You know, I’m not quite sure what they meant by “The Iron Ceiling.” After my discussion last week about Ceilings, I was of course thinking of that… but that’s not really it. There’s also the “Iron Curtain” between the East and the West in the Cold War, and that might be closer to it. This week had us heading to Russia, and drawing a connection between the enigmatic villain group, Leviathan, and the Russians.
Indeed, we get to see Dottie’s training here, see her Russian Black-Widow-esque assassin training, learning charm, English, and kick-assery. Not much else with her this episode, except that she snuck in to Peggy’s room – out-spying her – and finds her files of information on the case. However, Peggy Carter is a woman of many secrets! The one we’re most concerned about from last week, the vial of Captain America’s blood, went unfound. Dottie found a secret cubby, and must have assumed she’d found all of the goods. She would be mistaken.
The bulk of the episode had Peggy re-connecting with her life in the SSR, a trip to Eastern Europe, and the legendary Howling Commandos! So on to that!
Peggy Carter: On the Case!
Peggy has kind of been a non-entity around the SSR since the show started. We’ve had scenes of her being shut out of the investigation, or from any real work, by the men. Indeed, we have seen an actual episode where her actual duty was the lunch order. She has also played into this, finding ways to get more time off and out of the office to work on the case where she is actually expected to achieve: working for Howard Stark.
But last episode, that relationship got strained. Thus following from that, Peggy throws herself back into her work. And no better time for that than when a mission is headed to Russia, where she apparently speaks the language – and has been there before, more than the others. She was quite busy during the war!
The captain doesn’t want to send her. As he argues it, if he sends her and she dies, then he’s the idiot who sent a woman out in the field to get killed. If he sends her and someone else dies, then he’s the idiot who sent a woman to defend a man (or some such nonsense). Sure, there’s the chance that the mission is easy and goes off without a hitch, but they’re not expecting that – and rightfully so, as it turns out.
Because infiltrating the East was not an easy prospect, sneaking in, trying to elude the bad guys, and they’re not even expecting young assassin girls to kick their asses. They don’t even have a good way into Russia – it’s not like they have the 107th, the Howling Commandos… oh wait…
Peggy stepping out, making a call, and coming back with a confirmed meeting time and place for the Howling Commandos was awesome. It fills the internal need for her to show her value; fills a show-level need to include the Howling Commandos; and fills an audience desire to see them on-screen once more! When the captain asks for them, it’s like everyone is asking for them. And Peggy delivers.
The Howling Commandos
These are the team that worked with Captain America in the war. They’re from the comics, they’re from Captain America: The First Avenger, they even were teased in the Agent Carter Marvel One-Shot. We knew they were coming, but not when or how. And it’s exciting! We know, for instance, that one of the guys in Agents of SHIELD is a descendent. We know only Bucky died while serving with them (and he didn’t, so they’re just that much more undefeated) and were pretty great. Captain America is great, but he’s a shield, a defender, a leader. He needs a team.
So these are the good guys, the best guys, and so they get to be a strong counterpoint to the SSR guys around Peggy who have treated her like a secretary. With them, they know her, trust her, and respect her. She’s pretty much one of them, but more in a leadership capacity. When someone points out that the Howling Commandos served with Captain America, they point out that Peggy Carter served with him longer.
This episode gave us a lot about Agent Thompson, whose name I finally caught, and who had been left in charge last week. This week he’s leading the mission in Europe, and he also did not want Peggy to come along. Then there’s an awkward scene where there’s only one locker room – expressly a men’s locker room – and Peggy ends up going in to change into her action gear anyway. So Thompson sends Sousa over, for a very awkward moment. Thanks, jerk. But wait, plot point! Sousa sees Peggy’s distinguishing mark, a gunshot wound, and realizes she is indeed the woman he has been chasing who has been working with Stark. We’ll have to see where that goes later!
Sorry, tangent! Okay, so Thompson is there, and he respects the Howling Commandos. But not Peggy. Except he gets to watch the Commandos respecting Peggy, looking up to her. They end up around the campfire one night, telling stories. Thompson is left out of this camaraderie, until Peggy turns to him and asks him for a story. For a specific story, about how he got his Navy Cross. Showing she knows this about him, showing she respects it. And he tells the story, and he is accepted. She shows him respect, even when he doesn’t show her respect – and this seems to finally balance some scales. Later, Peggy also shows him deference when he offers his plan – and he stops and asks what she would do, which she then offers, and he decides to go with that.
Eventually, later in the episode, Thompson spills to her that his medal is a lie, that the people he saw and killed were not soldiers sneaking in, but people coming to surrender. A story he hasn’t told anyone. Opening up to Peggy shows he’s come a long way in his estimation of her. And as Holly put it, we’ve found out that Thompson has a soul.
Oh, and in-between? In the words of The Boondock Saints, “There was a firefight!!!” Lots of action, a little Black-Widow trained Russian girl kicks their butts, everyone has to save everyone, and some characters die – including a surprising number of Howling Commandos. That made it feel like this would be their one appearance on the show, because you just can’t keep killing them off at that rate…
Did it feel “comic book?”
Certainly, this is possible. The Howling Commandos have a history in the comics, though they are not actually from the World War II era – they just show up in stories about the WWII era. And like many moments, the training of the Russian girls felt more spy movie to me than comic book – it felt like something you might see in a grittier Bond movie, like a Daniel Craig one.
Did it feel like you needed to have watched the other movies and shows?
This maybe more than feeling the comic book connection. Seeing The First Avenger, in particular, seems fitting. Holly and I re-watched that this last weekend after this episode of Agent Carter, and while we get to see them a lot and they’re awesome, we don’t see them that much… honestly, there’s a lot more of Agent Carter. The Howling Commandos, more than anything, get an action montage. A pretty good one, but it’s not like they have half the movie for screen time.
They come on to the show as this storied, legendary soldier force. Which really is most of what you get about them in the movie. So while if you only watched the show you might feel like you’re missing something, it’s not much. This is, in fact, the reason why it’s so exciting to have them on the show: we haven’t seen enough of them yet!
Did it matter that it was a female lead?
Yes it did. First, back with the SSR, where she finally returns to her starting point: arguing with them about the fact that she is a valuable agent. She lost this thread for a while because rather than arguing, she was off secretly proving it. And then, with Thompson as the audience for it, it mattered that she was a woman being respected by the Howling Commandos. They were totally ready to take her lead, all the way. Indeed, this led to some great quotes I jotted down, so I can end with those:
“You sounded like Captain America there.”
“That’s no bad thing.”
“You used to be fun.”
“I miss him too.”
“[If Captain America were here] he would say do as Peggy says.”
“Not bad for a girl.”
(A glare, and a smirk)
“I hate you all.”