Agent Carter: “Better Angels”

(Episode 2.03)

TV Reviews
Agent Carter: “Better Angels”

After a strong start, this week’s episode of Agent Carter falls a little flat. What few plot twists we’re offered are unraveled too quickly, and the emotional stakes of last week seem to have cooled down quiet a bit. There’s even the annoying use of a deus ex machina or two. Still, even when Agent Carter falls short, we’re still in for a good time, so let’s break this episode down to see if we can find the good among the, er, not so good.

We begin at Wilkes’ home—RIP Wilkes—where Peggy and the gang are doing their investigative best to find any clues that may offer a new lead. Unfortunately the only ones they find indicate that Wilkes is a Russian spy. Peggy cuts this idea off pretty quickly, and while I’m sure the writers wanted to use the false accusations of spying to make a statement, it really just falls flat. It adds little to the plot except to show off Peggy’s awesome loyalty and commitment to truth, which we already knew about. So where else could this have gone? Well, imagine for a minute that the set-up isn’t so obvious. Imagine that Peggy, even if only for a few scenes, has to question how well she actually knows the man she met two days ago. It certainly would add some tension to tonight’s plot, of which this episode was desperately in need.

We also get our first look at Howard Stark tonight, and somehow finding out he took some time to actually live his Howard Hughes-esque persona by becoming a movie director is pretty endearing. There’s some nice meta-commentary about the ridiculousness of comic book movies, but where this scene really works is in the details. We finally learn what the lapel pins signify (acceptance into an ultra exclusive club), and we learn Howard Stark’s rather narcissistic way of remembering women. Don’t worry ladies; Jarvis is well aware that remembering you based on the jacket he’s wearing places Howard into the category of very rude.

In fact, most of the highlights of tonight’s episode center around the Jarvis/Howard relationship, and just like a good addition to the Marvel Universe should, we’re offered a lot of insight into how they work as a team. Seeing Howard’s childlike excitement when things begin to mysteriously float around Peggy, and Jarvis willingly take on the role of number one student, adds a new layer to this relationship. Jarvis also has a way of pointing out and undercutting some of Howard’s… oh, how do I say this… more creep-like tendencies. I mean seriously dude, roll back the objectification just a little bit. I keep hoping Maria will eventually show up in this series just to get Howard to straighten up. Plus, don’t we all just really want to meet Tony’s mom? Yeah, I know you do.

There’s even a pretty emotionally revealing moment between the two men, where Howard implies that Jarvis is free to go off adventuring with Peggy if that’s what he really wants to do. Of course Jarvis would never do such a thing, but if he does, don’t worry; Howard will always have Velveeta to keep him company. Overall, Howard’s return is… nice. Not particularly dramatic, but nice. We get to see his Tony side as he runs around hopped up on caffeine doing SCIENCE! He even gets an arc reactor halo in one shot. So, yes definite points tonight for comedic relief Howard. The comedic relief alcoholism though, not so much.

While there are certainly a few more clever lines, pretty much every other plot point fails. Will Peggy be murdered due to the mechanizations of Whitney Frost? Nope, not really. Will she be caught infiltrating the Arena Club? Um, please, she’s a super spy. Will Thompson stand by his agents, trust them at their word and stand up to the powerful forces he already knows to be corrupt? Look, I’m not even entirely sure why Jack Thompson hangs out for as long as he does tonight, though part of me suspects that he may have his own superpower. Like the power to sense when his OTP is in trouble, because Carter/Sousa—oh yeah, he is more than prepared to go down with that ship.

We do get a nice little application of comic book science when Howard discovers how to make Wilkes reappear. Because, Wilkes is alive (taking back the RIP), and definitely not a communist. Once again, a problem is solved almost before we even knew there was a problem to address.

Last night’s Agent Carter was ridiculously focused on giving us answers. I honestly can’t think of a plot question they don’t address. Well, except for maybe what the hell happened between Sousa and Peggy before he moved to L.A. But with all these answers in one episode, the show can quickly lose its dramatic tension.

What’s the fix to this? Maybe throwing a few more questions into the mix. Stretching out doubt and uncertainty amongst the main cast in a way that effects their actual actions. Maybe throw in a bit more Mrs. Jarvis, who was upsettingly lacking. There’s no exact, right answer. There never is, but feeling like this adventure show is lacking adventure probably isn’t what the production team is going for.

Oh, and one last thing. Trying to pull emotional strings with Jarvis not intending to spend eternity as a disembodied voice is a low blow, Marvel. Don’t worry Jarvis. That won’t happen to you. We’ll just get a different actor.

Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.

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