Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 7
Television is a serialized art form. The best shows work well as standalone episodes, but also fit together to craft a larger story that can only be completely seen (and judged) once a story arc, season, or even series is finished. For me, this is what makes television so much fun and, at times, frustrating to write about. Television criticism grew out of film criticism so it observes many of the same rules, but television and film are decidedly different mediums. And the episode-by-episode recap can only get you so far because a television show’s narrative power goes well beyond an episode’s boundaries. It lies in the story and character arcs that stretch across many episodes, across an entire season.
I’m rambling about the differences between TV and film criticism because Agent Carter’s latest excellent episode, “Snafu,” succeeded not only because it was suspenseful, funny, and heartbreaking in its own right, but because it put the previous few episodes in a context that made them better as well: the mark of a truly great television experience.
I have been somewhat critical of the Dr. Ivchenko storyline in the past two episodes. The trip to Russia where the S.S.R. retrieved Ivchenko felt like a narrative distraction, and Ivchenko’s nefarious purposes seemed obvious given the circumstances of his “rescue.” In the last episode, Ivchenko’s hypnosis of first Dooley than Yauch also felt like more distraction from the larger issues at play — namely, Peggy’s run from the S.S.R. Though I am still not completely sold on the way these storylines played out — I could have done without some of the one-off characters we have met along the way in favor of more character development for those people we already know — it all came together in “Snafu.” And, I have to admit, it was worth the wait. Ivchenko is scary in a slow, dreadful kind of way. And Dooley’s story arc came to a heartbreaking conclusion when he jumped out the window to save his co-workers from the bomb he had become.
Though the story of the family Dooley would never be able to see again seriously played at the heartstrings, it was actually his relationship with Peggy that really hit me in the feels. In his final moments, Dooley gave his final command as head of the S.S.R. to Peggy. Not to Thompson or Sousa or even the S.S.R. agents as a group. To Peggy. The woman he had only just started to trust with following up leads. After episode upon episode of lunch runs and files organization, Dooley entrusted Peggy with the most important mission yet: stopping Leviathan and avenging his death.
Gah. Peggy finally earns the respect of her co-workers and her boss, but it comes at a heavy, heavy price. First, it came at the expense of breaking their trust in some pretty major ways just so she could show what she can do.
Secondly, it came at the expense of understanding just how dangerous their enemies could be, at the expense of death. Yauch, Krzeminski, Dooley, and that random guy in the stairwell all had to die before the S.S.R. trusted Peggy. Guys, that’s a problem. This outcome is tragic not only for its inherent, you know, tragedy, but for the way in which it all (or, at least, partially) could have been avoided if anyone had listened to Peggy. Or, more accurately, if she were not part of a system in which she was afraid to speak up.
Did you see the study that came out last year finding that women who spoke up in an office and asked for a raise were often punished for it? Still, there persists this idea that women just need to be more assertive in the workplace, more like men, and they will get the same level of respect (and pay, for that matter). As if the way we act is the only thing standing in the way of our equality.
Agent Carter is a manifestation of this imbalance in our society played out to extreme consequences within the comic book context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Peggy were in a position to simply do her job than this never would have happened. Agent Carter does itself a favor in letting its characters understand this. Dooley dies recognizing Peggy as the best agent they have, as the one who has the best chance of stopping this Leviathan craziness. It is an apology and an encouragement all wrapped up in the only thing Peggy ever wanted from Dooley: a real assignment. Respect.
Why Ivchenko makes the perfect villain.
One of the genius things about Ivchenko’s character is that he hurts his victims within the trappings of helping them, by urging them to address their emotional selves. This immediately creates a compelling, nuanced villain, which is something that needed to happen given how few episodes Ivchenko has had to assert himself as both a character and a threat. As empathetic humans, when we see someone helping someone else, we think that is nice (or, at least, I do). We think it is nice that Ivchenko uses his miraculous powers of hypnosis to ease the pain of a soldier as his leg is amputating, effectively saving his life. We think it is nice when Ivchenko encourages Dooley to reconnect with the estranged family he so obviously misses. We don’t, however, think it is nice when Ivchenko convinces Dooley to wear an invention that will eventually blow him up. Not cool, guy.
