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Marvel’s Agent Carter: “Time And Tide”

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As a double agent, Peggy Carter has to protect herself against two different opponents. On one side is Leviathan, the mysterious organization that is somehow tied to the theft of Howard Stark’s inventions, and on the other is the Strategic Scientific Reserve, Peggy’s employer. She’s forced to deceive her colleagues at the S.S.R. as she works to uncover the mysteries of Leviathan and clear Howard’s name, and “Time And Tide” focuses on the growing tension between Peggy and the men she works with to create a more hostile work environment for the heroine.

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The discovery of a license plate belonging to one of Howard’s vehicles in the Roxxon wreckage puts him back in the S.S.R.’s crosshairs at the start of the episode, and by the end, Peggy’s boss has a personal investment in taking down her war buddy. The story ultimately raises the stakes for Peggy at her workplace, but it meanders a bit on its way to a very satisfying ending. The first two acts of Andi Bushell’s script don’t have the propulsive energy of last week’s episodes, and while some aspects of the slower pace work well for the narrative—primarily the focus on Jarvis’ past—others just get in the way of the story’s momentum.

Jarvis is brought into the S.S.R. for questioning when the license plate is tracked back to Howard Stark, and his interrogation session with Agent Johnson reveals some interesting tidbits about his past, namely that he dodged a treason charge when he was dishonorably discharged from the British military. Thompson is able to get Jarvis to sweat by bringing his wife into the picture, but Anna’s entirely off-screen presence prevents this tactic from being as effective for the audience as it is for Jarvis.

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The Anna situation is even more perplexing when Jarvis further explains the nature of his past crime to Peggy, telling her that he forged his general’s signature in order to save the Jewish Anna from the Nazi forces occupying Budapest. There’s a lot of weight placed on Jarvis and Anna’s relationship, which currently exists on screen as James D’Arcy interacting with a noncorporeal voice. The Jarvis story would be more captivating if the show gave a better look at his marriage (or any look at all), but D’Arcy still sells the character’s devotion to his wife in his performance. Now he just needs to direct that devotion toward an actual actress so that the viewer has a clearer idea of what he’s fighting for.

The best thing about the Jarvis story is how it incorporates World War II into the story, reminding the audience that the aftershocks of this huge global conflict are still being felt. The period is immediately clear in the show’s design elements, but the discussion of World War II further highlights this specific era in a way that also opens the door for character development. Different characters have different connections to the war: For Peggy and Jarvis, it presented opportunities for love in the midst of tragedy, but it’s unlikely that Agent Johnson was feeling much affection as a soldier fighting in the Pacific, which explains his severe disposition.

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This series isn’t subtle in its approach to gender dynamics, and the writing gets especially broad in the boarding house scenes, which feature a cartoonishly dictatorial landlady representing the conservative, antiquated ideal of proper female behavior. She has an entire speech about how Harry Houdini performed at the boarding house years ago and not even he was able to get to the second floor of her building undetected, and you get the impression that it’s a speech she quite enjoys reciting when she publicly shames young tenants who have the gall to sneak men into their rooms. The landlady’s characterization lacks any sort of nuance, and it’s all a bit too much when combined with the show’s ongoing critique of the limitations placed on women during this time period. It’s understandable that the writers want to make sure that this social commentary doesn’t go unnoticed by viewers, but they have to be careful not to exaggerate to the point of caricature.

It’s not until the threat of Leviathan rears its head that “Time And Tide” switches into the thrilling gear of the first two chapters, specifically when Peggy is ambushed in the cargo hold containing Stark’s stolen weaponry. Action is an essential component of this show’s winning formula, and the fight between Peggy and her unnamed assailant invigorates the episode and sends it speeding along to a surprisingly emotional conclusion. The fight choreography continues to be fantastic, and while I’m not positive, it looks like Atwell is performing most of the action herself (or has a stuntwoman with an uncanny resemblance). A lot has been said about Atwell’s charisma, but she’s also a great action performer, imbuing Peggy with a focused strength that makes the character blossom during fight sequences.

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Peggy Carter is sassy and smart and mighty, but she’s not invulnerable to pain, and when she learns that a fellow S.S.R. agent was gunned down because she and Jarvis put him in harm’s way, she begins to struggle with the weight of her current mission. This show has done admirable work dealing with grief and mourning, and the scene where Peggy learns that Krzeminski has been killed captures the somber, sullen atmosphere of the S.S.R. office following the loss of one of its own (even if he was an asshole). This is where World War II comes back into play. Many of these people saw a lot of death during the war, but that doesn’t make it any easier when death is back in sight.

Peggy sobbed over her murdered roommate’s body in the pilot, and while her reaction to Krzeminski’s death isn’t quite as pronounced, it’s still evident that the event has rocked her. Atwell’s performances in these two mourning periods say a lot about Peggy’s relationships with the deceased: She weeps for the woman that lived with her, but the death of a misogynistic colleague isn’t as devastating. Peggy’s pain in the pilot is loud and forceful while her pain at the end of “Time And Tide” is softer and more internalized. The tears she sheds over Colleen are an immediate, primal reaction in that moment, but Peggy’s had time to really think about her part in Krzeminski’s death when she shows up at Angie’s diner, so rather than experiencing shocking grief, she’s overcome by a mix of sadness, guilt, and fear.

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A great final shot can elevate an entire episode, and the closing image of a melancholy Peggy sitting at the diner counter while “Someone To Watch Over Me” plays in the background is a vivid visualization of the heroine’s current emotional state. Peggy may open up to Angie about the death of her coworker, but she can’t tell her the entire truth, leaving Peggy to deal with the full stress of this situation on her own. Facing two different camps of opponents, she could desperately use the kind of person that song is begging for, but she can’t rely on anyone to save her. Captain America is dead, and Peggy Carter will need to find the power be her own hero if she’s going to accomplish her mission.

Stray observations:

  • I appreciate this show’s high impact lighting, which really helps amplify the atmosphere of the settings. When the S.S.R. investigates the hotel room of the Leviathan assassin, the scene is lit with a sickly green color that suggests evil is afoot, and when Peggy has her big brawl on the ship, the fight unfolds in a red room that reflects the intensity of the action. Color is a good thing!
  • Bridget Regan’s Dorothy “Dottie” Underwood makes her debut this week, and I’m just going to guess right now that she’s an undercover Leviathan agent. I want to see more women kicking ass on this show.
  • Let us take a moment to appreciate how studly Enver Gjokaj looks in the 1940s. That jawline was made for this time period.
  • A short teaser for the upcoming Daredevil Netflix series plays during tonight’s episode, and while it doesn’t show any footage, I definitely like the tone of the ad, which shows a bird’s-eye-view shot of Hell’s Kitchen that is eventually lit up with a red DD while sirens wail in the background. The show debuts in less than three months, so we should be getting a trailer any day now.
  • Peggy: “I imagine strange women traipsing through the property isn’t a completely unusual occurrence.” Jarvis: “You have a point.”
  • Sousa: “Knock harder.” Thompson: “Sure. Can I borrow your forehead?”
  • “Have a lovely night!”
  • Peggy: “Well that works.” Jarvis: “Not if you want a massage.”
  • Dooley: “Now I got to go call Krzeminski’s wife.”(Pause.) Johnson: “I’ll call his girlfriend.”
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