‘Agent Carter’ Post-Show Analysis, Season 2, Episodes 6-7: ‘Life Of The Party’/’Monsters’
With Agents of SHIELD taking a much-needed winter break, Marvel’s other spy adventure series, Agent Carter, is back for a two-month engagement, with Hayley Atwell reprising her role as Peggy. Our AoS recappers Agent Ziah Grace and Agent Chris Haley are on hand to review the highs and lows as Agent Carter relocates to Los Angeles to bring down new foes.
This week we were treated to another double dose of Agent Carter, as old school Black Widow agent Dottie returns to action, and Whitney Frost plots total domination. “Life of the Party” was directed by Craig Zisk from a script by Eric Pearson, and “Monsters” was directed by Metin Hüseyin from a script by Brandon Easton.
Ziah: Alright, it’s another two-parter of our favorite Marvel Agent show --- by a wide margin --- and while as a viewer I’m stoked to get twice the Hayley Atwell (Hayley A-two-ell?), as a critic, these chunks make it harder to talk about the episodes as individuals. Some of our favorite moments in Agent Carter have come from the little touches and moments between characters, and loading up what’s basically an entire movie-worth of content makes it a lot harder to remember all of them, so let’s start with that. Chris, what were some nice details you liked in these?
Chris: Well, since I knew we had this two-part challenge ahead of us, I really tried to do a better job at taking notes this week. But it even that was its own challenge, because it’s hard not to get wrapped up in what’s happening on screen and just forget you’re supposed to be watching for work. That said, hopefully we’ll make it through and not have too many glaring omissions. Let’s try to break this down one episode at a time to keep things simple.
So, in episode six, “Life of the Party”, we got to see a number of great things, but chief among those has to be the return of Dottie Underwood. Once again this show gives us a “bad guy” that’s layered and multi-faceted enough that we can’t help but enjoy. Even when she’s doing things she shouldn’t. She plays a big part in both of this week’s episodes, but we’ll get into that more when we get there.
Peggy is still recovering from last week’s grievous injury, so much so that she’s forced to rely on other people to get things done (which is obviously difficult for her). Making matters even more complicated is the fact that one of the people she’s having to rely on is Dottie. Ziah, let’s talk about Dottie.
Ziah: Chris, let’s freak out over how great Dottie is. She is fantastic, and while I’ve commented on the chemistry between Wilkes and Peggy or Jarvis and Peggy in previous reviews, this was basically a graduate school class of Chemistry to a child’s first chemistry set. Dottie and Peggy’s interactions are so incredibly fun and witty, it retroactively makes previous pairings obsolete in my mind. Season 3 needs to be Dottie and Peggy doing Marvel’s Thelma and Louise But They’re Both Cool Secret Agents.
Chris, is Dottie the best or is she the best?
Chris: Like they did (and continue to do) with Whitney Frost previously, this show has created a character and cast the right actor to accomplish the unenviable task of trying to stand up to Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter and not get completely blown away. I feel like everyone that was so into how badass Furiosa was in Mad Max: Fury Road or how amazing Rey was in Star Wars: The Force Awakens should be all about this show, because all of the female characters on it are incredible.
Ziah: Dottie’s got a personality that you see a lot in genre fiction, and especially superhero fiction, which is that of an evil mirror to the hero that’s mostly bored and unconcerned with anyone else to the point that it hints towards a romantic fixation. LIke we’ve been saying this whole time though, the writing and acting on this show yank it away from cliches and tropes, even when that’s a clear starting point.
Dottie could very well come off as a bad Joker or Venom or basically anyone’s nemesis in comics, but instead, she’s just eminently watchable. Their banter is hilarious, their constant one-upmanship is exciting, and I genuinely feel like Peggy’s matched against an equal that I didn’t realize was missing from her flirtations with Sousa and Wilkes.
Chris: You may have lost me there. Can you elaborate on that last bit?
Ziah: I’m shipping Pegs and Dottie like the Titanic, buddy.
Chris: So, like, they should go out is your feeling?
