Agent Carter Episode Review: The Iron Ceiling, Season 1 Episode 5

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.

Found on http://www.themarysue.com/agent-carter-recap-s1-ep5/ with their episode review!

A young Dottie, her secrets revealed.
Found on The Mary Sue with their episode review!

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!

Agents Carter and Thompson, on the case! Found on http://screencrush.com/agent-carter-the-iron-ceiling-photo-gallery-howling-commandos/

Agents Carter and Thompson, on the case!
Found on ScreenCrush

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.

The Howling Commandos from Captain America: The First Avenger. Sorry, Bucky... Found on http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Howling_Commandos

The Howling Commandos from Captain America: The First Avenger. Sorry, Bucky…
Found on Wikia

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.

Found on http://marvel.com/images/gallery/gallery/333/agent_carter_confidential_exclusive_images_from_the_iron_ceiling#0-992011

Found on Marvel.com

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…

Questions

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.

Found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sgt._Fury_and_his_Howling_Commandos along with the history!

Found on Wikipedia along with the history!

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.”

(Pause)

“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.”

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Agent Carter: Expectations and Review!

A new show aired last night: Agent Carter, the latest edition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show is set after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and after World War 2. It’s the point when SHIELD is first being formed, when all of Hydra’s strange and occult (and alien) toys are being seized. It’s the point when Hydra infiltrates SHIELD and lives on.

I actually thought the show was premiering next week, so the plan was that this week would be my thoughts about the show before it aired. Since the show snuck up on me, there’s really two parts to this post. The first part was written before the show aired on Tuesday evening, and the later part will be a review having seen the initial two-hour premier.

Peggy Carter herself was an addition to the Captain America universe in the 60’s, a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. She is added in flashback scenes mainly as Captain America’s love interest. So the movies have really added to her character, and all in a good way. Fans are excited for this female-led comic-book show, and why not? Well, I have some worries that have nothing to do with Peggy Carter herself, and have everything to do with creating a backstory story in an ongoing film and television universe. So let me fret about the story first, and then on to the episode review!

How Do You Create Tension?

I think this is my main concern with the show. Because it’s going to be SHIELD, and mysterious artifacts, and potentially super-powered foes. So how do you create tension in a prequel story? When the fate of so many characters is already known? Characters like:

  • Peggy Carter herself. We see her in Winter Soldier so we know she survives. In the comic lore, also, Sharon (Agent 13) is a relative and was also in the movie.
  • The Howling Commandos, who were teased for the show. According to the Smithsonian display in Winter Soldier, the only Howling Commando to give their life in service to their country was Bucky Barnes. However, in working for SHIELD, does that not count? Could something happen to them? I would be surprised!
  • Howard Stark. We see him older and giving wisdom to young Tony decades later in Iron Man 2. And of course he has to live long enough to have Tony!
  • Hydra. Not dead and stopped, but living on. We know they get recruited to help, and we know Hydra infiltrates SHIELD. Sure, it can be interesting to watch it happen, but it won’t really be surprising or unexpected.

So my main question is, how do you tell this story when we kind of know what happens? We know the main characters come through largely unscathed, and we know that the bad guys secretly infiltrate – and are never caught in doing so. How do you make an engaging show with the audience already knowing and expecting so much?

One way is with short seasons, and it sounds like that is the plan for Agent Carter. They previewed next week by saying it was going to be a 7-episode series – but I’m getting ahead of myself! How was the premier?

And Now For Something Completely Different

Alright, so I’ve now seen the two-hour premier, which was happily one long episode, instead of two episodes (like ABC did with Galavant on Sunday). The timeframe was after the war, but before SHIELD was a thing. So Agent Carter was still an agent of the SSR, like she was in The First Avenger.

From the Agent Carter one-shot on the Iron Man 3 disc. Found on http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Marvel_One-Shot:_Agent_Carter

From the Agent Carter one-shot on the Iron Man 3 disc.
Found on http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Marvel_One-Shot:_Agent_Carter

And apparently, the answer to my question about creating suspense and tension, about dealing with known quantities and outcomes, is to approach the issues from an entirely different angle. So this isn’t the story of Peggy Carter, Agent of SHIELD. This is the story of Peggy Carter, top-notch working woman who gets sidelined by male colleagues as they return from World War 2. Treated as a secretary (or less) when she could likely kick any of their butts and take any of their names.

The mystery, then, is centered around Howard Stark, who is being seen as a traitor. Agent Carter knows better, and Howard knows he can trust her: so he pulls on up, and asks her to help clear his name. We as the audience know him too (or think we do?!?) so we’re on their side. Oh, and Jarvis, the real life Jarvis and not an AI, is on the team too.

So it’s Peggy Carter, sneaking around in advance of the SSR, doing the job better, solving the real case. The tension then becomes one not of whether our heroes are in peril – we know she’s not because she’s a badass – but instead it’s a tension about whether or not the boys club that is the SSR catches on to what she’s doing. Because if she’s caught, well, she’s working with a traitor.

Oh, And Sexism.

Have I mentioned the sexism? They definitely are playing this as a period piece, and it’s catching a really specific moment in American history. A moment that really changed everything, though it took time.

They are playing into this motif pretty heavily. Juxtaposed with the scenes of Peggy solving mysteries and kicking butt are narratives from the Captain America radio broadcasts, where a female love interest of Captain America (a miss Carver) is the damsel in distress, and is helpless without Cap to save her. You come to realize this caricature character is supposed to be Carter, and join her in her annoyance at the whole thing. She doesn’t need Cap to help save the day.

But maybe she’s trying too hard. Maybe she can’t do it all alone. The growing partner relationship between Carter and Jarvis is interesting, and definitely something I am hoping to see grow over the course of the series. Because he’s a butler, not a spy; so he’s willing to help, but can’t be the lead. A good partner for her.

One Last Theory

Okay, so one other thing that aired tonight, after the show, was the first teaser for Ant-Man. And it definitely makes it seem like there has been Ant-Man before, like the name, the mantle, has existed before. And we kind of expect this, as Paul Rudd is playing Scott Lang: not the first Ant-Man in the comics, but the second.

Anyway, as to Agent Carter: is there going to be the original Ant-Man, young Hank Pym, in the show? Will they tie it in with the cinematic universe that way? I kind of hope so, as that could definitely be something that will make me more interested in the movie!

Would you like to see more posts about Agent Carter? I would consider doing episode recaps for the season – which isn’t too much of a commitment if it’s really only 7 episodes! Let us know in the comments, or tweet me @CompGeeksDavid!