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.