Retrospect: Agent Carter, Part 2

"What would Cap say if I left his best girl behind?" "He would say: do as Peggy says."

Agent Carter, Season 1, “Time and Tide” , “The Blitzkrieg Button” & “The Iron Ceiling”

Sexism continues to be enemy number one in the next three episodes of Agent Carter.  

Antagonists come in all forms

In the show’s early episodes antagonists don’t last very long (poor Otto Mink only lasts a single episode). None of them are set up as enduring villains. But that is not a problem when half of the leading cast serves as antagonists of a kind, even if they are not technically the ‘bad guys’. Sexism is the main villain (though in “Time and Tide” we get the first hint at the flesh and blood ones to come, and by “The Iron Ceiling” they are revealed). And it’s not just men. Miriam Fry (Meagen Fay), who runs the Griffith where Peggy now lives, also serves as an antagonist of a kind and serves as a reminder that sexism can come from all sorts of people.

Peggy uses low expectations to her advantage. She’s smart. She’s calculated. And it’s bloody painful to watch. “Time and Tide” features Peggy saving Jarvis from interrogation by her fellow SSR agents by casting herself as the idiot woman her colleagues believe her to be. The entire interrogation scene is well executed. James D’Arcy conveys beautifully the barely contained panic Jarvis is feeling. Chad Michael Murray is excellent as Agent Thompson, who, despite being an utter ass, is quite good at his job. The tension builds up perfectly and it’s absolutely painful when Peggy intentionally messes up to get Jarvis out of the interrogation room. It’s competency masquerading as incompetency and it’s agonizing to witness.

Peggy Carter: Master of Improvisation

Peggy is a good agent. And she knows it. We see it over and over again. She’s apparently the only agent who went over the crime scene at Howard Stark’s vault who thought that, just perhaps, the potential thieves went the other way down the tunnel. The fight choreography also showcases this brilliantly. It continues to be simple and to the point. When faced with a physical confrontation Peggy approaches it like she approaches every challenge: with a simple solution. She thinks fast, doesn’t make it complicated and acts faster.

But Peggy is also proud. She craves professional approval from her peers. She wants everyone to know her capability. She’s so blinded by her desire to be recognized as capable that she is unwilling (at first) to admit she can’t let anyone know she’s the one who found the stolen inventions. It’s a great moment that makes sense for the character. It makes Peggy even more human and shows the strength of her and Jarvis’ growing relationship when he talks sense into her. Here Jarvis plays a role so often reserved for a woman—talking sense into the hero.

Agent Sousa and Agent Thompson

It’s also to the show’s benefit that not every male character is cast as an idiot. Thompson is an ass and a misogynist, but he’s a good agent. He’s not dumb. Same goes for Sousa. While everyone else is celebrating the discovery of Stark’s stolen inventions he’s saying it was all too easy. Enver Gjokaj is a great actor—you can see the gears turning in Sousa’s head. By the end of “The Iron Ceiling”, things have clicked together for him and Peggy’s secrets are that much closer to being revealed.

Agent Carter is not a show that dawdles. I mentioned the show’s snappy pace in the Retrospect of episodes one and two and that pace continues through episodes three, four and five. By the end of “Time and Tide”, Stark’s stolen inventions have been recovered and an SSR agent has been killed, raising the stakes. By the end of “The Blitzkrieg Button” one of the two new antagonists has been revealed (played by the amazing Bridget Regan) and Peggy severs ties with Stark and Jarvis. By episode five’s end Peggy has proven herself to her colleagues and is finally getting the recognition she craves—and Sousa has realized she’s been working against them.

Lies have a way of compounding, growing and, eventually, becoming too big to stay hidden. Peggy’s act as a double bankagent is becoming increasingly dangerous. But Stark’s lies come to light first. As in the first two episodes, Steve Rogers’ presence still permeates Peggy’s life. And it’s another nod to Peggy’s superb instincts as an agent that she goes against Stark’s instructions to reveal she’s not stealing an invention that will black out New York’s electrical grid, but a vial of Steve Rogers’ blood. Hayley Atwell beautifully portrays Peggy’s reaction from the set of her jaw to the tension in her body and the mixture of hurt and anger in her voice. It’s a reminder that, in the midst of a stellar cast, Atwell’s performance truly carries this show and crafts this fantastic character in such interesting ways.

 

Other thoughts upon re-watch:

In “Time and Tide” Peggy is shown getting ready for bed, putting her hair into a complicated pattern of pinned curls. It’s a smart, subtle way of showing how Peggy’s gorgeous wavy hair does not just happen.

LOVE that her book of coding symbols is disguised as a Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

All of Peggy’s quips about Stark build up perfectly to her utter takedown of him when he lies to her about what she’s stealing from the SSR office. They are also hilariously fantastic:

“I imagine strange women traipsing through the property is a fairly usual occurrence.” “That’s a fair point.”

“Mr. Stark believes brushing your teeth requires advanced technological assistance.”

“Mr. Stark would trust a shark not to bite him if it was wearing a short enough skirt. That’s not entirely relevant.”

“Howard Stark is either an ignoramus or a genius.” “Most likely both.”

ENTER BRIDGET REGAN. Hello cheekbones.

JARVIS DOING AN AMERICAN ACCENT IS EVERYTHING I’LL EVER NEED.

Improvisational weapons tally: stapler, oven grate, fork, crate lid, metal pole, Stark invention designed for massage

Speaking of….“Well that worked!” “Not if you want a massage.”

I really, really love Angie: “I know how you feel. Blindsided. Like when my cousin Ralphie got hit by a bus. Granted he did just knock off a newsstand, but still, big shock!”

Next week: We wrap up the Agent Carter Retrospects with Part 3 (episodes 6, 7 & 8)!

EDIT: read from the beginning here