and shows her that the Zero Matter in Jane Scott’s tissue sample is actually being drawn to him—and he to it.  Suddenly the Zero Matter passes directly through the glass sample jar, absorbs into his hand, and Peggy is momentarily able to touch him.  After this Wilkes is able to pinpoint exactly where Jane Scott’s body is, and suspects that if he absorbs the Zero Matter in her body it might be enough to make him permanently tangible again.

Meanwhile, Chadwick clearly has not adapted to his wife’s newfound ability to suck an entire human body into herself using Zero Matter, as he is sitting awake while listening to her mumble in her sleep.  When he gets out of bed to dress, Whitney startles him (there is something unsettling about that woman…) and tells him that he needs to help her get to Jane Scott’s body.

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Both groups—Peggy and Jarvis, and Chadwick and Whitney—arrive at the Cold Storage facility around the same time.  Peggy and Jarvis sneak in through the vents but only get to the correct room in time to watch Whitney absorb all the Zero Matter out of the body, feel a surge of power, and tell her husband that “I need an atomic bomb.”  Wilkes believes that Whitney is trying to replicate the original Isodyne incident, which means that she will need to detonate the same kind of bomb at the same location as the original test.  And the rest of Isodyne’s bombs are in a Roxxon storage facility.  Peggy goes undercover to sneak into Hugh Jones’ office and get the key to the Roxxon facility (which is otherwise impenetrable), and brings along a device the Samberly invented which will make someone forget the last 2 minutes.  Peggy’s disguise is good enough to get her into Jones’ office, and she manages to talk her way into being left alone while he’s at lunch (after which he seems very interested in “crunching her numbers”).  However, as he’s getting in the elevator he remembers that he’d met her in New York, bursts back into his office, and promptly has his memory erased.  This happens a couple of times, with Jones coming around and Peggy sending him away, but eventually Jones is left catatonic on the floor, with Peggy searching him for the key (It’s in his belt buckle) and zapping him every couple minutes.  I think this might be the funniest scene so far this season, between the situational comedy of Jones alternately forgetting and remembering, the pathetic attempts at flirting, and Peggy’s discomfort with taking off Jones’ belt, even if it’s to save the world.

In an interesting parallel, both Peggy and Whitney need to recruit help to break into the Roxxon facility and get to the bombs—Peggy to disarm them and Whitney to steal one.  Whitney approaches one of her old contacts (I’m guessing an ex-boyfriend), Joseph Manfredi, who is every well connected in the L.A. underworld.  He agrees to supply manpower for them in exchange for Chadwick giving him some lucrative contracts and keeping his name out of the papers.  However, there is a surprising moment in which he beats one of his own men senseless for looking at Whitney wrong…  This dude is pretty crazy!  But, at least he doesn’t dress like a Batman knock-off and train live bats like his comic book counterpart…

Peggy, Jarvis, and Sousa, meanwhile, realize that the three of them do not have enough manpower to infiltrate Roxxon by themselves, so Peggy insists on recruiting Rose to help them, despite Sousa’s reluctance to bring her in the field.  Peggy accuses Sousa of being as sexist as Thompson, but I don’t buy it based on what we know so far:  We’ve never seen anything to indicate that Rose has more than basic S.S.R. in self-defense techniques, and that’s not enough for Sousa regardless of the agent’s gender.  At the beginning of the season he called Thompson to send backup because his agents were too green, and some of them had military experience.  He didn’t want to bring Samberly into the field, either, for the same reason:  no experience.  However, this does set up a funny scene of Sousa and Peggy watching Rose beat up an angry performer in the office, at which point Sousa agrees to recruit her.  Samberly also insists on joining their team because he doesn’t trust anyone else to use his inventions.  I really enjoyed these scenes of Peggy and Sousa putting together their team, and even the comedic moment of the five of them walking out to the car in style, only for Peggy to turn to Jarvis and ask him where he parked the car!

