‘Agent Carter’ Season 1 Recap, Episode 8: ‘Valediction’
The end has come upon us. The eighth and final episode of Agent Carter has aired, and a show that was perhaps too beautiful for this world may have seen its last over-the-shoulder goon-toss with a finale that brought Peggy's war against Leviathan to an at times thrilling, and at times perhaps too-familiar conclusion --- featuring Dottie, Faustus, Jarvis, Howard, and all the gang. (Except Dooley. Sorry, Dooley.)
Episode 8, 'Valediction,' was directed by Christopher Misiano and written by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters. Was it a fitting end to the show, and is it really the end?
The finale opens with a welcome return of one of the show's best gimmicks --- and one that it wisely didn't over-expose; the radio play version of Captain America, featuring breathless damsel Betty Carver. This time around, the actors play out their version of the final conversation between Peggy/Betty and Captain America as he flies his plane to his suspected demise. It's actually about equally as melodramatic as the version from the movie. (That's not a diss; melodrama is my jam.)
Actual Peggy is actually back in action after the death of Dooley last week. Accompanied by Thing One (Chad Michael Murray) and Thing Two (Enver Gjokaj), she visits the movie theater where the patrons mauled each other to death. Thing Two/Sousa ineptly blasts himself in the face with the canister of crazy gas and overcomes inept Thing One/Thompson, which feels about right for both of them. Peggy steps in, ever-ept.
Back at the SSR, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and Jarvis (James D'Arcy) show up just in time to explain the plot. Remember that battle in Russia we've been hearing about all season, where everyone died? That was because the Americans tested Stark's crazy gas (which he calls 'Midnight Oil') on their Russian allies. Actually, only almost everyone died --- including, we later learn, Faustus's brother. A few people survived asphyxiation by having tracheotomies, and those were the Leviathan agents we met earlier in the season. They were not reanimated corpses as I had previously optimistically surmised, so no Black Talon cameo for me.
Stark, reasoning that he must be one of Leviathan's targets (though the gas was used without his approval), offers to make a public appearance to draw out Faustus and Dottie. This has the fortunate side-effect of publicly exonerating Stark and establishing him as a national hero, which is a nice bit of manipulation on Howard's part, though press conferences aren't a legally binding form of arbitration.
Sniper fire disrupts the press conference. Stark is rushed into a police car, and Peggy goes after the sniper, only to find a rifle set up to fire automatically. The sniper was a distraction, and Stark has been taken by a hypnotized police officer.
Stark is taken to another of his secret vaults --- actually an aircraft hangar --- where Faustus hypnotizes him so that he'll release the Midnight Oil over Times Square during VE Day celebrations. This scene affords us both a flashback of the time Howard showed Dottie the hangar when he was squiring her around time, where we get to see her amazing black dress; and a scene inside Howard's brain where Faustus convinces him he's flying out to bring Steve Rogers back from the ice. This gives us a wonderful vision of Peggy in an all-blue version of her tailored red, white and blue outfit, carrying Cap's shield.
Peggy and the team arrive just in time to see Stark take off. Jarvis hops in another plane, promising to shoot Howard down if Peggy can't talk him down. Peggy rushes to the radio room and has a throwdown with Dottie, while Faustus flees. Peggy v Dottie is inevitably a lot of fun, but over far too quickly, with Dottie kicked out of a window and seemingly killed. (But not actually killed, of course. Marvel Studios does not have a surfeit of great female villains. We need to hang on to this one.)
Faustus runs into the suit bros on his way out of the hangar. He knocks out Thompson and tries to hypnotize Sousa, but Sousa is wearing earplugs and seizes the advantage.
Peggy reaches Howard on the radio. First she can't get through to him. There is tension. Then she can get through to him, and he agrees not to poison everyone in New York. The end. Not a huge dramatic moment, it must be said.
Back at the SSR, Peggy gets a standing ovation from her peers, but it's Thompson who gets the credit from a visiting senator, and while Sousa is ready to fight Peggy's corner, Peggy insists that she doesn't need anyone else's approval. "I know my value." Sousa asks her out for a drink; she gives him a rain check.
In the penultimate scene, Peggy and Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca, a person who is in this show sometimes) move in to one of Howard's residences, and Jarvis entrusts Peggy with the vial of Steve's blood, which he stole from Howard, who stole it from the SSR. It's a touching moment between the show's two best characters.
