‘Agent Carter’ Post-Show Analysis, Season 2, Episodes 8-9: ‘The Edge of Mystery’ / ‘A Little Song And Dance’
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 gave us another Two-for-Tuesday double header of our favorite SSR agent as we speed ever closer to the return of that other show. Action, suspense, drama, spaghetti, and an honest-to-goodness song and dance number! This show is the ever-loving best. Episode 8, “The Edge of Mystery” was directed by Metin Hüseyin from a script by Brant Englestein. Episode 9, “A Little Song and Dance” was directed by Jennifer Getzinger and written by Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, and Chris Dingess.
Ziah: Well Chris, we’ve only got one more week left of Agent Carter, and boy am I gonna miss this show. These two episodes demonstrated everything we’ve talked about loving in the past and then some, with great character work, plot twists and turns, and an actual song-and-dance scene. This was pretty fantastic. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of the episode, I just want to give a brief shout-out to reader Pinky Kilmar for getting me the first season of Agent Carter, and I have to say, it’s pretty great so far!
Chris: And for my troubles in alerting you to this, I received nothing. Plus, we have to go back to that other show after next week. There is no justice in this world.
While we’re speaking of the readers though, I’d like to apologize to all of them, but especially the ones who mentioned this in the comments for last week’s episode(s), but I completely blanked on the fact that it was established in the first season that Dottie was in fact from the same Russian program that would later bring us Black Widow. I don’t know how I forgot that, but we are none of us perfect… except maybe Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter.
Ziah: Hers is the ideal that the rest of us can only strive for.
So, Chris, let’s start with episode eight. How’d you feel about Dr. Wilkes heel turn and Jack’s face turn? Did you see these twists coming?
Chris: Well, I’ve been holding out for Jack to do the right thing all season, so that was no real surprise, though I thought the way they handled it was, like most things with this show, much more interesting and better done than what you’d usually expect.
Dr. Wilkes, on the other hand, really surprised me. I thought there was a real chance that Whitney was going to convince him to work with her, because, to be fair, her offer has merit. But the way they played it, again, was a genuine surprise that worked beautifully. Even if it was the tiniest bit heartbreaking. The emotions playing across Peggy’s face and in her voice as he’s pointing that shotgun right at her… jeepers creepers, that’s some potent stuff.
Ziah: I definitely enjoyed seeing how both characters switching sides so convincingly played out, and the fact that I was upset at Wilkes turning traitor really just shows that the writing staff’s done a great job at making me like him, so put a hand together there.
Let’s talk about Ken Marino, because I always want to talk about Ken Marino, Chris. He is a delight. I want him in old man makeup on Agents of SHIELD as Silvermane or something, because he is so much fun to watch in every scene, and a great balance with the already amazing Whitney Frost. I feel like we talk about the same things every week, but that’s really only because this show is so consistently good.
Chris: Praising the things that are consistently great on this show every week is a lot better than complaining about the things that are awful on some other shows every week. When people say we complain too much about the other shows’ problems, I think they sometimes miss the fact that if we didn’t complain about the things that aren’t good, it wouldn’t mean as much when we’re complimentary. We talk about that things that bug us so that when we tell you something is good, you’ll know that we mean it.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the smart, talented, and attractive people that read the Agent Carter reviews, because they get it, but some of those less enlightened souls seem to have a hard time grasping the concept.
So! Having said all of that, yes, let’s talk about Ken Marino. Again, this show works its magic trick of giving depth and nuance to a character that a lesser show would leave completely one-dimensional. It’s interesting how one of the most arguably “bad” characters on the show is also one of the most socially progressive, in that he obviously respects women so much. Way more so than so many of the more “respectable” characters. From his love and concern for his mother to his adoration of Whitney and the ease with which he complies with her orders, to the fact that he clearly gives Peggy the respect of being an equal adversary.
Ziah: Oh man. Chris, that is an amazing point. I didn’t even pick up on that, but that’s the nice thing about Agent Carter is that it has actual themes and motifs and symbolism for us to dig into and interpret. And you’re totally right! As far as screen time goes (they might reveal that she left him for being abusive off-screen next episode, but I doubt it), he’s only been shown comfortable with his relationship to powerful and domineering women without letting it offend his pride. That’s a great layer to add onto the “unhinged made-man ex-boyfriend” archetype, especially for the time period.
Chris: Oh yeah, I’m sure he was abusive to her in the past, but he’s clearly abusive to everyone, so it’s not because she’s a woman. He’s still a gangster, I’m not saying he’s a good guy or anything, but bad people can do good things and vice versa. I mean, how sad is it that the gangster is the only man in Whitney’s entire life that has seen her for who she really is and loves and respects her for it. That scene where he’s saying she’s more beautiful than ever and that she doesn’t have to hide how she looks for anyone? Powerful! And you know he means every word of it.
