Agent Carter 2×08 and 2×09 Debriefing: The (Zero Matter) Force Awakens, or, this is why you should always do as Peggy says.

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Apologies for the delay in posting, folks. Better late than never?

I may have taken a break from writing about Agent Carter over the last few weeks, but that doesn’t mean our intrepid heroine has taken time off from taking down criminal masterminds.

Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett) has unleashed her true megalomaniacal self upon the world, and has taken Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) along for the ride, while poor Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) struggles just to stay whole, metaphorically and physically. But Peggy (Hayley Atwell) has more pressing matters: as if evil superpowers and love triangles weren’t enough to fill her plate, poor Ana (Lotte Verbeek) has gotten caught in the crossfire, and a gunshot wound to the abdomen at Frost’s hands leaves her life hanging in the balance. Jarvis (James D’Arcy) is inconsolable, and standing by her friend is of the utmost concern at this trying time. Can’t these guys ever catch a break?

When we pick up tonight, Ana is still unconscious after her surgery, her odds of survival uncertain. Naturally, Jarvis blames himself, and Peggy chooses to sit vigil with him, until she offers to go home to get him some things to freshen up. She then enlists Daniel Sousa’s help in going after Frost, via her mob-boss beau Joseph Manfredi and his prickly Nona. He forwards her message to his Zero-Matter-Obsessed girlfriend: she wants to make a deal, trading the uranium rods she needs for Jason Wilkes.

It’s a bargain she can’t refuse. While she’s been trying to recruit Wilkes to her Dark Side, teaching him about how powerful they could be if only he gave in to it and revealing that she’s been hearing voices in her head, he’s steadfast about remaining who he is — or die trying. (Does it sound like Zero Matter is basically The Force to anyone else?) However, the trade is hard to ignore, and she’s more than willing to give up Jason if it means she gets the rods.

By this time, Ana has finally awoken, seemingly out of the woods, but naturally, there’s a catch. Because of the internal damage from the bullet wound and subsequent surgeries, Ana can no longer have children, as her doctor informs her husband without her presence, or consent. (Oh, the ‘40s and the patriarchy.) Unsurprisingly, Jarvis doesn’t have the heart to tell his wife, so instead he puts on a smile, and secretly vows revenge on Whitney Frost for what she’s done to his future family.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Which means, of course, that he’s decided to follow Peggy, Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) and Dr. Samberly (Matt Braunger) to the dropoff with Frost and her henchmen. They’re up to their old tricks, of course: they aren’t actually handing over the most potent form of nuclear energy to a supervillain. Rather, Samberly has painted plain old rods with enough uranium-laced paint for them to pass on a preliminary scan, which will hopefully give them time to run away before their con is discovered. It almost works, but for a butterfingered lackey of Manfredi’s. Peggy’s got Jason back in the truck inside his magical body-restoring chamber, and the gang are about to pull away, when the latch on the case containing the rods falls apart. Frost panics for a second at the impending nuclear disaster about to hit the floor — until it doesn’t, and she realizes they’re fake. Uh oh!

As the SSR team flees, something doesn’t feel right; their assailants don’t seem to be trying very hard to catch up to them, their vehicles giving chase at a rather leisurely cruise. This is when the tables turn: Jason pulls a gun on Peggy, and demands his freedom. The cars aren’t chasing the truck, so much as waiting for Jason to make his move so they can pick him up. Peggy is betrayed, but insists, against his own claims, that this is not him speaking, but the Zero Matter, and that he’d have to kill her before she gives him up. She effectively calls his bluff, and he doesn’t shoot, but he does escape. It’s a heartbreaking moment, not the least reason being now that Jason has apparently fallen to the dark matter side, he’s no longer their objective, but their enemy.

Meanwhile, Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murrary) is back. After conveniently finding Peggy’s classified file thanks to an inebriated MI5 acquaintance, he thinks he has the smoking bullet to put the nail in Peggy’s reputation, as per Vernon Masters’ (Kurtwood Smith) orders. Yet he still can’t bring himself to torpedo her, and gives her one last chance to come back to New York with him, and make this all disappear. She, of course, realizes this is a losing proposition, and implores him to think about what Masters is really doing.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Which he eventually does, and confronts the FBI agent about the plan: “It’s an official document. It means it’s true, regardless of what happened.” Jack starts to finally understand what’s really going on, and listens in on Masters’ phone call to Frost, revealing his true allegiance. Jack follows him down to the SSR’s vault, where he retrieves the real uranium, but when Jack accosts him, the older man uses the mind-scrambler that Peggy used a few weeks ago to make the agent forget why he was down there when Peggy and Sousa eventually find him.

