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Agent Carter’s “Hollywood Ending” succeeds by focusing on relationships

Illustration for article titled Agent Carter’s “Hollywood Ending” succeeds by focusing on relationships
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Agent Carter’s second season has been a rollicking adventure through late ’40s Hollywood, and even though tonight’s finale has its faults, “Hollywood Ending” is a strong send-off for Peggy and her pals. Given the season’s lousy ratings, this episode may be the last chapter in Peggy’s solo story, but if this is indeed the series’ swan song, it’s going out on a high note. The zero matter plot has a lackluster conclusion and the script spends too much time creating stakes with fake science, but these elements of the story aren’t as important as the character relationships, which get ample attention this week. Peggy’s romances, friendships, and rivalries are at the core of “Hollywood Ending,” and having that personal focus makes it easier to invest in the more fantastic material.

The best part of the Whitney Frost plot this week involves Joseph Manfredi betraying his angel face and turning to Peggy for help, giving Ken Marino the opportunity to play with the main cast and ham it up with Dominic Cooper’s fiendishly charming Howard Stark. Manfredi has gained dimensions over the course of the season while Whitney has lost them as her body and mind become a vessel for the zero matter, and it’s unfortunate that the other major female character this season was simplified in order to make her a more typical supervillain. Whitney Frost spends most of this episode in her room scribbling formulas and schematics for a machine that will open a rift between dimensions, and her final confrontation with Peggy’s team is severely underwhelming.

After stealing Whitney’s work with Manfredi’s help, Peggy puts Stark, Wilkes (who didn’t die and is totally corporeal now!), and Semberley to work building the rift generator. There’s a lot of nonsense science happening in this episode, but the plan basically boils down to the team opening a hole between dimensions that attracts Whitney to it, then they shoot her with a beam that purges the zero matter from her body, and then they close the rift. Everything goes as planned except the rift doesn’t close, and Sousa risks his life to turn the crank that manually overrides the generator, tethering himself to a lamppost with a cord that eventually comes loose. Peggy and the rest of the team save Sousa by grabbing the cord and holding it tight with the power of friendship, and then Jarvis and Semberly send Stark’s hover-car flying into the rift to close it.

The resolution of Whitney’s situation is rushed and the final moments of the climax feel very haphazardly stitched together, but I can’t deny the fun of seeing a vintage hover-car turned into a bomb to close a rip in dimensions. It’s the kind of superhero silliness you might find in a comic from Peggy Carter’s time, and it’s another indication that the writers of this series are having a blast telling these tales. That fanciful tone makes Agent Carter stand out from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s offerings (especially on TV), but showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas (who writes tonight’s teleplay) and Chris Dingess (who writes the story) also have a clear understanding that strong character dynamics are what get people to care about a story.

Peggy’s friendships with Howard, Jarvis, and Ana are all explored this week, but it’s her burgeoning friendship with former rival Jack Thompson that has the most emotional complexity. Thompson has finally humbled himself to the greatness that is Peggy Carter, which is exemplified by a scene where he takes everyone’s dinner orders, playing the secretary role that he always expected Peggy to fill. By the end of the episode, Peggy and Thompson have arrived at a place of mutual respect for each other, just in time for Thompson to be shot dead in a cliffhanger tag that may be left dangling forever. The general shittiness of Thompson for most of the series makes it hard to feel all that sorry for the guy, but the character development he received in the last few episodes brings significantly more emotional impact to the event.

In order for Peggy to get her romantic Hollywood ending, she needs to make a decision about which man has her heart, and poor Dr. Wilkes can’t compete with Daniel Sousa. Wilkes was generally underserved this season, and in retrospect, his hurried romance with Peggy was more about creating tension with a love triangle, making Wilkes a pawn in the ongoing story of Peggy and Sousa. That story finally wraps up this week when Peggy and Sousa share a kiss in his office while Margaret Whiting sings “Oh, But I Do” in the background, and it’s a great pay-off after two seasons of “will they/won’t they.” There are far worse places for Peggy Carter’s story to end, but given the overall strength of this season, hopefully Marvel and ABC will keep Agent Carter in action.


Stray observation

  • Rose rivets a piece of metal this week, which delights me to no end.
  • I love Jarvis’ body language when he has his arms up for Joseph Manfredi. He’s stretching to get his hands as high as possible, as if the height will somehow keep him safer.
  • Little moments like Howard Stark hitting golf balls at an interdimensional rift give this show so much personality. There’s always time to have some fun, even when faced with an interdimensional cancer that wants to infect your world.
  • Stark: “Jarvis! You just hit a woman with my car.” Jarvis: “I know sir.” Stark: “She’s a two-time Oscar nominee.” Jarvis: “Ms. Frost is quite resilient. She’s fine. Trust me.”
  • “Easy, easy. Let him put the condiment down.”
  • Stark: “You can’t just walk into a man’s home and take his butler hostage.” Manfredi: “Oh yeah? Well you can’t steal my underwear.” Stark: “I told you then and I’m telling you now: You can’t wear your skivvies in a shvitz!” Peggy and Wilkes’ facial expressions during this exchange are wonderful.
  • “You kids are so cute. I bet you cram for your finals and everything.”
  • “I don’t speak megalomaniac. Fortunately, Howard Stark does!”
  • “Sir, we are standing before an incomprehensible rip in the fabric of our world. Use a 7 Iron.”
  • “Peg, I want you to know I’m not thinking any unsavory thoughts about you right now. Wait. There’s one.”