Friday, February 19, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 6, "Life of the Party," and Episode 7, "Monsters" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Well, I finally found the time to watch Agent Carter’s two most recent episodes, and I have to say that I think this show just keeps getting better and better.  The things that I have really liked so far were back in full force, along with some very high stakes for all of our main characters.  Oh, and the relationship drama from last week did not overshadow the rest of the plot the way that I feared that it would (looking at you, Arrow).

The first episode begins with Wilkes’ perspective of the conclusion of last week’s episode, “The Atomic Job”:  He begins to fade out, and as he is fading out he sees a gaping crack between our dimension and the Zero Matter dimension, which is calling to him.  However, he does return to being visible after that brief moment of flickering out.  After the experience he begins to freak out—giving us a fun little nod:  the first time Zero Matter is referred to as a “Dark Force”—and becomes terrified on realizing that it is becoming harder and harder to anchor himself here.  At some point he is afraid that he will flicker out of our dimension into the other one, and he is terrified of the prospect.  This is a thread which continues through both episodes as he begins to flicker out of existence more frequently.  Simultaneously he experiences a major personality change as he ruthlessly tells Peggy to just cut bait with Dottie and kill her instead of trying to rescue her—this would save her a lot of time and hassle and free her to help him complete his containment unit.  The change in Wilkes is pretty crazy, but it was something I was actually expecting to see, as Darkforce/Zero Matter’s corrupting nature is one of its key properties in the comics, and something which I suspect that Doctor Strange will explore as well.

In the end, Wilkes does succeed in designing and building a containment unit which will keep him tethered to our dimension as long as he can absorb some Zero Matter and become tangible while he is inside of it, giving his body some mass to contain.  Fortunately, Peggy is able to secure a sample of Zero Matter from Whitney, and Wilkes becomes tangible again.  This is actually an interesting plot as it pairs Wilkes and Ana together, first with Wilkes guiding Ana to build the device and then with Ana feeding him a Hungarian feast and commiserating with him while they both fear for Jarvis and Peggy’s safety.  I think Ana actually gets more screen time and development in these two episodes than she did through the first half of the season.  Most of this revolves around her newfound terror for Jarvis now that she understands just how dangerous his work with Peggy really is—since Peggy got skewered with rebar.  Consequently, Ana is terrified both times that Jarvis leaves on missions with Peggy, which gives them an excuse for a couple of the most adorable scenes of this series between Ana and Jarvis.  Of all the relationships in this series, theirs is by far my favorite, thanks to these episodes.

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However, we then have to turn to the most dysfunctional relationship in this series:  Chadwick and Whitney.  Chadwick tells Whitney that he called a Council meeting at which she can demonstrate to them her Zero Matter powers and prove to them just how important this research is.  Whitney leaps at the opportunity, but Chadwick shows himself to still be absolutely terrified of her power when she isn’t looking at him.  The Council meets at Chadwick’s fundraiser, and Whitney explains the power of Zero Matter before demonstrating her absorption power on a rat.  The Council (especially Hugh Jones) are visibly impressed (and a little scared), and immediately carry through their plan:  2 goons put choke nooses over her head and try to subdue her without touching her, but she absorbs them at a distance without actually coming into contact with them.  She then turns on the Council and absorbs half the members (including the leader, Tom) before turning on Chadwick and absorbing him in anger for his betrayal of her.  And then she informs the remaining four Council members (minus Masters) that she is now the boss, and will not absorb them as long as they are useful to her.  For the rest of the episode, all we see of the Council is Jones and Masters running around doing Whitney’s bidding and flinching whenever she gets too close to them.  They’re not the only ones, either; Manfredi returns to provide security for Whitney, and he also seems a little leery of her, though he also seems happy just to have her come back to him.  The change in Whitney just over the course of a single episode is absolutely staggering:  she isn’t just tempted by the darkness; she’s running into it headlong!

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One of the victims of Whitney’s terror/torture is Dottie, whom Peggy broke out of prison to help in their plan to “acquire” a sample of Zero Matter from Whitney’s bloodstream.  The fact that Sousa describes exactly the kind of person they need to carry out the mission—basically Peggy—and Peggy’s first thought is Dottie is quite amusing, as is Peggy’s plan to break her out.  Actually, every single interaction between those two is great, starting from the prison scene in which they both see through the other’s lies and call each other on the lie but still agree to work together.  Dottie is absolutely hilarious in all of her scenes with Peggy, and that also carries over to the ballroom sequence, when she and Jarvis infiltrate the campaign party undercover while Peggy and Sousa listen in from the van.  I think my favorite part is when they realize that Thompson is there, Jarvis panics, and Dottie offers to kill Thompson for them—Peggy and Sousa both tell her not to, but she goes off to do it anyways so Jarvis has to stop her.  Eventually Jarvis takes it on himself to distract Thompson (at the same time warning him that he’s out of his depth in politics) while Dottie goes to bump into Whitney in the bathroom to get the Zero Matter sample.  Afterwards she accidently finds herself in the meeting room and witnessing Whitney’s Zero Matter powers firsthand.  Unfortunately, Dottie gets spotted by Masters and his men while leaving the conference room, and Masters’ men and Thompson succeed in subduing her for Whitney.  I really enjoyed seeing Peggy and Dottie working together, albeit for a short time and both knowing that the other would betray her.

