Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episodes 8, "The Edge of Mystery," and 9, "A Little Song and Dance" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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A lot happened in yesterday’s episodes of Agent Carter, including the payoff for several running plotlines.  Jarvis in particular benefited from some major development, perhaps more than he received over the previous 1¾ seasons.  I was also a little surprised that Joseph Manfredi received some character development; I think he’s now a better-developed character than Chadwick was before Frost sucked him up!  Oh, and the Zero Matter powers (and increased effects budget) are on full display!

The first episode opens with a flashback to Ana returning from an evening art class while Jarvis is explaining Howard’s instructions for disabling the bombs from the first episode of season 1.  Ana is curious to learn more about who was on the other end of the phone—Howard’s new associate.  Jarvis tells her a little about Peggy, including the surprising fact that Howard actually respects her (as compared to all his other female… “associates” I suppose).  Ana is concerned about Jarvis getting involved in Peggy’s mission, but he assures her that “Miss Carter won’t interfere with our lives in the least.”  I tell ya, Eddie needs to stop saying things like that!

Naturally, it cuts straight to Jarvis sitting at Ana’s bedside and looking absolutely terrible.  This scene probably only takes place the morning after the last episode ended, but Jarvis looks like he hasn’t slept or moved since last week, as if it were taking place in real time!  It is actually quite touching to see such a change in Jarvis over the last couple episodes since Ana got hurt.  Jarvis is no longer simply looking for adventure; the adventure nearly cost him the love of his life—and it did cost them the opportunity to have children—and he is suddenly very serious about it.

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Meanwhile, Wilkes is in Frost’s custody, and she has been observing him to see the effect that Zero Matter has had on him.  She’s specifically been testing the effect of her regular Zero Matter transfusions on him.  This gives us an opportunity to learn more about both Frost and the Zero Matter:  evidently Zero Matter is speaking to Frost because she has given in to it.  She is now channeling the Zero Matter and essentially seems to be doing what this voice tells her to do.  For his part, Wilkes strongly believes that the Zero Matter is a curse and something that he needs to fight against.  I have to admit, this whole argument sounds like the kind of thing that will have a major payoff—if not later in this series then in Doctor Strange.  In the comics, Zero Matter/Darkforce has a corruptive nature:  prolonged exposure changes people and turns them “darker.”  We’re already seeing its effect on Frost, and these two episodes show us even more of its effect on Wilkes once he truly gives in to it.

For their part, Peggy and Sousa regroup to figure out what they can do to save Wilkes and stop Frost.  They realize that the best way to do it will be to draw Frost out by proposing a trade:  the uranium rods for Wilkes.  They pass the message along through Manfredi (Sousa knows the Hollywood gossip of the two of them being an item at one point), and Frost accepts.  Samberly conjures up some phony uranium rods that read like the real deal, and they make the exchange.  However, when the rods fall out of their case and nothing happens, Frost realizes the con and the shooting starts.  Peggy, Sousa, Jarvis, and Wilkes escape, but Wilkes reveals that he was a Trojan Horse all along:  he grabs Sousa’s gun and uses his love for Peggy to force him into revealing the location of the real rods.  And then I finally get that crazy display of intangibility as Wilkes just phases his way through the containment chamber and out of the truck.  Because Wilkes has embraced the Zero Matter, he can control his intangibility at will.  Unfortunately we don’t see him use it anymore this episode, but that was still a pretty cool moment.

Thompson has a very interesting arc in these two episodes, and I don’t think we are really sure of his intentions until the very last moment.  First he goes all the way to London to drink with an old college buddy who can give him Peggy’s redacted service record (which he then reads with one of those decoder things).  The file reveals some shady dealings in Peggy’s war record, including a civilian massacre.  He tries to use the file to blackmail Peggy into returning to New York with him, but she refuses, calling the document a forgery.  She also calls him on his mistrust in fearing that she would reveal his secret (the highlight of his WWII service is actually something of an accidental war crime).  Finally she tells him that he’s better than just doing Masters’ dirty work.  This gives Thompson something to think about while showing the file to Masters.   Masters scoffs at the idea of the record being forged—as long as it’s on paper it’s “true” regardless of whether or not it happened.  This is the moment when Frost calls Masters with the location of the rods and asks him to retrieve them, and Thompson listens in on the call and confronts Masters in the lab.  However, Masters uses the memory wiping device to make Thompson forget what happened and gets away with the rods.  It does seem a little convenient that Thompson had written down the coordinates where Masters was supposed to deliver the rods, but I suppose the story had to move forward somehow.

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Peggy and Sousa aren’t too keen on bringing Thompson with them, but they decide to after all since they don’t really have competent backup.  The three of them collect Samberly, Jarvis, and the “gamma cannon” whose design Howard had “faxed” them, and they all head out to the desert to stop Frost from detonating a nuke and reopening the Zero Matter rift.  Unfortunately they are too late and the rift opens and draws Wilkes in—to Frost’s dismay.  When Jarvis thinks that Frost will get away he drives into the blast zone to get her, followed by Peggy.  Meanwhile, Sousa aims the cannon at the rift and they use it to close the rift, which leaves Wilkes lying in the divot it left behind.  Jarvis rather abruptly shoots Frost while Peggy checks on Wilkes.  Fortunately he’s alive; unfortunately so is she.  And then Peggy and Jarvis get knocked out and captured by Manfredi and his men.

