On the D/L – Agent Carter
Season 1 Episode 8 – “Valediction”
Agent Carter ends a short yet intensely memorable run with an episode that ties up many of the loose ends floating around.
The episode picks up where the previous left off with the aftermath of the gas -now dubbed “Midnight Oil”- deployed in a movie theater causing everyone inside to turn homicidal and kill each other. It’s not too long before it is deduced that it will be used on a massive crowd during the VE day celebrations in Times Square. The bulk of the story is a ticking clock as they try to stop this from happening.
Howard Stark returns in this episode for the third time in the series to play a significant role. He’s not been around for the whole thing but has definitely been at the root of the narrative throughout. His perceived treason and his inventions have driven everything that has went on here so his return when it all wraps up was all but inevitable.
Dominic Cooper steals pretty much every scene he’s in with his effortless charisma and quick wit. Even in the face of mortal peril he can always crack a joke and deflect the gravity of the situation in some way. I enjoyed how infuriating a presence he was to those around him who were taking things very seriously. His scenes with Peggy were great with her playing the voice of reason to contrast his silly behaviour. I especially liked the scene where he was moving his inventions around because the SSR had stored them correctly while Peggy tried to talk him out of his risky plan. It was a good scene that managed to summarise the differences in these two characters. Peggy is serious and professional whereas Howard is an eccentric genius. Combining their distinctive strengths will help SHIELD run relatively smoothly when it is established.
It would be so easy for Stark to come across as cartoonish from his behaviour but a combination of his performance and the writing manages to make this character impressively layered. Howard has a very particular set of values that he swears by and has his own version of an altruistic streak. I got the impression that his focus on the incorrect storage of his various inventions was an attempt to keep his mind off just how much danger her was in. He acts more eccentric the more terrified he is. This is a similar characteristic to his son who does pretty much the same thing in Iron Man 3. It’s a valid coping mechanism that aids in making Howard more human without actually spending too much time beating the audience over the head with the fact.
Howard’s plan somewhat backfires when he’s captured and hypnotised into flying a plain to deploy the gas personally. Dr. Fennhoff -the former Dr. Ivchenko- gets inside his head by exploiting a major weakness for him. Howard is still deeply affected by the apparent death of Captain America as he blames himself for that. Fennhoff calls it his “greatest shame” which probably sums it up perfectly. It’s apparent that Stark isn’t accustomed to failure so to fail a man he called his friend is something that he has real trouble dealing with to the extent that he’s carried around the guilt ever since and now it’s to be used against him to cause the death of a lot of people.
It is also mentioned that Stark sees his work on Project Rebirth (the project that gave birth to Captain America- as the only thing he’s done that brought good to the world after being responsible for so much destruction. This reinforces an earlier scene where Howard talks about seeing the effects of the gas when it was deployed previously and how horrified he was to see the destruction that he was partly responsible for with his own eyes. It’s actually a similar lesson to the one his son will one day learn and use as the source of his inspiration to do better. Tony could stand to learn just how similar he and his father really were.
It can’t be overlooked how similar Stark in the plane was to a sequence in Captain America: The First Avenger. It even had Peggy try to talk him out of it tearfully over the radio. The big difference here is that it actually worked and managed to symbolise the collective issues that Peggy and Howard had in relation to Captain America’s -as far as they know- death. It’s a pain that Peggy has carried with her a long time as she feels that there was never a sense of closure to their relationship. In some ways she blames herself for what happened to Cap and hasn’t had the chance to apologise for it. Hayley Atwell played this moment perfectly as Peggy tried to remain on the job but couldn’t help her personal feelings about what happened get in the way. It was a very powerful scene and incredibly well acted. Peggy also gets her sense of closure in regards to Cap’s death when she pours the vial of his blood out while tearfully saying goodbye. It was obvious symbolism of her letting go of him and moving on with her life but it worked wonderfully.
Beyond that it was great to see Peggy recognised as a peer of her SSR colleagues with her being right at the center of the investigation and having her opinions listened to for a change. It was a great moment to see her literally applauded for her contribution.