Ziah: They should date, yes. Provided Dottie stops trying to sort-of kill Peggy, I think they’d make a fun couple. At the very least, her re-addition to the show leads to some of the funniest moments in the entire series: a Jarvis/Dottie undercover team-up with Jack and the Council of Whatever Numbers Are Left running interference between them and Whitney Frost.
Chris: Jarvis and Dottie being forced into secret missions every week is definitely a show I would watch. “Chemistry” may be the word of the day, because this episode really displayed how important chemistry is in making stories that could seem very predictable or well worn feel fresh and fun. They also really make use of a lot of different kinds of chemistry and almost every interaction between two characters on this show is entertaining.
Ziah: Chris, we can make up dozens of spin-off shows all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that Agents of SHIELD is coming back eventually.
Chris: Why did you have to remind me? That was straight up hurtful. I think Mockingbird and someone else (possibly the British guy) are even getting their own spinoff show. Shudder.
Let’s stay focused on the good show while we have it. Speaking of Whitney, that scene with her making her presentation to the council, and the subsequent aftermath, was outstanding and one heck of a roller coaster. I mean, I think we all knew it wasn’t going to be the presentation Whitney had hoped for, but things really worked out for her by the end of it. Also, I cannot tell you how excited I was when she killed the majority of those old bastards. She went straight up queenpin and I loved it.
Ziah: She really does feel like the star of her own television show, alternately compassionate and relatable and conniving and murderous. Her betrayal (by yet another man in a long line of them) only pushes her further into villain territory, but it also gives her power that’s more malleable than her Zero Matter Goo Powers: control over a populace with the help of old money. This is a really fun development, since it takes a character we’ve seen and empathized with for a bunch of episodes and basically combines her with a previously hinted threat to make a pretty genuinely daunting opponent for Peggy and her team. This is how you make villains interesting and challenging to the heroes, guys. Plus! More Ken Marino. Ken Marino’s pretty great, huh Chris?
Chris: Exactly! That whole scene was fantastic and the new version of the council that it establishes is, like you said, an even more exciting and difficult challenge for Peggy. This is probably an unimportant question, but I’m just curious what your read on the scene was: Do you think Whitney knew she could use her powers the way she did against the council before she went in there, or do you think it was a kind of involuntary, emotion-fueled outburst that allowed her to access them in that way? This is completely nerdy to wonder about, but I’m happy to revel in the nerdiness of contemplating the minutiae of this show.
Ziah: I’d argue the latter, since the script for the episode very explicitly mentions and shows “touching” as a signifier of zero matter side effects. Peggy tells Dottie not to touch Whitney, and Dottie’s attempt to touch Wilkes passes right through him.
Whitney’s evolution past her limitation works as a nice metaphor for her newfound (Council) power too, since she’s no longer dependent on touching anyone (a detail that’s important, since she’s used sex appeal and acting prowess to facilitate that before, both qualities that stem from her mother telling her to use her natural womanly gifts).
Chris: Jumping back to Dottie for a second, that moment when she tried to touch Wilkes and she had what was probably her first actually surprised look of the series was so great as you see all across her face that she’s realizing the world she’s becoming a part of is beyond the world she’s known before. And that scene is complimented by the awe and horror on her face when she watches everything with Whitney and The Council play out. And of course we’ll have more to get into once Dottie and Whitney have their first real interaction in the next episode. You know, we didn’t even mention how badass Dottie’s fight scene was.
Ziah: We also didn’t mention Dottie’s exasperated response every time she tries to pull one over on Peggy and fails, and Peggy’s American Doctor disguise. This was a great episode all around, and if Peggy’s gotta disguise herself every episode for some reason, I’m pretty fine with that.
Oh, we also got some good development on Jack, and he finally becomes more than just the misogynistic jerk he’s come off as earlier. His ending scene with Peggy really struck me as well-acted, since we the audience know that Peggy’s telling the truth, but to him, she could be messing with the most powerful men in the country without any real proof of wrongdoing, and while he might be pig-headed, he’s also concerned. Pretty pretty good, Chris.
