UK VOD TV review: Agent Carter, Season 1, Episode 8
Mark Harrison | On 30, Aug 2015
Already seen Episode 8? Read on at the bottom for spoilers.
The stakes are suitably high at the start of Valediction, the Season 1 finale of Agent Carter. Following on from last week’s massacre at the cinema, the SSR has lost Chief Dooley and Leviathan now wield a chemical weapon called Midnight Oil, which makes people violently belligerent. Leaderless, the surviving agents of the SSR look to Peggy to save the day.
Meanwhile, Ivchenko has been revealed as sadistic hypnotist Dr. Johann Fenhoff and, with the help of lethal sleeper agent Dottie Underwood, he’s getting away. In a desperate move, Howard Stark turns himself in to try and lure them back, but as his greatest shame is revealed, he puts himself and all of New York in danger in the process.
The finale hits many of the notes that you would like it to, but as we’ve speculated in previous weeks, it does suffer a little from closing up a mini-series rather than a slightly longer first season. Conceived as a filler during the mid-season hiatus of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, an eight episode order has given Agent Carter the benefit of endless, near exhausting momentum while also leaving us wanting much, much more.
Likewise, while Valediction has a lot to cram in, it benefits from having a slightly different goal in mind than we were expecting. If you feel like a lot has been resolved by just 25 minutes into the episode, you too might be caught off guard by the emotional catharsis towards which the series was hurtling all along.
But we’ll get to that. Dominic Cooper is back as Howard again and while his three appearances could have been used more sparsely in a longer run, he makes another solid effort at stealing the whole show. The trouble is that with so much to do, this is the closest that the show gets to letting him do it, with Peggy doing just as much to move the plot forward with slightly less screen time.
It’s in keeping with Agent Carter’s inversion of the usual formula, wherein the damsel in distress has to be rescued by the dashing male hero, but the episode doesn’t have a lot of time to get to the coup de grace – an ingenious dilemma that resonates massively with both Peggy and Howard and even gives Jarvis a third, impossible role to play. All we’ll say is that it’s fitting how the episode opens with what must be the finale of the in-universe Captain America Adventure Hour radio serial, dramatising the end of The First Avenger.
In the meantime, there’s still the usual amount of action in the first half of the episode, as the SSR race to face down their foes. We finally get to see Peggy go toe-to-toe with Dottie, which is as awesome as you would expect and there’s a showdown between another character and Fenhoff that is more satisfying than any of his previous encounters. Bridget Regan and Ralph Brown have both played terrific villains and as a double threat, they make suitable Big Bads here.
Agents Sousa and Thompson continue to play their parts too, as it appears that Sousa might be out of action after he catches the last whiff of Midnight Oil in the first act and Thompson slips into the role he was only going to play with bittersweet inevitability. But when all of that is said and done, there’s a note-perfect epilogue to the episode and the first season overall. In the story circle model of scriptwriting, the hero must return to their comfort zone, having changed, and aside from being tremendously moving in its execution, the season comes full circle to Peggy’s self-esteem and inner life. Hayley Atwell caps a run of extraordinary performances by knocking it out of the park and if she’s not there already, this might just be the clincher that makes Peggy Carter your favourite character in the Marvel cinematic universe.
Between S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter, there were 30 episodes of Marvel television on ABC in the last year and who on Earth would complain if they decided to make less of the former and more of the latter for a more even split next season? We know Season 2 is on the way and Valediction ties off loose ends from Agent Carter’s exemplary first run, while reiterating that message from Episode 1: now is not the end. And thank goodness, because we’re desperate for more.
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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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– When in trouble, Howard Stark will offer you money, your pick from his private collection of Cadillacs, and most amusingly, Rosalind Russell’s personal number to help him out of it. We hope to see more of Howard in any future Marvel project where they can fit him in – it was odd to see John Slattery reprise the character in Ant-Man when Cooper has now made the role his own.
– We finally learn why Fenhoff framed Stark. The doctor fought at the oft-mentioned Battle of Finow – when Howard failed to concoct a serum that would keep soldiers awake, the resultant Midnight Oil was stolen and deployed by a US general against the Russians to make them kill each other. Fenhoff survived by wearing a gas mask, but his brother died. Blaming Howard for it echoes the anti-Tony Stark motivation of villains from Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Howard’s actions seem to inform the younger Stark’s attitude to military applications of the Iron Man suit.
– It’s uncanny how the climax of the show remounts the climax of The First Avenger. A dangerous cargo is flown towards New York, with Peggy feeling powerless on the other end of the radio. Howard’s life is weighed against all of those in New York, with Jarvis given the choice of whether or not to shoot him down. This ends more happily and leads to the line of the week when Howard’s back on the ground: “For future reference, under no circumstance should you shoot or otherwise hurt me, got that?”
– Who else welled up at the end? We’ve had our eye on Captain America’s blood since Episode 4, sure that it was too important to be a red herring. All along, it turned out to be the most important thing in the series, but its emotional value far outweighs its practical applications and the scene where Bing Crosby plays as Peggy scatters it from the Brooklyn Bridge is incredibly moving.
– Dottie escapes after her scrap with Peggy (who even says “We haven’t seen the last of her”) and Fenhoff is detained with none other than… Toby Jones! His cameo as Zola (pre-robut computer body) is a cherry on top for Marvel fans and they could do a lot worse than to secure him as a regular in Season 2, perhaps working with Dottie? Is it 2016 yet?
Photo: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.