The second episode begins with the two groups trying to get out of their own respective sticky situations.  Thompson, Sousa, and Samberly are stuck in the wilderness without any means of transportation when an SSR car with 2 of Masters’ men drives up.  They are there to kill all three of them, but Thompson and Sousa manage to convince them to bring the three of them in for Masters to interrogate.  Thompson then convinces Masters that he can use the gamma cannon to kill Frost and restore order, and that Sousa can be trusted to help them.  The hope of getting out from under Frost’s thumb is quite tempting for Masters and he agrees.

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Meanwhile, the first scene of the episode is a dance number inside Peggy’s subconscious.  It starts off black and white with Peggy sitting in the deserted S.S.R.  Her brother Michael appears next and the two of them talk about how Peggy got into this situation—partly because he wanted it and partly because she did.  The colors slowly fill in—green, then red, then blue.  Peggy’s in the Automat ordering from Angie, and Wilkes is there.  The two of them dance, and then Sousa comes in, tosses his crutch away, and starts singing and dancing with Peggy.  It actually took me about half the dance number to realize that the whole point was Peggy’s subconscious trying to choose between Wilkes and Sousa.  I actually thought that it was very well done and a nice homage to the main sets from season 1 (the S.S.R. and the Automat) as well as a nice welcome-back to Angie.  However, near the end I did notice that Angie wasn’t really as committed to the choreography.  The number ends with Jarvis telling her to wake up and Rose slugging her into consciousness.

Once they are both awake, Peggy uses a “hotwire” sewn into her belt to melt through the chain locking them in the back of their truck and they bail out in the middle of the wilderness.  The two of them start walking toward town, but Jarvis is very short and angry with Peggy—and this gives both of them some very good character development.  Jarvis accuses Peggy of doing exactly what he did when she went back for Dottie—kind of hypocritical of her to get upset with him when he attacked Frost.  And then he takes it too far:  “Everyone around you dies.”  This is when Peggy finally lets him have it… in a very calm and collected manner.  She realizes that he considers what they do to be little more than consequence-less adventures, while she has suffered the consequences of her actions on multiple occasions.  She then tells him that he can go back to his normal life without consequences, but he reveals that Ana can’t have children anymore because of the gunshot.  All in all, this was a really great interaction between the two of them—I think it was actually their biggest fight of the series and did a lot to further develop both their characters, especially Jarvis.

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At this point Manfredi realizes that they escaped and sends the truck back for them, but Jarvis and Peggy trick the 2 thugs in the truck, retake the truck, and drive back to the S.S.R.  When Peggy gets to the S.S.R., she immediately storms into Masters’ office and starts beating him senseless demanding to know what he did with Thompson and Sousa—both of whom immediately enter to stop her!  That was pretty much hilarious and might have been the most fun moment of the entire episode!  The five of them (with Samberly) decide to work together to repair the cannon so they can use it on Frost (although Peggy is unhappy to be working with Masters).  However, this is where Thompson’s character takes a huge turn:  he volunteers to tell Frost that the cannon won’t be ready in time, but instead tells her that Masters is planning to use the cannon on her.  Then he cuts the fuel line on Peggy and Sousa’s car so they can’t follow him and Masters to the meeting.  It’s at this point that Samberly reveals that Thompson had switched the plan and told him to convert the cannon into a bomb to take out both Frost and Masters.  Peggy refuses to let Wilkes be killed in the explosion (even though he was going to shoot her), so she, Sousa, and Samberly all go to Frost’s facility to stop Thompson and save Wilkes.

Peggy immediately goes in to save Wilkes, but he absorbed far too much Zero Matter and is struggling to contain it.  I think he finally realizes that he made a mistake in working with Frost, now that something dark and sinister is pressing him for release.  He does not want to be near people for fear of what will happen.  When Peggy tries to free him, he resists and locks himself inside so she will have to leave him behind.  As I said above, these episodes really develop Zero Matter/Darkforce well, both its raw power and its corrupting nature.

Thompson tries to blow the bomb and kill Masters and Frost, but Samberly has already completed a radio wave jammer, which disables the detonator.  Thompson forces Samberly to turn off the jammer at gunpoint, but Peggy turns her gun on Thompson to prevent him from pressing the detonator.  The episode ends with them at a stalemate outside while inside Frost and Masters realize Thompson’s plan and Wilkes cracks apart, spilling Zero Matter in the room with them.

These two episodes pair together quite well, as both show different aspects of the Zero Matter.  They also offer good development opportunities to both Thompson and Jarvis.  I’m glad that they did not decide to take Thompson in the “Ward direction” (seduced to evil by a surrogate father-figure), but I’m just as glad to see the distrust toward him from Sousa and Peggy after everything that’s happened.  I am very curious to see how the stalemate at the end of the episode will be resolved.

By and far Jarvis was the best character in the episode, particularly with his very realistic reactions to everything that happened with Ana.  He is no longer the fun comic relief; he is deathly serious now that he’s experienced the consequences of these adventures firsthand.  Ana also has a great moment near the end when she tells Jarvis that even though she worries about him, he needs to help Peggy as much as he can.  Of all the relationships on this show, I think this is the best one.

What did you think of these episodes?  What did you think of the dance number that opened the second episode?  How do you think this season will end next week?  Let me know in the comments!

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