Saturday, March 5, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 10: Hollywood Ending

Welp, that was an underwhelming season finale...

So much for Madame Masque, I guess. Ever since the series introduced Whitney Frost, I was hoping we'd get to see her appear as Madame Masque, the disfigured, mask-wearing supervillain who's one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s and Iron Man's most prominent enemies. It certainly looked like that's where they heading when the TV Frost developed a large crack in her face. I was expecting her to finally go full Madame Masque in this final episode, but sadly it wasn't to be.

The series did an excellent job in building up Whitney Frost, from her humble Oklahoma beginnings to her rise as a movie star and a powerful and formidable supervillain. In fact she may be the most layered and complex Marvel villain yet. And then she's defeated in about two seconds with a ray gun. Talk about disappointing!

The season ends on a cliffhanger that may never be resolved. Agent Carter's ratings have been absolutely dismal this season, and the viewership for the finale was even worse. Of course the fact that they aired it on Super Tuesday probably didn't help matters any, as many viewers were probably tuned in to the election results. Brilliant move there, ABC! 

Because of the tanking ratings, the outlook for a third season's not so good. It's no secret though that the network rating system is archaic and antiquated and doesn't take DVR or streaming viewers into account. I wonder how many popular series have been cancelled due to low ratings, when in reality they had many millions more viewers than the ratings indicated?

I'm not sure why the ratings are so low. The show's awesome, but no one seems to be watching. I'm wondering if the fact that it features a female main character is turning off a significant portion of the male demographic, who mistakenly think it's a show for women?

If Marvel was smart, they'd move Agent Carter to Netflix and just stream it. That's worked out pretty well for their Daredevil and Jessica Jones series. I think pulling it from the network and streaming it is the only chance a niche show like this has at survival.


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, Peggy, Chief Sousa and Chief Thompson are standing outside Whitney Frost's lab. Thompson threatens to detonate the gamma bomb and destroy Frost. Unfortunately this will also obliterate Dr. Wilkes, who's inside the lab as well. Peggy points her gun at Thompson and threatens to shoot him if he doesn't drop the detonator. Suddenly they're all knocked over by a shockwave. Unknown to them, Dr. Wilkes, who's full to the brim with Zero Matter, has exploded inside Frost's lab.

Peggy, Sousa and Thompson pick themselves up and enter the lab. They find a puzzled but healthy Wilkes, who's now completely free of Zero Matter. They see several puddles of the Matter crawl across the floor towards Frost, who absorbs it. They all dash out of the lab. Frost follows, and just as she's about to absorb them all, she's hit by a car driven by Jarvis and Howard Stark. They all pile in and floor it.

The next day, Sousa and Thompson, who I guess are old pals again now, round up all of Vernon Masters' agents at the SSR and arrest them. Stark examines Wilkes and says he's back to normal. Peggy asks Wilkes what it was like inside the rift, and he says the Zero Matter has devoured everything in its own dimension, and wants to enter our world and do the same here. Gosh, that's not terrifying at all.

Meanwhile, Frost is staying with her new beau, mob boss Jospeph Manfredi. She's holed up in her bedroom, writing mysterious equations on the walls. He tries to get her to eat, but she's too busy concentrating on reopening the Zero Matter rift.

At Stark's mansion (there's a lot of mansions on this show), Howard and Wilkes discuss building a new gamma cannon and a containment unit to study the Zero Matter. Peggy accuses Stark of wanting to turn a profit on the Matter. Suddenly Manfredi burst in, holding Jarvis hostage. Peggy and Wilkes tense up, but then Manfredi reveals he's just kidding, and he and Stark are old friends. Charming.

Manfredi explains he's worried about Frost, as she's trying to open a new rift to obtain more Zero Matter. Peggy suggests opening a rift of their own to suck the Matter from Frost and send it back where it came from. Stark says they need to steal Frost's research to beat her to it. Manfredi goes back to his home and distracts Frost by convincing her to help him interrogate one of his goons. While she's out of her room, Peggy and Sousa rush in a photograph the equations on the walls. They barely make it out of the room before Frost returns.

Stark, Wilkes and Dr. Samberly then use Frost's research to create a Rift Generator. At the SSR, Thompson goes through Vernon Masters' old office. He finds the redacted file on Peggy, along with a Council Of Nine lapel pin. He fiddles with it and discovers it's really a key. But to what?

Stark sets up the Rift Generator on his movie back lot. Wilkes says when the rift opens, everyone needs to stay at least twenty feet away from it, or they'll be sucked into it. That definitely sounds like a plot point that'll become important later! Stark asks how they're going to lure Frost to the rift. Peggy says she'll sense it when it opens. Stark throws the switch, and the Generator er, generates a rift. Back at Manfredi's mansion, Frost suddenly looks up, sensing more of that sweet, sweet Zero Matter.

As they wait for Frost to show up, Thompson asks Peggy if she's going to turn him in for collaborating with Masters. She says no, because she knows that deep down he's a good man. He gives her the pin and shows her the key function.

Suddenly Frost appears. At long last, the epic, action-packed battle we've been waiting for all season erupts! Well, not really. Stark aims the gamma cannon at her and the Zero Matter erupts from her body and is sucked into the rift, courtesy of some 1990s-era CGI. And that's it! That's all there is to the confrontation. This powerful, dangerous and unpredictable supervillain is defeated in literally a couple of seconds, in the most anticlimactic way possible. Frost, whose face is now crack-free, is taken into custody. And that's it for Madame Masque!

Stark then tries to close the rift, but because there's still fifteen minutes left in the episode, he can't get the switch to work. The only way to shut it down is by turning a crank (?) on the Generator, but that means whoever does so will be sucked into the rift. Peggy, Stark and Thompson all volunteer to sacrifice themselves, but while they're arguing, Sousa ties a rope to a lamppost and limps over to the Generator. He partially closes it, but his lifeline comes loose, and everyone grabs it to prevent him from being sucked in.