The episode was fairly light on material for Thompson and Sousa but both managed to get some interesting moments. I liked the tense scene where it seemed that Fennhoff had managed to brainwash Sousa into killing Thompson and capping it off with the reveal that Sousa was wearing earplugs. It shows how clever he is and it’s good to continually see that the other characters have plenty of agency when Peggy isn’t around.
Thompson’s acceptance of the credit for saving the day and getting a promotion was particularly interesting. Thompson has always been a complex character who has had many layers revealed over the course of the season. At first he was the most dismissive of Peggy until they went to Russia and that dynamic changed. It seemed that he was finally giving her the credit she deserved so to see him casually dismiss her again for his own benefit was quite a shock. It was a shock that worked though because it’s not out of character for Thompson who saw an opportunity for advancement and took it. I liked how irate Sousa got over it while Peggy took it on the chin as she doesn’t care what others think of her. She doesn’t need anyone else’s validation and never has because she knows her “value” as she put it.
The central relationship of the season was definitely Peggy and Jarvis who had by far the best interactions on the show. We are given a satisfying resolution to their relationship in this episode with a very moving and sincere conversation between the two characters. Jarvis stealing the vial of Captain America’s blood because he thinks that Peggy is the only person in the world who could be trusted to do the right thing with it was a really powerful moment as it really sums up the friendship that has grown between these two. As for Jarvis’ decision to effectively betray his boss in this way I loved the line “I owe Howard Stark a great deal; but he does not own my integrity”. Jarvis is a very principled man and this shines through perfectly here.
My only real criticism of the episode is that I still don’t really have the sense that I know what Leviathan is or what their intentions are. I suspect they are probably an interim version of H.Y.D.R.A but that’s just my theory. Dottie and Dr. Fennhoff represent them but they are clearly only a small part of it with more to be revealed should there be a second season. Dottie is still a villain that annoys me in how over the top she is portrayed but her fight with Peggy was really well done. I like that Peggy was outclassed and seemed to get lucky. All in all a pretty satisfying scrape.
The end cameo from Toby Jones’ Zola hinting that there was more to come was great as well. It was a nice bit of fan service that also made sense within the confines of the story. Give us season 2 of this please.
An excellent end to this short but very sweet season that wrapped up a number of the loose ends very well.
Howard Stark’s return was well done with some really memorable scenes where Dominic Cooper exudes charisma at every turn. His playfulness contrasted with Peggy’s -and the rest of the SSR- professionalism made for a really fun conflict that showed off how well written these characters are. A great scene where Howard chastises the SSR for improper storage of his weapons while Peggy reminds him how dangerous his plan is punctuates this perfectly.
His return also provided the opportunity for Howard and Peggy to deal with their unresolved issues around the apparent death of Captain America. They have both been deeply affected by this in very different ways but they share a bond in needing closure on it in their own ways. It’s something that’s handled really well and, in the case of Peggy, finally allows her to move on.
Seeing Peggy taken seriously by her colleagues for the first time and being central to the investigation was great to see. Her round of applause once the crisis was over was well earned and a nice moment.
Sousa and Thompson have comparatively little to do but get their own great moments anyway. Sousa’s use of earplugs to avoid brainwashing was a clever reveal that showed how much agency the other characters have without Peggy around. Thompson’s selfish acceptance of a promotion without making sure that others got the credit they were due was a shocking moment but perfectly in character.
Peggy and Jarvis had a really sincere and poignant closing scene that summed up their relationship nicely. Their relationship has always been the central one and it’s given appropriate attention here by showing just how close they have grown as friends. Jarvis’ decision to betray his boss to give her the vial of Captain America’s blood sums this up perfectly.
My only real issue with the episode is the still lingering question of Leviathan. What is it and what is the endgame? We still don’t know beyond hints given to us with an excellent cameo at the end of the episode. Are we getting a second season? I sure hope so.