Marvel’s Agent Carter – Season 2 Episode 3
Marvel’s Agent Carter deals with the fallout of the previous episode as Peggy tries to clear the name of a man she knows to be innocent.
It turns out that Jason Wilkes wasn’t killed after all. I didn’t know last week that he was a main cast member which was just as well as it meant that I accepted his death as the meaningful event that it was supposed to be. If I had known that he would be back this week then the impact might have been somewhat lessened. Reading as much as possible about things like this is rarely -if ever- a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
His return wasn’t cheap but I feel that it should have been left for another episode to really let the whole thing sink in and for Peggy to start to deal with her grief. She was really upset in the last episode but is free from that guilt this week which does downplay it a little. Emotional complexity is something this show does really well so I’m surprised that more time wasn’t taken to allow Hayley Atwell to flex her dramatic muscles as Peggy deals with the loss of Jason.
Jason isn’t fully back at this point though. His encounter with the Zero Matter has caused him to become intangible. With some work he is able to be seen and heard but he is completely unable to interact with anything. Considering that a major theme of the episode is race I wonder if this is a deliberate attempt to have a black character with an inability to affect the world around him. The time period represented in this show is a broadly racist one so I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason is meant to personify that race divide in the society he lives in. Also, Jason’s current situation is reminiscent of his comic book counterpart. I came across this in my research before writing this as he’s so obscure that not even I know about him. Apparently I don’t quite know everything about Marvel comics.
The whole race issue is all over this episode. Evidence is planted in Jason’s house to suggest that he is a Communist spy and it is directly mentioned that his race will make the story easy to believe. It’s a really simple frame-up that is obviously problematic but it won’t be heavily investigated since Jason is black. Is this unfair? Absolutely but it is reflective of the times.
Race also becomes apparent through the mysterious Arena Club. It is a club that exclusively admits powerful white men and acts as a springboard to opportunities for the members. It reminded me of the Hellfire Club in lots of ways and this could be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s attempt to have that without using the name as it is under the control of Fox at this time. Howard Stark points out that the membership for this club is “pale and male” which of course brings to mind the problem of the lack of acceptance of black people in America. The race issues aren’t the focus of this episode but they are kept in the background so that they feel like part of the DNA of the show.
Gender politics is another big part of this show since Peggy is a strong female character living in a time where that wasn’t broadly accepted. The Arena Club embodies the lack of equality with their members all being men who turn their noses up at the very idea of letting women in. When Howard forces them to let women in the reaction is not one of acceptance.
Whitney also grapples with the same gender issues that Peggy does but in different ways. In my research I found that she was based on a real actress named Hedy Lamarr. The comparison is made much more apparent in this episode with Whitney’s history being the reverse of that. She has to deal with a Hollywood that is profoundly sexist as well as ageist as shown by the desire to replace her with someone younger as well as a husband more concerned with his political career than what she wants. He even says that he intends to make her have children with him once she quits acting whether she wants that or not.
Like Peggy, Whitney is a very forward thinking and confident woman who is endlessly frustrated with the way people treat her and constantly underestimate her. The major difference is that Peggy takes the challenge head on and proves her worth to others by her actions where Whitney sneaks around and manipulates people and situations by using her skill as an actress to hide her true intentions while getting rid of people who stand in her way. The contrast between Peggy trying to stand out while Whitney tries to be less noticeable is really interesting to see. It prolongs the time between them truly confronting each other but it is worth the wait at this point as Wynn Everett is really engaging as Whitney. I also like how the Zero Matter is affecting her with the really chilling scene of her essentially devouring the director of her film.
Howard’s return in the episode proved to be really useful as he managed to perform some much needed science. The work that he does puts him on the right track to understanding Zero Matter as well as what has happened to Jason. Like his son he completely throws himself into the project of making Jason whole again and neglects sleep in the process. Howard’s personality is completely intact with his standard narcissism coming through loud and clear with a layer of integrity underneath it. He is more than happy to commend people for their skills. Peggy is someone he trusts with his life and has observed that she and Jarvis make a great team. He asks Jarvis to let him know if he needs to start looking for a new butler but doesn’t mean it in a nasty way. I get the impression that he would be glad if Jarvis went to work with Peggy full time. He also notices the intelligence and skill of Jason without even noticing the colour of his skin. Such details don’t matter to Howard as he takes people on their own merits.
As always Howard’s appearance was a lot of fun especially when giving Peggy the opportunity to sneak into the Arena Club. He doesn’t go in under the pretense of being interested in joining and spends most of his time there criticising them from the decor to the membership. He also shows a blatant disregard for their rules by letting a group of women in. It’s all classic Stark behaviour and it’s really amusing to watch.
