UK TV review: Agent Carter Season 2, Episode 10
Mark Harrison | On 31, Mar 2016
This is a spoiler-free review. Read on at the bottom for additional, spoilery analysis.
A lengthier pre-titles recap than usual heralds the finale of Agent Carter’s second season. After a run of episodes suffused in LA noir and movie star glamour, Hollywood Ending seems as appropriate a title as any, but it tells you a little more of what to expect than it probably intended.
The gist of that long recap is that beloved starlet Whitney Frost (actually genius physicist Agnes Cully) has been messing with a primal force known as Zero Matter, having become more powerful under its influence as the season has gone on, and also more of a menace to Peggy Carter and her cohorts, as she aims to open a rift to another dimension to get more of it. Meanwhile, Peggy is torn between the attentions of Chief Daniel Sousa, her colleague, and Dr. Jason Wilkes, another physicist who has been affected by the mysterious substance.
When we left them, our heroes were in a Mexican stand-off over divided loyalties and Jason’s physical form was engulfed in an explosion of Zero Matter. Unfortunately for everyone, this essentially results in a complete transfer that leaves Jason untainted while making Whitney more powerful than ever. As she becomes ever more obsessed with her endgame, even her remaining allies turn to Agent Carter to help stop her apocalyptic designs.
Last year’s season finale, Valediction, was a little bit shaggy in its structure, wrapping up the season-long threat in enough time for an extended epilogue and a satisfying pay-off to Peggy’s emotional arc over the season. The show invested so much in character in its first episodes that it would still have been appealing, even if there had been a huge drop-off in the storytelling this season.
But Season 2 has largely been excellent and that’s why it’s disappointing that, to some extent, Hollywood Ending drops the ball. The ensemble are still marvellous and each of the regular cast gets a moment to shine (and as expected, special guest star Dominic Cooper gets several as Howard Stark), but the conclusion offers little like the satisfaction that came with last year’s resolution.
For one thing, the season has really lost track of Whitney in the second half of the season, excusing Jason for his actions based on how Zero Matter has affected his personality, but quite callously ignoring this for the villain, while also failing to capitalise upon her early development. Wynn Everett’s fragile and demented performance has been consistently good, but there seems to be a phase or two missing in her progression from a bitterly under-appreciated talent to full-blown homicidal insanity (“I don’t speak megalomaniac”, Peggy snipes when she gets a glimpse of Whitney’s work) and her resolution here could only be described as tragic at best, or horribly perfunctory at worst.
It’s especially disappointing that the longer second season wraps up as quickly as it does, leaving various rushed denouements and loose threads, partly because it’s been such a good run, but more because the show’s prospects of renewal on ABC look unlikely. That’s a real shame, because this is a show that deserves at least one more season and even when it falters, it’s never less than watchable.
On the plus side, the main characters’ crossed purposes come to a head in the middle of a scene we’ve seen a thousand times in TV finales, but they’re brilliantly defused by one character doing what comes naturally to them in a way that’s still slightly unexpected. It remains that the biggest surprise of the episode comes in the very last scene, but it’s telling that the stakes are properly conveyed through character rather than storytelling scale.
For too much time, it feels like Hollywood Ending leans a little too heavily on the latter and forgets that the former is its strength. The weird science overtakes the emotional stakes, as it does in some of the less regarded endings in Marvel’s cinematic output. Even the near peerless production design isn’t up to a bombastic sci-fi ending.
The show has done more than enough through the rest of the season, though, to show why it deserves another run – this year’s epilogue reminds us of why we love these characters and hope that we’ll see more of them in some form or another after this. But if this really is the last of Peggy and company, it’s sadly not as good as we’ve come to expect from Agent Carter.
Agent Carter Season 1 and 2 is available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, 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
– Buffy The Vampire Slayer did it, Doctor Who did it- if it’s a Season 2 finale, so it must be time for a massive all-consuming rift that requires the sacrifice of a regular character in order to get it shut. Happily, that’s subverted here and nobody dies, thanks to an extremely gratuitous case of deus ex hovercar, literally thrown into the episode after a brief appearance at Howard’s expo in Captain America: The First Avenger.
– As mentioned, Whitney’s end is disappointing in how cut and dry it is. The use of mirrors returns in a big way in the final scene, as she visits Calvin, the hubby she murdered, in her mind, from the relative safety of her cell in an asylum. It could be argued that she might come back bigger and badder somehow, if the show comes back, but we feel that this is more conclusive than even last year’s dispatch of Fenhoff. There’s no big final showdown with Peggy and no cathartic moment of defeat, just a mildly depressing descent into insanity. We expected better from the build-up.
– “You just hit a woman with my car!” Welcome back, Howard – he knows how to make an entrance, even if he quibbles over injuring a two-time Oscar nominee. He’s really on comic relief duty for most of this week’s episode, paired with the brilliant Ken Marino for one part (Manfredi’s face turn was a bit convenient, but we rolled with it) and then facing up to an indescribable void in the space-time continuum by using it for putting practice.
– We also enjoyed the scene where Peggy, Howard, Jason and Thompson all argued about who should be the one to risk their life to close the rift, because Sousa just does it without even thinking about it. It leads to the most satisfying moment of this finale, in a mirror of Peggy scolding him in Episode 8 for trying to save her, ending with the two of them finally sharing a smooch in the chief’s office chair.
– We haven’t mentioned this thus far, but we gather that the Zero Matter arc has been part of a connection to Marvel’s Doctor Strange, out in cinemas in November 2016. It’s not too heavily signposted – earlier, Jason mentioned hearing voices on the other side, while Whitney couldn’t, but rather than setting up for the magical voyages of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sorcerer Supreme, it’s purely a McGuffin in this season.
– The loose ends here include the Arena Club turning into a key, Dottie Underwood still being at large, Peggy’s mysterious wartime actions and the final sting in the tale, the assassination of Chief Jack Thompson in his hotel room. Any of these could form a solid jumping-off point for Season 3, but if that doesn’t transpire, maybe we’ll get a TV movie every once in a while, or even a feature-length spin-off? This show’s tone wouldn’t fit in with the Netflix series they’ve given us thus far, but we wouldn’t rule out a transfer to streaming media. However we feel about this episode, Agent Carter is one of the best things Marvel has going for it, and we hope that these characters will be back in some form or another.
Photo: © 2015 Marvel & ABC Studios / Byron Cohen