Jarvis then arrives in Stark's hovercar, and says they can put the gamma cannon inside, fly it into the rift and detonate it to close it up. They do just that and the rift closes for good. Sousa's saved!

The next day Wilkes tells Peggy that Stark hired him as a scientist at his new lab in Malibu to work on his Peruvian project (whatever that is). He and Peggy decide not to pursue their relationship (probably because of that whole "Wilkes held a gun to Peggy's head thing a few episodes back). Jarvis brings Ana home, and she and Peggy hug. Jarvis looks disappointed when Peggy tells him she's going back to New York. Ana asks Peggy to let Jarvis drive her to the airport, or she'll never hear the end of it.

Jarvis takes Peggy to the SSR. He tries to convince her to stay in LA, but she says her life is in New York. He says he can think of at least one reason why she should stay. Inside the SSR, Peggy says goodbye to Sousa. They bicker a bit over nothing, and she finally leans in and kisses him.

Meanwhile, Whitney Frost looks at her now crack-less face in a mirror, lamenting that everything she worked for is gone. Her husband Calvin Chadwick (who she absorbed a while back) inexplicably appears, telling her that everything will be OK. We then see that Frost is actually in a mental hospital, and Chadwick's all in her head. Even though her face is now whole, she apparently keeps slashing it open to recreate the Zero Matter crack. Manfredit visits her, but the guard tells him he can't bring flowers into her cell because she'll just use them to try and cut her face.

In the final scene, Thompson's in his hotel room packing, preparing to return to New York. There's a knock at the door, and when he answers it he's shot in the chest. The unknown assailant then retrieves Peggy's file from Thompson and leaves.

• As Peggy and the rest flee Frost's lab, they find their car missing, apparently taken by Samberly. Peggy says, "Where the hell is Samberly?" Sousa replies, "That's the $64 dollar question!"

I know that's an old catch phrase, and I know there used to be a game show in the 1950s called The $64,000 Question. But I wasn't sure exactly when it began, and if it existed in 1947. Turns out the answer is yes. Well, sort of.

It started out as a radio show in 1940 called Take It Or Leave It, in which contestants answered questions for an escalating amount of prize money. The hardest question would net the largest cash prize—  a whopping $64 bucks (!). In 1950 the radio series was renamed The $64 Question.

The show ran on radio from 1940 until 1952. It then moved to TV in 1955 and became The $64,000 Question. So it did exist in 1947, and Sousa would have been familiar with it.

 I liked that Howard Stark is less worried that Jarvis ran over a human being, and more worried about the fact that it was a two time Oscar nominee.

• Stark mentions property he owns in Malibu. Might that be the land on which his son Tony will build his high-tech mansion someday?

• Once again, the characters all seem very forgiving of Manfredi. He's a known mob boss, and a few episodes ago he kidnapped Peggy and Jarvis. He and/or his men tried to kill them on multiple occasions as well. 

In this episode he seemingly threatens Jarvis at gunpoint, and then reveals he and Howard Stark are old buddies, and then suddenly all is forgiven. Everyone takes him into the fold he tells them he's worried about his girlfriend Whitney Frost, and then everyone risks their lives to help him save her. It's like Peggy and everyone forgot all that silly kidnapping and attempted murder business.

I don't know about anyone else, but if someone tried to kill me, I wouldn't invite them over for breakfast a few days later.

• In order to get Frost out of her room, Manfredi says he needs her help interrogating one of his goons. He then pretends to accuse the goon of working for a rival mob. When Frost threatens to use her power on him, the goon spills his guts and reveals he's secretly working with the FBI. A stunned Manfredi says, "Ah, I wish ya hadn't told me that. Now I gotta kill ya!"

Shockingly, Manfredi's comment is played for yuks. I wonder... did he really end up killing the guy?

• Stark, Wilkes and Samberly are all supposedly certified geniuses, yet they stand around wringing their hands, at a loss as to how to close the rift. For some reason it takes a butler to figure out how to permanently close it.

• I'm too lazy to look it up, but I'm assuming Stark's hovercar that we see in this episode is the same one featured in Captain America: The First Avenger.

• So what's the deal with Stark's project in Peru? He very pointedly mentioned both the project and the country in both the episodes in which he appeared. All these little throwaway lines usually have some sort of significance, but I can't think of any connection between Peru and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I guess sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

• Man, the Peggy/Wilkes relationship ended with a whimper, didn't it? The two characters seemed genuinely attracted to one another at the beginning of the series, but here it's like the writers can't get rid of Wilkes fast enough. I'm honestly surprised that a giant novelty cane didn't appear, snag him around the neck and drag him offscreen. 

• In the mental hospital, Whitney Frost's late husband Calvin Chadwick appears in her mind and comforts her. It seemed odd that she'd fantasize about him, as she didn't seem all that interested in him when he was alive.

Odd that Frost fantasizes about her husband Calvin Chadwick. She didn't seem all that attrcted to him when he was alive.

• This has nothing to do with the episode, but actor Enver Gjokaj, who plays Chief Sousa, actually had a bit part as a cop in The Avengers. Given the timeline, maybe the cop is Sousa's grandson?

By the way, his name is pronounced "En-vere Joke-eye."

• So who shot Thompson and stole the file on Peggy? Given the series' poor ratings, we may never find out. We only saw the assailant from the waist down, and it was obviously a man. I wonder if it was Vernon Masters? We never actually saw his body after Wilkes exploded. The first rule of comic book shows is "If you don't see a body, they're not dead."

Some fans have suggested it might have been Peggy's late brother Michael, who may not be as dead as we were lead to believe...

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