Thompson’s visit to LA could have been handled a lot better. I liked that he was so jealous of Peggy’s growing reputation that he sent her away before she could be promoted over him but the treatment of that is very over the top in this episode.
Given all that he has been through with Peggy I’m not sure why he would think that falsifying a report and asking her to sign it would ever work. He’s been shown to be a bit devious but this is a bit much even for him. His actions suggest that he doesn’t know how Peggy will react and seems to assume that she will listen to him despite the fact that she has a history of going off on her own in defiance of orders.
Making Thompson a career minded opportunity who will seemingly do anything to be on the right side of the powerful people he needs to impress is fine and definitely should be pursued but the character shouldn’t be robbed of nuance in the process. He does see that Peggy was right about the manipulation going on but based on this I’m not convinced that he will be at all conflicted about it.
There were some amusing little Easter Eggs within this episode. The movie that Howard is filming is based on the Marvel Comics character Kid Colt and the pride he shows when comparing the cover image to the composition of his scene could be a meta reference to the respect paid to the source material within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Peggy’s line about a movie based on a comic book being a bad idea was a little on the nose but I can let it slide.
Jarvis upgrading the security system to speak whenever someone unwanted enters was an obvious reference to Tony Stark’s AI. Jarvis even says that he doesn’t want to end up as a disembodied voice. I’ve often said that the JARVIS AI is based on the personality of this character so it’s fun to see the very beginnings of that being created. I don’t expect to have a functional version by the end of the season or anything but little nods like that are fun.
So far season 2 is hitting the mark for the most part. Good characters and solid drama with more of an emphasis on the more fantastical comic book elements are making this a really compelling thing to watch. I like how quickly the story moves with there still being plenty of time to deal with things for the most part and the more colourful look for the show is still really refreshing. By all accounts it’s not doing so well in the ratings which is a shame as I would hate for this to be the last season.
A really enjoyable episode that organically furthers the plot while dealing with some really big issues that are common to the time period the show is set in.
It turns out that Jason Wilkes isn’t dead after all. His death isn’t quite cheapened by his quick return but I feel it should have been left for another episode to let the whole thing sink in and have Peggy deal with her grief. Emotional complexity is something this show is very good at so I’m surprised that more time wasn’t taken to allow Hayley Atwell to flex her dramatic muscles as Peggy deals with losing Jason.
Jason isn’t fully back as he has become intangible. He can be seen and heard but is unable to interact with anything. A major theme of the episode was race so I wonder if this was a deliberate personification of racism at this time as Jason is a black character who is literally unable to affect the world around him.
The theme is also shown by the obvious attempt to frame Jason as a Russian Spy. It is allowed to be so obvious as it won’t be looked into in any detail since it’s so easy to believe that a black man could be a traitor.
Race also becomes apparent through the Arena Club. They exclusively admit powerful white men and it acts as a springboard to opportunities for the members. The race issues aren’t the focus of the episode but are kept enough in the background to be part of the DNA of the show.
Gender politics is another big part of the show since Peggy is a strong female living in a time where that wasn’t broadly accepted. The Arena Club embodies that lack of equality with all the members being men who turn their nose up at the idea of letting women in.
Whitney grapples with the same gender issues as Peggy does but approaches them differently. She has to deal with a sexist and ageist Hollywood looking to replace her with someone younger as well as a husband more concerned with furthering his political career than her.
Like Peggy, Whitney is a very forward thinking and confident woman who is endlessly underestimated. Peggy takes the challenge head on where Whitney sneaks around and manipulates others. The contrast between Peggy working to stand out where Whitney tries to be less noticeable is really interesting to see and prolongs the eventual conflict between them in a good way.
Howard’s return proved to be useful as he managed to perform some much needed science. He is on the trail of Zero Matter now and is working to restore Jason. Howard’s personality is intact with his standard narcissism coming through with a layer of integrity underneath it. He trusts Peggy and wouldn’t hold it against Jarvis if he left to work with her. The skill and intelligence of Jason is also noticed by him with no attention paid to his race.
Howard’s appearance is a lot of fun as always especially when he helped Peggy sneak into the Arena Club. He doesn’t pretend that he wants to join and instead uses the opportunity to insult them while showing a disregard for their rules.
Thompson’s visit to LA could have been better. I like that he is being portrayed as a career minded opportunist but the way he acts suggests that he doesn’t know how Peggy would react. She isn’t one to listen to orders she doesn’t agree with or sign things that have been falsified so why he thought she would is a mystery.
Season 2 is progressing well and this episode has a few fun tips of the hat to the comics such as a reference to Kid Colt as well as some foreshadowing of the JARVIS AI that Tony Stark would come to use. I hope the ratings improve as I’d hate to see this cancelled.