Agent Carter Season One, Episode Five
“The Iron Ceiling”
Before “The Iron Ceiling,” Agent Carter has been mostly about Peggy making discoveries and taking action that keeps her ahead of most of the other main characters on this show. Episode 6 was the reverse: it was about most of the other characters catching up with Peggy. Namely, realizing how awesome she is. For Thompson and Dooley, this means letting Peggy be the incredible asset she is for the S.S.R. For Sousa, this means figuring out that Peggy is the blonde in the white dress who has been one step ahead of the S.S.R. this entire time. It is only Dottie, and arguably Jarvis, who remain one step ahead of Peggy — and perhaps this is why I found their storylines the most interesting.
The Howling Commandos, and why I wish they hadn’t shown up.
For many, this was the best episode of Agent Carter’s run thus far, and I can understand why: it was full of action and intrigue and heralded the return of the extremely entertaining Howling Commandos. It also gave Peggy a well-earned break from (most) of the misogynistic crap she’s had to deal with in the first four episodes. That being said, as much as I appreciate Agent Carter’s efforts to give Thompson a compelling backstory and the satisfaction that saw Peggy surrounded by men who respected her, the presumably one-time appearance of the Howling Commandos felt like a distraction from what I really care about: Peggy’s life in New York. With only three episodes left to explore and build on the dynamics with the other series regulars, the Howling Commandos felt like a distraction — albeit an entertaining one.
Because this episode was about other characters catching up to Peggy, Peggy’s only real character development was realizing that, though Howard is “an utter wanker,” she probably still needs to help him.
However, being the smart, rational, and patriotic sort, this is probably a conclusion she came to about five minutes after punching Howard in the face last episode. Sure, she could let Howard stew and refuse to talk to Jarvis for a little while, but I think we all knew Peggy Carter would never turn her back on what’s right — and she didn’t need to go all the way to Russia to come to that conclusion. Not to put too fine a point, but this is the kind of standalone rollicking detour I would have welcomed in a 22-episode season, not in an eight-episode series.
Peggy v. Jarvis.
Of course, it’s not entirely fair for us to call Peggy’s character stagnant in this episode. It was she who insinuated herself in the mission that allowed Thompson and Dooley to realize she was cool and Sousa to realize she is something of a double agent (albeit her heart true). And all that came out of the gift that keeps on giving: Peggy’s relationship with Jarvis.
And so Peggy did make them see — cracking the Russian code, securing the Howling Commandos, and saving the day in Russia.
This brief moment with Jarvis was the catalyst for Peggy’s persistence in doing just that. Sure, Peggy has been trying to get her S.S.R. colleagues to utilize her considerable talents as an agent all season, but would Peggy have tried so hard to go on this mission if not for the fact that she no longer has Jarvis and Howard to spy with on the side? Before, she was distracted by this purposeful quest to clear Howard’s name. She had a purpose she believed in and people who believed in her. Howard’s betrayal (and, with it, Jarvis’ betrayal) took that from her. Now, she will make everyone see her. I just wish all that narrative tension surrounding Peggy hadn’t dissipated by the episode’s second act. Also and obviously, that Jarvis and Peggy had more scenes together. I could have spent the entire episode watching these two fight with their razor-sharp wit, posh British accents softening the brutally honest digs they throw at one another.
And maybe a few more of these moments, too…
Lack of Angie = consumed by ennui.
Angie went an entire episode without any scenes and therefore any development of her relationship with Peggy.
I would be tempted to reiterate my point on how this episode distracted from developing dynamics that have already been established and will continue on through the rest of the season, but according to executive producer/writer of this episode, Jose Molina, he wanted to include Angie in, but couldn’t because of contractually and/or scheduling reasons. If you’re interested, he recorded an entire commentary track that can be listened to along with this episode. You’ll learn interesting facts. For instance: Disney had some hesitation about letting Agent Carter use Snow White as brainwashing material for the little girls of the Red Room. I’m so glad they relented because we all know Disney kind of does brainwash little girls, right?
I just can’t with Agent Thompson.
Peggy’s trip to Russia wasn’t as much about her relationship with the Howling Commandos as much as it was about her relationship with Thompson, which is perhaps another reason why this aspect of the episode didn’t work for me. We learned about Thompson’s troubling history in the war, aka the time he killed six Japanese soldiers before he saw their white flag of surrender, then buried the thing to cover it up. Oh, Thompson.
