Agent Carter is completely back on form this week, combining a tightly written hour of plot-forwarding intrigue with just enough humor, broader MCU references, and amazing outfits to deftly regain all of its former glory. It starts with Peggy and Agent Sousa investigating the seeming death of Dr. Wilkes. Isodyne, his former employer, attempts to frame him as a communist, but Peggy is rightly having none of it. She continues digging against the mandates of D-Bag in charge, Thompson, who dryly greets Peggy and Sousa at their LA office unexpectedly, a move Peggy characterizes as “an appalling surprise.” Unsurprisingly, he has come to ensure justice is not served in the name of mollifying the powers that be.
Those powers include the Arena Club, the creepy old boys club full of “male and pale” power-brokers vigorously plotting to get Calvin Chadwick elected to senate, amongst other things. He is increasingly being revealed as a pure pawn of both this higher order, and his wife, the aging starlet Whitney Frost who is the real brains behind the research into zero matter, and who is now suffering certain unfortunate after-effects of her contact with it. Namely, a permanent small cut on her temple, which houses a tiny shimmer of black goo, and which seems to be inducing problems she cannot control.
Peggy realizes she must get inside the well-guarded, closed doors of the Arena Club and recruits Howard Stark – who has entered the movie business as a director/producer – to help her. She drops by his mansion at 10am to discover he has a whole cadre of “production assistants” lounging around in the pool as he drinks a Bloody Mary in a bathrobe and bathing suit, doing his best pre-Hugh Heffner Hugh Heffner impression. She briefly breaks her own earnest resolve to taunt him with his own drink, and this is where both the writing of the show and Atwell’s talent truly shine. In lesser hands the moment would have seemed out of character, and shoe-horned in, but they manage to integrate this lighter, fun-loving side of Peggy with all her A-type seriousness, and it is carried off flawlessly.
Howard poses as a potential recruit to the Arena Club, and unceremoniously invites in his band of female groupies as a diversion to get Peggy into the place. Once there, she attempts to plant a bug, but is foiled by pre-installed counter measures against such spying equipment. She manages to also get a glance at evidence of the club’s election rigging, but is nearly discovered and has to hightail before she is able to take hold of it. After the fallout about this with Thompson, Peggy and Sousa soon discover office supplies floating in Peggy’s general vicinity. Stark once again becomes the go-to for a consult, and they eventually realize it is an invisible Dr. Wilkes whose exposure to the zero matter did not, in fact, kill him, but made him non-corporeal.
Stark cooks up a concoction that makes Wilkes temporarily visible, and then sets to work trying to find a permanent solution for him, with the good doctor’s help. Howard’s mad genius comes out to play and actor Dominic Cooper once again makes the most of his guest stint with this. Our resident genius demands Velveta cheese and begins drawing on his chalkboards like a maniac, truly back in his element once again. Meanwhile, Peggy goes to “poke the bear,” aka Whitney Frost, and their cold polite encounter makes Frost anxious enough to prod her husband into taking care of Peggy. The assassination attempt is unsuccessful, of course, but causes Jarvis to install heavier counter measures, including a tannoy system that warns off intruders with a recorded admonishment. When Peggy questions the effectiveness of this measure, Jarvis assures her that it’s temporary, casually observing, “I have no desire to spend the rest of time as a disembodied voice.” Har, har indeed.
I enjoyed this episode immensely for the way it balanced the forwarding of the larger plot conspiracy with its delightful cadre of character moments, which felt organic, and which were perfectly executed by this insanely well-cast slate of actors. Peggy was gifted with just the right amount of sharp one-liners, and a wardrobe that makes her indubitably the best-dressed character in whole Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s more than enough to keep me fangirling about season 2, despite my slight reservations about the opener. Like its eponymous heroine, even when this show falters, it gets back on its feet fast and sure, and better than ever.