Hayley Atwell, James D'Arcy, Dominic Cooper

It’s the end of episode four, and we’ve learned a key piece of information: Stan Lee would like the sports section, if you don’t mind.

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Cameo from Marvel’s good-luck charm aside, this episode squeezed a tiny bit of everything in. And while it was overall a solid hour, the show felt a little choppy, as though in trying to cover all the bases it spread itself a bit thin. It’s tough to sustain momentum when you come out of the gate as strongly as Agent Carter has, and the lack of much derring-do from Peggy was felt. Still, this was a fun installment; even without a major action set-piece, Agent Carter is delivering the goods.

This week sees the return of Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark, and the actor quickly proves why he’s back so soon. Peggy and Howard are best when they’re stuck together, butting heads. The actors play marvelously off one another, bringing Hayley Atwell’s comedic chops to the forefront. Despite Peggy’s feelings of betrayal, and Stark going back into hiding at the end of the episode, the chemistry between the actors suggests the show shouldn’t keep him hidden for long.

Speaking of uncovering hidden items, the source of Stark and Jarvis’ secrets turns out to be a vial of Captain America’s blood. And despite his protestation to Peggy that he kept that information from her to spare her feelings, the emotional centerpiece of “The Blitzkrieg Button” is Peggy’s meticulous dismantling of Howard and his “me first” attitude. Sure, she may have hurt his feelings, but as he himself admitted, you don’t get to where he’s gotten without playing dirty every now and then. When she walked out, her hurt was real; Stark had played her, and even for someone as guarded as Peggy, who didn’t entirely trust this man to begin with, you could feel not just her wounded pride, but her wounded sense of camaraderie. They were supposed to be partners—Jarvis, too; and now, just like that, Peggy’s once more cut off from a sense of mission. Stark may have reminded her of what she aspires to, but he also reminded her just why she feels so alone. Ouch.

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Being alone is something Agent Sousa also grapples with in this episode, as we see him finally, finally get to do some real detective work on his own, and prove his value to the department. And while I enjoyed seeing him get the spotlight, it felt like the show too quickly returned to making Sousa all about his missing leg. His monologue about how people don’t really care about him—they care about the leg—was true to the character, but didn’t add as much as it should have. Revealing some parts of Sousa that have nothing to do with that leg will demonstrate that the show is really seeing him as a person, and not just as a character the writers want us to like.

Of course, temporary boss Agent Thompson comes in and undercuts him, soon to be referred to as “pulling a Thompson.” Thompson is quickly becoming a more interesting character: rather than the jerk you admire because he gets results, he’s the jerk you dislike, who nonetheless gets results. His speech to Peggy about how men will never see her as an equal suggests that Thompson is smart enough to see past his own behavior, as well as Peggy’s (I’m guessing his suspicions about her will only grow in the coming episodes), but that he also thinks he’s worldly enough that such insights don’t change anything. He’s no mere antagonist; he wants to help, and he’s doing so in the most odious ways possible.

Luckily, all that tough-guy posturing is counterbalanced nicely by the scenes at The Griffith this week. As Oliver mentioned in last week’s review, this show isn’t exactly subtle when it comes to gender dynamics, and while it could potentially be problematic that the men’s scenes drive the plot, while the women’s scenes are comic relief, when the gags are this solid it’s excusable. Dinner turns out to be a top-secret mission for almost all of Peggy’s fellow residents, smuggling out food one way or another. Even the landlady gets some nice comedic moments this week; she’s still a cartoon, but the farce is going down smoother.

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Dottie didn’t wait long before revealing that she was more than just another pretty face, on the other hand. One of the episode’s best bits was setting up the blonde villain, Mr. Mink (note to self: don’t be a minion for blonde villains, it won’t end well) to be the big climactic showdown, only to have Dottie snap his neck in a heartbeat. It was a bummer—action is this show’s strong suit, after all—but it was a fun way to confirm our suspicions. Whether she turns out to be the one that killed Krzeminski is less interesting at this point than just what, exactly, she wants from Peggy.

I’ve been avoiding talking about Dooley’s journey to Nuremburg thus far, and that’s with reason: It felt like a distraction. Sure, we find out that Stark was at the site of all those dead Russians the day after something ripped them apart, but Thompson’s actually the one who supplies that piece of intel. This isn’t to knock the way those scenes are staged: The production design team, as always, is killing it with its work. The prison beacon, steadily lighting up Dooley and Mueller’s faces like clockwork, was an especially nice touch. The show remains a bright spectacle, throwing off sparks of aesthetic appeal with abandon. The fact that it would work so hard to make such a throwaway storyline look good is a testament to just how solid the show is. Even when it feels like it’s treading water, it doesn’t bore.

In many ways, this was the very definition of a “setting the table” episode. The show is moving its characters into position, changing up the dynamics, and making sure all pieces of the plot are in order so that it can launch into the back half of the season. Which, given how rapidly the first half moved, should be a rousing time, indeed. And while the presence of a big action scene this time around was noticeable, and missed, Brant Englestein’s script kept things moving enough that none of it felt like work. Still, this episode clearly had fewer budgetary needs than some of the other episodes, so the major action was dramatic, not physical.

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Most of all, I hope to see more of Jarvis and Peggy dealing with the blowback from his deception. Whereas Stark got a full lecture on his failings, we’re left with only the briefest of curt rebuttals when the good butler tenders his apologies. The relationship between Peggy and Jarvis is the closest thing this show has to an emotional pull. Even though the beating heart of the series belongs to Peggy Carter, Jarvis (along with some support from Angie) lets that heart show itself. To sideline his guilt about the role he played in deceiving Peggy is to shortchange one of the reasons we’ve come to care about these characters. They don’t exactly know what’s ahead, but they genuinely care about one another; and as we get ready for what’s to come, the more time we can spend with them, the better.

Stray observations:

  • “It is unbecoming for a lady to read Freud.”
  • Jesus, Howard, we get that you’re a ladies’ man, but give it a rest for one night, will you? As fun as those scenes were, it got a bit broad. Stark can be a rascal without having an uncontrollable libido that puts everything in jeopardy.
  • “Is that an automatic? I want that.” Don’t forget, Dottie, you also want a secret pickle container for your purse.
  • The music didn’t feel quite as overbearing in this episode. Perhaps the producers eased up, knowing the dramatic heavy lifting Atwell would be doing towards the end. When Peggy puts on the jazz full blast, it reminded me just how much less obtrusive the music cues were for the entire episode up until then.
  • Oliver Sava will be back next week to pick apart the coming adventure, “The Iron Ceiling,” and it looks like Peggy’s getting the band back together. Thanks for letting me talk about all the emotional stuff this week, guys. Your regularly scheduled Peggy Carter ass-kicking will be back next time.

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