Whitney Frost finally has her precious uranium to recreate the Zero Matter experiment that started it all, and which she hopes will seal her power (and Jason’s) for good. What she doesn’t count on is that when the blast finally happens, the resulting reaction calls not to her, but to Jason. He’s the one who rises and ascends to the odd cloud (like Zero Matter Jesus?), and unsurprisingly, Frost is livid, crying “why not me?” But just as all seems lost, the SSR squad fires their own counter-measure at the Zero Matter from across the field, and it zaps the cloud, returning Jason to the mortal realm.

Or so we think: he is still alive, though barely. He’s absorbed the Zero Matter, and he’s in rough shape. Also in rough shape? Jarvis, who is bound and determined to end Whitney Frost for the future she’s stolen from him, and he commandeers one of the SSR’s vehicles to get to her, after which he shoots her at point-blank range, to Peggy’s recriminations. However, it’s unsuccessful: while Frost goes down momentarily, the Zero Matter heals her bullet wounds, and soon she’s back in fine form — and apprehending her attackers for her own nefarious purposes, along with ailing Jason. Smooth move, Mr. Jarvis.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

While Peggy and Jarvis are locked up, Sousa, Samberly and Thompson are in their own tight spot, after Masters’ men catch up to them, too. They concoct a plan in which Thompson pretends to be arresting the other two for their insubordination, to convince the cronies that he’s still on the level. It seems to work, but it also leaves Sousa and Samberly wondering where Thompson’s loyalties really lie — and us as well.

In the following episode, we’re really thrown for a loop in a black-and-white reunion between Peggy and her dead brother Michael. Something tells me we’re not in Kansas anymore, and pretty soon we’re dreaming in technicolor along with her, as his confirmation that she’s doing exactly what she always wanted to do leads her to move into a Classic Hollywood-inspired song-and-dance sequence. It’s a bevy of familiar faces playing showmen and women, including Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca) in a cameo as Peggy’s soundboard.

Not surprisingly, the issue causing Peggy angst is that she’s torn between Daniel and Jason — a classic Hollywood tale, all right. Sure, the entire scene may not make much sense in the Agent Carter universe, but it’s probably the only way we’d see any of the cast show off their dance moves and vocal pipes, including Hayley Atwell’s.  (And she looks smokin’ with her hair down, to boot.) However, we cannot explore Peggy’s conscience for too long, because she suddenly regains consciousness back in the real world — or, in the back of Mandredi’s waste-management truck.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Peggy is also livid at Jarvis for getting them into this mess, but she has more pressing matters, like getting them out of this mess. Of course, she’s got a “hot wire” in her belt, as one does, and uses it to slice through the chain locking the back doors, and out they fall, unbeknownst to their captors until they’re well away. On the flip side, though, they are now in the middle of a desert, an hour away from the nearest anything where their enemies surely await them, and have to walk back to safety, so needless to say, they’re a little testy, and tensions quickly flare between them.

Jarvis, still reeling from the events of the last few days, blames Peggy for dragging them down this rabbit hole all in the name of saving Jason, a man they obviously can no longer trust, and accuses her of not caring who she brings down with her, like Ana. Our agent, on the other hand, spits back that she insisted he stay out of this business when she arrived in LA out of concern for his safety, but that it was his choice to follow her, and that he has acted reckless and in cold blood in this mission. (“Unlike you, Mr. Jarvis, I’m not a murderer.” “And yet, everyone around you dies!” That’s a low blow, J.) His bit of fun is life and death for her.

Besides, she adds, Ana on the road to a full recovery, so what’s the big deal? This is when Jarvis finally admits to what’s been bothering him — that Whitney’s bullet destroyed Ana’s chance at having children and he’s been too cowardly to tell his wife — and the mood instantly changes, replacing contempt with compassion. Atwell and D’Arcy do some of their best work with just a few looks, and we know that Peggy and Jarvis will be okay to weather this rough patch.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Except, they’re still stuck out in the middle of nowhere, and Manfredi’s truck finally returns. They enact a little bit of pageantry themselves: Peggy pretends to faint as Jarvis tends to her, and when the cronies attempt to recapture them, Peggy gets the drop on them, hijacking the vehicle to get themselves back to the city, and Jarvis to Ana. (“Oh crap, indeed.”) Later on, when our butler finally does muster up the strength to have that conversation with his wife, it’s obvious that Peggy’s lead inspired him.

