Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 10, "Hollywood Ending" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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You know, all the talk coming into this season finale was wondering about Agent Carter’s chances for a season 3 order.  After all, the ratings have been pretty low and Hayley Atwell was cast in a pilot for a new ABC series, and both of those items don’t exactly look good for Carter’s future.  However, focusing on the negatives actually detracts from a very good season finale, which satisfactorily wrapped up all the major plots for the season and offered some tantalizing hints at the series’ future.

The episode picks up with the last 60 seconds of the previous episode (“A Little Song and Dance”), as Thompson is trying to set off the bomb and Peggy is trying to stop him.  However, before Thompson can do anything, there is an explosion as Wilkes releases all the built-up Zero Matter.  Peggy, Sousa, and Thompson go in to see what happened, and find Wilkes seemingly free of the Zero Matter, with Zero Matter pooled all around the room.  The Zero Matter all starts migrating towards Frost, who absorbs it all and comes after them.  They all flee, pursued by Frost, who starts to monologue—only to be hit by a car as Howard Stark makes his smashing entrance!  Howard and Jarvis have some great chemistry together, which really shows in all their interactions.  They all escape together and return to the mansion.

Up until this episode, Joseph Manfredi really didn’t seem to have much character beyond his infatuation with Frost—that changes a little in this episode.  On the surface he is extremely supportive of Frost, but that is clearly just a show, and his conversation with his mother shows that internally he is worried about her and perhaps a little frightened—the Zero Matter has changed her.  This leads him to make a deal with Howard, Peggy, and the rest to “help” Frost by getting the Zero Matter out of her.  I have to say, I was a bit confused at first by Howard and Manfredi’s familiarity, and I’m not entirely sure if they ever clarified that part (I think Wilkes’, Peggy’s, and Jarvis’ expressions pretty much sum it up).  Regardless, he wants their help to save Frost, and they agree to use his insider knowledge to do it.  He reveals that she is designing a device intended to reopen the Rift, and agrees to distract her long enough for Peggy and Sousa to photograph Frost’s “wall of crazy.”  He does this by “interrogating” one of his thugs and asking Frost to be his “muscle.”  The guy is absolutely confused at first, but eventually admits to snitching to the FBI when threatened with Frost.  I don’t think he was expecting that!  This does buy enough time for Peggy and Sousa to retrieve the information.

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Samberly, Wilkes, and Howard all examine the photographs and figure out that they can contain the Rift using X-Rays.  It’s fun to watch these three interacting, as they are the smartest men on this series.  I was expecting that Wilkes and Howard would get more screen time together, but I was not expecting Samberly to be added to the mix.  Considering how he started the season I didn’t think I would like his character all that much, but I think he really started to grow on me in the last half of the season, particularly the last 3 episodes or so.  The scene with everyone working together to build the “Rift Generator” was also really good—because it was designed specifically to give us the different character interactions that we needed to see.  Howard flirts with Rose (to Samberly’s dismay).  Wilkes and Sousa patch things up now that everything’s in the open, and Wilkes explains that he held the gun on Peggy because he knew that Sousa would cave—he would have too in that situation.  Peggy and Jarvis reconcile after their spat in the previous episode.  Finally, Thompson comes in to help, and Peggy asks him to take the lunch orders—a nice piece of revenge for him consistently having her take lunch orders in season 1.  Considering that this is a very character-driven series, it is absolutely necessary for those meaningful character interactions to be there, and this episode I think they were spot-on.

They set up the Rift Generator at the Stark Productions lot, fire it up, and Frost immediately senses that it is active.  I really like the horror genre borrowing in this episode:  body horror, Frost behaving as though she’s possessed, the wild look she gives to the camera, appearing behind a character (Samberly) who screams and isn’t seen again, and even the conclusion of her arc.  Frost arrives at the site while Howard is practicing his golf (because why not), and Howard shoots her with the gamma cannon, which separates the Zero Matter from her.  The Zero Matter is sucked into the rift and Peggy, Sousa, and Thompson take Frost into custody.  However, they can’t shut down the Rift Generator remotely, so they need to get close enough to shut it off on the machine itself—meaning that whoever does it will be inside the zone and sucked into the rift.  Everyone starts arguing about why they should be the one to do it, but Sousa just goes over, ties himself off, and makes his way into the danger zone to do it.  It’s a pretty interesting scene as Sousa tries to shut it off, the gravity goes haywire, and his lashing comes loose, leading to all the characters joining together to hold him and keep him from being sucked in.  Finally Howard and Jarvis figure out that by putting the cannon’s core in Howard’s (working) hovercar, sending it into the rift, and detonating it, they can close the rift and save the world.  They do so (aided by the not-dead-but-fainted Samberly), and everyone survives.  This climax was surprisingly straightforward for a spy show, but Agent Carter doesn’t really go for the big, flashy fight scenes—instead this series prefers the more personal fights and intricately-layered plots.

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The remainder of the episode is largely dénouement.  Frost is locked up in a mental institution and visited by a heartbroken Manfredi.  Wilkes goes to work for Howard at his new Malibu facility.  The facility’s purpose is unstated beyond a reference to an idea he had on the way back from Peru, but it could be connected to the ARC reactor.  Wilkes and Peggy finally talk and accept that a relationship would not work for the two of them after the circumstances of their meeting.  Ana returns home from the hospital and she and Peggy part as friends.  Jarvis gives Peggy a ride to the S.S.R. office, and tries to convince her to stay along the way.  Peggy and Sousa fill out paperwork together, after which Sousa mock-scolds Peggy for not letting him go to close the Rift (and be sucked into it for his trouble).  In response, Peggy throws herself at him and kisses him passionately (kind of saw that coming).  I actually appreciated the resolution to the love story:  Peggy and Wilkes are friends; Peggy and Sousa are lovers.  It wasn’t unexpected, but it also wasn’t quite as drawn-out—particularly when there were other things going on.  In fact, there were only a couple of actual references in the episode.

The biggest twist in the finale came right at the end when Sousa called Thompson to explain that Peggy was taking some more vacation time in Los Angeles.  Someone knocked on his door, and shot him in the chest when he opened the door.  Then the unknown assailant stole Peggy’s (forged?) file from Thompson’s suitcase and walked out of the room, leaving him dead or dying on the floor.  Considering everything that happened this season with his character, I was hoping to see more of him in the future, particularly with his reconciliation seeming to put him even more solidly on Peggy’s side than he was at the beginning of the season.  I think this is premature for them to kill him off, but that is what would make it such a shocking decision (similar to Ward’s murder of Victoria Hand on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).  What does this mean going forward?  Is someone trying to acquire blackmail material against Peggy?

There are two things we can really take away from this season finale in terms of a possible season 3.  The first is Masters’ Arena Club pin, which Thompson discovered to also be a key—will this key lead Peggy to discover even more nefarious dealings of the Council/Evil Empire/possible-Ancient-Hydra?  The second is Thompson’s mysterious attacker—was he looking for material on Peggy on behalf of the Council, or is there another party involved?  As of now it certainly appears that Thompson is dead, but they could always reveal that he was discovered quickly enough to survive.

I really enjoyed season 2 of Agent Carter, and I think that with its exploration of Zero Matter I may even have enjoyed it more than I did season 1.  Howard is always funny, and I especially enjoy watching him play off Jarvis and Peggy for humor.  The character development and interactions in this series are absolutely phenomenal, to say nothing of the effects they use to recreate the time period.  If ABC decides not to renew this show for season 3, they will really be missing out on an excellent series.

What did you think of the season 2 finale?  What do you want to see in a season 3?  Let me know in the comments!

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