Marvel’s Agent Carter – ‘Valediction’ Review

Originally posted on Bloody Disgusting

 

RALPH BROWN, BRIDGET REGAN, HAYLEY ATWELL

Wow. What a disappointing finale. Agent Carter has done a lot of work to set itself up as a distinct entity from the Captain America movies; Peggy is a woman who once loved Captain America, yes, and she is the woman that he loved too, but it has been an important plot point that she was never defined by her relationship to him, until “Valediction.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story begins with the theater scene from last week, complete with screaming, and trapped patrons. In the aftermath, Sousa the intrepid detective investigates the crime scene, stumbles across Dottie’s unassuming planted baby carriage, gets sprayed with Stark-brand rage-spray, and goes all murdery on Agent One Tree Hill. No word yet on whether the Midnight Oil (Item 17) used to dose Sousa was in any way triggered by gamma radiation, but it’s definitely the case that you won’t like Sousa when he’s angry.

Meanwhile the good doctor Vladimir Mindbendoyevsky and the daring, darling Dottie Underwood are in a Cadillac commercial in the city, Dr. M extolling the virtues of its metropolitan sophistication and Ms. Underwood plotting its total destruction. This is the B story, and now that the gang’s back together, the SSR is executing the A story, much easier to follow (or at least more direct) than the multitude of narrative threads weaving their ways across the screen last episode.

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Speaking of the gang, Howard Stark turns himself in, allowing him an entire episode cameo for the finale. Somehow, despite the whole premise of the conflict in the last several episodes, Stark manages to quickly and easily convince the SSR that they’re all on the same team, and they’re going to work together to bring down Vlad & Dottie.

This all sets up very predictably; they arrange a press conference to absolve Stark of various war crimes & sundry, have a few laughs as they try and draw the speeches out to allow Stark an adequate amount of bait time, while Stark feeds Agent One Tree Hill lines about his heroism and brilliance. This is a good a time as any to say that at no point does the “lovable misogynistic rogue” thing grow on me, even though I know it’s meant to. Stark is so important to the formation of S.H.I.E.L.D., and for that reason I really want to like him– and mostly because of the importance of the agency, not just the screen time that must come with it. I just can’t. He’s just so… gross. The mustache is probably supposed to indicate that he owns his grossness, but I find myself not caring what he owns, and not wanting to hear from him, like, ever.

But getting back to the press conference, of course shots are fired, and of course Stark is whisked away by Jarvis and the SSR canvas the nearby buildings. But predictably, Dottie has beat them at their own game (because yes, she’s that good) and their bait-and-switch has been superseded by Dottie’s bait-and-switch; the sniper rifle was set on a timer, and the driver of the car (who is, excitingly, played by a PoC in a show with not nearly enough representation) Stark was whisked away in is in fact a hypnotized kidnapper working as an agent for Mindbendoyevsky.

So that setup, for the real conflict of the episode, is fine. It’s not exciting or revolutionary, it hasn’t given us any of the things we love about Peggy (but quite a few things we hate about Stark), but it’s fine. And here’s where it breaks down for me.

First, as Stark is getting kidnapped, there’s a weird tension when he doesn’t remember Dottie (then Ida). Why does she care? This woman could murder him with her pinky finger. He is less than nothing compared to her, and added to that, he’s a gross misogynistic pig to be exploited for her political gain. Anyway, that was a minor point (albeit one that was revisited a couple of times), but I could have done without it. Moving on. The good doctor wants to poison Manhattan with Midnight Oil, which is a poison that needs to be deployed aerially. So Stark is hypnotized into a plane, his own plane, to fly… across the water with a world-class destructo-weapon. It’s no tesseract, but it’s goddamn familiar.

We do finally get a physical confrontation between Carter and Dottie, and it’s every bit as brutal as it should be– no slapping, no hair pulling, just truly abhorrent violence, martial skill and tactical calculations. However, it was over far too quickly, and didn’t seem to resolve anything. In fact, it revealed some weird jealousy Dottie has “always” had about wanting to be a pretty girl who can walk and talk a certain way? When did she want that, when she was murdering other little girls for practice in the academy? On what TV or radio did she follow the glamorous lives of divas and celebrities? It’s not just jarring, it’s out of place and illogical.

The rest of the episode is equally bizarre, as though it was written by someone who had just seen the Captain America movie but didn’t have time to catch up on the episodes previous to this. Peggy has to convince Stark not to genocide Manhattan, and the whole conversation takes Peggy down. This isn’t the Peggy that was thriving among her former compatriots in the Howling Commandos episode, this Peggy confesses to Stark that she misses Steve too, that Stark is “the only person who believes in [her].” This isn’t a moment of vulnerability– far be it from me to criticise vulnerability, and we’ve seen that done well in this show. This is a moment of compromised identity. The rest of the episode, Peggy is Steve’s girl. Sousa and Agent OTH save the day, incarcerating Dr. V, and Peggy has to roll her eyes at Stark’s sexist jokes and admit that Dottie/Ida escaped.

The first half was boring, the second half undid the work of making it separate from the film, but the last 3 minutes of the episode (maybe to pay us back for all that crap) were great: First, Stark has given Peggy and Angie one of his smaller homes, with six bedrooms, and I’m already imagining a Women Of SHIELD house in a Season 2 Spectacular. Second, as the good doctor is locked away, muzzled so he can no longer hypnotize anyone, who should his cellmate be but the infamous Zola! Nazis and cameos and Hydra, oh my! So with prospects of sisterhood and sinister, a second season sounds simply delightful, but this finale was somewhat of a dud.

 

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