Thursday, February 5, 2015

Marvel's Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 5: The Iron Ceiling

This week we get the best and most satisfying episode yet of Agent Carter, as Peggy finally gets to show the SSR gang that she can do more— much more— than get coffee and take lunch orders. We also see the welcome return of the Howling Commandos, the SSR boys are fleshed out a bit, and we see the origin of Black Widow. Sort of.

The Plot:
We begin in 1937, where we the infamous Red Room facility, which trains and brainwashes young girls to be secret assassins for the Russian Government.  Black Widow of the Avengers fame is an alumni of this program. We see young Dottie (Peggy's neighbor) being trained in the Red Room, as she fights and even murders a less-skilled classmate. Yikes! Tough room! Cut to 1946, where we see Dottie still training and honing her skills. She has lunch with Peggy and surreptitiously (and very obviously, if you ask me) steals her room key. 

Over at SSR headquarters, Leet Brannis' magic Fringe typewriter receives a coded message. Chief Dooley calls in a cryptographer who can't figure out the code (I presume he wasn't supposed to be Alan Turing). Peggy takes a look and instantly deciphers the code, saying it's a series of map coordinates in Belarus that came from Leviathan, which hopes to acquire a "Havoc Reactor" (whatever that is) from Howard Stark.

Dooley immediately organizes a team to send to Russia, sans Peggy of course. She argues that she should be included, finally winning a place on the team when she promises she can get the Howling Commandos to accompany them.

Meanwhile, Agent Sousa, the only member of the SSR who appears to have any investigative skills whatsoever, discovers that Peggy has two small marks on her shoulder that are identical to those of the mysterious blonde who stole the nitramene from the nightclub back in Episode 1. He puts two and two together, and realizes Peggy's been doing some after-hours spy work of her own. Ruh-roh.

Dottie uses the stolen key to sneak into Peggy's apartment. She finds a secret compartment inside a music box, that's filled with photos of various pieces of Stark technology. She notes that Peggy has a photo of pre-transformation Steve Rogers on her vanity, and finds her secret knockout lipstick (although sadly she doesn't apply any). She then becomes even creepier than she's already been by staring into the mirror and doing a serviceable impression of Peggy before exiting, leaving the audience to wonder what the hell that was all about.

Peggy, Agent Thompson and a couple of other SSR boys arrive in Belarus, where they meet up with the Howling Commandos: Dum Dum Dugan, Junior Juniper, Pinky Pinkerton, and Happy Sam Sawyer. Can you tell from those names that this is a comic book show? Gabe Jones and Jim Morita are conspicuously absent on this mission–– I guess they had more pressing matters to attend.

They infiltrate what turns out to be the Red Room facility, where they find a crying little girl who stabs Dugan (he gets better). They also find two male prisoners: a scientist named Nicholai and his psychiatrist Dr. Ivchenko. The group's then surrounded by Russian troops and realize they've blundered into a trap. Nicholai attempts to bargain with the Russians, but Ivchenko shoots and kills him. They barely escape with their lives and make it back to the States.

Agent Thompson reveals a terrible secret to Peggy and realizes there's more to her than he realized and invites her out for a drink with the guys. Chief Dooley talks to an informant and learns that Howard Stark, who he's been gunning for since the series started, may not be collaborating with the enemy after all. Dr. Ivchenko offers to cooperate fully with the SSR, which of course means he's either a HYDRA or Leviathan agent.

Thoughts:
• The most satisfying thing about this episode is how Peggy finally got to prove her worth to her coworkers Dooley and Thompson. Those two even got fleshed out a bit this week, so they seemed a bit more like actual people and not the knuckle-dragging troglodytes they've been portrayed as so far.

• The girls in the Black Widow program watch Snow White on film every day, presumably as a way to learn English. I'm sure the fact that Disney now owns Marvel had nothing whatsoever to do with that choice of film.

Speaking of the film, Peggy glances at it for a second and realizes its full of subliminal messages. Add another skill to her resume, along with speaking fluent Russian and code breaking!

• By the way, I don't think it's ever been mentioned in any of the Marvel movies, but despite the fact that Black Widow seems to be in her late twenties, she's well over eighty years old. The Russians apparently had their own version of the "Super Solider Serum."

• Chief Dooley complains about being pressured by the Vice President to wrap up the Stark case. Whoops! America didn't have a vice president from April 1945 to January 1949. Harry S Truman was the VP but was bumped up to President when Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Apparently he never appointed a vice president during his term. Don't feel too bad, Agent Carter writers. We can't all be history majors.

• A couple weeks ago I marveled (heh) at the fact that no one on this show is ever seen smoking. This struck me as odd, since everyone smoked in the 1940s.

In this episode when Peggy's sitting next to Dugan on the way to Belarus, he starts to light up his trademark stogie and she grabs it and tosses it out the back of the truck. So that's why no one smokes in this period show— Peggy Carter throws tosses all their tobacco products out the window!

• When Nicholai starts telling Peggy that light acts as both a particle and a wave, she nods knowingly, as if to say, "Derr, everyone knows that!"

I figured this had to be a mistake, as who would know such a thing in 1946? I googled it though, and whaddya know? Quantum theory has been around since at least the 1920s.

• On Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Trip mentions his grandpa, who was one of the Howling Commandos. Wouldn't this episode have been the perfect time to introduce this character, as a cool way to tie the two series together?

Many Marvel fans assume that Howling Commando Gabe Jones was Trip's granddaddy, but it hasn't been confirmed. Happy Sam Sawyer (who's also black) is introduced here, but nothing's ever said about a connection to Trip.

I'm starting to wonder if Marvel's planning to get all diverse and colorblind on us and reveal that Dugan (or someone else equally unexpected) is really Trip's grandpaw?

• Once the mission's over, Dugan nicknames Peggy "Miss Union Jack." There's actually a Union Jack in Marvel Comics, who's sort of the British equivalent of Captain America.

• Agent Thompson tells Peggy and the Commandoes the story of how he singlehandedly killed six Japanese soldiers who infiltrated his army camp, an act for which he was publicly lauded. 

Later on he tells Peggy the truth— the soldiers were trying to surrender and he mistakenly gunned them all down (Yikes!). He then hid their white flag before anyone could see it, and has been living a lie ever since.

Wouldn't a group of surrendering soldiers have been unarmed? Didn't any of Thompson's fellow soldiers notice that?

• Just to make sure we don't forget that Dottie is secretly a Russian agent, every time she appears this hilariously cliched stern and foreboding Ukrainian music blares from the soundtrack. We get it, guys. Dottie's a Ruskie. You can drop the overbearing leitmotif.

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