‘Agent Carter’ Season 1 Recap, Episode 5: ‘The Iron Ceiling’
OMG you guys, Dum Dum Dugan is in this episode.
Ahem. Also; 'The Iron Celing' is the fifth episode of Agent Carter, and quite comfortably the best, not just because of Dum Dum, but also because it changes the scenery, places Peggy on a real mission, fleshes out Chad Michael Murray's Agent Jack Thompson, and gives us a real taste of the breadth and color of this Marvel Universe. The only thing I didn't really like was the title, a too-cute hybridization of Iron Curtain and Glass Ceiling that doesn't ultimately capture what the episode was about.
'The Iron Ceiling' was directed by Peter Leto and written by Jose Molina. And Dum Dum Dugan was in it. Let's recap it, SSR-style.
We begin in Russia, where little girls are handcuffed to their beds. That's both a general fact and how the episode opens. (I wrote down this joke before the show made the same joke and I refuse to change it.) But it's not all misery in Russia; these girls get to eat stolen bread and recite all the dialogue from Snow White. And then they do martial arts. To the death.
All of this turns out to be a flashback for our chum Dottie (Bridget Regan), now established as a Russian sleeper agent. After doing her morning crunches, Dottie takes breakfast with Peggy (Hayley Atwell) at the Automat (hooray!), and steals Peggy's room key.
Peggy doesn't notice; she's pining for the days when she was a secret double agent for Howard Stark. But when Jarvis (James D'Arcy) comes to beg her to take Howard back, she gives him the brush off and heads in to the office to explain to a Langley codebreaker that Russian secret codes are in Russian. Stupid Langley!
Yes, the Fringe typewriters have been relaying coded information about a sale of Stark tech (a "havoc reactor") somewhere in coldest Russia, which means Dooley (Shea Wigham) needs to dispatch a team to intercept. Peggy asks for a spot, because she knows that when the air smells of fish it's time to build a shelter. (This is not code for anything; this is wisdom.) When Thompson says he doesn't want her on his team, Peggy offers a trade. If she can call in the legendary 107 Squadron for support, she gets a spot. Dooley agrees. 107 Squadron, you will have figured out from all the Dum Dum Duganning, is the Howling Commandos. So Peggy gets her spot.
Peggy uses the men's changing rooms to kit up, because obviously there isn't a room for the lady agents. There's a bit of banter, and Souza (Enver Gjokaj) stumbles in to see Peggy in her underwear (more modest than some modern evening gowns), and notices bullet wounds on her shoulder.
And then we're off to the Russia/Poland border to rendezvous with the Howling Commandoes. Hooray, Dum Dum Dugan (Neil McDonough) is there, and all the guys you remember from the movie; the English one, the black one... and... a... nother one...
OK, so these aren't the same Howling Commandos we saw in Captain America: The First Avenger. Somehow even Kenneth Choi, who reprised the role of Jim Morita for Agents of SHIELD, wasn't invited back this time. But these new guys are all Howling Commandos from the comics; Junior Juniper (James Austin Kerr), Pinky Pinkerton (Richard Short), and Happy Sam Sawyer (Leonard Roberts). Junior in particular has a notable place in comics history but... well, we'll get to that.
The soldiers bond around a campfire, and Thompson reluctantly tells the story of how he got his Navy Cross for killing a bunch of Japanese soldiers that snuck into his unit's tent one night. The next day it's off to the rendezvous point, which turns out to be a largely abandoned school -- the same one we saw in Dottie's dream. Peggy notices subliminal messages about "instilling fear" concealed in the cartoons show to the kids. (These are actually standard in Disney cartoons.)
The school isn't wholly abandoned; Dum Dum Dugan tries to reassure a little girl who they find in a dormitory. She stabs Dugan, steals his gun, shoots Junior, and flees through a vent. Peggy talks Dugan down from throwing a grenade in after her.
The school also has a prison, and prisoners; an engineer (Alex Veadov) working on the stolen Stark havoc reactor design, and the psychiatrist (Ralph Brown) who keeps him sane. Peggy breaks them out just as the Russians arrive. In the ensuing firefight, one of Thompson's men dies, Thompson freezes, Peggy proves her mettle, and the mad scientist tries to trade the lives of the Americans for his safety and gets shot dead by his own psychiatrist. Rough treatment.
The good guys flee, and after saying sentimental farewells, the SSR team bring the psychatrist back to America. This, I am sure, will turn out fine.
On the flight home, Thompson confides in Peggy that the men he won a medal for killing were actually surrendering, and he didn't realize until it was too late. Hey, that's a really interesting story, guy who killed a bunch of surrendering soldiers. Sorry about your trauma. And also about their families and loved ones. Must be so tough for you, living through that.