Meanwhile, Masters drops in on our boys in the lockup, disappointed in Jack for not doing as he was told and killing Sousa and Samberly in the desert. Thompson keeps up his act (or is it?), assuring Masters that Sousa’s career ambition will ensure that he toes the line, despite the FBI agent’s misgivings. Thompson reveals they can rebuild Stark’s weapon as the ultimate tool to get rid of Frost, which is enough to get them a reprieve for now.

Whitney Frost now has a new lair in which to go full-on mad-scientist on Dr. Wilkes, who is strapped to a gurney and an unwilling subject in her experiments. He still refuses to give into The Force Zero Matter, so she does it for him, by extracting it with a particularly nasty-looking syringe, all in the name of progress. She may be a supervillain, but she also genuinely believes that she is doing everything in the name of science, and no man — or law — can stop her. However, Jason is stronger, and she can retrieve nothing; all she seems to be doing is effectively killing him from stress.

Peggy, who is mad as hell and won’t take it anymore, marches into the chief’s office at the SSR headquarters, and proceeds to clock Vernon Masters right in the kisser before he even has a chance to speak. (Which we’ve all wanted to do this season.) When Sousa and Thompson run in, she is confused by their defense of Masters; that being said, Sousa’s telling look to her screams “We are totally lying to this dude”, and I’m starting to think Masters isn’t the brilliant FBI agent he thinks he is, or else he’d totally know the fix was in. Peggy reluctantly agrees to their plans to nab Frost, though reminding them that it’s ludicrous.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Thompson approaches Frost on behalf of Masters, who pushes all the right buttons and flatters the former starlet. He also confesses that Masters wants to use the gamma ray cannon to destroy her, apparently double-crossing him, and insists that what he wants out of this deal is not his superior’s job once Whitney has her way with him, but a seat on The Council. What game are you playing at, Jack?

Peggy is suspicious of how Thompson pulled off the deal, and even more concerned about Masters turning against them all. As Thompson and Masters leave to deliver the cannon, Sousa and Peggy find their own vehicle without a fuel line, obviously sabotaged so that they couldn’t tail their comrades. This is when Samberly reveals that Jack had changed the mission to create a bomb out of the gamma ray, to take down Frost’s entire operation, including Masters and Wilkes.

It’s another mad chase! Masters “demonstrates” how the ray works to Frost, doing the worst job ever of concealing that all is not what it seems with the device, and as usual, Frost can read right through him. This is when Jack double-crosses him, turning the tables and leaving him at Whitney’s mercy as he exits stage left, ostensibly with a seat on The Council in his back pocket, but we know his true motives. When he’s far enough away from the building, he pushes the detonator for the rigged bomb, but nothing happens — meaning Peggy got to it before he did, when she attempted to rescue Jason. He, being the tortured soul that he is, locked himself in an airtight chamber to contain himself, and Peggy has no choice but to do as he says and leave, ever the dutiful soldier. Jack is furious, blaming the gang of not seeing the big picture, while Peggy insists on Jason’s innocence, and the need to bring Masters to justice.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Yet another showdown happens, with Jack turning his gun on Samberly to fix the detonator, while Peggy turns hers on Jack to stop his plan. It’s no use, though, because Jason makes the decision for them: as Whitney is torturing Vernon, he chuckles at the sight of the light blinking once again, indicating that the bomb is active, and just as she panics, Jason emerges from his cell, going all Hulk Smash on them all. While a helpless Peggy and her crew look on from afar, the building explodes, leaving us to wonder if this is really the end of Tinsel Town’s most dangerous star — and her unwilling victims.

When the whole Zero Matter plot began this season, I had no idea what we were in for, and I don’t know that I was expecting a sci-fi spin on the nuclear war. With only one episode to go this season, I can’t even begin to imagine what’s in store for the (hopefully-not-series) finale. Howard’s cannon-bomb should have destroyed Whitney and her quest, but we know there has to be something brewing for a big event. After all, the entire season has been about the battle between two sides of the same coin, two women of great power in their own ways, choosing to use that force for good or evil. So there’s no way the season’s greatest foe meets her undoing off-screen at the hands of someone other than our Agent Carter.

I know I’ve missed several weeks here due to real life, but I have to say that once again, I’ve been thrilled at how the show has focused on women all season long. Heroes, villains, and everyone in between, the female experience has been front and center throughout these episodes, outfoxing and outrunning their male counterparts.

