AGENT CARTER 2X10 Debriefing: L.A. Confidential

Courtesy ABC

Apologies for the delay, folks. I’m obviously not as resourceful as our dear Peggy!

For the entirety of its second season, Agent Carter has danced around the impending disaster of the Zero Matter showdown with Whitney Frost, using her terrorizing as a backdrop for all of our characters’ personal struggles.

In “Hollywood Ending,” the show doubles down on some of those questions, while leaving others tantalizingly unresolved. If this is is the end of the series as we know it (perish the thought), there’s no doubt that fans will certainly be left debating the outcome for years to come.

But when it comes down to it, there is only one question that really matters: will Peggy Carter ever find happiness? Read on to find out.

[Warning: the following post contains spoilers for the Agent Carter season finale.]

Given that the season finale aired a week ago, I won’t give a full play-by-play of the episode here. Instead, let’s sum up: after Wilkes (Reggie Austin) apparently blows up Whitney Frost’s (Wynn Everett) lair, he seemingly rids himself of Zero Matter as well — only for it to be absorbed by our favorite supervillainess. It’s a race against time to stop her before she destroys the world with her thirst for power. (Sometimes a little too literally, like when she meets the business end of Jarvis’ car.)

While she works maniacally to open up a new portal to Zero Matter, her lover Joseph Manfredi (Ken Marino) worries about her mental state, and realizes (thanks to help from his own evil-genius Nonna, who definitely deserves her own spinoff) that he has to join forces with the “devil” — aka Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and his crew — to stop her before she does something irrevocable. It comes from a place of love on his part, but there’s no denying it’s yet another commentary on male figures trying to control her. In any case, he concocts a plan to let Peggy (Hayley Atwell) et al. break into her room to steal her plans, while he distracts her, and from there they’re able to build the portal she’s been working tirelessly to construct.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

The plan succeeds, to a point; she hears the siren call of the Zero Matter on the Stark Pictures backlot, and thinks she’s going there to finally open that door to her magic juice indefinitely. Instead, the agents use the gamma cannon to expel the Zero Matter from her back into the rift, returning her to a mere-mortal state, and arresting her to boot. Of course, nothing on this show can be too easy, and the portal nearly swallows up Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), but luckily Jarvis (James D’Arcy) and Samberly (Matt Braunger) save the day by using Howard’s hover car as a gamma-bomb-launcher to close the rift for good.

With the Isodyne case finally solved, and Jason Wilkes entirely human and now working for Howard, Peggy decides it’s time to return to New York, but not before she deals with some unfinished business with Daniel. He prods her at first, but his teasing quickly makes way for her laying a big ol’ smooch on him, and it seems like our intrepid New Yorker may just be trading in the Big Apple for the west coast after all. Yet, lest we believe everyone gets a happy ending this season, we get a classic Marvel coda just after the title card, where poor Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) is ambushed by a masked henchman, where he appears to meet his maker thanks to his rifle. Talk about a jaw-dropping finale!

It’s hard for me to get a hold on my feelings for the Carter finale, because they jumped all over the place at different points in the hour. Just like last year’s effort, it’s obvious the uncertainty of a renewal affected how the writers told the story, and they had to give some threads enough closure to leave this universe intact should this be the last we see of it, while leaving some questions murkier to leave us curious to come back to should it return.

That being said, I think “Hollywood Ending” felt a lot more like a chase to wrap things up than season 1’s “Valediction,” which left us a little melancholy as Peggy heartbreakingly chose to move on after Steve Rogers’ death. Maybe it’s because of my tenuous grasp of the whole Zero Matter plot to begin with, but this finale was much more anticlimactic to me. I’ve become so accustomed to seasons ending with explosions and revelations and water cooler moments that the last thing I expected was for Whitney Frost, our arch nemesis of the day, to basically go quietly into the night.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Don’t get me wrong, I dug seeing her slowly lose her grasp on reality as her lust for power consumed her, particularly due to Wynn Everett’s performance as Frost. After all, the Zero Matter scars on her face were an actual representation of her downward spiral into depravity. I thought Everett did a great job in these past few episodes of balancing Whitney becoming unhinged with her obviously-unmatched intelligence, demonstrating that all it takes is a little “slip” for anyone to fall prey to their basest desires. (That whole “absolute power corrupts absolutely” adage would probably fit right in here.) I love that her mind was her true superpower this season, the Zero Matter only the conduit for her loftier aspirations and breaking point with the misogyny holding her back from her true self.

