Note: Our Agent Carter recaps tend to avoid direct spoilers, but this week’s episode contains a moment that’s so big it’s difficult not to discuss. Fair warning if you haven’t seen it yet.
Funny, isn’t it, that Agent Carter focuses so much on the quest to retrieve Howard Stark’s bad babies, yet we know so little about them; we don’t know what they are, and with a couple of outside exceptions (a’la Stark’s nitramene formula) we don’t know what they do. In “Snafu,”e though, the babies almost become characters unto themselves, and we’re given a harsh reminder of just how dangerous they really are. We know that Stark is a good guy with good intentions. We know that the series will end by clearing his name. All the same, “Snafu” gives the impression that maybe he ought to take a break from science, or at least dabble in safer branches of research. Right now, Stark looks less competent as an inventor than Bunsen Honeydew.
In “Snafu,” Stark’s toys get a real test drive; one is a flawed attempt at designing protective wear for American troops, the other a highly coincidental page straight out of Matthew Vaughn’s and Mark Millar’s playbook. (See Kingsman: The Secret Service to get the reference.) Agent Carter being a Marvel show, we don’t expect to really stare down the collateral damage incurred as the adventure unfolds, but here we see a shocking amount of aftermath following an even more shocking character death. That’s right, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are getting back to knocking off cast members again, though if you’ve gotta go, you might as well go out in a literal blaze of glory.
So farewell, Chief Dooley, we hardly knew ye. Except that in “Snafu,” we’re afforded a brief window into what his life looks like outside of the SSR office, courtesy of Dr. Ivchenko’s talents with hypnosis. We meet his family through his memory, and we learn a couple of neat throwaway details about Dooley as a man that make him feel human, even if they’re really just fluff. (He can roast a chicken, as any dude worth his salt should be able to.) That he doesn’t actually get the reconciliation with his wife that he dearly wants is heartbreaking. We know Dooley’s trapped in an illusion, and when he wakes from that illusion strapped into Stark’s flawed heating vest, he seems to know his number’s up before everyone else does.
The specter of death has a way of easing friction between people, though, so as Dooley prepares to breathe his last, he lets loose with one hell of a parting line before taking his hero’s charge through the SSR’s upper floor window. “Snafu” starts out with Dooley, along with Thompson and Sousa, breaking down Carter in an immediate follow-up to the end of last week’s “Sin to Err”; perhaps unexpectedly, “Snafu” dissolves the notion of her guilt really quickly, instead of playing like a courtroom episode with Peggy on trial. Maybe a series with a less limited lifespan would have dedicated an entire outing to her interrogation, but “Snafu” doesn’t have the time. Short of some harsh language from her most veteran male peers, the story here doesn’t settle on the question of her complicity (though it does manage to find time for a repeat of the Hayley Atwell/James D’Arcy comedy hour).
That’s a good thing, too, because forty minutes of Dooley, Thompson, and Sousa trying to muscle a false confession out of our heroine might have gotten boring. Instead of going that route, Peggy is let out of the proverbial doghouse quickly, thanks in part to Jarvis’ poorly thought out (but no less welcome) intervention, and also in part to the activities of Ivchenko and Dottie. But there’s a lot that works well about the early moments of “Snafu,” particularly, how efficiently Peggy breaks down the male gaze; speaking in turn to each of her three jailers, she quickly and effectively boils down the ways in which they regard her, shaming them all in the process. Even Sousa, her ostensible male ally, isn’t spared from her critique, and he looks the most chastened by her words out of any of them. It’s hard to be the right kind of good guy in an overtly patriarchal world.
All of this leads us to the movie theater where Dottie takes a canister of crazy homicidal cuckoo gas out for a spin in a stroller; it’s not only an economical delivery system for a chemical weapon of mass destruction, it’s a cute callback to Stark’s own nomenclature for his handiwork. The final shot is a grim one indeed, and if the threat Dottie and Ivchenko represent wasn’t already clear, well, let the carnage linger in your mind as we head into “Valediction.” Stakes are high, and Peggy’s determination to get the job done has never been higher.
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.