Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Marvel's Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 8: Valediction

Welp, so ends Season 1 of Marvel's Agent Carter. Will there be a second season? I hope so! When I first read that Marvel was producing a series about Captain America's non-superpowered gal pal, I thought it sounded as dull as dishwater. Fortunately that wasn't the case, and I enjoyed the show much more than I expected. Here's hoping for additional seasons!

If the series does continue, I think it'd be a good idea to follow this eight episode per season formula. That seems like just the right amount. It's enough time to set up a story arc without all the filler that longer seasons tend to have.

If there is a second season, I'd like to see a bit more adventure, rather than so much workplace drama. Don't get me wrong, seeing Peggy struggle for respect in the chauvinistic world of the 1940s was important, and a good way to shine a light on the inequalities that still exist in our time, but it's bee even better to see her team up with the Howling Commandos much more often.

It'd also be nice to see a bit more "retro" high-tech on the show. You know, death rays, jet packs, Nazi cyborgs, things like that. Embrace your comic book heritage, Agent Carter!

The series does have one major problem that I haven't yet discussed— it's a prequel. As regular readers of my blog know all too well by now, I cannot stand prequels. Why? Because no matter how bad things look for the characters in a prequel, we know nothing lasting's can happen to them. We know Dottie's not going to kill Peggy Carter, because we've already seen Captain America visit her when she's in her 90s. Howard Stark isn't going to be shot down over New York, because he still has to father his son Tony.

It's tough to generate much suspense when you already know the future histories of the characters.

That said, the writers did do an admirable job of ratcheting up the tension on the show. We know Peggy's not going to die, but she might get drummed out of the SSR. Stark can't die either, but will he bomb New York with his crazy gas? Maybe? Who knows? So well done there, writers.

SEASON ENDING SPOILERS AHEAD, INCLUDING A SURPRISING CAMEO APPEARANCE IN THE EPILOGUE!

The Plot:
The SSR investigates the incident at the movie theater from last week, and Peggy deduces that the audience savagely killed one another. Agent Sousa finds a suspicious canister and accidentally doses himself with the gas, causing him to try and kill Agent Thompson until he's subdued by the police. 

Meanwhile, Howard Stark shows up at the SSR and is placed under arrest. He somehow talks himself out of it, explaining that he invented the berserker gas, which he calls "Midnight Oil," as a way to keep soldiers awake. Unfortunately it had the unexpected side effect of turning soldiers into berserker killing machines. It was co-opted by an army general who used it at the Battle Of Finow to kill Russian troops. Stark feels guilty about this, and wants to use himself as bait to flush out Dr. Faustus and Dottie and get back his stolen tech. 

Dr. Faustus and Dottie are on their way to an airfield in order to carry out their master plan. They intend to fly a plane full of Midnight Oil over downtown Manhattan during the V.E. Day celebration. Suddenly Faustus hears Stark on the radio, and comes up with a new plan. Faustus and Dottie capture Stark during a press conference and take him to one of his hangars. There Faustus hypnotizes him into flying a plane over New York and releasing the Midnight Oil gas himself.

With a little detective help from Jarvis, the SSR arrives at the hangar. Thompson and Sousa capture Faustus, and Peggy battles Dottie, seemingly killing her. Jarvis pursues Stark in a second plane, intending to shoot his boss out of the sky if need be. Peggy radios Stark, who's been hypnotized into believing he's retrieving Captain America's body from the Arctic. She manages to talk him down at the last second. Peggy then sees that Dottie's body is gone, just like the killer in a slasher movie.

Stark disappears again afterwards, but not before allowing Peggy and Angie to live rent-free in one of his many townhouses. Jarvis gives Peggy the vial of Captain America's blood, which he took without Stark's knowledge.

Peggy pours the blood into the river, indicating she's finally over Steve Rogers and is ready to move on with her life (and no doubt turning an unsuspecting fish into a super soldier).

SPOILER WITHIN A SPOILER!
In the obligatory epilogue, we see Dr. Faustus thrown into a jail cell, wearing an elaborate orthodontic device on his head to prevent him from speaking. His roommate emerges from the shadows, revealing himself to be Arnim Zola, creator of the Winter Soldier. Yikes!

Thoughts:
• The concept of a gas that causes people to fly into a berserker rage and kill one another is very similar to a plot point in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which was released in theaters a week or so before this episode aired. 

I'm sure it was just a coincidence, but it's funny that two such unrelated properties had the same plot at the same time.

By the way, Stark called the berserker gas "Midnight Oil." My favorite band!

