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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Marvel’s Agent Carter: “The Iron Ceiling”

Illustration for article titled iMarvel’s Agent Carter/i: “The Iron Ceiling”
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Peggy Carter shouldn’t be cooped up behind a desk. She has too many skills as a field agent that are wasted when she’s assigned basic secretary work, and she needs to be out on the frontlines of battle where her talents are the most useful. Much of Agent Carter’s tension comes from Peggy’s struggle with being grounded in a low-stakes desk job surrounded by misogynist male coworkers, eager to do more but forced into a position of servitude. This drive compelled her to become a double agent for Howard Stark because it gave her a mission, and while she’s since severed ties with Stark, she still wants to prove his innocence because, in her own words, “He may be an utter wanker, but he is one of us.”

Peggy shouldn’t be behind a desk, and this week the S.S.R. finally puts her in action to follow the latest clue in the Stark case, teaming her with Agent Thompson and the Howling Commandos on a trip to Russia. Despite being more than qualified to participate on the mission, she’s only approved for duty because she can guarantee the Howling Commandos’ help. Her S.S.R. coworkers are under the false impression that they’ll be babysitting Peggy if she tags along, but the addition of the Howling Commandos means that some other guys can watch over Peggy, so why not let the little lady in on the fun?


Nobody at the S.S.R. has any concept of Peggy as a soldier, but she has strong connections to the legendary Howling Commandos for a reason. She’s a fierce fighter and sharp shooter, and she keeps her cool under pressure. Even before the Howling Commandos show up and immediately put Peggy in charge, it becomes clear that Thompson needs Peggy more than she needs him on this mission. She helps calm his nerves before his first parachute drop, saves his hide when he freezes up during a shootout, and listens to him when he confesses the sad truth behind his Navy Cross, a secret he’s never told anyone before. Early in the episode, Dooley accuses Thompson of having a crush on Carter, but after seeing her in action, it’s safe to say that Thompson is probably in love at this point.

This show’s downplaying of romantic elements has been refreshing, establishing Peggy’s relationships with the men in her life from a strictly professional point of view. There’s been some definite flirtation with Agents Thompson and Sousa, but nothing in the way of pining; the attraction is present, but these characters have bigger priorities than making a love connection at the moment. I’m personally rooting for Peggy and Sousa to get together based solely on the connection of Hayley Atwell and Enver Gjokaj. There’s a natural intensity to their performances that translates to great chemistry between their characters, and the short moment they share in the men’s locker room this week is charged with sexual energy.


Chad Michael Murray and Atwell don’t quite have that spark, likely because Murray is falling into the trap of playing a time period archetype rather than a specific character. Thompson is a hard-as-nails federal agent dealing with PTSD from his experience in World War II, and Murray plays the character with the exact level of severity you’d expect. There’s lots of acting happening here, and you can see the gears spinning in Murray’s head when he delivers a monologue about how he killed six Japanese soldiers that had come to his camp to surrender. There’s an overly performative quality that gets in the way of the emotional truth of some of Thompson’s material, but Murray is still enjoyable enough, and it’s nice to see the show devote more time to fleshing out Thompson’s character and adding new dimensions to his relationship with Peggy.

I currently have the pleasure of reviewing The CW’s Jane The Virgin, which means I get to watch Bridget Regan play a beautiful, unassuming killer twice this week. Trained in a Russian all-girls boarding school where she learned English by watching Snow White And The Seven Dwarves coded with subliminal messages and shared bread with friends that she would be asked to kill without hesitation, Dottie isn’t the most mentally stable undercover agent. She makes her move against Peggy by stealing her housemate’s keys and rummaging through her room for any valuable intel, but when she spots the photo of Steve Rogers on Peggy’s vanity, Dottie decides to try on Peggy’s identity and see how it feels. The visible excitement in Regan’s performance suggests Dottie finds personal joy in invading Peggy’s privacy, and there’s an unavoidable eroticism in the pleasure Dottie shows when she handcuffs herself to her bed at night.


Yes, this is behavior that has been ingrained in her from a young age, but the use of handcuffs is a chilling choice that has dramatically different connotations depending on the context. The image of a young girl handcuffed to a bed, no matter how happy or comfortable she may look, will always come with a negative connotation. Children should not be bound to their beds. That is bad. The image of an adult woman consensually handcuffed to a bed doesn’t necessarily have that negative connotation. There’s something unnerving about it, sure, but it could just be a personal fetish that has nothing to do with anyone else. (And is probably rooted in something that happened to Dottie as a child.) An adult handcuffing herself also suggests willful servitude rather than forced imprisonment, showing how Dottie’s dedication to the cause has only strengthened since she was a child.

The emphasis on Dottie is much appreciated, and she’s a far more captivating side character than Angie, whose absence (along with the rest of The Griffith) is barely felt this week. As Dottie schemes in the U.S., Peggy and the rest of her team are exploring the Russian school where Dottie and other young female killers were trained, encountering threats ranging from little girls to Leviathan ground troops. The fight sequences aren’t as dynamic as those from the first three episodes and a few of the sets look particularly bland and cheap, but the action is there and it gives Peggy the opportunity to show just how awesome she is.


“The Iron Ceiling” puts Peggy in her element to jumpstart the show’s momentum for the second half of its story, reminding the audience of why Peggy is such a cool character in the first place. We’ve primarily seen her operating undercover or from the shadows, but in this episode, Peggy is able to charge into battle like the superhero she is, and she finally earns the respect of her S.S.R. colleague by giving him a first-hand example of her strength and stability in the field. Peggy shouldn’t be behind a desk, and this week’s Agent Carter is all the better for embracing that truth.

Stray observations:

  • Much thanks to Alex McCown for covering last week’s episode while I enjoyed the final night of my vacation. I agree that the story tried to do too much and suffered as a result, but I don’t have the same patience Alex has for the scenes in The Griffith that don’t feature Dottie being all deadly and creepy.
  • It’s easy to believe Peggy and Dum Dum Dugan are old war buddies thanks to Atwell and Neal McDonough’s relaxed rapport. They have a playfully flirty dynamic that suggests Peggy wouldn’t mind taking that red mustache for a joyride one day.
  • Sousa has figured out that Peggy was the blonde woman from Spider Raymond’s club. The preview for next week’s episode promises that this is going to cause lots of trouble for our heroine.
  • The Dooley material still feels like the least important part of this series, but I’m becoming genuinely curious about how Stark plays into all this Russian massacre business, so I guess the writers are succeeding.
  • The teaser for the teaser for the Netflix Daredevil series aired during tonight’s episode, and while the short snippet of Matt Murdock walking down a hallway isn’t much to go on, it looks gritty, which is good. I hope there’s a lot more in the actual teaser.
  • Peggy’s casual reference to mermaids in the Pacific: potential Atlantis reference?
  • “You smell bad enough.”
  • “Really regretting the lack of knickers right now.”
  • Dugan: “What would cap say if I left his best girl behind?” Peggy: “He would say, ‘Do as Peggy says!’”

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