Chris: Yep, Jack’s scenes this week were up next on my “to talk about” list, because we’ve seen hints of it all season, but you can tell that even though he’s a “good soldier”, it’s all starting to pile up and weigh on him. He’s really having to basically question his entire view on how the world around him works and what he’s been taught to believe, but he can’t help but realize that Peggy Carter is so good and incorruptibly forthright in the pursuit of justice that she must be onto something.
Ziah: I also like that he knew immediately that if Jarvis is around, so is Peggy. Again, constant character moments. Rather than just being a dumb sexist who exists as an obstacle, Jack’s smart and capable in some ways, and absolutely terrible at others, just like a real person.
Chris: Haha, man, you took the words right out of my mouth! I was just about to say, “Wow, it’s like the characters on this show act like real people. What a concept!” I also loved Jarvis’ warnings to Jack. Jarvis is obviously mostly played as comic relief that we care about, but when he gets to take a moment to be serious and say, “Hey, I don’t think you’re actually a bad guy, and you think you know what’s going on, but you’re actually in way over your head” it’s potent.
Speaking of the other “real” people, this week we got the return of Mrs. Jarvis, we see Jason starting to unravel emotionally as he begins to lose his tether to the normal world, and we find out that Daniel’s engagement has been called off. Let’s lightning round this.
Ziah: Oh man, I loved Mrs. Jarvis dealing with her concerns over Mr. Jarvis’ safety. She’s concerned, it’s bothering her, she’s hiding it out of awareness of how he feels, and then they talk about it and acknowledge that it’s not going to stop, but it’s okay to feel emotions about it. What a great scene to have two adults in a relationship actually listen to each other and acknowledge the other person’s feelings about a situation.
Chris: I love how this show’s best special effect advantage over so many of these other comic shows is just spending more than 15 minutes on the script.
Ziah: Oh man, I didn’t know they were going to use the Original Human Torch on this show, because that is a killer burn. Get it? Because the Original Human Torch was around in the ‘30s? And because you dropped a sick burn?
Okay, so what’d you think of Jason losing his cool (and his warmth, and his body)?
Chris: I totally get it, but also, I was like, “Whoa there, watch your tone with Peggy Carter, please. I don’t care if you are being pulled into the darkness of cosmic oblivion.” I think my biggest question was how does he go to the bathroom in that little Willy Wonka TSA body scanner he built?
Ziah: Yeah, it really felt like the tone of the episode hinted that Wilkes was being a jerk to Peggy, and he kind of was, but also, dude is getting obliterated and Peggy’s more concerned with her sexy evil counterpart. Kind of reasonable to get mad, but it’s also hard to argue against Peggy saving Dottie when they make such a good pair. And I assume he goes to the bathroom the same way all of us do: loud and proud in a tiny bucket in the corner.
Chris: You’re going to go far, kid. Obviously, part of Jason losing his cool has to do with the signs that there’s a flickering of that old romantic flame between Peggy and Daniel. Cue studio audience “Oooooohhh”. While that scene between the two of them in the surveillance van was some powerful stuff, what did you think of Daniel’s engagement being called off? (And after we said so many nice things about his fiance last week!)
Ziah: Booooooo! Let’s fill this review full of ghosts, Chris. I do not like this development, since we already liked Violet, and there’s been very little this season to endear me to Sousa. Now it seems that his main character trait is going to be “pining after Peggy,” which isn’t much better than where he was. Oh well. Even a show this good has to have some flaws.
Chris: I think that pretty much covers it for this week’s first episode, so let’s move on to the second part of our double-header, “Monsters”. Dottie is in Whitney’s clutches and “That 40s Dad” decides he’s going to interrogate and threaten getting medieval on our new favorite Russian badass. The way she stares him down in the face of all those torture implements and just isn’t intimidated in the slightest is fantastic.
