Saturday, February 6, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 4: Smoke And Mirrors

This week's Agent Carter was little more than a filler episode, as we delved into the pasts of both Peggy and inventor/movie star/supervillain Whitney Frost.

Seems odd to just now give Peggy an origin story now, some five years after the character was first introduced in 2011's Captain America: The First  Avenger, but hey, what do I know? Nothing we were shown about her past was all that revelatory, or anything that we couldn't have figured out for ourselves.

Far more interesting was the look into Frost's past, to see just how a girl from Oklahoma made it big in Hollywood.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Peggy and Jarvis visit Chadwick's election headquarters, hoping to run into Whitney Frost. They see Chadwick's driver, who's got a wounded hand just like the hitman Peggy stabbed last week. The driver is Rufus Hunt, an ex-soldier who's now head of security for the Arena Club. Peggy and Jarvis kidnap him and take him back to Stark's mansion.

There they find Agent Sousa waiting for them. He discovers Hunt in the trunk, and isn't happy about Peggy kidnapping suspects. He finally agrees to let Peggy interrogate Hunt. He's pretty tight-lipped, so Peggy injects him with what she says is a virulent strain of malaria developed by Howard Stark. She tells Hunt he's got just twenty minutes to live, so he'd better start talking. 

Unknown to Hunt, Peggy only injected him with a cold virus, but he believes her and starts talking. He gives her a couple names of Council Of Nine members. He says the Council records all their meetings and any evidence they need is on the tapes. Peggy pretends to give him the "antidote," but he says he's already a dead man, as the Council controls everything.

Meanwhile Whitney Frost is conducting experiments on her Zero Matter powers by absorbing lab rats. Every time she absorbs one, the crack in her forehead becomes larger.

Peggy and Sousa get a warrant to raid the Council Of Nine's headquarters at the Arena Club. Just as they're about to leave, Vernon Masters and his men enter with orders to audit the SSR. Masters shuts down the raid as his men confiscate all the SSR's records.

Peggy comes up with a new plan. They plant a bug on Hunt and release him. He goes straight to Chadwick's mansion, and tells him and Frost everything that happened. When he admits to Frost that he revealed a couple of Council Of Nine member's names, she becomes furious and uses her powers to absorb him.

That's pretty much it for the plot. The rest of the episode is padded with both Peggy's origin story and flashbacks to Whitney Frost's early life.

We see Peggy as a child, pretending to be a dragon-slaying knight rather than a princess. Progressive! Next we see her working as a WWII code breaker in Bletchley Park, but unfortunately there's no cameo by Alan Turing. 

Peggy gets engaged to a soldier named Fred, right as her boss offers her a job as a field agent with the SOE (aka the Special Operations Executive). It turns out her older brother Michael recommended her for the SOE job, and tells her wasting her it would be a mistake to waste her talents as a submissive housewife.

Peggy turns down the SOE job and prepares for her wedding. As she's trying on her wedding dress, she receives news that Michael was killed in battle. Apparently she decides to take the SOE job to honor her brother's memory, and gives her engagement ring back to poor Fred.

Agnes Cully's (aka Whitney Frost) story is much more interesting. We see her as a brilliant young child who fixes radios while her mother "entertains" a local man in order to keep a roof over their head. Agnes doesn't much like her mother's gentleman callers, and her mother tells her she needs to be nicer to them. 

Her mother's eventually dumped for a younger woman. When Agnes finds out she didn't get into college, her mother tells her that no one cares what's in her head; only her face matters. We then see Agnes in Hollywood, where she's "discovered" by a sleazy talent agent. She decides she'll do whatever it takes to become an inventor/movie star.

Thoughts:
• This week we learn that Peggy's full name is Margaret Elizabeth Carter. I don't think they've ever stated her full name before, but I could be wrong. 

For reasons I've never quite understood, "Peggy" or "Peg" is a nickname for Margaret.

• We also find out this week that Dr. Wilkes doesn't need to eat or sleep while in his intangible state. Well that's certainly a lucky break for him! Especially the not-eating part, since any food entering his mouth would fall right through his ghostly body and plop to the floor.

 Wilkes tells Peggy that his condition is a result of his atoms losing cohesion at the quantum level. 

That sounded to me like some really advanced technobabble for 1947, but believe it or not quantum science has been around since at least 1900!

 Heavy Foreshadowing Alert! As Whitney Frost experiments with absorbing white lab rats, we see a little statue of the comedy/tragedy masks on her vanity.

I'm betting that's a nod to her eventual appearance as Madame Masque.

 I don't think it's a Marvel easter egg or anything, but for the record, Whitney works for Anvil Studios. No doubt makers of fine "anvil on the head" slapstick comedies.

 When Peggy kidnaps Hunt, she "fake" tortures him until he names a couple of members of the Council Of Nine, the shadowy group that controls world events. One of the names is Hugh Jones. Peggy recognizes him as an executive at Roxxon oil.

Roxxon, which is obviously a play on Exxon, has popped up many times in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as well as the comics). It first showed up in Iron Man, and if I remember right made an appearance in Season 1 of Agent Carter. It's their go-to name whenever they need an evil, soulless corporation.

 During his interrogation, Hunt tells Peggy that the Council Of Nine record all their meetings on tape.

Does that seem like a good idea? The Council engineered the 1901 assassination of President McKinley and the 1929 stock market collapse. Why the hell would they keep a record of such things? Seems like they're just begging to be exposed.

• Peggy and Sousa want to find out what's happening inside the Council Of Nine's boardroom so badly they can taste it. Last week Peggy tried to plant listening devices in the boardroom, but failed. This week she and Sousa are ready to raid the place before they're stopped by Masters.

Peggy seems to be missing the obvious solution here. Her new pal Jason Wilkes is literally a living ghost. Why not just have him stroll over to the Arena Club, walk through the back door, hide in a closet and listen in? Why hasn't anyone thought of this yet? Especially Wilkes, who's supposed to be a genius and knows how badly Peggy wants the intel.

I swear if they make this a plot point in a couple weeks I'm going to audibly groan and throw a pillow at my TV.

• When Vernon Masters threatens Peggy with treason, he mentions how the Hollywood Ten though they were immune from prosecution too.

Quick history lesson— the Hollywood Ten were a real thing. They were ten directors, producers and screenwriters who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to answer questions about their possible communist affiliations. As a result they spent time in prison and were blacklisted from Hollywood.

Unfortunately all this happened in October of 1947. According to the newspaper in last week's episode, it's currently July 1947. Whoops! So close, yet so far, guys!

• By the way, could Masters be more transparently evil? All he needs is a mustache to twirl. If he's not working for the Council Of Nine, then I'll eat my hat.

• When Whitney Frost, aka Agnes Cully, first comes to Hollywood, she sees a film called The Spanish Tower, starring Teresa Montgomery. Google doesn't show any results for either Montgomery or the film, so I guess they only exist in the Marvel Universe.

• Last week I said Whitney Frost was obviously a nod to real life actress Hedy Lamarr, who helped invent a way to control wartime torpedoes. In this episode Sousa actually refers to Lamarr. It seems odd that they'd refer to Lamarr when they've already got a Marvel Universe analog of her.

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