After Dottie’s capture (at which point Peggy loses the ability to track her), Dottie is handed over to Whitney, who first sends Masters to interrogate her.  However, that completely backfires on him as he is spectacularly unable to phase her and she sees right through his tough façade to see just how much he fears Whitney.  The only thing Masters manages to do that has any effect on her is to tell her that Peggy is not her friend and is not going to rescue her.  Of course, everything changes when Whitney goes to interrogate Dottie herself.  Whitney in fact uses her power to all but absorb Dottie, and only releases her at the last moment, leaving Dottie absolutely terrified and ready to spill anything—including the fact that Peggy sent her to steal Zero Matter from Whitney to use on the not-dead Wilkes.  This convinces Whitney to reactivate the tracker and put her own plan into motion.

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As soon as they see that the tracker is back online, Jarvis and Peggy begin preparations for a rescue mission, knowing full well that they are walking into a trap.  Peggy calls up Sousa to see if he can help them, but Masters is keeping him busy:  Whitney wants the uranium rods that Peggy stole, and she’s using Masters to get them, so he is using Sousa to do the actual work.  Masters tries to bribe Sousa with the possibility of advancement and recognition, but Sousa is not tempted; he sees right through Masters’ bull.  Consequently, Masters sends a couple thugs to beat Sousa up in retribution and takes over the L.A. branch of the S.S.R. directly.  I like seeing Masters rattled like this:  he feels completely out of his element, so he tries to compensate by putting the screws to Dottie, Thompson, and Sousa, but none of them are really buying it—even Thompson doesn’t seems to be completely in Masters’ pocket.

Thompson himself confronts Peggy on Masters’ orders, trying to convince her to return with him to New York, but she doesn’t buy it and refuses to leave.  In fact, she even goes so far as to tell him that she knows she is right in her hypothesis.  I actually like this scene not for what it does for Peggy’s character but for what it does for Thompson’s.  Masters wants him to discredit and destroy Peggy, but he refuses.  Instead, he gives her the option of leaving with him a then leaves when she refuses to leave with him.  I don’t think he really wants to hurt Peggy; he is only doing this because Masters wants him to.  It doesn’t exactly excuse his actions, but it makes them more sympathetic, especially as he does not openly prevent her from continuing her investigation when he clearly has the authority.

Peggy and Jarvis leave Ana and Wilkes at the Stark residence and go to rescue Dottie from the Chadwick ranch.  They succeed in sneaking in, but are immediately caught when Jarvis forgets the proper code to activate his “Jitterbug,” a device that emits a powerful sonic pulse.  The two of them are captured and brought to Dottie’s cell, where the three of them race to see who can get free first.  While this is going on, Dottie tells Peggy just how deep the corruption goes.  Jarvis frees himself first, just before the Jitterbug finally goes off, giving them the opening they need to escape the house.  However, this is when Peggy finally realizes that Dottie wasn’t hurt by Masters but by Whitney, and doubtless told her everything she wanted to know.  Specifically, Dottie explains that she told Whitney about Wilkes and his condition.  The obvious trap that she and Jarvis walked into wasn’t a trap for them, but for Wilkes and Ana.  Jarvis and Peggy drive back to the mansion quickly (Dottie notes on their fear), but are too late.

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Whitney arrives at the mansion and sneaks in when Ana thinks that she tripped the alarm and turns it off without checking.  Whitney confronts Wilkes (taking the time to comment on Howard’s ARC reactor schematic at the same time), and tells him that he wasn’t hired for his skills but for his loyalty as a black man given respect.  She tries to absorb him, but he instead absorbs quite a bit of her Zero Matter, enough to make him tangible for quite a while.  Unfortunately, Manfredi and Whitney take advantage of this fact by knocking him out to take with them.  Ana confronts them as they are making their escape, and Whitney shoots her in the gut just as Peggy and Jarvis arrive, thus slowing down her pursuers.  Jarvis is completely beside himself in shock for the remainder of the episode, worried for Ana.  This is actually a really good misdirect (like the Hawkeye thing in Avengers: Age of Ultron):  Ana is all worried about Jarvis, but in the end she’s the one who gets in trouble and needs rescuing; Peggy knows that they are walking into a trap, but the object of the trap still escapes her until Dottie lays it all out for her.  I actually was surprised by the direction the episode went, particularly at this point.

We should also talk about the relationship drama in these episodes—which was not as pronounced as I feared.  While Sousa and Peggy are in the van during the first episode, Peggy pops her stitches and asks if Violet can redo them.  However, this is when Sousa tells her that Violet called off the engagement—and when Peggy offers to tell her that she’s making a mistake, Sousa tells her that she called it off because she thinks he’s in love with Peggy.  This leads to a moment of the two of them commiserating while Jarvis listens in on his radio awkwardly.  They are about to kiss when Dottie interrupts them with a body falling on their roof.  Later on, after Wilkes has become tangible again, the first thing he does is to kiss Peggy, which she appears to reciprocate.  Finally, while Jarvis and Peggy are in the car on the way to the Chadwick Ranch, Jarvis approaches Peggy about what’s happening, specifically the fact that she’s now gone from no suitors to two.  This gives Peggy an opportunity to vent about how she doesn’t want to lead either of them on and doesn’t know what to do.  I actually think this is what was necessary:  Peggy and Jarvis take a moment to reflect on all the relationship drama, and then carry on with the mission as though nothing’s going on.  There are 3 episodes left, and I really hope that they don’t decide to drag it out too much longer—or at the very least that it does not distract from the actual plot of the season!

Overall, these two episodes were a lot of fun.  They had everything that I like about this series and just enough relationship stuff to keep that plot moving forward without distracting from what’s going on.  The cliffhanger ending was actually one of the few really legitimate avenues for dramatic tension available to this series:  Peggy, Howard, (and presumably Jarvis) are all relatively safe, but nothing says that Ana can’t be killed… and seeing her shot and near death has a profound effect on Jarvis.

What did you think of these two episodes?  How much relationship drama is too much for you?  Let me know in the comments!

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