WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
Agent Carter Season Two, “Better Angels”
In “Better Angels”, Agent Carter continues to stride along at a satisfyingly brisk pace while showcasing some of its strongest moments this season alongside some questionable choices.
One of the strongest aspects of Agent Carter is that it does not languish on plot points. It moves—and it moves fast. In “Better Angels” the mysterious Zero Matter is still at the center of the plot as Peggy (Hayley Atwell) and her team continue to investigate the explosion it caused at Isodyne and Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett) deals with the effects of her exposure to the substance. Peggy’s investigation leads to the disclosure of the secretive council of old white men from the last episode as members of the Arena Club and reveals the fate of Dr. Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) rather than risking either mystery being drawn out past the point of interest. Whitney is also revealed to Peggy and her fellow agents as the brains behind Isodyne, giving us the first proper scene between our hero and villain. Atwell and Everett are scorching as they test and verbally dance around each other, setting up some exciting prospects for confrontations later this season.
Some of the best revelations and advancements in the episode revolve around Whitney Frost. Her original name and previous career as a brilliant scientist add fascinating layers to her character. It makes her genuinely smarter than everyone she has so far shared a room with on the show. Wynn Everett is fantastic in this role, balancing all of the character’s intelligence, frustration and increasing instability (the level to which she is freaked out over what the Zero Matter is doing to her body is excellent). The scene where she pretends an emotional breakdown with her husband (Currie Graham) is particularly wonderful as she ably manipulates him and cements her role as a true Lady Macbeth.
Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) returns this episode to lend his scientific genius to solving the mysteries of Zero Matter, the explosion at Isodyne and the true fate of Dr. Wilkes. While this sets up the team of Howard, Peggy and Jarvis (James D’Arcy) working together, allowing great opportunities for jokes, visual gags and knockout chemistry between the three actors, it also sets up one of the episode’s, and potentially the season’s, biggest problems. Dr. Wilkes was exposed to Zero Matter. There had to be consequences. But the choice to makes the show’s only person of color invisible, incorporeal and mute without the aid of a white man’s genius is incredibly problematic and hopefully something the show’s aforementioned pace will quickly rectify.
In addition to the treatment of Dr. Wilkes, one of the most frustrating aspects of season two so far is Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray). After sitting out the second episode, Jack returns and he’s the least interesting part of the episode. His plotline feels, so far, unnecessary and tacked on. He shows up in California and there is instant, lazy antagonism between him and Peggy and he’s suddenly in the pocket of the Arena Club. The episode gives him moments where he’s potentially suspicious and questioning but it’s unclear if he’s conducting his own investigation or simply following the club agenda against his better judgment. With any luck, future episodes add more to his plotline and make it feel less ancillary.
Beyond their scenes with Howard, “Better Angels” also gives the audience some great moments with Peggy and Jarvis: the simple visual gag of them shuffling in tandem out of camera shot on Howard’s movie set or Jarvis referring to Peggy as Wendy while undercover at the Arena Club. Their best moment, without a doubt, is when Jarvis comes to Peggy’s rescue when she’s attacked by a hitman. It’s a great scene and allows the revelation of Jarvis’ new martial arts hobby from the previous episode to come into play. He’s able to hold his own against the assassin long enough for Peggy to recover and reach her gun. It’s a beautiful moment of teamwork. In fact, at one point Howard even remarks that Jarvis and Peggy make a great team. He’s right, and this episode is the first this season to truly showcase that fact. But it’s a footnote in the overall plot. The season could do with focusing back on Jarvis and Peggy as a dynamic duo more often and for longer stretches of time, as their chemistry is truly the heart of the show.
Whitney Frost as a kind of reverse Hedy Lamarr is fascinating and I hope her past gets explored in more depth as the season continues.
The episode features a lot of Sousa but he does nothing particularly of interest. Rather than solve the love quadrangle of Sousa, Peggy, Wilkes and Violet, the episode chooses not to address it at all. It’s not exactly what I wanted but it’s a far better option than filling scenes with unnecessary romantic drama.
Though the episode featured fantastic moments from Peggy and Whitney the absence of Ana and Rose is definitely felt in this episode. Bring them back!
Howard: “You want to play a sassy beer wench?”
Peggy: “I’d rather be the cowboy.”
Howard: “I like it. I don’t think the audience is ready yet.”
Peggy: “But they’re ready for a movie based on a comic book? Sounds like a dreadful idea!”
- It’s one of the least subtle meta exchanges I’ve ever heard spoken in a show but it still made me happy and made me giggle. Sometimes subtlety is not the point.
- Peggy wants to be the cowboy? I’d watch that movie.
“Come on. It’s the Strategic Scientific Reserve.” Everyone underestimates Sousa—he’s a smart guy too.
“I know. I’m great. But so is she.”
Next Week: “Smoke and Mirrors”
EDIT: Read from the beginning of the season with my review of the premier!