Ziah: Yeah, I really dug that scene. I love how Whitney’s tried to assemble an opposing team to fight Peggy’s, but she’s constantly stymied by people either underestimating her or just not being down for her particular brand of moral ambiguity. At least she’s got her version of Sousa, and he’s a charmer.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, Ken Marino has so many different gears for this character it’s ridiculous. Some of this is jumping ahead to the next episode just a touch, but look at what all the different aspects of this guy we saw just this week. Cooking for his ma, bossing goons around, heartfelt affirmations, jealous rage, wounded pride, and so on. When he’s showing Whitney the spot he’s set up for her lab, and he’s trying to put a good spin on it, but it’s still a dump, and he kind of sheepishly says something along the lines of knowing she deserves better… you just want to hug him! In that moment, I honestly wished the two of them weren’t at odds with Peggy and could just be happy together. I don’t even like the good guys on Arrow, but on Agent Carter I even want the bad guys to be happy! That’s how good this show is!
Also, Manfredi’s mom trying to stab Sousa made me laugh out loud. For real. In real life.
Ziah: If Agent Carter really does get cancelled, here’s hoping Whitney Frost: Secret Genius Movie Star gets a greenlight. But yeah, agreed 100%.
And speaking of charming jerks, let’s chat about Jack. I was really intrigued by his power play with Whitney, his psuedo-betrayal of Peggy and Sousa, and the way he basically got a seat at the evil table by being handsome and charming. Of all the things I find myself charmed by in Agent Carter, its existence in a world where beautiful men can just look lonesomely off to the side to distract ladies is one of the funniest.
Chris: I really enjoyed how things played out with him in the first episode, where you think, “Okay, this is the turning point and he’s on their side now and there are no more surprises with this character”, but then in the second episode, the writers said, “We’re going to have him play everyone against each other to the point where you have no idea what he’s really up to!” Even though he’d clearly tried to stop Vernon and then saved Daniel and Samberly from being killed, every time they’d end a scene with him where he’s just kind of giving that squinty glare, I was like, “Wait, is he up to no good?” Everyone on this show is great.
Ziah: It’s just so much fun to see independent-ish ethically-flexible third-parties bounce around in between a battle between the primary protagonist and antagonist. It’s one of my favorite things to watch, and turning the gamma cannon into a gamma bomb (Gamma bomb? Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?) is a great way to get all the major characters together for a climax.
Let’s jump back a bit to the beginning of episode nine, which is one of my favorite scenes I’ve seen in a superhero show all year: Peggy’s dream sequence. Style and flash and a musical dance number! This was a pretty great way to play with the way Peggy views the world and just using the visual cues of the time period.
Chris: I’d be very, very, very curious to know if they’d planned on doing that sequence from the beginning of the season or if they threw that in to have fun in case they don’t get another chance to do something like it. That whole dream sequence was just the best. The. Best. The first note I made was, “Boy, I bet Ziah is regretting ever doubting Sousa’s charm right about now”. I feel like he really blew up your spot there.
Ziah: I will absolutely cop to that. It turns out that the key to unlocking Sousa’s charm was a big snazzy dance number and romantic duet. I get it, you guys. I wish non-dream Sousa was half as dreamy (swish), but I understand the appeal. Also, Chris, boy was that black-and-white opening nice to look at. I almost wish the whole show was shot in black and white, I really liked it.
Chris: I’d definitely love an all-black-and-white noir episode, but I think it needed that transition when the colors start popping in. What I was really hoping for was that the dream sequence was never going to end.
Ziah: I would’ve been 110% okay with a full-on dream sequence one-off episode in that style. Just think, Chris, if it was a 26-episode season, they might’ve had the room to burn an episode like that! Ah! Curse this imperfect world.
Chris: Yeah, one of the show’s greatest strengths is that it doesn’t waste time though, so we have to accept that the sword of quality programming can cut both ways.
This is not related to any of that, but how great was it when both Daniel and Jack yelled, “Do what Peggy says!” at Samberly in the first episode?
Ziah: Delightful. It’s perfectly in-character, and also just good advice for any character in the show.
And speaking of ignoring good advice, let’s talk about Jarvis, Mrs. Jarvis, and the deft maneuvering around responsibility and guilt that the show provided. I loved that Ana’s shooting had consequences for her and Jarvis (the chance to have kids) while making Jarvis’ flippancy regarding the danger clear.
This is a situation where neither Peggy nor Jarvis are wrong, but they’re both blinded by their guilt and anger to the point that it takes them a while to come to terms with it, and that’s some strong character work. Plus, when Jarvis just walks up to Whitney and shoots her, I gasped.
Chris: Yeah, I did more than gasp, but I’m not allowed to use that kind of language on here.
Ziah: Jarvis sure was number one with a bullet after that bit. Also, Whitney Frost continues to amaze as someone still capable of engendering sympathy and compassion after all the stuff we’ve seen her do. This is just a well-acted, wonderfully written show and I’ll be very sad to see it go.
Chris: Truly. Maybe it’s like that old saying goes, “The candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.”
Ziah: Well, I just hope Dottie Underwood comes back for the last episode. If this really is the show’s swan song, then it needs its star ballerina. (Get it. Like Swan Lake, which is a ballet and swans and, you get it, it’s fine). She’s too good, and I can’t wait to see more of her while I watch through the rest of season one!
Chris: I don’t want it to end, Ziah. I don’t want to go back to the way things were. They left us on quite a cliffhanger this week though, so I can’t wait to see what happens.
Ziah: Well, the bar for satisfying season-long resolutions is set pretty low for us, so I’m sure they’ll clear it with aplomb. We’ll see you next week!