Hey now! Howard Stark’s bad babies are finally getting names, and the eponymous doomsday device in “The Blitzkrieg Button” doesn’t disappoint. Is that a great name or what? Listening to Dominic Cooper exposit over its function proves the moniker all the more apt, though punk rock aficionados may be pretty bummed to learn that the purpose of the button does not tie into the Ramones’ as-yet unwritten origin story. (In fairness, it’s the 1940s and CBGB hasn’t opened yet.)
However, where Cooper’s return to Agent Carter (after playing the briefest of roles in “Now is Not the End”) should be a catalyst for pushing the show forward, it instead holds everything in a funky stalemate. “The Blitzkrieg Button” is a clumsy chess game, an episode crafted to move pieces into place one square at a time rather than send them careening across the board; it’s a fine enough offering, but after the series’ first three propulsive installments, it feels surprisingly placid. With the bad babies finally accounted for, Peggy sees the walls closing in, inch by inch, as her SSR compatriots scramble to figure out who killed Kyle Bornheimer and who called in the tip that ultimately led to his demise. This isn’t a time to take a break from the chase. It is, or should be, a time to push the accelerator.
Cooper is, of course, a welcome sight; he’s terrific in all of his scenes, playing it goofy and broad as he works his charms on the girls of the Griffith while bringing layers of complexity to his moments with Peggy. Unsurprisingly, Hayley Atwell meets her co-star halfway with an equally great performance, expressing a myriad of emotions—disappointment, hurt, outrage, grief—all at once. Maybe defining her even partially by her relationship with Steve Rogers is regressive on some level, but boy does finding out about Howard’s literally bloody secret do a number on her.
Grant that “The Blitzkrieg Button”s big reveal would probably cheese off anyone with even a tangential connection to Captain America. Grant as well that Rogers’ blood is a hell of a McGuffin. If the episode doesn’t go very many places, Peggy’s big discovery justifies the wheel-spinning singlehandedly. Arguably she’s just as angry over being lied to as finding out that her one-time crush’s DNA is being squirreled away in vials for research purposes, but Howard Stark is Howard Stark. Gory though his scheme may be, it’s also the sort of thing we kind of expect from a Stark after seeing his son act like an amoral cad in a handful of movies.
All of this leaves out the rest of what happens in “The Blitzkrieg Button” but, well, that’s because there’s little else to write home about. It is nice to see Shea Whigham get his own solo adventure, even if it lasts no more than a few minutes, as Dooley heads to Nuremburg to extract the truth about a score of dead Russians from a Nazi prisoner doomed to die; at the same time this particular point doesn’t go anywhere, and in the end feels like obfuscation. And Thompson being in charge in Dooley’s absence leads to only slightly cruel shenanigans as he taunts Sousa, who gets some much-needed alone time to develop as a character, before dropping a major reality bomb. Thompson neither savors nor relishes the moment, which is played as straight as can be, and he comes out looking like an honest and self-aware jerk as a result. Atwell, meanwhile, looks close to a breakdown once he finishes making his point. It’s heartbreaking.
Ostensibly the other “big deal” element of “The Blitzkrieg Button” is Mr. Mink, if only because Agent Carter pulls a Psycho, and offs him before the credits start rolling. So, really, the “big deal” element isn’t Mr. Mink at all, but rather Dottie, so intentionally introduced in the pilot that nobody might have actually bought her “small town Iowa girl” cover story. So who is she really? Her preferred method for dispatching enemies feels like a pretty big tell, which itself may be an even bigger tell as to where her loyalties lie. There might not be a ton of plot movement in “The Blitzkrieg Button,” but from its vantage point we can see the future begin to take shape.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently, he has given up on shaving.