• I thought Agent Thompson and the rest of the SSR accepted Stark's story a bit too quickly. He went from Public Enemy #1 to trusted civilian advisor in seconds. They had a lot of story to wrap up in this episode though, so I suppose it's something we'll just have to roll with.

The same goes for Peggy's status in the SSR. Just a couple episodes ago she was drummed out of the SSR and accused of treason. Then after a simple nod from Chief Dooley before he exploded last week, she's back to being one of the boys again, barking out orders and chasing down evildoers with a shotgun.

• While examining the massacre at the movie theater, Agent Sousa finds a metal canister on the floor. He holds it inches from his face as he fiddles with it, dousing himself with the Midnight Oil gas. I'm starting to understand how he lost his leg— he probably saw a landline during the war and kicked it to see if it was active.

• Speaking of Sousa and his leg, or I guess lack of one— the extent of his injury and his agility seem to change based on the needs of the script. 

Most of the time it looks like he can't bend his knee, suggesting his entire leg is artificial. But when he finds the gas canister in the theater, he kneels down to retrieve it. I'm sure they probably had leg prosthetics with knees in the 1940s, but I doubt they were that nimble.

• Howard Stark's press conference was very reminiscent to the one Tony Stark gave at the end of Iron Man. The same goes for Peggy trying to talk down Stark in the plane— it was all very similar to the last moments between her and Steve in Captain America: The First Avenger. I'm sure this was all intentional, since this is Marvel and they like to connect everything.

• So does Dr. Faustus need to touch his ring to hypnotize someone or not? In previous episodes he's always spun his ring around his finger as he bores into someone's head, indicating it's a necessary part of the process.

In this episode Agent Sousa corners him and Faustus seemingly gets inside his head while his hands are in the air. Granted Sousa's got his ears plugged and isn't listening, but Faustus doesn't know that, and certainly seems to think he's influencing him. 

So if he doesn't need the ring to control minds, why'd he use it earlier?

• Dottie wears another outfit that's a subtle 1940s equivalent of Black Widow's costume.

• The big showdown between Peggy and Dottie was well done, but awfully short. Peggy knocked her out the window practically before the fight even got started. After so much buildup all season, I was expecting a little more.

• After Dottie falls out the window, Peggy looks out and sees her seemingly lifeless body lying on an airplane wing in a pool of her own blood. I get that Dottie's a super tough Black Widow agent, but dayum! That was a hell of a lot of blood she lost. And from a head wound yet. No doubt Dottie's staggering and vomiting all the way to the ER.

And did anyone in the audience NOT expect to see that Dottie'd crawled away at the end, like a female Jason Vorhees?

• Once Thompson and Sousa capture Dr. Faustus, they tie a gag around his mouth to prevent him from talking and controlling their minds. 

Here's a fun little experiment. Take a handkerchief and place it across your open mouth. Now pull it as tight as you can around your face. Have you done so yet? OK, now try to speak. Can you still talk? Of course you can! Sure, your voice is a little muffled, but you can still speak at least as clearly as the average ventriloquist!

I can't really blame the Agent Carter writers too much for this idiocy. This "mouth gag" trope has been going on since the earliest day of cinema.

• Once again, I'm a little disappointed in the scope of Leviathan. In the first episode the characters practically wet themselves just hearing the name. From that I got the impression it was a huge organization like HYDRA, but it appears to have been staffed by a scant four or five people. Surely there's more to it than that?

• Peggy seemed to take a backseat to the rest of the characters in this episode. There's no reason why she shouldn't have been the one flying the plane toward New York, thinking she was rescuing Steve Rogers, while Howard Stark tried to talk her down. It's her show, after all.

• At the end of the episode Jarvis hands Peggy the precious vial of Captain America's blood, saying she deserves to have it more than Stark or the American Government.

It's a good thing Peggy planned on dumping the blood, because it was probably no longer viable anyway. All through the season it was housed inside a cryogenic sphere, implying it needed to be kept on ice. For some reason Jarvis takes it out of the sphere and stores it in his hot, sweaty coat pocket before handing it over to Peggy.

• This would have been the perfect time for a cameo appearance by Daniel Whitehall, to further tie the series to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. He was alive and causing trouble in WWII, so why not?

• In the epilogue we see Dr. Faustus in jail, wearing an elaborate metal appliance on his head to prevent him from speaking. How's he supposed to eat with all that metal clamping down on his mouth?

• I was very surprised to see Arnim Zola pop up in the epilogue as Faustus' cellmate. Hey, SSR guys, or US Government or whoever's jailing them— it's probably not a good idea to keep German and Russian criminal masterminds together in the same cell! Just FYI.

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