I was kind of surprised how little happened in this episode – we didn’t move far with the case, so instead a lot of time was spent on the characters, the world, and the limitations and expectations placed on them. I was a little surprised by this, with an 8-episode season, but I didn’t dislike it.
A quick recap!
When last we saw our heroes, an agent had been killed in the line of duty – along with their only lead. So they’re back to the drawing board (again) and so the captain heads to Germany to follow up on the identity of the thieves. Nothing exciting and not much learned there, except that it’s still a mystery! So that’s the case.
Much more important is that Howard Stark is back. And with him comes all of the womanizing, the secrets, the concern about being caught. And why is he back? He’s concerned about some of his technology being in the hands of the SSR and the government. Like the titular Blitzkrieg Button, which can turn out all the lights in the city!!!! Oh wait, no, it’s a lie. He had a vial of Captain America’s blood. Which makes sense, so why did he feel he needed to lie about it?
A question like that is what leads me into the rest of my discussion about this episode – the further exploration of sexism and other problems of the era. Because Howard didn’t tell her because he was worried about her being emotional about it, with her grieving for Cap. She couldn’t handle it, he thought… really? Well, that leads into his discussion of…
Howard gets into a discussion of The Ceiling, a concept which today is used generally in the term “glass ceiling,” about an upper limit on how high women can ascend in business and other fields. For Stark, the Ceiling he is thinking of is a class one. He talks about his parents having been poor, working, maybe lower-middle class. And about how generally there is an upper limit, a ceiling on how high someone born into that might climb.
So his answer is that he lies. They leave us some to imagine how he uses his lies: maybe about his background, where he comes from. He lies in his womanizing, one would imagine, and in all sorts of other ways. And his point is, he lies as a habit, as how he deals with life: so of course he lied to her about the vial of blood.
He is not the only person to confront Peggy Carter with her sex and the idea of limitations this episode. With the captain out and investigating, another agent is left in charge, who tells them all that no one is going home until they get progress in the investigation of their murdered fellow agent. Well, the male agents have to stay – the women can go home. Peggy of course takes advantage of this and is out working on things for Stark… but when she’s back at the SSR and runs into the acting captain, he asks why she’s there, and goes further. The specific quote being,
“No man will ever consider you an equal.”
Pretty much in that moment, he sums up the problems of the times, of the Ceiling, and the reason why Peggy leaves to form SHIELD. As my wife Holly pointed out immediately afterwards, he’s wrong. One man did consider her an equal, and he was ten times the man. Well, at least ten times… Captain America is pretty hard to beat. But he’s gone now, and the world is worse off for it.
There are plenty of other sexist moments in the episode, most notably at the beginning when the matron of the Griffith catches Peggy in the halls, sending up the laundry… she thinks it could be a man, and to be fair, it is – it’s Howard Stark. But to fill the uncomfortable time as they make their way up to Peggy’s room, the landlady is talking about how young women can’t control themselves, how they need someone like her looking out for them. Her whole idea of the “impenetrable” Griffith is one I will return to in a moment.
There’s one more aspect to the Ceiling in this episode. We spend a lot more time with Sousa in this episode, the injured veteran. He is on the right trail to break the case – the case where the correct answer is “Peggy Carter is helping Howard Stark!” so we’re kind of rooting against him. However, his fellow SSR agents are also against his work on it, against him finding a witness, against him interviewing the witness. And when his interrogation isn’t going well, the acting captain comes in, tempts the old homeless-seeming veteran witness with alcohol and food, and gets answers. And he’s down on Sousa, telling him that he’s just a veteran looking for a hug, while others have much simpler needs (booze).
They are running the story of Agent Carter, the competent female agent, parallel to the story of Agent Sousa, the competent disabled agent. They are up against very different prejudices and problems, but both are looked down on by the largely incompetent, prejudiced society represented by the rest of the agents. They both have a Ceiling over them – and I kind of hope to see both of them stepping outside the system and creating SHIELD.
Such a big deal was made about how men do not make it above the 1st floor of the Griffith, that it has been a lot of fun as a running joke to see just how inaccurate that statement and assumption is. In the last episode, my main question was whether a woman had infiltrated the Griffith – after all, it’s the easiest way to get past a no-men boundary!
They didn’t disappoint. Peggy’s new neighbor, Dottie, is a badass secret agent. But saying so is jumping to the end, so…
I mentioned that Peggy was sneaking in Howard Stark, up the laundry. The landlady talks about how she’s caught many men doing that, but she doesn’t catch Stark – he’s made his way into a lady’s room already. A lady who does not turn Stark in, nor Peggy for sneaking him in! Several other women end up seeing him and no one says anything. Before the laundry, Howard was snuck in through the sign that said Griffith, it looked like – so there’s a way in…
He’s not the only man to sneak in during the episode, either. There’s an angry, greedy smuggler, who got Stark into the country again. We spend a good amount of the episode watching him figure out where Jarvis and Peggy are, find out which room is Peggy’s… he sneaks up through the ventilation to the higher floors, where he is unceremoniously killed by Dottie for his admittedly cool automatic revolver. The bad guy Agent Carter will never even know was out to get her…
So two men and a woman, all snuck in to the higher floors of the Griffith… women who are used to men being there and don’t mind… it’s all cemented by a conversation in the dining room, as Peggy tries to sneak a bit of extra food up for Howard. All the ladies have tips and advice for her, and some even have bags and things that have hidden carrying capacity. It seems they all have ways and practice at sneaking men up into the “impenetrable” Griffith.
Maybe not a necessary part of the story, but I have to say, watching just how wrong the landlady is about the place is pretty funny.
Did it feel “comic book?”
Nope, not really at all. Maybe the fake doomsday device, though in our modern day an item like that seems pretty common to any sort of action or spy scenario. It’s pretty much Goldeneye.
Did it feel like you needed to have watched the other movies and shows?
I think especially for Holly’s thoughts on Captain America being the man who was good, and for the whole thing with caring about his blood – sure, again, this felt like a continuation of the Captain America: The First Avenger story. But not really any connection to anything else.
Did it matter that it was a female lead?
This is pretty much what this episode was about. It’s interesting – this seemed critical in the first two episodes, took more of a backseat in the third episode, and has come back strong here. It’s interesting to think that in some parallel world, or in another time, the TV show would have been about Sousa instead – and maybe a female Agent Carter might have been around as a secondary character leading a parallel story instead.
But really, it’s important that it’s not that hypothetical show.