Considering its overarching themes and how its early episodes played, there was nowhere else Marvel’s Agent Carter could have ended up except with its lead a fugitive from the men she works with. But it’s to the credit of the show’s writers that last night’s “A Sin to Err” never felt predictable. In fact, the hour presented the best possible version of its many period tropes across an hour that crossed, and double-crossed, all over Manhattan.
A huge part of the story’s success comes from Peggy’s own journey. Rather than spend the episode ducking her colleagues like a guilty party, our agent remains as active a force for her own goals as she’s ever been. After returning from her European adventure in the favor of Director Dooley for the first time in her S.S.R. career, Agent Carter is assigned a real mission: to locate the Russian spy who seduced her way into Howard Stark’s science vault. While the task is strategically important for the agency, Peggy’s drive to clear Starks’ name adds urgency to the job and reteams her with Edwin Jarvis.
Their investigation hits all the grace notes their odd couple partnership has provided so far. Jarvis takes the brunt of Stark’s womanizing ways in a slap-take supercut. Peggy leads the hunt with a sharp wit that could easily be described as the satisfying opposite of mansplaining. Jarvis stutters as he recalls the bewitching nature of Ginger Rogers’ eyes. And finally, the show offers up its best yet nostalgia-tinged action sequence as Peggy throws down against the S.S.R. agents on her tail in an automat slugfest set to Peggy Lee’s “It’s a Good Day.”
But those touches are more crowd-pleasers than complications. The real it factor of the episode came from Peggy’s Russian opposites. With the steely resolve of the brainwashed, Dottie murders her way through the chauvinists of New York in the final phase of her plan to capture Steve Rogers’ blood for the Soviet Union. And when a tense scene that at first appears to be an assassination attempt against a Soviet psychiatrist defector turns into a Morse-code exchange of information, a second villain steps into the picture who carries all the guile that’s absent from Dottie’s nature.
Whether our psychiatrist is classic Captain America villain Dr. Faustus or just a convincing stand-in, the character’s attempt to hypnotize Director Dooley and subsequent success at doing the same to a rookie agent add a layer of doubt to the proceedings. The calm way in which the doctor strokes his ring as he bores into a subject’s psyche is a chilling contrast to the bombastic chase story Peggy is embroiled in, and the fallout from his landing inside S.S.R. headquarters holds the potential for even more.
Even the small details from the episode shine: Peggy’s gal pal Angie being frustrated as losing an audition in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House only to turn around and cry out the performance of a lifetime to distract the S.S.R. from catching Carter; the sad sigh Peggy gives when she has to disarm Agent Thompson, whom she respects but knows is all talk; Agent Sousa’s gut-wrenching line to Peggy that running from him will only cement her guilt. All of these are moments that provide payoff to the season’s character work without getting in the way of the main action.
And best of all, the episode’s ending on the first true Agent Carter cliffhanger takes us out of the story just as we can’t wait for more. Between Peggy finally knowing the truth about Dottie, the fact that she escaped the Russian killer’s grasp only to land amid an office of men set against her, and proto-Faustus’ continued existence, it’s going to be a long wait until next week.
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