Another episode and another baby step in the right direction. This series, Agent Carter has truly become like Agents of SHIELD in that it is not bad but it is not something memorable. The episodes are solid and there is nothing that makes them truly unenjoyable but I have yet to see one this series that I would find myself watching again (apart from the purpose of writing a review). This episode has done nothing to change that. It is better than last week’s outing, but only barely, and hence it still remains solidly average. This was fine last year when all we had was the terrible first series of Agents of SHIELD to compare to, but it is not good enough anymore, not when you have better shows on Netflix. It is not even that the show is worse than it was last series, if anything, its first three episodes are stronger than its previous outing. >aybe it will build up to something amazing, Jessica Jones-style. However, even this episode is less good than the weakest Jessica Jones one, and unless the next episodes kick things into high gear this series is going to disappoint.
This episode saw the return of Howard Stark, who never ceases to be one of the high points of the show. It was great to see him again and he brought his own signature brand of humour to the show. Just like Tony Stark, Howard can appear uninterested and self-motivated, but he has a good heart and knows when to act serious and pull his weight for the team. This episode showed that very well. Especially when he used his pool party to allow Peggy to infiltrate the Arena Club, and then when it was discovered Wilkes was alive he stepped up to try and make him visible for a while. He also was able to comment on the excellent dynamic between Peggy and Jarvis. Given that he is no longer a fugitive from justice he can play a different role this series. He can either be someone who looks in and contributes to the work that our heroes do, or he can just observe how they interact, almost being a stand-in for the audience. One can see that Howard Stark is not a lesser version of his son, he is just as capable, just as able to be Iron Man, to be a superhero, and while he does not choose that path, or has never been forced into it, he is just as noble as any Avenger. Seeing him this way works because it shows that even Tony Stark, who had to nearly die to abandon his irresponsible life, would have found it in him to be a good man either way. Howard Stark brings most episodes up and it would be great to see more of him.
I also liked seeing the effects of that Zero Matter McGuffin on both Wilkes and Whitney. Both of them seem to have had different reactions, with Wilkes becoming invisible and intangible and Whitney having the ability to absorb people into her. Once again we know very little about the Zero Matter. What is it? How does it work? Why do these people have different reactions? Why did it freeze people solid? What it does is actually add something unnatural to the mix and it gives the show a different feel to series one, which was decidedly superpower free. Series one was about Peggy establishing herself in a post-war, and post-Captain America world. Series two is clearly about the new threats that humanity faces and it is going to have a different feel. Agent Carter is a good show because it can shift between threats and have different themes. This time it is looking forward, rather than back and with the established characters they can confront threats like this Zero Matter.
Finally, I want to give this episode props for actually doing comedy properly. For once the scenes that were meant to be funny were funny and were not out of place (and thankfully that bloody flamingo was nowhere in sight). The scene at the cowboy movie worked really well and established Howard Stark, who seems to be able to pull off comedy at the same time as driving the plot forward. The entire joke about a film based off of comics worked because it was Marvel laughing at themselves, which is good humour, as was the scene of the girls invading the Arena Club. This is how good comedy works, when it advances the plot, rather than stops it altogether. The movie scene was funny but it was also relevant to how Peggy was going to see Howard. The Arena Club scenes were funny but they also were allowing Peggy to find out more about the Council and try to bug them. That worked a lot better than stopping the plot and telling us to laugh.
The major criticism I have for this episode was how Thompson behaved. He seemed to have fully regressed to his series one self, not taking Peggy seriously just because she was a woman. I know that he is under pressure from that FBI person, but series one demonstrated that he was fundamentally a good person who would throw in his lot with the right side when push came to shove. We spent all of series one seeing him change his view towards Peggy and become a better person for it. This episode seemed to throw that out the window, where he flatly distrusted Peggy, claiming that her feelings for Wilkes were distracting her judgement, and not learning that she is usually right. This is bad writing and also it seems to turn Peggy into a bit of a Mary Sue, where she sees the problems and no one else does. For Peggy to be a real character we need the others to step up and also pick out issues, rather than have her just be the one who does everything. It worked in series one, where she was proving that she was as good as everyone else, and even then people like Sousa and Dooley figured out other aspects of the plot as well, but now, when everyone recognises how clever she is, it would be nice for her not to be a Mary Sue that only Sousa sees the value of.