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‘Agent Carter’ Recap: A ‘Snafu’ Can’t Stop Peggy Now

by  in Comic News, TV News Comment
‘Agent Carter’ Recap: A ‘Snafu’ Can’t Stop Peggy Now

In its penultimate week on the air, Marvel’s post-war spy drama Agent Carter reminded viewers that even when they drag, TV mini series can go out with a bang.

Picking up right on the heels of last week’s public enemy cliffhanger, this week’s episode rolls out mostly as a cat and mouse game with a few too many cats. Even when accused by her co-workers of espionage and treason, Peggy keeps a level of defiant cool. As her interrogation bounces between the wounded warrior Agent Sousa, the surprise good cop Agent Thompson and the secretly hypnotized Director Dooley, her steely reserve make her seem uncrackable. The conviction that the S.S.R.’s staff felt about her status before begins to crumble, but even as she tries to talk sense to them, Peggy’s own abilities seem lacking for the first time in a long time.

For one, Agent Carter’s explanation to her round robin accusers that their own projection on her blinded them to her true capabilities feels too on the nose. For a show that’s been so good in expressing its themes of the injustice of sexism with subtlety and style, Peggy’s defense was a rare moment that was neither. What’s more, the obvious move for our hero to simply come clean with the mountain of evidence her real story provides is frustratingly held back. No, Peggy hasn’t had much reason to trust her co-workers up until now. But when she finds herself arrested as secret Russian agents run roughshod over the S.S.R.s mission, why hold back one moment longer?

Luckily, the series makes up for this temporary lapse in story logic with a handful of winning moments. Jarvis showing up at the S.S.R.’s phone company front and demanding his way into capture brings cheers. And the reunion between he and Peggy has some of the funniest odd couple moments Howard Stark conspirators have shared over the show – particularly their failed attempt to break out of an interrogation room by using the table they’re chained to as a battering ram. None of these moments are quite as exciting as the spy games of the previous episodes, but they go a long way in carrying the audience along as we wait for the real action to heat up.

And the real action of the week carries a surprise amount of emotional heft as the manipulations of Russian hypnotist Dr. Ivchenko deepen his character in unexpected ways. As the villain of the piece flashes back to his time on the WW2 battlefield convincing soldiers in the triage surgery that they’re really miles away with family, we start to feel that Ivchenko has a soul behind his manipulations. As ready as the Russian is to bend men to his will, he also has an undeniable amount of empathy for the pour souls he commands. That dynamic blooms in the way the doctor slowly pulls Director Dooley out of the truth of Peggy’s story and into an unwitting betrayal of all of S.S.R. Even as he’s forcing Dooley to steal Stark technology from the Americans, we get a sense that Ivchenko truly wants the beleaguered director to reconnect with his estranged wife. It’s powerful, humanizing stuff for the comic book TV world.

Slightly less emotionally engaging but still strong is the rest of the agency’s hunt for Red Room assassin “Dottie.” Peggy’s eleventh hour admission of her true purpose feels forced by the plot, and her convenient spotting of Ivchenko’s Morse Code messaging is the worst kind of unearned revelation. But once those contrivances are out of the way, the role reversal for Agents Sousa and Thompson as hard ass and empath respectively carries them strongly into another fine action scene involving Dottie.

By the time the Russian assassin has escaped, Ivchenko has gotten the mystery items he needs from the S.S.R. lab, and both head out on their way toward some vague cataclysmic plot. That the show has spent so much time focusing on odd pieces of Stark’s technology without ever truly establishing why the Russians are doing what they’re doing is frustrating. The endgame of the show feels an ill fit in some ways because of that, and viewers are left scratching their heads more than a few times. But the second the reunited Agents, Peggy and Jarvis walk into Dooley’s office to see him booby trapped by a superheating Stark vest of armor, we’re brought right back in.

After all the tragic buildup of Dooley’s estrangement with his wife (shades of actor Shea Whigham’s amazing turn on Boardwalk Empire are always welcome), seeing the character accept his no-win scenario first with defiance and then with a heroic suicide jump out a window as he explodes thrills us in a way the core Russian story hasn’t been able to. Despite some lagging moments, Agent Carter has fully embraced the liberty being a mini series gives it to turn up the crazy, and that crazy comes right on time.

When Dottie and the doc wrap the episode by unleashing some kind of rage-inducing chemical cocktail in the midst of a New York City movie house, we want more. There are still a dozen questions hanging in the air for the show to wrap with its final episode — not the least of which is whether the show can take all the wonderful work its done and build a convincing Marvel Studios finale. The characters are certainly all there. Let’s wait and see if the espionage action justifies itself in the end.

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