Another week, another glowing MacGuffin; Peggy’s on a roll, recovering these mad scientist gizmos. The ride continues, though in “Time and Tide,” it grows bumpier thanks to ghosts from the past and a near-miss with reckless ambition. But running roughshod happens to do Agent Carter a few favors in the departments of character and story, expanding Peggy’s super heroine stance to include an element or two of boring old humanity, while also pushing along her bid to retrieve Howard Stark’s bad babies and prove his innocence in their theft. (Plus, Lindsey Fonseca and James D’Arcy both get generous portions of screen time to be either sassy or sentimental. That’s a balanced comic book breakfast right there.)
Oh, and the show has already started knocking off supporting players. That doesn’t feel like a small deal, either, but talking about the when, the where, the who, and the why is obviously gauche, so let’s just say this: when a background figure’s demise matters after just three episodes, somebody’s doing something right. Agent Carter’s stakes were clearly defined by “Now is Not the End” and “Bridge and Tunnel,” but the aftermath of “Time and Tide” elevates them. The world feels dangerous now. Granted, it felt dangerous before, too, what with vocally challenged assassins knocking off potential witnesses left and right, but “Time and Tide” takes us to new categories of peril, while loudly emphasizing Peggy’s own self-doubt.
In this go-’round, though, Carter’s primary antagonist is trust. Jarvis, it seems, has a secret, and that secret winds up nearly biting them both in the ass when the SSR comes calling to interrogate him after their discovery of Stark’s license plate in the industrial plant wreckage. Of course, his transgression winds up being couched in the greatest nobility; it’s Jarvis, for Christ’s sake. His little spot of treason happens to be the kind of harmless humanitarianism most of us find admirable. Why he refuses to talk about it under the duress of investigation is sort of a mystery—he’s probably just too pissed to elocute—but when he shares with Peggy, it’s a revelatory tonic. He isn’t just the prim, prude butler we took him for. He’s a hero in his own right.
But he’s a hero in the shadows, an idea that Peggy isn’t too keen on herself. Sometimes, we have to operate for the greater good without the promise of recognition as a reward. When Peggy and Jarvis are put on the trail of a treasure trove of Stark’s many and sundry inventions, she thinks to call the SSR without really considering the consequences; it’s a surprisingly human moment for her, one where her desire for her male colleagues’ respect almost trumps the need for propriety. Agent Carter has been critiqued for failing to saddle Peggy with a reasonable weakness. With “Time and Tide,” the foibles established for her in the series’ cardinal outings are heavily reinforced.
So too are the show’s social and political overtones, in particular the era’s prevailing sexism. Here, Peggy suffers a unique ignominy: to protect Jarvis from the SSR’s ministrations, she has to feign stupidity, thus validating the piggishly obnoxious perspective her peers already have of her. At least Sousa isn’t a creep. There are obnoxious diner customers and a bad guy with a frightfully dismaying take on progressivism, but it’s in Peggy’s forced shame that really drives the chauvinism home (and makes her longing for professional appreciation even more empathetic).
A lot happens in “Time and Tide,” though the episode remains largely action-free; it’s not until that aforementioned collection of gadgets comes up that Agent Carter lets loose with some well-choreographed meat and potatoes fisticuffs. But while watching Hayley Atwell give musclebound gorillas the old one-two will likely never get old, it’s the dramatic strokes that give this installment oomph.
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.