Ivchenko is the most dangerous of villains because he understands human emotions enough to manipulate them. He has the power to empathize — or at least the power to mimic empathy, to put himself in someone else’s shoes and use their own doubts and desires against them.
This ties back into a major theme of Agent Carter in some very cool ways. Because Peggy also has this power. I’ve written before about how Peggy represents a new kind of feminist hero not because she can kick ass, but because she is emotionally intelligent and strong. This character trait is reinforced by Peggy’s ability to move on with her life while grieving Steve. She is so obviously still dealing with this immense loss. It catches up with her often, when her mind wanders or through the constant cultural reminders. But, perhaps most importantly, in the moments that she most wants to be strong. Her grief gives her strength, and that is a pretty big deal for a female character who is so often represented as crippled by her emotions. Peggy’s grief is one of her many strengths, a reminder of the kind of person she wants to be.
“I suppose I just wanted a second chance at keeping him safe.” — Peggy, on Captain America’s blood. ALL OF THE FEELS.
Peggy not only knows her own heart and is the better for it, but shows empathy for those around her, even when they show her no empathy or respect in return. And she uses her emotional intelligence to call her loved ones out on their betrayals and her enemies out on their own habits. She knows the Leviathan spy will most likely have marks on her wrists from wearing handcuffs to bed in the way she did as a child. Her friendship with Angie — a relationship another kind of “hero” might never have indulged in because Emotions Are Weakness or I Can’t Be Friends With You Because You Will Get Hurt (a trope Peggy almost fell into in the second episode) — ends up saving her (albeit temporarily) from S.S.R. arrest. In this way, Ivchenko is a worthy opponent for our heroine. Unlike Peggy’s S.S.R. colleagues, he never underestimated her. He saw her clearly. He sees everyone clearly, and uses that to his advantage. This is why he tried to kill Peggy Carter, why she posed a threat more than any of his other opponents, because she can see him, too.
The episode ended with Dottie unleashing Item 17, one of Stark’s inventions stolen from the S.S.R., on a movie theater of unsuspecting people. The device released some sort of gas causing the people to turn on one another, attacking one another like animals until every last person was dead.
Presumably, this is what happened at the mysterious Battle of Finnow. Could this also have anything to do with why some members of Leviathan have had their voice boxes removed? On that note, who is the leader of Leviathan? Could it really be Ivchenko, who the episode teased to be Dr. Faustus? There are a lot of questions left to answer, and only one episode left to do it in. But, after seven excellent episodes, we trust this show to deliver on a killer finale. (Though, hopefully not too killer, if you know what I mean.)
Your adorable Peggy/Jarvis moment of the episode.
Peggy and Jarvis got some more teamwork time this episode, as Jarvis tried to save Peggy from S.S.R. custody by forging a confession from Howard. It was pretty adorable to see what lengths Jarvis will go to save his BFF. It was equally entertaining to see how frustrated Peggy was when she realized how terrible Jarvis’ plan was. (He panicked, OK? Love made him panic!)
Even if we did get some great and hilarious teamwork moments between these two and proof that Jarvis will do just about anything to help his friend, there weren’t as many serious discussions — aside from this final brief aside at the end of the episode…
I mused before that, as Jarvis came to know Peggy more, his loyalty to Howard might be tested. He doesn’t want to betray Peggy again. This final scene hinted that Jarvis’ loyalties might be swaying in Peggy’s direction. (Not that he necessarily has to choose. Given they are usually on the same side, he can love and honor them both.) With Howard returning for the season ender, I hope this Jarvis/Peggy/Howard dynamic is addressed in some meaningful way. Though I care about plot closure, I care about character closure for my favorites — especially Peggy and Jarvis — even more. Whatever the nature of their relationship, these two have been the heart of the series for me since the beginning. I’m just hoping they are given a satisfying, arc-like conclusion.
P.S. You’ve been descending stairs wrong.
What did you think of “Snafu”? Are you freaking out that Agent Carter only has one more episode? Do you think Agents of SHIELD should give Agent Carter some of its episodes? Share your thoughts and feels in the comments below.