Whoa, wait a minute. Speaking of Russian badasses, is Dottie supposed to be from an early version of the Russian military program that gave us Black Widow? Is this something everyone else has already been talking about and I just missed it? Look at all the similarities! They’re both Russian. They both kick butt. Dottie’s outfit this week is all black and red. They both have a scene where they’re tied to a chair and interrogated by an old guy who they’re not afraid of at all. Is Dottie Natasha’s mom?!
Ziah: Oooooo! That would be a really interesting hook! I assumed they were definitely doing a Black Widow thing with her, but explicitly connecting her to Natasha would be a nice touch. Although, man, again Dottie is such a fantastic character. Her response to conventional torture was really fun to watch, and the way she’s sarcastic to everyone who’s not Peggy is great.
Chris: Peggy’s the only person she respects on this show. Well, you could probably argue she fears Whitney enough to respect her too.
You know, it’s a shame that the Whitney Frost of the comics isn’t as interesting as the one on this show, because I think they did more with the character this week than the comics have done in the last decade. First she gets to play the part of the grieving celebrity widow, then we see how truly terrifying she is when she interrogates Dottie. The fearlessness in Dottie’s eyes in the first interrogation and the way that scene played out really sets the stage to help sell just how frightening the second interrogation is.
It’s neat how Agent Carter, unlike some other shows we won’t mention, gives us information by showing things happening and letting us see the character’s reactions to these things. You know, instead of just having someone clunkily tell you how they’re feeling or what’s happening. Other shows are garbage is what I’m saying.
Ziah: Dottie didn’t even have to say, “Oh God, that was so much pain you just gave me. Just… Just a lot of pain that I was unprepared for, even though I’m a spy who’s good at torture.”
You know. Like some shows would. Once again, good characters playing off of good characters making the show better. We know Dottie is a terrifying threat, and that Whitney’s getting more powerful, but for the latter to overpower the former this completely definitely puts Whitney in a new weight class.
Chris: We also get to see Whitney try to entice Jason to join her, and though she’s done some evil things, you can tell she thinks what she’s doing is ultimately going to be for a better future. She’s not trying to rob banks or take over the world, but she thinks she has the power to make things better. I don’t think her speech to Jason was dishonest or manipulative at all. I think she believes every word of it. Plus, you can tell she genuinely respects both his intellect and his ingenuity, and when she says she wants them to work together, I think she absolutely means it. I could be wrong, but that was definitely how I read that scene. What about you?
Ziah: Oh absolutely. And while I’ve complained about some of the hamminess of her previous flashbacks, it’s definitely laid the tracks to show that she’s had a hard life, and her decisions are directly borne of that life. Watching her try to appeal to Wilkes as another brilliant person underestimated simply because of the society they live in was really persuasive, and showed another side to both characters. More sides than a dodecahedron, these characters, you know what I’m saying?
Chris: Like real people! Also, I’ve gotta say, if I were Dr. Wilkes, I’d probably have to be seriously considering taking her up on the offer.
Ziah: She definitely is treating him with more respect than anyone else at Isodyne, but she’s also eeeeeeevil, so hopefully Wilkes stands strong.
Chris: Well, I mean, they did hit him in the back of the head with a wrench, so when he wakes up, he’s probably not going to be crazy about it. Plus she shot Ana, so you know that’s not going to go over well.
You know what another spin-off from this show I’d watch every week is called? “Peggy and Jarvis Talking and Being British In A Car”. That would be my new favorite show, because that scene was just the best.
Ziah: That scene was fantastic, with Jarvis playing audience surrogate again by getting swept up in the two men’s good qualities. Him getting out of the rope trap before both of the super-spies he’s with was a great touch too. Favorite part of the episode though, without a doubt, is Peggy holding Jarvis’ hand as they wait to hear news about Ana’s surgery. It’s a quiet moment, full of character, and well shot. It says so much about both characters and their guilt and their need for each other as friends, all while being just a really good-looking scene.
Chris: Can’t argue with that. Hopefully next week’s episode will start with Ana on her way to a speedy recovery.