This is a spoiler-free review. Read on at the bottom for additional, spoilery analysis.
The villains rally in this week’s episode of Agent Carter, as Dottie Underwood is in the clutches of Whitney Frost, and Vernon Masters turns the screws on Chief Sousa and the SSR, after last week’s hostile takeover of his boy’s club.
But Monsters also finds time to examine Peggy as a character when she’s in damage control mode. She’s not one to leave a man (or a woman, even if that woman is a mad Soviet agent) behind, much to the frustration of her comrades. Also much to the frustration of the still incorporeal Dr. Wilkes and Jarvis’ doting wife, Ana, Peggy’s focus is on a daring rescue mission to recapture Dottie from her captors, even if it means walking into an obvious trap.
In keeping with the serialised style of Season 1, this feels more like a direct continuation of last week’s episode, Life Of The Party, than the rest of the season and it’s a sure sign that we’re getting into the back half of the run. Shown back-to-back with Episode 6 on US network ABC, it does feel like it’s paced for the binge-watchers, with its primary focus on dealing with the immediate fallout of that episode.
However, the stakes are still increasing all the way. Whitney has assumed command of the Council of Nine, giving a press conference to announce that her husband and the other council members died in a sailing accident, while also enforcing her control over the remaining members through her supernatural power. Unfortunately for Dottie, she’s also developed a penchant for using her powers in interrogation.
A routine going-over by “Vern” Masters doesn’t really faze her, and as a proto-Black Widow, there’s no reason why we’d expect it to. Watching her markedly different response to Whitney’s technique is a good barometer of what the villain is capable of and Wynn Everett and Bridget Regan are as magnetic as ever whenever the Big Bads collide. The torture scenes may qualify as “sci-fi violence”, but they are scarier and more disturbing than anything else the show has shown us so far.
With all of this going on, Love Triangle Territory is where we don’t want to be – having almost kissed Sousa in the last episode, there’s another smooch between Peggy and Wilkes early on in this week’s episode. That’s always been true of Agent Carter, but as discussed in our review of Episode 2, that’s not to say we’re completely uninterested in Peggy’s love life going forward.
Happily, the writers are too smart to let the burgeoning Sousa/Wilkes conundrum overshadow anything and instead, it’s deflated by a fun conversation with Jarvis, who wryly notes that she’s “gone from famine to feast with two quality suitors”.
But elsewhere, Wilkes may just find his attention wandering from Miss Carter. We’ve been told repeatedly that Zero Matter affects the host’s behaviour, and while we’ve been shown that Whitney was really just waiting for her shot at world domination, we haven’t yet seen anything awaken in the good doctor. But in the process, it awakens something that was only broached briefly earlier in the season, bringing about an unexpected confrontation.
Monsters isn’t a stand-out episode of Agent Carter, but it keeps the season moving in shark-like fashion. It feels like one of those less memorable middle episodes of Daredevil or Jessica Jones – more intense than usual, but still more like a run-around than a decisive move forward. Nevertheless, like any good, bingeable show, the ending makes sure that you’re left desperate for the next instalment.
Agent Carter Season 1 and 2 is available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 Sky Entertainment Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial. It is also available on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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Spoilers and further consideration
– Well, we’ve said in previous weeks that Agent Carter shares some traits and tropes with Joss Whedon’s shows and this one takes a particularly Whedonesque approach to character jeopardy. The episode addresses Ana’s fears that Jarvis will be hurt or worse in his adventures, only to bait and switch it onto her instead, and she takes a bullet to the abdomen.
– James D’Arcy is the MVP once again this week, from his wrangling of Mr. Stark’s jitterbug (remember: Carole Lombard stuns, Barbara Stanwyck explodes) against Manfredi’s goons, to his wriggling physical performance as he escapes before a bickering Peggy and Dottie. Of course, it builds to his shattered performance at Ana’s bedside and the contrast is startling – will there be darker shades of Jarvis in weeks to come?
– “Has there ever been a day when you felt like a real man in this country?” Whitney confronts Jason and cuts right to the core with a brilliantly written and delivered line. The season has kind of parked him, while he’s been grappling with intangibility, but we’re given a sobering reminder of the difficulties he faces as an African American in the 1940s in the space of one question. This throws a whole season’s worth of motivation behind his apparent heel turn as he leaves Stark’s mansion with Whitney to better his chances of getting back to normal.
– Sousa is on his own for most of this one, with one consequence being that Masters has him beaten up by a pair of thugs and declared unfit for duty as chief of the SSR office. Kurtwood Smith continues to be drippingly detestable and we’re looking forward to Masters getting some of his own medicine by the season finale.
– Dottie has had a few funny moments in the last couple of episodes, going incognito at the fundraiser last week and squabbling with Peggy as they try to get free this week, but we’re given a stark reminder that she’s a real threat when she escapes the hospital and murders a cop at the end of the episode. She’s in the wind now and as terrified of Whitney as she may be, we probably haven’t seen the last of her.
– On the lighter side of things, we’re still loving every line delivery from Ken Marino as the besotted Mafioso who provides muscle for Whitney, and there’s another great jab at Howard Stark’s libido from Peggy (“Lucky you didn’t pick up the clap.”) when Jarvis boasts about his mechanical engineering know-how. Even with the appreciable increase in tension and violence in parts of this one, the writers know we’ll remember the laughs.
Photo: © 2015 Marvel & ABC Studios