Review: Agent Carter “Life of the Party”/”Monsters”

"Sadly there's no rest for weary and wounded until the job is done."

WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
Agent Carter Season Two, “Life of the Party” & “Monsters”

It’s all about turning points, and setting up the stakes for the season finale by giving the victories to the bad guys in this week’s event packed, two-part Agent Carter.

Several supporting characters make their return including Ana Jarvis, Jack Thompson and Dottie Underwood. It comes at the cost of Rose’s absence, which is disappointing after Lesley Boone’s wonderful performance in the previous episode. However, the switch up in the supporting cast allows for some fresh energy and dynamics that have been absent for a few episodes. For instance: I did not realize I needed Jarvis and Dottie as a combination in my life, but it’s rather wonderful. Or a scene where Jarvis holds his own in a battle (of words) with Jack. It’s a smart move to switch up the pairings at this point in the season. The rotation of fresh onscreen dynamics with tried and true ones keeps things feeling fresh and interesting for the viewer.

Fabulous, crazy & deliciously evil.
Dottie Underwood: Fabulous & deliciously evil

Most important however, is the return of Bridget Regan to the screen as Dottie Underwood. She really is the key to the best parts of these two episodes. Regan is so much fun to watch and her portrayal of Dottie is what makes these two episodes entertaining, providing that balanced Agent Carter tone where it otherwise might have been nothing but dark and dour.

Because, holy crap, everything goes from bad to worse.  

After last week’s discovery that Zero Matter can temporarily restore Dr. Wilkes to a tangible state Peggy and the rest of the team set out to retrieve more by getting a sample of Whitney Frost’s blood. Trouble is, Peggy is still recovering from her impalement and is in no condition for fieldwork. It’s nice to see the show, after last week’s episode hand-waving proper medical care away, portray that a injury such as Peggy’s takes time to heal and makes something as simple as walking a challenge. Hayley Atwell perfectly conveys Peggy’s pain and frustration as she grapples with her sudden inability to operate at full effectiveness. Simply put, they need someone on the team who can do what Peggy normally does. Cue Peggy and Sousa breaking Dottie Underwood out from prison. It’s a truly terrible plan, which Peggy admits, but it does switch things up, putting Peggy in the control room, sitting helplessly by, as Jarvis and Dottie go into the field (or, rather, a party for hopeful Senator, Calvin Chadwick).

They succeed in getting the sample of Whitney’s blood, thanks to a special syringe and Dottie’s amazing acting skills, and restore Wilkes’ physical state, but the victories stop there for Team Peggy and it’s downhill for our heroes from that point on:

MARVEL'S AGENT CARTER - "Life of the Party" - When Peggy realizes she cannot save Wilkes on her own, she turns to her most unexpected adversary for help while Whitney makes a move to control the deadly Zero Matter, on "Marvel's Agent Carter," TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16 (9:00-10:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal) KURTWOOD SMITH, CHAD MICHAEL MURRAY
Is Jack going to become a villain like Masters?

Jack is tasked with taking Peggy down by discrediting her and ruining her reputation. (To his credit, he’s not entirely stupid and clearly realizes something odd is going on, but he still only looking out for himself).

Sousa is badly beaten in his own home and is removed from his position as Chief of the west coast SSR by Vernon Masters. (Vernon Masters is that real world kind of villain that really gets under my skin. It’s what makes him so frustrating and scary. And he went after Sousa? He better get what’s coming to him).

Ana Jarvis is shot in the abdomen and is in surgery, her fate uncertain while Jarvis and Peggy sit in the hospital waiting room. (More on this below, but props to James D’Arcy for a heartbreaking performance. Jarvis watching his unconscious wife roll away on a gurney and then sit helplessly in the waiting room brought me to tears. It’s also beautifully showcases the depth of Jarvis and Peggy’s friendship as she takes his hand in a silent gesture of support).

Dottie kills a police officer and escapes into the night. (It seems this might be it for Dottie but I hope not–the energy she brought to the show was invaluable).

As a viewer, it’s brutal to see the protagonists beaten so badly, but, narratively speaking, it makes sense. It presents the heroes with their most difficult hurdle, puts lives in danger and tamps down on motivations across the board while giving them all reasons for wanting the villain well and truly defeated.

As Whitney goes crazy, Calvin suffers the ultimate price.
Betraying your super-powered wife is a bad idea

Speaking of Whitney, she truly steps into the role of comic-book villain in these episodes. When her husband betrays her she kills him. She takes out half the Council of Nine and takes control of the other half for herself, taking the reins of power by force. She tortures Dottie—and breaks her (seriously, that scene is terrifying). She kidnaps a now tangible Dr. Wilkes to help further her research into Zero Matter. All the victories go to Whitney as her power, and threat, grows. Wynn Everett continues to deliver a wonderful performance and she seems to have particular fun chomping into the role now that Whitney is in charge.

A lot happens in the two episodes. As I’ve mentioned several times in my reviews, one of Agent Carter’s best attributes is its pace. It does not dawdle and these episodes are no exception. But sometimes that comes at the cost of certain moments simply not landing as hard as could or should. For instance, “Monsters” ends with Ana Jarvis’ life in danger, except most of the impact of that moment comes from being familiar with Jarvis and how he reacts to the situation. The second season has not devoted a lot of time to Ana, this being the first time she’s appeared since the first two episodes. The moment still has weight, without a doubt, but it could have been a true punch to the gut for the viewer if the show had taken the time to establish her character more thoroughly. And since her predicament is one of the major moments that ups the stakes and firmly cements Whitney as a cold-blooded villain, it’s disappointing to see it not executed perfectly.

The same can be said for Wilkes. The motivation of the plot is entirely centered on him and getting him to into a tangible state. But the show has not invested a great deal of time in the character. So when he becomes tangible again and kisses Peggy, the moment is not as nearly as exciting as intended.

Things are looking very bad for Team Peggy.
Things are looking very bad for Team Peggy.

Entering into the latter half of its second season, Agent Carter is not pulling its punches. It’s the low point for our heroes and they have a mountain to climb to win the fight. The final three episodes of the season have a lot to cover and while “Life of the Party” and “Monsters” are not perfect, they still deliver two entertaining episodes of television that lay the groundwork for what will hopefully be one hell of a season two finale.  

 

Other thoughts:

I call major bullshit on Jack being able to take Dottie out so easily. I mean, COME ON, she’s a product of the Red Room and he’s been pounding big glasses of whiskey all night. It’s a moment that services plot momentum without making any sense for the characters involved.

So Peggy has quit the SSR? The scene with Jack seems to end on that notion, though it’s not 100% confirmed. Possibly this puts Peggy in the position to start SHIELD with Howard?

Also, they give me a kiss between Peggy and Wilkes but pull the almost kiss with Peggy and Sousa?! Luckily the romance drama did not enter into the main plot but I’m smelling major love triangle drama and I DON’T LIKE IT for two reasons. One: love triangles are trite, boring and a lazy way to create drama and tension and this show is so much better than that. Two: PEGGY AND SOUSA ARE MEANT TO BE. End of discussion.

Further to the above: the show does get props for someone calling Peggy out on having two romantic interests. The fact that someone is Jarvis makes it even better.

Peggy: “I have a terrible idea.”

Dottie: “The decadence in this place is truly repulsive.”

Peggy and Dottie (simultaneously): “What does Barbara Stanwyck do?!”

Next Week: “The Edge of Mystery”/”A Little Song and Dance”

EDIT: Read the season two reviews from the beginning