Sub-plot 1: Dooley consults with a journalist who happens to be Lionel Luthor from Smallville (John Glover) about the mysterious Russian battle where the Leviathan mute soldiers supposedly died. Dooley learns that Stark was present at the clean-up, and had a bust-up with the US general on the scene and broke all ties to the US military thereafter. Lionel hints that Stark is being smeared by the US, so Dooley reaches out to Jarvis and asks to hear Stark's side of the story.
Sub-plot 2: Dottie searches Peggy's apartment, finds her Stark tech photos and her photo of weedy Steve, tries on Peggy's accent, and sniffs her sleepytime lipstick. She does not find the vial of Steve's blood hidden in the wall. At the end of the episode she handcuffs herself to her own bed. She seems nice.
Sub-plot 3: Souza realizes that the marks on Peggy's shoulder match marks on the mystery woman he's been tracking. Peggy is busted.
Neal McDonough and Hayley Atwell have such an comfortable rapport that it's easy to forget that they're not their characters and they haven't actually served together. It's a real shame that Dugan isn't a recurring character, but we get a sense in this episode of why that wouldn't work for what the show wants to do. Dugan respects Peggy. He defers to her. He recognizes her as his equal, and even as a senior officer. That's delightful to see, but it makes Peggy's life easier than this show wants it to be. The people she works with aren't meant to recognize how competent she is. Not yet.
Though she really is hyper-competent, and the scene where she embarrasses the Langley code-breaker may have been the first time the show over-sold that point. Poor stupid Langley.
As great as Dugan was, I was sorry to see that the other Commandos weren't fleshed out at least a little. Sam got one good moment when he was taken hostage by the mad scientist. Pinky has very respectable cheekbones. But they weren't really characters, not even in the broad way that Howling Commandos can get away with being.
Junior Juniper served his function, though. In the comics, Junior Juniper is notorious as being one of those characters who got killed off to prove that anyone can die, so that the stakes can be raised without anyone else ever having to die. He's the Gwen Stacy of the Howling Commandos. In fact, he was the first major Marvel character to die, in Sgt. Fury And The Howling Commandos #4, back in 1963. As soon as he showed up in this episode, he was doomed.
Chad Michael Murray got to do some acting this week. It was fine. He also got to wear a white undershirt and a snug black spy suit, and those things really played to his strengths.
In passing; I don't think it's the first time we've seen it, but I appreciate that Peggy has a picture of weedy Steve Rogers on her dresser. She loves Steve for who he was when she first me him, and not for what he became. It's a really nice touch.
Shall we have a little chat about the Red Room? It should be clear enough -- even if advanced publicity hadn't explained it -- that the school that Dottie and the other little girls attended is some version of the Red Room, where Black Widow was trained. Dottie, in fact, is a prototype Black Widow. It's entirely possible she'll be revealed as Yelena Belova, who is Natasha's successor in the comics but could well be her predecessor in the cinematic universe. This is all quite exciting. The little girl who killed Junior might even turn out to be Natasha, if she somehow ages very slowly, as she seems to have done in the comics. Probably not, though.
Shall we also have a little chat about Dr. Ivchenko? He's the psychiatrist that the team rescued -- in place of the possibly more useful but unhinged engineer that Dr. Ivchenko broke his Hippocratic oath to shoot dead. The story that he's a psychiatrist keeping the other scientist stable seems deeply implausible, so who could he actually be? There's no Ivchenko in Marvel lore that I know of, but I think it's very likely that he's Dr. Faustus, recently hinted at in Agents of SHIELD as the man behind Hydra's brainwashing method, and plausibly the man behind the Red Room. It means turning an Austrian Nazi into a Russian Communist, but his loyalties can change even if his nationality can't. Could Ivchenko be the first HYDRA agent to infiltrate proto-SHIELD?
Is that it for John Glover? Did they really waste Lionel Luthor on that bit part?
Is Peggy 'Union Jack'? Dum Dum gives her the nickname 'Miss Union Jack', which she instantly rejects. It's cute 'n all, but I want a real Union Jack on this show! Don't think I haven't noticed how JJ Feild's James Montgomery Falsworth from the movie has been replaced by the very similar Pinky Pinkerton on TV! One Englishman in a jaunty beret cannot pass for another!
For your consideration; The best line this episode, neatly encapsulating the Peggy/Dum Dum relationship; "Stop wahooing and help".
What is the difference between a yeti and an abominable snowman? The commandos raise this question. The answer, of course, is that the Abominable Snowman is cursed explorer Carl Hanson from a Jack Kirby Tales To Astonish comic, and the Yeti is either an Inhuman or a member of Weapon P.R.I.M.E.. You're welcome, commandos.