Agent Carter officially passes the half-way mark in its fifth episode, and it does so with an action-packed adventure in Russia. Even with all the references to Captain America and Peggy’s life before this series popping up from time to time, “The Iron Ceiling” has maybe the most connections to The Avengers and other Marvel Cinematic Universe properties of any episode yet. The Howling Commandos make a dramatic comeback, and we get to see the origins of the Black Widow Program that spawned the popular Avengers member of the same name. How Agent Carter ties all of this together starts a little weak, but catches on quick.
Being that the end result is such an exciting and well-made episode, it’s hard to complain too much about the sloppy introduction, but it’s still an issue. Peggy Carter’s ticket to Russia comes after she storms into a room where a codebreaker is trying to break a code sent by the mysterious “ghost typewriter.” While this codebreaker has presumably spent hours working away at it, Carter is able to – in an instant – realize that the pencil-pushing police officer must have just forgot to account for the code being in Russian. The show does establish that the codebreaker is bad at his job quickly before she storms in, but it still feels like a flimsy setup to the rest of the episode. With how quick she transcribes everything I was honestly hoping that Peggy just made up the code in order to convince everyone to go to a certain location in Russia, but that isn’t the case at all. As it turns out, she’s right, and there is some kind of interaction supposedly happening with Leviathan and Howard Stark at the coordinates that happen to be the location of Russia’s notorious Black Widow Program. Bing bang boom, Ms. Carter and the cop-ettes are off to Russia.
Before they leave however, Agent Sousa continues to get closer to discovering that Peggy is the mysterious blond woman (who they now know is actually dark haired) that the SSR agents have been trying to track down. The show has done a good job pacing his suspicion, only leaving breadcrumbs for Sousa and never a complete picture so he shouldn’t obviously to the conclusion that the woman is indeed Peggy. Seeing the two dots on her shoulder that link up with a previous photo of the blond woman is by far the most evidence he has received and he quickly makes the connection, but is left to stew over it while everyone else is fighting little girl assassins in another country.
Peggy’s old army buddies, The Howling Commandos, are just as charismatic and well-written as they were in Captain America. Great comedy, believable stories, and a strong sense of purpose despite their silliness. This is my first week actually reviewing Agent Carter, so I haven’t had the opportunity to gush on it yet, but I adore how the show has balanced its comic book sense of humor with serious tones. Even when a character dies – and several of them do in this episode – the impact of the deaths never sends anything off the rails into a dark and tonally confused mess. Everyone involved with the mission has such a purpose and larger things at stake than an individual life that it allows them to move on quickly and maintain an even tone. Peggy and the Commandos meeting with the crazed engineer who happens to be conveniently holding a blueprint with Stark’s name emblazoned on it was a little high on the cheese level, however, and made worse by his “Look, it says Stark on it” line.
With that said though, the action, pacing, editing, everything about the action scenes during the events at the Black Widow training center is extremely well-done. Interactions between Peggy and her old friends fill the buddy-buddy void left now that she is no longer on speaking terms with Stark and Jarvis, thankfully.Outside of some flashbacks, we don’t see many of the child-aged Black Widow assassins, but the one we do see is mildly terrifying with just how efficient she is. What she does isn’t particularly surprising, compete with an obvious setup and a character looking away from the girl at the perfect time, but it still works to show just how ruthless the little girls are that eventually leads to The Avengers’ Black Widow.
I also particularly liked the twist with Jackson’s story that he tells around the campfire. As a story on its own it was pretty bland and seemed out of place, but when he reveals the truth about the events that got him his Navy medal it helps the audience – and more importantly Peggy Carter – feel more attached to the oft jerkish agent.
With how things have been set up in the past four episodes, and especially this fifth one, everything is bound to ramp up and change within Agent Carter. Most everyone is finally starting to treat Peggy as an equal (as much as a woman can be treated as equal in the ’50s), while a few are closing in on the truth of her double agent life. As far as a teaser episode goes, “The Iron Ceiling” does a great job setting everything up. Even her weird former (current?) Black Widow housemate Dottie is doing something fishy the entire episode that will surely pay off in the coming weeks. Agent Carter is destined to be a short ride unless a miracle occurs and we’re granted a second season, but I for one can’t wait to see what’s in store in the last three episodes.
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