Agent Carter fans get a special treat this week and next with double the retro antiestablishment action, and tonight’s pair of episodes amps up the intrigue by bringing back a familiar fatal face: Dottie Underwood, the Soviet spy that caused problems for Peggy last year and briefly appeared at the top of this season. Exposed and injured, Peggy needs, as Sousa says, “a highly skilled unknown face who can blend in with the glamour and throw down to the gutter,” and her self-confessed bad idea is to spring Dottie from S.S.R. custody, get her to Hollywood, and use her to gain a sample of the Zero Matter running through Whitney Frost’s veins. It’s a far from flawless plan and matters quickly get out of hand, but all of the complications just make the episode more thrilling by putting the characters in dire straits.
These two episodes mark a major turning point for the season as Whitney Frost takes control of the Council of Nine by killing half of its members (including her husband), rising to a position of power that makes her a bigger threat than ever. Whitney has proven to be a very captivating villain this season by serving as a foil to Peggy, who is similarly fed up with patriarchal misogyny but hasn’t been corrupted by power. Whitney Frost wants to dismantle a broken system, but intends to make herself the ultimate authority afterwards, which will only pose more problems because she’s gone totally insane. She says she wants to create a better world and uses the mistreatment of women and people of color as justification for her actions, but gunning for world domination is an immediate indicator that equality isn’t a top priority.
Bridget Regan shows Dottie’s confidence by making her very playful, giving the impression that Dottie isn’t taking any of this seriously because she’s above it all. She doesn’t have anything to lose here, so what is there to worry about? Her country has abandoned her and she’s already put herself through worse torture than anything that Peggy or the S.S.R. can come up with, so Dottie is just chilling out until she finds the right opportunity to break free, and her casually sassy personality is a great contrast to Peggy and Whitney’s severity. Even when Dottie ends up a captive of Whitney Frost, she doesn’t lose her cool until Whitney pumps her full of zero matter (a type of torture Dottie was never able to enact on herself).
Dottie is especially delightful when paired up with Jarvis at Calvin Chadwick’s fundraiser, and “Life Of The Party” writer Eric Pearson mines a lot of comedy from Dottie’s refusal to stay out of sight when Thompson appears, the first indicator that Peggy and her team don’t know what they’re getting into here. After Vernon Masters gives Thompson a rundown of some of the power players in the room, Dottie slowly creeps up behind him, forcing Jarvis to move swiftly and grab Dottie before Thompson notices her. It’s a great bit of physical comedy, and D’Arcy’s frantic demeanor in that moment is maintained throughout the fundraiser as he tries to prevent Thompson from interrupting their mission, making him a constant source of humor.
The Chadwick fundraiser also delivers the strongest visuals of these two episodes, with striking period eveningwear and dramatic camerawork that accentuates the different beats in the script. There’s a bold bird’s-eye shot of Jarvis walking up a stairwell that reflects the opulence of the Arena Club by highlighting how lavishly decorated the stairs are, and the depth of that image accentuates the idea that Jarvis is in over his head as a secret agent. The stand-out moment of the night comes after a mysterious crash interrupts Peggy and Sousa’s almost-kiss in the van outside the Arena Club, and after the camera reveals a man’s body on top of the van, it pulls back and moves through a broken window stories above to show Dottie beating up Masters’ second goon. It’s an excellent transition into the action, and even though we don’t see very much of the fight, it has a lot of impact because of the thoughtful camerawork.
Like Dottie, Ana Jarvis also returns this week after disappearing for a while, and it’s a delight to have Lotte Verbeek’s bubbly energy back on screen. She spends a lot of time with Dr. Wilkes this episode, first by helping him build the zero matter containment unit that allows him to become solid, then by keeping his newly corporeal self company when Peggy and Jarvis leave to retrieve Dottie from Whitney’s custody. When Wilkes tells Ana about the reality of the danger her husband is in, it seems like the writers are setting up Ana to tell Edwin to stop working with Peggy, but writer Brandon Easton wisely moves in a different direction when Ana expresses her fears.
Rather than pleading for her husband not to put himself in danger, Ana gives him her support and trusts his judgment, permitting him to go on adventures as long as he permits her to wring her hands with worry every so often. It’s a tender moment of understanding that brings a lot of definition to the spouses’ relationship, doing valuable work that makes Ana’s shooting at the end of the episode more emotionally effective. James D’Arcy does an excellent job jumping from comic relief to a more dramatic role once Jarvis realizes that his wife is in danger, and his goofier characterization earlier makes his personality shift at the end of “Monsters” a big moment for Jarvis.
The central relationship of Agent Carter is Jarvis and Peggy’s, and it receive a lot of attention this week as the two friends support each other in different ways. Jarvis helps Peggy deal with the love triangle she’s found herself in after learning that Sousa’s fiancée broke off their engagement because of his feelings for Peggy, and their conversation in the car before rescuing Dottie reinforces the brother/sister bond they’ve developed during their time together. Hayley Atwell and D’Arcy have become very comfortable with each other, and that familiarity strengthens the characters’ emotional ties and makes their dynamic rich and engaging.
Peggy and Jarvis are extremely fun when they’re together, and the dialogue of their car conversation showcases that, but they also make the serious moments at the end of the hospital feel real and painful for both characters. Guilt radiates from Jarvis as he sits and waits to hear about Ana’s condition, and Peggy responds with a mix of sadness and sympathy, taking Jarvis’ hand to let him know that she’ll be there for him during this harrowing time. These kinds of intimate moments provide substantial character development throughout these two episodes, and it’s easier to connect with the grand events in the plot thanks to the attention given the character dynamics.
- Some very smooth product placement for Tiffany & Company in this episode. If Tiffany’s money is keeping this show alive and looking this good, then I have no problem with a prominent shot of the signature Tiffany blue box when Peggy grabs Dottie’s tracking device diamond necklace.
- Jarvis wants a cane with a sword hidden inside. I think he should get one.
- More shows need to start incorporating dance sequences to spice up the action on screen. Things are just more dynamic when people are dancing.
- Barbara Stanwyck’s measurements set the delayed detonation for the Jitterbug. Is that supposed to be a sex joke?
- Dottie: “It takes more than six walls to hold me.” Peggy: “Six?” Dottie: “We’re in a cube, Peggy. Try to keep up.”
- “I am a little confused about this doohickey. Why don’t you come over here, show me how it works?” I love when Dottie puts on the naïve country girl act.
- “I have tried repeatedly to make contact but—oh, who’s the dead gentleman?”
- “I’ve pulled out my own teeth, my own nails, my own hair. I’ve burned off my own flesh with a blowtorch. I’m no Nazi harlot, and you are wasting my time.”
- Jarvis: “One doesn’t spend years in the company of Howard Stark and not pick up a thing or two about electrical engineering.” Peggy: “Luckily you didn’t pick up the clap.”
- “Peggy! Is this supposed to be a rescue? What a nice surprise.”
- Wilkes: “Just look at us, just crying into our $400 bottles of wine.” Ana: “Would you like to cry into a $1000 bottle?”