Thursday, January 28, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 3: Better Angels

This week's Agent Carter moves right along, as it brings back a fan-favorite character, resurrects a dead one we all knew was alive, and references a couple of real-life Hollywood personalities.

I was glad to see the return of Howard Stark, even if it was for just one episode. He definitely livens up the show. He's an interesting character— he's rude, vain, egotistic and a shameless womanizer. He's also a certified genius, and quite a progressive thinker too (as demonstrated in this episode when he drops everything to help Dr. Wilkes). The character shouldn't work, but somehow he does. Kudos to actor Dominic Cooper for making him such a likable asshole.

Right now there are actually two Howard Starks running around the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dominic Cooper plays the younger Howard Stark, while John Slattery plays the older version. Besides looking absolutely nothing alike, the two actors couldn't be more different. Cooper plays Stark as fun-loving bad boy, while Stattery's version is all business, which I'm sure is confusing to casual viewers. Marvel really needs to pick a Stark and stick with him, and I vote for Cooper. How hard could it be to age him up a bit when they need the older version?

Cooper is obviously channeling Robert Downey Jr.'s performance of Tony Stark here, giving the two characters a familial link. It's an odd situation— Tony Stark's character was established in the movies first, so his father Howard is following in his footsteps, instead of the other way around.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Peggy and Chief Sousa search the late Dr. Jason Wilkes apartment, and find evidence suggesting he was a communist. Peggy believes Isodyne planted to evidence to discredit Wilkes. Peggy returns to the SSR office, where she's surprised to see Chief Thompson has flown in from New York. He tries to get Peggy to sign a report stating that Wilkes was a commie, but she refuses. He signs his name to it instead, and Peggy leaves in a huff.

Peggy and Jarvis visit Howard Stark's movie studio, where he's filming a movie based on the Kid Colt comic book. Peggy shows Stark the Zero Matter film, and he's both intrigued and terrified by the substance's potential uses. While looking through Wilkes' papers, Stark finds a pin like the one the Council Of Nine were all wearing last week. He identifies it as an Arena Club pin. Peggy wants to plant bugs inside the club, but Stark tells her it's a men's only establishment.

Stark comes up with a plan. He pretends to join the Arena Club, then says it's too stuffy and brings in a bevy of buxom young women-- including Peggy. During all the commotion she sneaks into the rear of the Club, planting bugs here and there. She finds the Council Of Nine's chamber and plants a bug inside, but it shorts out. Oddly enough she also finds a copy of tomorrow's newspaper, complete with a headline saying a prominent senator is resigning in disgrace. Apparently the Council not only controls the news, but the elections as well.

Back at the office, Thompson watches the Zero Matter film. When he's done, FBI Agent Vernon shows up. He says WIlkes stole a weapon before he was killed, and if Thompson has any info on the incident, it's his duty to hand it over. Vernon says Thompson "will know it when he sees it." Peggy returns to the office and tells Thompson about the Council's prophetic newspaper. He refuses to believe her and they argue. He orders her to return to New York. On her way out, she notices items on her desk floating in mid-air.

Fearing she's been contaminated by Zero Matter, Peggy goes to Stark, who says there's a disruption in the gravity field around her. He mixes up a chemical that can makes invisible wavelengths visible. He sprays the mix in front of Peggy, and Wilkes appears. Comic book science! It seems the Zero Matter explosion didn't kill him, but made him intangible. He's been following Peggy around (!), trying to make her notice him. Wilkes tells Peggy that Whitney Frost caused the Zero Matter explosion when she tried to steal it. Stark vows to cure Wilkes.

Peggy visits Whitney Frost, and accuses her of trying to steal the Zero Matter. She denies it of course, and later forces her husband, Calvin Chadwick, to eliminate Peggy. Chadwick sends an assassin named Hunt to kill Peggy, but she ends up kicking his ass and sending him running. The next day Thompson hands the Zero Matter film over to Vernon, claiming he didn't watch it. Vernon takes Thompson to the Arena Club, and introduces him to Chadwick. He notices a newspaper with the exact headline Peggy warned him about. Whoops!

Stark heads to Peru to consult with an expert on Wilkes' condition. Sousa tells Peggy he did some digging, and discovered a woman named Agnes Cully, who invented some sort of wartime technology. Cully's stage name is-- Whitney Frost. Peggy realizes Frost is the brains of the entire Isodyne operation.

Whitney Frost sits in her dressing room, worrying over the crack in her forehead caused by the Zero Matter explosion. Her director comes in, sees the crack and asks what's going on. Suddenly a mass of Zero Matter erupts from Frost's hands, absorbing the director. Frost notices the crack on her forehead is now bigger.

Thoughts:
• Ever since he was introduced, Howard Stark has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe's equivalent of Howard Hughes. Nowhere was that more evident than in this episode, in which Stark not only owns his own movie studio, but is directing a film as well.

In addition to being an aviator, engineer and inventor, the real life Howard Hughes owned RKO Studios (as well as their theaters and radio network) and began overseeing all the company's films. He eventually sold the studio to the General Tire and Rubber Company, but retained ownership of all films made under his watch.

• When Peggy visits Stark's studio, he's filming a Kid Colt movie. Kid Colt was an early Marvel Comics character. Unfortunately his first appearance was in 1948, a year after this episode was set. Whoops!

When Peggy sees what Stark is filming, she says, "A movie based on a comic book? Sounds like a dreadful idea!" Meta Humor Alert! 

I guess Peggy must not go to the movies much, or she'd know that the idea of a comic book movie wasn't new. The Captain Marvel serial premiered in 1941, and there was a Batman one in 1943. I suppose we could cut Peggy some slack here, as Fawcett and DC characters probably don't exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

• When Stark offers Peggy a role as a "sassy beer wench" in his movie, she says, "I'd rather be the cowboy!"

