Agent Carter has now hit its halfway mark after coming out of the gate stronger than most network shows in recent memory. Showrunners Michelle Fazekas and Tara Butters have revealed a deft hand in the handling of what could have been the forgotten misfit child in the Marvel family. Last week’s fourth installment was a different type of episode than what we’ve been treated to thus far. Yet it was no less enjoyable and it revealed a willingness to let character development carry the day once in awhile.
“Blitzkrieg Button” was a transition episode. The opening act grabbed our attention with its frenetic pacing and action. Now comes the laying of groundwork for the show’s second half peak. This groundwork took us all over the place and into the stories of no fewer than 5 characters, each becoming more complete along the way. Chief Dooley and his right hand man, Agent Chad Michael Murray, moved from the seedy, hapless background into the no less seedy fore this week. Jarvis showed some cracks in his action butler persona. Agent Sousa’s crush on Peggy continues unabated, and he even gets a sense of humor. And of course, Peggy Carter gets to show us a more carefully hidden side of herself.
Peggy spent most of the episode in the Griffith Hotel — that bastion of feminine purity and societal snobbery. She’s breaking walls, playing her music too loud and coming in at all hours of the night. Settling in nicely. She easily fools her building-mates and evades the judgment of the all too matronly landlady, Ms. Fry. However, one doesn’t have to look too long to see that Peggy is wearing thin. Her work is a boat load of stress awash in a sea of the type of futility that comes with institutional gender oppression. Her social life is a complex web of half-truths, outright lies, and whatever Jarvis is. Her home life is less than restful. She can’t just come back home to kick off her heels and sit down with a good cryptology book. Her home in the Griffith is a pressure cooker. And mostly thanks to the antics of Howard Stark, it’s where this episode’s big climactic scene breaks.
This is not to say that episode 4 was without real action. The show featured a strange foreign villain (The best kind) and his rapid fire, machine-revolver. Peggy had to go through a good deal to obtain Stark’s Blitzkrieg Button. And of course, she beat up some dudes starting with the first scene. However, it was a moment in the Griffith with Howard that this episode built up to. Episodes 1 and 2 had their big explosions. Episode 3 had the killing of Agent Krzeminski. Episode 4 had Peggy Carter kicking Howard Stark’s ass with an angry, unfiltered, perfectly worded tirade of justice.
Stark lied to Peggy about the titular “Blitzkrieg Button”. He was lying to her from the beginning. He enlisted her help, but didn’t trust her enough to handle the truth. The truth that all of this has been about a vial of Steve Rogers’s vita-ray enhanced blood. A superhuman device which triggers a forceful scene of human emotion. Carter takes Stark to task. She disarmed him of any charms. She dismantled his facade of a brilliant mastermind. She kicked him in his self-interested, sexist gut. And she cried over the visceral reminder of her love for Steve Rogers because he was the last man to see her for what she was. And she was right in all of it. The vial of her love’s blood is both a weapon of destruction and an instrument of good powerful enough to draw the interest of a globe-spanning conspiracy. She can never have Steve. Not even this little piece of him. Not even the private memory of him. She cannot have him because of men like Howard Stark who pretend to be the good guy but are really just the shinier side of the same coin. And she puts all of this into her rejection of Stark.
The scene was brilliant and reinforced by a simple moment between Jarvis and Stark. The acting on this show has been superb (Save for the awful cameo of Stan Lee; whose ham-job drew the same eye-roll from Stark as it did from me). Atwell, D’Arcy, and Cooper are perfect with each other, and this episode served to show just how capable they are of making viewers believe in their characters and the stories they each have to tell. The show has proven that it can remain strong even in the absence of staple action formulas. That will make the next four episodes all the stronger.
We are almost certainly about to enter into a new world of high-stakes action. Typical of the Chinatown/LA Confidential feel this show has been going for, we are deep into the story and still don’t have a definite main antagonist. The build up is tense and it’s got to break soon. We now know that Dottie, one of Peggy’s building-mates, is an agent of that mystery antagonist; because of course she is. We know that there are greater villains still coming. If you aren’t on board yet, now is the time to get started.