Yet, when all was said and done, this ending felt decidedly like a whimper rather than a bang. For a villain we’ve been exploring for ten episodes, watching as her mental stability deteriorated and plans for world domination expanded, her capture was rather tame. Granted, it was established early on that the Zero Matter portal cast a spell on her, beckoning her wherever it landed, but to barely put up a fight as she walked right into her trap felt like a bit of a cheat. I know that the writers established, through Jason, that Zero Matter’s pull eschewed logic, but I would have expected someone of Frost’s intellect to question the sudden appearance of the device she so painstakingly designed, knowing her enemies must have set it up to catch her.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

She walked right into it without much of a fight — she didn’t even hurt Samberly, for crying out loud — and her arrest lacked any sort of punch. In fact, she almost incited pity at losing what she thought was her special light, if not for the fact that she’d become a homicidal maniac. I suppose the point was that she was all too human in her quest, and I admit that it was appropriately creepy to watch her ultimately unravel in her padded cell, delusions of life with power-hungry (and very dead) Cal Chadwick replacing her reality with Manfredi. But in a season that built her up, she left our screens with little fanfare, almost like an afterthought to setting up the resolution of the Peggy-Sousa-Wilkes triangle.

Similarly, I would have liked the show to touch upon Dottie Underwood’s fate in its closing hour, if only because she was such a formidable foe last season, and appeared to be our next Big Bad when this season began. I assume her next scheme will be revealed should the show get a renewal by ABC this spring (one can only hope), but again, it felt to me like her story fizzled out, instead of it driving the plot along. Jack Thompson handing back the Arena Club pin (now with a new-and-improved secret key!) to Peggy ensures that Dottie’s story isn’t over yet, but it does leave me wondering just what the point was of bringing her back this season, when we already had all the Zero Matter drama to contend with, if they weren’t going to deliver on her evil potential.

Sticking with the under-served women characters for a second, while I am happy that we got to see Ana Jarvis one last time this year, making a speedy recovery and typically resilient when faced with life’s hardships, it again is unfortunate that we spent so little time with her as a person. That being said, her last scene with Peggy was lovely, and again speaks to Peggy’s compassion, as she felt responsible for Ana’s tragedy, and was empathetic to her situation. However, Mrs. Jarvis would hear none of it, choosing instead to focus on the good — that she is still among the living — and avoid wallowing in what could have been. It may not make up for Ana’s lack of agency in this story, but it at least gives us a bit of a happy ending where they’re concerned. If she returns in a prospective third season, I hope she contributes more than her Hungarian culinary skills to the conversation, as I think she’s got some more hidden talents we’ve yet to explore.

As usual, Peggy was here to save the day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoyed how she was the undisputed commander in this episode, even when it came to sometime-rival Jack, or maybe especially because of that. She’s earned her place as leader of the pack, and is the only one in the group who could hope to match Whitney in her zeal to complete her mission. I admit that I also liked seeing a bit of Peggy’s ruthlessness unleashed, as when she nearly shot Jack for his interference, because it makes sense for a secret agent to have a bit of a dark side to her. As I mentioned before, I wish we’d gotten more interaction between her and her nemesis in their big showdown, but it wasn’t meant to be this time around.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

I have to confess that I haven’t been the biggest fan of the love triangle story — since the trope tends to bore me in general — but I concede that the show probably handled the situation about as respectfully as it could. I know Peggy-Sousa is the relationship fans cheer for, but as a bit of a contrarian, I was kind of hoping for something more to build with Jason, as I really liked their chemistry. However, the show has also been stoking the Sousa romance flames for two years now, and there was no doubt that had to be the end game, and what an end it was. I liked that he challenged her in their final scene, as I think it gave a bit more fire to his personality, and Peggy also needs someone to rise to her level keep her interested.