I'll bet you anything this is referring to Hayley Atwell's comment about Doctor Who last year. When asked in an interview if she'd ever consider playing the Doctor's companion, she replied, "I'd rather be the Doctor!"

• When Stark comments on how white Jarvis is, he claims he's 1/16th Turkish.

• Last week when Chief Thomspon tried to interrogate Dottie Underwood, she overturned a table, pinned him to the floor and darned near crushed his neck with it. This week Peggy makes a comment about Thompson's disastrous encounter with Dottie. How'd she know about that? She was on her way to LA when that happened.

Maybe she heard the office gossip about the incident?

• In the first episode, we saw Peggy entering the SSR's west coast division. It's inside a small-time talent agency, accessible behind a wall of fake filing cabinets.

So when FBI Agent Vernon visited Thompson at the SSR in this episode, does that mean he had to go through the talent agency and file cabinet covers too?

• Howard Stark meets a member of the Arena Club and says, "Let's do lunch." Did people really say that in 1947? I'm betting not.

• The Arena Club has a strict "No Women Allowed" rule. Stark brazenly flaunts this policy by bringing in a carload of young starlets.

If women aren't allowed inside the Arena Club, why does the maitre d have a "Code Pink" to deal with them? No one would come up with a code for a situation before it arises. Obviously women have crashed the place before.

And I doubt people said "Code 'Blank" in 1947 either.

• When Peggy's planting bugs in the Arena Club, she sneaks into the Council Of Nine's secret board room. She plants a bug under their table, but it begins emitting feedback so she destroys it. Just then a security guard enters, suspicious. She messes with one of the bugs, exposing its wires and jamming a fake flower from her dress into it, before placing it under the table.

At first I thought she was trying to start a small fire to create a distraction, so she could escape the board room unnoticed. But there was never any smoke or flame, and she escaped just fine. So what the heck was the deal with the hacked bug? It feels like a scene or two missing here.

You'd also think a top notch spy like Peggy would have taken one of the "tomorrow's newspapers" as evidence.

• When Peggy infiltrates the Council Of Nine's boardroom, she finds a copy of tomorrow's paper, implying the group is rigging the upcoming election. The paper is dated Wednesday, July 16, 1947. That date really did fall on a Wednesday! Kudos to the prop man for getting that detail right!

• I told you Dr. Wilkes wasn't dead!

• Last week I said I thought Jason Wilkes might turn out to be Marvel Comics character Shroud. Well, I was way off base there. 

Turns out there was a very obscure Marvel character named Professor Jason Wilkes. He appeared in Tales Of Suspense in 1962 (about a year before the Marvel Comics Universe started up).

Comic book Wilkes was a scientist who was contacted by the commies to invent an invisibility ray for them. He does so, and tests it on himself. Unfortunately he not only becomes invisible, but intangible as well, and has no way to turn on the "antidote" ray.

• Also last week I said that since this was a comic book show, I wished they'd add more fantastical elements to it, like ray guns or jetpacks. Well, be careful what you wish for. This week's episode featured pseudo science that would make Ed Wood look away in embarrassment! None of it makes a lick of sense.

First of all, Wilkes is invisible and intangible. Peggy sticks her hand through his shoulder, and at one point Stark walks right through him. Yet somehow he's still alive, and has been able to breathe for several days. Shouldn't he have suffocated within minutes of the Zero Matter explosion, as the air leaked out of his insubstantial lungs?

Stark then gives us a lecture on how movie film is created and developed, and whips up a photochemical potion that makes Wilkes visible again, but not solid. Then just to prove that they hate us, the writers say Wilkes can't speak, because his vocal chords are immaterial and can't vibrate the air. So Stark sprays his potion into Wilkes throat, and viola! He can speak. So the potion makes him visible but not material, but it can make his vocal chords solid enough to allow him to speak.

Um... I'm not even sure how to respond to that.

And I'm still not sure what was up with the items floating above Peggy's desk and around her body. Stark says a disruption in her gravity field is causing the items to float, but that doesn't make any sense. Was that Wilkes moving things around, trying to get her attention? If so, he shouldn't be able to handle any objects, since he's intangible and his hands would go right through them.

This episode's science is making me have one of my sick headaches.

• Stark sends Jarvis out to pick up scientific components, and then says to buy him some Velveeta while he's out. I checked, and Velveeta really was around in 1947. It was invented way back in 1923.

• After Mr. Hunt attacks Peggy, Stark increases the security around his mansion. Unfortunately this consists of a very unintimidating alarm with Jarvis' voice. When Jarvis hears this, he says he has no desire to spend eternity as a disembodied voice. Another Meta Humor Alert!

• Near the end of the episode, Howard Stark flies off to Peru to meet with Professor Abner Brody (and to get back to AMC to film Preacher). I wonder if that was an obscure Indiana Jones reference? Indy regularly visited countries like Peru, his mentor was Abner Ravenwood, and his museum curator friend was Marcus Brody. I don't know if that's what they had in mind, but it all fits.

• Sousa tells Peggy that Whitney Frost's real name is Agnes Cully, and she invented some sort of wartime code breaking machine. This is obviously a reference to real life actress Hedy Lamarr, who, along with George Antheil, invented a way to used frequency hopping to control torpedoes in WWII.

• Obviously Whitney Frost is on track to become Marvel villain Madame Masque. But the comic version of Masque had no actual superpowers. She was just a skilled fighter and spy. She for damn sure couldn't absorb people into her own body! Obviously this version of Madame Masque is moving in a different direction.

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