Agent Carter’s third installment, “Time and Tide” opens to find our hero doing the work of a detective. This is no CSI epiphany montage nor an NCIS double-hack. No, the lead of this story has no S.H.I.E.L.D. supercomputing to aide in her investigation and she’s not sleuthing around the city in an unnecessarily modified motorcycle. It’s simply Peggy Carter quietly looking through a book of symbols disguised as a Shakespeare anthology. Peggy Carter in her bedroom in an “impenetrable” fortress of gender roles disguised as a women’s only housing facility. Or, at least, impenetrable according to the old-timey morals matron of the Griffith building. But no fortress is foolproof. After all, Peggy the super-agent got in.
Meanwhile Jarvis is getting himself arrested because he can’t take care of his own evidence. The Cold War is beginning to ice up and Jarvis finds himself in a government interrogation room on the grounds of some vague “light treason”. The most unpatriotic of accusations carries enough weight for the fussy Englishman to sweat. The drama of the moment is undercut a bit by the show’s tricks, though. The musical cues and hand-holding monologues by the agents kill any need for a nuanced performance. The lighting makes such a performance difficult anyways.
The showrunners have decided to light the show in a graphic novel noir style. They go overboard on some occasions, but particularly interesting is that the male agents of the SSR are almost always standing in a dim spot. The lights, even when they stand right next to them, barely seem to work on the faces of the misogynistic agents. They are lit like antagonists. They are in the dark; clueless. They are in the shadows; not to be trusted.
And they don’t trust Agent Carter. As a result of their mistrust, she has to undermine them. To get Jarvis off the hook she has to run a bait and switch that makes her look incompetent. Simply arguing out the truth would not have worked. She plays the idiot without the wink and nod that would have been afforded to a sly male hero in the same situation. Instead of a smirk and a Columbo saunter out of the building, Peggy Carter has to silently accept the cartoonish yelling of her boss. She has to take it or lose the means necessary to continue to break into impenetrable fortresses. As Jarvis puts it on the climactic boat scene (In which we refreshingly learn that Jarvis cannot fight), Carter has to do her work, “In the shadows.”
Despite the appropriation of Batman language, this scene serves to reinforce the humanity of Agent Carter. If you’ve watched the wonderful Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, you’ll know that many fictional heroines can get away with living totally above the treatment they receive. However, realistically, a woman in Carter’s position would feel the hurt of how her colleagues view her. To them, the very notion of her abilities, agency, and position are unacceptable. She is made an adversary to their cause by virtue of their unwillingness to let her be a full ally.
When an agent and a witness are killed near the end of the episode, Agent Carter’s mission actually benefits. She is not a villain, but the SSR has forced her interests to dovetail with those of the villains; the witness would have ratted her out just like he would have his boss. Her virtuous and beneficial interests are set by the wayside by her peers, and she necessarily becomes their enemy.
The fortress is impenetrable. She is not Capatain America. She is just a person with nobody to watch over her. In the closing scene she goes to the cafe where Helen Forrest sings her song through the same radio that once played the Captain America Radio Hour. She is convinced to open up to a friend. It is not her comrade, Jarvis. Nor is it the kind, crippled Agent Sousa who has been decent to her. No, it is the unqualified, separate from her work, overly talkative waitress who reached out to her. She finds a friend who is completely opposite except in that she is a woman. A woman who helped her get past the first floor of the Griffith apartment building.
The penultimate line about Agent Krzeminski’s death falls a little flat; “He was good at his job.” One would hope to see Carter more upset about her indirect role in his death than trying to justify his horribleness by appealing to his utility. Maybe there is some of that hidden behind her tears and the writing is more clever than I am willing to give the show credit for. Nonetheless, the episode carries itself well, and closes with a powerful moment of warmth.
There is no episode this week (Pre-empted by K’s article about the Dunk Contest and the State of the Union speech), so you have time to catch up. I strongly encourage you to do so. It seems we can count on Agent Carter to provide use with a weekly dose of drama, cultural criticism, jokes, action, and at least one scene of a big dude getting beaten up by Peggy Carter.