More importantly, I’m just happy the season ended on a happy note for her, with her throwing caution to the wind and finally acting upon her feelings for him. We’re so used to seeing her deny her own desires for the greater good, or get her heart stomped on due to poor timing, that it’s heartwarming that the California sun shed a little warmth on her, too. So, you go, Peggy, and make out with your puppy-dog-eyed crush, because it’s about time you do you. I’m just glad that the people involved in the triangle all acted like adults, and that it never came down to the men quarreling for her affections as though she were a carnival prize, and not a woman to be valued with her own needs and wishes. So farewell, Dr. Wilkes, and enjoy your new job with Stark Industries. (Here’s hoping he gets the last laugh with Isodyne.)

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

No conversation about the finale can happen without talking about the final moments, leading to Jack Thompson’s (apparent) demise. When Peggy threatened to shoot him in the opening, I suspected he was done for, and when he suddenly started acting nice to the gang, I was sure of it. When Peggy assured him that he was a good man and that she wouldn’t turn him into the SSR despite it benefitting her career prospects, because he fell prey to his own ambitions with Vernon Masters, I knew we may as well be watching the man’s funeral. While I don’t necessarily buy the 180 on his character, witnessing his mea culpa to Peggy when he’s been mostly antagonistic towards her in two years, I do think it’s nice that Peggy got to hear the words from him, if that makes any sense.

I know that people on TV have a tendency to return from assured death, particularly in the Marvel universe, but I actually am inclined to believe that Jack is well and truly expired, because the deliberate focus on the bullet to his chest and the pool of blood beneath his lifeless body in the closing minute appeared to be making a point, if the apology tour hadn’t already. I can’t particularly say I’ll miss him, but I do think Jack was coming into his own while wrestling with the shades of gray when dealing with the nefarious forces around the SSR. I’m definitely intrigued by whatever was in the file he took from Masters, which his assassin stole back, and want to know what’s up with whoever orchestrated the hit.

As I said earlier, the finale, to me, felt like the writers were quick to tie Whitney Frost’s loose ends in order to wrap up our heroes’ story, in case this is the last we see of them, and that is both touching and sad. It may have come at the expense of a truly suspenseful finale, but was probably the more satisfying choice should this be the last we see of them for a while. We’ll know, regardless of the outcome, that they’ll be okay. I sure hope that Peggy chooses to stay in California as Jarvis begs of her, because as he points out, the coast sure does agree with her. Hollywood may not be the center of the SSR’s activities, but it served as an exciting backdrop to Peggy’s investigation this year, and I’d love to see the journey continue.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

More importantly, I think it allows us to spend more time with some fabulous supporting players, too. We may have lost best friend Angie in the move west, but the tradeoff was mostly worth it. Hollywood seems tailor-made for Howard Stark, and Dominic Cooper’s energy adds a great playfulness to the case, and of course, wherever Howard goes, so does Jarvis and his wife. Our butler may claim he’s satisfied in his role, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants to spread his wings as an investigator, too. Rounding out the cast, I’d love to see Rose (Lesley Boone) get more time to shine, and learn more about Sousa if he is to be the love of Peggy’s life.

While “Hollywood Ending” may not have been my favorite episode as a whole, it is still a wonderful example of what makes Agent Carter so unique in a TV era bursting with superhero dramas. The people are what make it special, trading special effects for our characters’ brainpower and pluck. Once more, I have to repeat how beautifully rich the sets were this year, and I was totally immersed in the series’ setting in the 1940s, perhaps even more so with this season set in Los Angeles. Few shows are as visually rich and emotionally satisfying; it may not be as intricate as others, but it’s got more heart than almost anything out there, and that’s why I personally keep coming back for more.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

I sure hope that Peggy and her friends are back for another go next year,  because TV needs more heroes like them. People who believe in what they’re doing, but ultimately need to use their wits more than their brawn to get things done. (But, fisticuffs are absolutely warranted when necessary.) People who are inherently good and want to save the world, even when they sometimes don’t realize it, but nonetheless hold their heads high even when the chips are down. I’m going to miss their friendships and their one-liners, and mostly just going to miss them. So, ABC, give a girl a break and bring Agent Carter back for season 3. This may be a good place to leave them in, but that doesn’t mean it has to be.

Until then, folks, here’s hoping your California dreaming works as well for you as it did for Peggy.

 

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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