Agent Carter had another double-whammy this week, with “Edge of Mystery” and “A Little Song and Dance,” two episodes that had more than a few of our characters acting outside their previous loyalties in different kinds of desperation.
“Edge of Mystery” begins with a devastated Jarvis attempting to make his still unconscious wife comfortable in the hospital as she recovers from being shot by Whitney Frost. His grief is palpable and the always fantastic James D’Arcy makes the most of it. The fact that Jarvis is normally a more comedic kind of character makes his traverse into sorrow and devastation all the more moving.
Meanwhile, Peggy hatches a plan with Sousa to retrieve Jason Wilkes from Whitney Frost’s clutches, by making a trade of fake uranium rods for the good doctor. The scene in which they approach Whitney’s mobster boyfriend Joseph at his Italian restaurant to first propose the trade is a delightfully light-hearted romp that added a great deal of amusement-factor to the episode. Joseph and his mother banter about sauce back in the kitchen while Peggy and Sousa take on his thugs in the front, but the skirmish between Joseph and his mother is foregrounded, such that we only see the fist-fight through casual snippets that play out in the background of the kitchen’s windows. The moment is a perfect distillation of this show’s overall manner and tone, and it’s the sort of thing that makes Agent Carter utterly unique.
Later, when all four of them sit down to eat and chat over their proposal, Joseph’s mother offers Sousa a plate because she apparently “likes [him]” but Peggy is ostentatiously overlooked. Despite the fact that everyone knows this is not a friendly meeting, Peggy still manages to look affronted that she was not also offered lunch and in her position, I probably would have done roughly the same. That spaghetti looked really good.
Ana eventually comes to in the hospital after a heartbreaking scene in which Jarvis desperately promises to be the perfect spouse in every way, and she responds to him, ever so weakly, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” It is a nicely executed call-back to the episode’s opening sequence, a flash-back in which Jarvis and Ana first discuss his involvement with Peggy’s work with the SSR. Later, however, Ana’s doctor discloses to Jarvis that due to the shooting and complications with her surgery, she has been made barren; although he cannot bare to tell her right away, he hatches a grief-stricken plan to get back at Whitney Frost.
Team Peggy eventually retrieves Jason Wilkes, even though Whitney finds out at the last second that the uranium rods being exchanged are fake. However, Jason’s time spent with Whitney letting the zero matter effect his conscious mind causes him to betray Team Peggy and get the down-low on the real uranium rods before escaping to return to Ms. Frost. He threatens to shoot Peggy during this whole to-do, and Sousa backs down even though she insists he not.
Jack Thompson, meanwhile, spends the early part of the episode digging up (fake) dirt on Peggy, which he at first plans to use to help Vernon Masters discredit her. However, as the episode progress, he seems to have a fit of conscience, and he eventually becomes a problem Masters must resolve with the short-term memory zapper. Peggy and Sousa find him dazed in the SSR office after the fact, and they all convene to try to stop both Vernon and Whitney together.
Sousa and Peggy then have it out over being “dispassionate” in the field, and not letting personal feelings get in the way, an issue both of them display problems with in the context of Jason’s betrayal. This all culminates with a confrontation in the desert where Whitney attempts to absorb the zero matter from Jason, using the real uranium rods, but instead he is taken alone into some kind of zero matter vortex she helped create. I have to confess, I don’t really follow the whole pseudo-science of the zero matter mythology here, nor do I really care to. I understand what the good guys want and the bad guys want, and pretending that the fake science of the whole thing is worth spending time getting right is, well, just not worth it.
So Whitney does some sciency thing to try to absorb Jason’s power, and Team Peggy tries to use some kind of other sciency thing with an electro-something ray cannon to stop her, but Jarvis’s addition to the party throws a wrench in the works when he breaks with the plan and tries to approach Whitney and shoot her point blank. The zero matter saves her from being harmed, but the whole affair results in the vortex being closed by Thompson, Sousa and Samberly, and Peggy, Jarvis and Wilkes being taken by Whitney, the first two as leverage against the third.
“A Little Song and Dance,” then opens with a musical dream sequence in which the unconscious Peggy is confronted by various people – Sousa, Wilkes, Angie, Dottie and Jarvis – all reminding her she has to decide what she wants. It is the sort of thing that seems like it should be totally out of place, but it works amazingly well, and it made me marvel once again at the incredible production value of this show. The costumes, the lighting, the music, the choreography, it was quintessential classic Hollywood and it added a je ne se quois to the season I did not even know was lacking until it came along. Perfection.
However, soon enough Peggy comes to and realizes she and Jarvis are in Whitney’s dangerous clutches. She awakens Jarvis and gets them both loose from their captivity, at which point they are abandoned in the middle of the desert and must simply start walking back towards distant civilization. Peggy is understandably enraged at Jarvis for ruining the plan, and for trying to murder Whitney Frost in cold blood, and while their antagonism starts off with a somewhat comic air, it turns on a dime to become utterly serious; these scenes between them in the early part of the episode are a reminder of both actor’s incredible talent, and the fact that no matter what kind of love-triangles Peggy finds herself in, her mutual relationship with Jarvis is the foundational bedrock of the show.
Ironically, although Jack is typically a minor character most often used as an inconvenient foil to Team Peggy, this episode really exploits his actual value to the narrative. In fact, I would debatably say that his choices determine about 90% of the episode’s trajectory, and it is perpetually unclear who is really loyal to and what he is really doing. At first he seems utterly in league with Team Peggy, then he seems to be back under the thumb of Vernon Masters, then he seems to be switching sides to join forces with Whitney Frost, and all along, he is running his own game, somewhat apart from everyone. This is an incredibly compelling use of his character, because it allows for there to be a wild card in the mix that throws everyone involved in the story little off balance, not to mention the audience.
With Wilkes still in Whitney’s clutches, as she tries ever more dramatic means to extract the zero matter from him, Peggy insists on trying to rescue him, but he ultimately decides to stay behind. Jack’s betrayal of Masters to Whitney, allows him to drop off the cannon which has been revamped as a means to kill her, Masters, Wilkes and everyone in Whitney’s new research facility connected to the zero matter. However, he is foiled by Peggy and Sousa, who have gotten Samberly to block Jack’s remote detonator. The episode ends on a cliff-hanger with Wilkes seemingly transformed by the zero matter in a confrontation with Whitney Frost, into what we do not yet know.
Although I strongly suspect the good doctor is quite doomed by this point, I find myself sincerely hoping against hope that they defy expectations and give him a reprieve. Just as this show does not deserve to go out before its time, Jason Wilkes does not deserve that fate either.