In the final scene, Peggy pours the blood into the Hudson River and says a tearful farewell to Steve. There is sadly no cutaway scene in which U-Man the Atlantean Nazi catches the drops of blood as they fall and carries them back to his mistress, the Super-Axis spy Lady Lotus, but obviously that's what I choose to believe happened next.
But wait, there is one more scene! Yes, it's a classic Marvel movie-style post-credit sequence. Faustus, locked up in prison with a gruesome contraption on his jaw to stop him speaking, finds himself sharing a cell with none other than Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).
And Zola has plans.
Plans that involve eventually becoming a television.
In the final assessment, I think Agent Carter was a solid B+ show with an A+ lead character. Peggy is a compelling personification of the role of women at a flash-point in modern history, when women got their first taste of expanded opportunities during the war and were expected to return to established roles immediately thereafter.
Given that this is a narrative still playing out to this day, this was a story worth exploring through Peggy, and the show offered a magnetic lead in Hayley Atwell and an exciting backdrop to explore these tensions against. As a feminist action adventure drama, Agent Carter was hugely welcome, and undeniably important to a lot of its viewers.
Where it fell short was in exploring the richness of its world. Dottie, Faustus, Dum-Dum, and even Jarvis gave us glimpses of a broader and more quirky universe than the one inhabited by the SSR, and in the early episodes there were hints of that version of the show, in Peggy's disguises and in flourishes like the radio play.
The show's greatest failure was that it couldn't find many enemies or challenges that were equal to their protagonist. There was room to see Peggy stymied by patriarchy and going toe-to-toe with flamboyant wartime villains. Dottie aside, Peggy too easily outclassed every enemy she faced.
This final episode seemed to highlight the problem. There actually wasn't a lot for Peggy to do, and her final triumphant moment was an anticlimactic attempt to talk Howard down via radio. Now, it's obvious why the episode ended that way; the last time Peggy was in this situation, it was the moment of her greatest heartbreak, so the show contrived to put her back there.
But the stakes felt low. We never saw the VE Day celebrations that Howard was meant to bomb (too expensive to shoot, no doubt), and Howard himself was in no danger, because we know he hadn't met Maria and fathered Tony yet.
(Not that the timeline makes much sense there; it'll be almost twenty years before Robert Downey Jr. is born, at which point 'young Howard' actor Dominic Cooper will be older than 'old Howard actor' John Slattery is now.)
The show has also been criticized for its lack of diversity, and this episode introduced one of the series' only black characters, the cop that stops Dottie's car and gets hypnotized by Faustus. It's a minor, thankless role. As much praise as Agent Carter deserves for being one of the rare unapologetic feminist female-led genre shows on TV, that doesn't immunize it against fair criticism.
Nor does the show's failures mitigate its successes. I think our culture is a much better place for having eight episodes of Agent Carter in it, and if eight episodes is all we get, I hope the show continues to find its audience as a valuable part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe --- the first Marvel Studios product with a female hero in the lead, and thankfully not the last.
And praise be to Oneg the Prober that, in the end, this show was never a love story. The two suitors, Sousa and Thompson, never established their worth, and however they felt about Peggy, she never really afforded them more than a moment's thought. Sure, this was because Peggy was still in love with Steve, but nonetheless it was great to see a heroic woman whose future was not bound to any expectation of romance.
There is only one question left to ask, dear reader:
Will we ever see Agent Peggy Carter again?
Well actually, yes, we know that we will; Hayley Atwell is listed on the poster for this year's Avengers: Age of Ultron movie. Rumor has it she'll appear in some sort of flashback, perhaps tying together the original Jarvis with Tony Stark's Jarvis, who may be involved in setting up Vision.
But will we ever see another season of Agent Carter? Fans have been in 'save our show' mode from the start, because the show never scored strong ratings. That seems to suggest it's doomed, but we don't know how the show has performed among the watch-later crowd, or what ABC's expectations were for a mid-season eight episode show, and we know Agent Carter was fairly cheap to make (because, sorry to say, it often showed), and we know that ABC is unusually indulgent towards its Marvel cousins given the ample rope it gave Agents of SHIELD.
In all likelihood, the show is done. But if Disney has a plan, that plan may involve more Agent Carter. If there's been a running theme to this show, it's that you should never underestimate Peggy Carter.