I find it utterly fascinating to watch Whitney Frost as the embodiment of the ill effects of the patriarchy on women, especially in the postwar era. The more her spirit awakens and eschews the conventions she’s been forced to live her entire life, the more the telltale sign of Zero Matter takes over her profile; the angrier she gets at being put in a corner, the more the world sees of it, and the more she burns those norms to the ground. Sure, she’s no role model, because at this point, she’s a serial killer — but you can’t say she’s not a feminist. In another life, with different guidance, she may have become Peggy’s equivalent in the US, but nonetheless, her intelligence is unparalleled, other than perhaps from her English nemesis. Say what you will, but at least now she has agency over her destiny.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Which is more than we can say about Ana Jarvis. While she’s been an unexpected delight this season, I was disappointed in how this shooting story played out. Don’t get me wrong, I fully anticipated Ana getting caught in the crossfire; she was introduced as almost perfect, and untainted by the dangers of her husband’s secret life, so I knew she’d be collateral damage somehow, and that’s not the point of contention I have at the moment. It’s that her story, for now, exists only to support her husband’s emotional arc. I could see the infertility plot coming a mile away, first as an inkling when they specified she was shot in the abdominal area, and more so when the doctor pulled Jarvis aside to discuss her condition. (I definitely shouted at the TV — at least in my head — at the unabashed misogyny of it all.) I know that it’s supposed to be true to the era, but in a show where so many of the women buck convention and play against type, it’s unfortunate that Ana is the victim of such writing choices.

Most of what we’ve learned about her has been through her husband’s lens, including this recent development. Ana doesn’t even have the privilege of expressing her reaction to her own condition on-screen; it’s all a vessel for Jarvis’ pain, and his own internal struggle, even though it is literally her internal struggle. This is an attack on her, but instead the incident is used to fuel Jarvis’ revenge. It’s a rare misstep for the show for my tastes, and I hope the writers give her more to do in the little time we have left with her this season. When we learned about her background last year through Jarvis’ anecdotes, it was obvious she was a formidable woman of a determined spirit, and we’ve gotten some glimpses into that with her in the flesh this year — how about we expand on that? The show may be set in the 1940s, but that doesn’t mean they need to dismiss her character as such in 2016.

Another point I’d like to mention, especially since I’ve missed so many episodes on the site recently, is that I’m also enjoying delving into Peggy’s psyche this year, from the flashbacks to her defunct engagement and the death of her brother a few weeks ago, to her Broadway-fueled dream his past week. Peggy’s got a lot on her mind, and while this sequence in particular may have been a bit of a gimmick intended to let the cast have a little fun, it worked for me.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

What sets Peggy apart from other agents is her humanity; her mission may always comes first, but her compassion for her “charges” — or friends — is unparalleled. Yes, sometimes it makes her reckless, as when she goes after Jason when all signs point to it being a fool’s errand because of her clouded judgment, but I like that her motto is essentially that everyone’s judgment is clouded, but at least she admits to it and can adapt. She possesses a self-awareness that is unusual in series like this, but while her humanity is used against her by her peers, it’s clear it’s that very factor that makes her the superb agent she is — and why, ultimately, we really should all do as Peggy says.

I love the growth we’ve seen in her, too. For instance, when Ana is shot, it wouldn’t be a shock to expect Peggy to immediately go after Frost in order to save Jason, but instead she initially steps back in order to stay at her friend’s side in his time of need. And when Jarvis sits vigil by Ana’s bedside, she’s the one sitting there holding his hand in support, and telling him what he needs to hear to be strong for his ailing wife as a friend would do. She does eventually decide to go after Frost once Jarvis is settled, but her friends are at the forefront of her thoughts, and it’s a wonderful detail that expands the Carter world.

It bears repeating that it’s a unique situation to find a show where all of the major players in the narrative are women, and it’s one I’ve enjoyed immensely. From hero Peggy, to antagonists Dottie Underwood and Whitney Frost, the women are the foundations upon which the entire arc rests. Despite the obligatory love triangle between our gal pal and her two men, it’s refreshing to see the real showdown of the season come down to a battle of wits between the aforementioned ladies. They all value their intelligence above all else, society be damned, and no man is going to tell them what to do any longer– and I’m here for it.

I can hardly believe that this season is coming to a close tonight, and that this may be the end of our time with Peggy Carter for quite some time. Has season 2 been the cat’s meow or what?

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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