Agent Carter, Season 1, “A Sin to Err”, “SNAFU” & “Valediction”
The last three episodes of Agent Carter, season one, continue to showcase Peggy’s competence. When Peggy loses, or is caught, it is not from incompetence but rather from insurmountable odds. It’s because of a villain she had not reason to suspect (let’s face it, Dottie is very good at what she does, whether it be her innocent girl from Iowa routine or murdering people). We continue to get all the style, the slick one liners and fun fight sequences (seriously, Peggy taking down her fellow agents in the diner to upbeat jazz while using a plate as an impromptu projectile weapon is simply AMAZING) but what really stands out about the final three episodes is how it’s all about how the past comes back around.
Steve Roger’s shadow hangs over the entirety of the first season but it hangs particularly heavy in the final three episodes. His actions, his person, his morals continue to inspire and influence those who knew him, those who loved him. The last vial of his blood is the reason Peggy goes back to her apartment at the Griffith even though her actions as a double agent have been uncovered by the SSR. Residual guilt over his death is what makes Howard Stark susceptible to the manipulations of Dr. Fennhoff (Ralph Brown) and puts him in a plane, on his way to dump poison gas onto the VE Day parade in Times Square, thinking he’s on his way to rescue Steve.
And so, in the finale, the crucial moment is not Sousa taking down Fennhoff (by being super competent and stuffing cotton in his ears!), or Peggy’s showdown with Dottie (Peggy uses a scarf as a weapon!) or about Jarvis getting in a plane to follow Howard, and maybe have to shoot him down, but Peggy sitting at the radio, talking Howard out of his hypnosis. It’s where the show began, with Peggy at the radio. Only this time, she can save the person in the plane. She tells Howard they have to let Steve go—he’s gone and there’s nothing they can do. In this moment, Peggy is speaking to herself as much as she is to Howard.
It comes back around to Steve because of the mark he left on his friends. Howard’s greatest wish is to find Steve. For his friend to be alive and his greatest failure to be reversed. For Peggy to respect him. The image of Peggy holding Captain America’s shield in Howard’s hallucinations is an important one. For Howard, she and Steve are heroes—better people than him—something he wishes he could be. For Peggy, she’s striving to live up to Steve, to the type of person he was, to his symbol. The thing is, Peggy is already there. She just doesn’t realize it.
And that is truly what season one of Agent Carter is all about.
The presence of Steve Rogers might be strong. Howard Stark might be the reason Peggy gets pulled into the mess in the first place. Dooley might finally give his respect and acknowledgement to Peggy but this season is really about Peggy acknowledging herself and realizing just how damn important it is that she does so.
Near the final episode’s end Peggy walks into the SSR office. It’s a mirror of a shot from the first episode where the doors open to reveal her face. In the first episode Peggy is full of purposeful energy. She’s wearing a fantastic hat. Bold colors. In the final episode she’s hatless and in more subdued colors. She’s calmer. She’s got less to prove. The first time we saw Peggy walk into the SSR headquarters few noticed her arrival. This time, everyone applauds. Peggy’s colleagues give her the recognition she’s been wanting for so long. But not everything has magically changed. Thompson gets all the credit for the win and gets a promotion to Chief. And he accepts it—like the world, Jack hasn’t changed all that much either. And Sousa is furious. He wants to tell Jack off, and tell the Senator who heaped praise on the new Chief exactly what happened. Peggy talks him down and utters the single most important line in the show:
“I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”
And there it is. That one line is what the first season has been building to since episode one. Earlier in the season, Peggy talked to Angie about how during the war she had a purpose, a sense of herself and her meaning. Her value. When the war ended she lost that. And she’s been looking for it ever since. Hence, she accepts Howard’s plea for help. Her desire for recognition by her coworkers and her boss, her becoming a double agent has all been a search for her own sense of self. She gets the approval—the recognition—in the end. From Dooley. From Thompson. From Sousa. From the entire office. And then she realizes, as wonderful as it is, she doesn’t need it.
And then it’s time for Peggy to follow her own advice – the same advice she gave to Howard over the radio – and let go of Steve Rogers. Jarvis, having convinced Howard the sample of Steve’s blood was lost while he was under Fennhoff’s control, gives it to Peggy: “I owe Howard Stark a great deal. But he does not own my integrity.” It’s a beautiful moment that cements the friendship of understanding and respect between Peggy and Jarvis. The season ends with Peggy on a bridge. She pours the blood over the side to Bing and Dixie Lee Crosby singing “The Way You Look Tonight”. It’s a gorgeous and heartbreaking moment that brings an amazing eight-episode arc to a perfect emotional and narrative close.
Other thoughts on re-watch:
“You think Ginger Rogers is a Russian assassin?” “You should have seen her eyes as I escorted her from Mr. Stark’s villa. The darkest gates to the abyss.”
Peggy’s improvisational weapons tally: stapler, oven grate, fork, crate lid, metal pole, Stark invention designed for massage, plate and scarf. Jarvis learns from Peggy and adds one to the list: diner tray!
“You’re telling me one woman took out an entire team of highly trained government agents?” Yes, Dooley. Yes.
Angie’s crying performance is spectacular. Peggy isn’t the only one to take advantage of men’s biases and assumptions! Thompson’s and Sousa’s reactions are priceless. Also: Gam Gam.
“I knew you didn’t work at the phone company!”
Love the little detail of Fennhoff reading Doctor Faustus—beautiful nod towards his comic book self.
“I conducted my own investigation because no one listens to me. I got away with it because no looks at me. Because, unless I have your reports, your coffee or your lunch, I’m invisible.”
Sousa finally asks Peggy out! Not going to lie—I am a huge fan of Peggy and Daniel as a pair. She turns him down—she has to see a friend—and I love that said friend is Angie.
Angie is just the best.
“I appreciate the finer things. I just don’t want to know what’s happened in and on the fine things.”
Next week: Agent Carter Season Two Premiere! I’ll be reviewing all ten episodes right here on Killer Moose.
Things I’m looking forward to: romance for Peggy, JARVIS, the state of Peggy and Sousa’s relationship, more Dottie, the Hollywood setting, more of Peggy’s improvisational weapons and ALL THE FABULOUS HATS.
EDIT: read from the beginning with Part 1!