As much I usually respect shows for trying to flesh out even the less likable of characters, I think respected Agent Carter more when Thompson was unable to see past his own misogyny? I spoke in last week’s review about the cognitive dissonance necessary it takes for Peggy to work at the S.S.R. without punching anyone in the face, and that kind of thematic complexity was absent in this episode. I was OK with the somewhat predictable Thompson backstory, and appreciated the fact that he is struggling to live up to a legacy he never earned, but it felt manipulative and narratively convoluted to have that reveal equate to Thompson’s acceptance of Peggy. Sure, she was a total badass, but would that really change how Thompson sees the world? Or, even if it did, would he relinquish the power and privilege he so desperately clings to when it is the only thing that seems to be holding him together? Maybe. Maybe not. I just wish that, if this was a storyline Agent Carter planned on exploring, they gave it a bit more time and nuance, you know? Thompson has been a complete jerk the entire time we’ve known him and though his tragic backstory may make him a more sympathetic character, it doesn’t excuse him for being an ass in the way that Peggy and this show seemed to.
Dude, you owe her a lot more than that.
Meanwhile, back in The States…
Meanwhile, back in the states, the real fun was going down. Firstly, we had creepy, creepy Dottie being a total creeper by creeping around Peggy’s room while she was gone. Good news? She didn’t find the vial of Steve Rogers’ blood. Bad news? She’s totally onto Peggy, may be planning on stealing her identity, and right now has the complete and total upper hand on our girl. I can’t express enough how overjoyed I am that Peggy’s greatest rival right now is another woman.
While Thompson’s backstory didn’t do much for me, the flashbacks to Dottie’s training in the Black Widow program were very compelling, held together with little details like Dottie offering Peggy half her baguette like she did to her friend/future victim as a child or handcuffing herself to her bed at night because that’s the way she was raised.
(Certainly puts Dottie’s interest in all of those food pockets last episode into perspective, no?)
Unlike with Thompson’s storyline, these connections weren’t forced into monologues to be delivered by campfire light or when staring out of an airplane window, but rather relayed in as visual cues that added layers to a character in subtle and original ways. Also, can we all agree that Bridget Regan’s crazy face is just so good? Watching her on both this and Jane the Virgin has been an immense treat. Confession time: I totally watched Legend of the Seeker. To see Bridget get so many meaty roles is just about the best thing to happen to 2015. We are not worthy.
This was also a good episode for Dooley. Like Thompson, he is slowly starting to appreciate Peggy for what she is: a valuable asset. Unlike Thompson, this change came about in more natural and understated ways. Namely, he’s not changing his policy on dames in the workplace, but he is trying to get a job done and is willing to use whatever resources he has to accomplish it. He also showed more open-mindedness in his opinion of Howard, seeking out Jarvis to let him know that he isn’t on a witch hunt; he just wants to find the truth, and would be willing to listen to Howard’s version of it.
Dooley also learns that Howard Stark punched out a general at the Battle of Finow, aka the one that saw hundreds of men dead, but with no apparent involvement from the Nazis. The United States government seems to be covering something up, and going after Howard may be part of that agenda. But what could have happened at that battle site? And how much does Jarvis know? When Dooley asked him about Howard punching a general, Jarvis claimed he had never heard about it — but he reached for his ear, which we know is his tell, indicating he is lying.
Come on, Jarvis. If you’re not going to tell Dooley, at least tell Peggy. (And while you’re at it, drop in some more context about that wily wife of yours.) She deserves the truth. In this context, it makes some sense why she wasn’t harder on Thompson following his confession. Thompson may be an ass, but he really does continue to be a truthful ass.
This plot is about to start its race to the finish.
Did anyone else get the feeling that this was the relative calm before the storm? With Sousa’s confirmation of his theory that Peggy is some kind of double agent at the end of the episode, things are about to kick into high gear — and I am very excited about it. You should be, too. James D’Arcy told Rotten Tomatoes:
“The pace increases exponentially with each episode from now on. It’s pretty intense. The stakes get increasingly higher and higher and brilliantly, there is resolution across the board for all the characters — and not just in terms of our plots, but in terms of the character work that we have as well, and the social commentary that’s taking place is the baseline below all of this — all of this is resolved within the eight episodes in a really satisfying way.”
Your weekly dose of Hayley Atwell/James D’Arcy adorableness.
What did you think of “The Iron Ceiling”? Was it your favorite episode yet or did you miss Peggy’s pals in New York City? Share your thoughts in the comments below!