When it comes to the super-spy game, Peggy Carter stands apart.
As the third episode of Marvel’s Agent Carter opens, a shadowy figure climbs the drainpipe of Peggy’s new apartment. Sure, it’s all prelude to an “aw, shucks” misunderstanding with one of her housemate’s overeager boyfriends, but as the agent pulls a pistol first and asks questions later, it becomes clear how removed from the common world she is. Whether it’s cracking the mysterious code left by a blown up defector of a Russian sleeper cell or navigating the waters of friendship, Peggy can’t shake her outsider status.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at the S.S.R. office, where Peggy remains the eternal square peg. Each agent, including tunnel-visioned boss Roger Dooley, hotheaded Jack Thompson, quick-witted Daniel Sousa and loutish Ray Krzeminski, has a place on the investigative team. However, Peggy is still considered the secretary at best. And the way she bristles at playing along with their game in even the slightest way sets off a string of events that prove to push her investigation further to the edges of the Howard Stark case and her life into more tragic territory.
The first domino falls as Dooley and Krzeminski try by any means necessary to connect a ball of wreckage from the Russian organization Leviathan to the rogue industrialist. Their single-minded investigative methods lead them to butler Edwin Jarvis, and while it was Peggy who placed him at the scene and in harm’s way, her guilt over landing the nebbish manservant in an S.S.R. holding cell is trumped by her curiosity about the fact that Jarvis was labeled a traitor during the war. When she opts to blow Thompson’s one piece of interrogation leverage in front of everyone in order to let Jarvis free, the hammer Dooley brings down on Agent Carter is more than the chauvinistic backtalk she’s earned so far.
Shaken by the task of betraying her own coworkers – as pigheaded as they may be, they’re still the good guys – Carter rebuffs her gal pal Angie’s invitation for bonding. Whether it’s a lingering sense of responsibility to keep citizens out of harm’s way as she failed to do before or an inability to engage in everyday life, Peggy’s adherence to her job keeps her at an arm’s length from anyone who might help her find a sense of satisfaction or pride.
Things fare a little better with Jarvis. When the two meet back up to track the villains who cut a giant hole in the floor of Stark’s secret science vault, the agent is unable to ignore the butler’s supposed turncoat status. As they creep through the New York City sewer system in search of their prey, Jarvis opens up about the time in his life when he was willing to break the military’s rules to rescue his soon-to-be wife from the Holocaust. Although their scene underground marks off a lot of the standard “World War II-era melodrama” checklist, the scene works well to unite Carter and Jarvis beyond their occasional banter. In his own way, he’s an outsider by choice as much as she is. And having someone close at hand who understands what it’s like to be “honest if not truthful” the way she is gives Peggy the strength to move forward fighting for Stark.
And fighting is exactly what she steps into. In classic network drama fashion, the pair’s trail leads conveniently to the boat whose logo was left behind by the dead Leviathan defector. It’s been sitting in the harbor full of stolen Stark tech for days, just waiting for the duo to stumble upon it — and the 400-pound gorilla of a henchman left to defend it. The battle between Peggy and the brute is as viscous and effective a fight scene as the show has presented yet, although overall the episode is on the weaker side of its pulp pleasures. These series work best when the super-spy trappings are tied to the arcs of their characters. And while Peggy and Jarvis’ dual realizations that they’re too far outside the system to capture the flag of Stark’s tech on their own proved a satisfying finish to their journeys this week, the episode didn’t feel quite the crackling Marvel superhero period piece we want it to be.
But again, Agent Carter leaned into its miniseries premise in the best way as things wrapped up. When Krzeminski is murdered along with the S.S.R.’s only witness to the truth behind the Stark theft, a signal is sent out that the show will not rest on its laurels. As the men of the agency grow even more zealous in their urge to nail Stark, Peggy’s guilt over going rogue breaks through worse than before. With each step, the character is cursing herself with the kind of pariah status that will never win her the respect of her peers … and may just earn her jail time. A reconciliation with Angie is a small salve to the wound, but with only five episodes left it’s a safe bet that that wound will be torn open by the spy game in dramatic fashion very soon.
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