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The group drives to the Roxxon facility, where Samberly and Rose attempt to distract the guards.  Rose does just fine, but Samberly has clearly never been in the field before and gets tongue-tied when he realizes that he and Rose are posing as husband and wife.  They still manage to use one of Samberly’s devices to shock the guards and short-out the electric fence, but they realize that these guards are too fancily-dressed to be actual guards.  When they find a knocked-out guard in the basement, it becomes abundantly clear that Whitney has beaten them to the facility.  Rose fights off a couple of Whitney’s men (it’s really cool to see a larger woman as a secret agent taking down bad guys left and right) while the others locate the room with the atomic bombs.  Unfortunately, Jarvis gets locked inside the room with the bombs without Sousa, who’s the bomb-defusing expert (thanks to his time as a recon scout).  Peggy takes out a couple more of the bad guys before going after Whitney, while Sousa talks Jarvis through defusing the bombs—which is yet another hilarious moment in an episode that really pushed the humor.

However, this is when stuff gets real.  Peggy confronts Whitney, who attempts to absorb her.  Peggy breaks Whitney’s hold (evidently Whitney hasn’t progressed past absorbing someone while in physical contact with them) but falls over the railing and is left holding onto the ledge with her fingertips.  Whitney reaches down to absorb her, but Peggy lets go and falls onto a pile of materials, impaling herself through the abdomen with a piece of rebar.  This all happens in front of Sousa, who (along with Jarvis) stems the bleeding and brings Peggy to Violet’s house.

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To backtrack, Sousa finally popped the question to Violet early in the episode (after breaking into her house, making dinner, falling asleep on the couch, and losing the ring in the couch).  Here at the end of the episode, Violet essentially becomes the “proto-Night Nurse” (in the same way that Dottie is the “proto-Black Widow”):  a bleeding, half-dead hero is brought to her house in the middle of the night insisting that they not bring her to a hospital, and Violet has to patch her up and save her life.  I guess that means we’re potentially seeing 3 different “Night Nurses” in the MCU in 2016 alone:  Violet, Claire, and Rachel McAdams’ character in Doctor Strange (rumored to be a fellow doctor).  I really like this development from Violet’s character, though I’m not a huge fan of the following scene, in which she confronts Sousa with the fact that she now knows that he still loves Peggy.  Like I said at the beginning, I understand that this is the only big mystery in Peggy’s history, but I don’t like it when a love triangle is your answer to dramatic tension.  I’d prefer for them to pick a direction and go with it; no looking back.

The episode concludes with two developments.  First, Chadwick calls an emergency meeting of the Council while Whitney is asleep.  Considering that she threatened to absorb him next, he’s definitely scared of her, but I don’t know if he’s really going to betray her.  Second, Jarvis puts Peggy in bed and leaves her with Wilkes.  Wilkes evidently knows more about the Zero Matter Dimension than he is letting on (probably because he’s partly there and partly here), but he doesn’t want to talk about it with Peggy—he does call it “dark,” though (as in “Darkforce”).  They turn on music, and Peggy falls asleep while Wilkes fades out and vanishes.  This is a very interesting place to leave the episode, as it looks like Whitney’s man may be betraying her and Peggy’s “man” may be abandoning her.  I’ve really liked the way that the last couple episodes highlighted the parallels between Whitney and Peggy, though I think “Smoke and Mirrors” did a much better job.

I really liked how this episode explored some of the side characters, particularly Rose and Samberly.  We also learned quite a bit more about Sousa in this episode than we knew previously.  The humor in the episode was also very welcome.  However, I do not think this was the best episode of the series for the reasons mentioned.  I really hope that they don’t draw out the Peggy/Sousa thing too far, as that is by far the least-interesting element of the season for me.

What did you think of this episode?  Do you want Peggy and Sousa to get together, do you want Sousa to stay with Violet, or do you just want them to pick a direction, already?  Let me know in the comments!

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