It's only been a month, but already it feels as though Agent Carter has been putting us through the wringer. Our favorite war hero has been disrespected, double-crossed, and forced to feign incompetence in front of her colleagues. But last night, she finally got to show what she can do. Spoilers...
There's just something immensely satisfying and thrilling about seeing Peggy Carter finally getting her props, and it's way more gratifying after four episodes of mistreatment. "The Iron Ceiling" begins with another scene where Jarvis tries to manipulate Peggy (who's pissed about Stark lying to her) — Jarvis plays the "we respect your abilities, and your colleagues don't" card yet again. But this time, when he asks if she just plans to sit around waiting for them to appreciate her mojo, she says no — she plans to make them.
And for the rest of the episode, that's precisely what she does.
The SSR is dealing with the fallout from that long-distance communications typewriter coming to life — there's a message, which the top code-breaker from Washington can't decipher. Peggy makes short work of it, uncovering a planned meeting in Russia in 48 hours, where Howard Stark will get a handsome payment for a super-advanced reactor. Dooley orders Thompson to assemble a team to go to Russia, and Carter insists on going along — an argument she finally wins because she can deliver the Howling Commandos as their tactical team.
Carter gets more than her fair share of hazing, but once she's actually going on the mission it's clear that she's way more experienced and confident than the blustery Jack Thompson. And once she's reunited with the Howling Commandos, who clearly think of her as a valued comrade in arms, the other SSR guys start to look a bit silly for not believing in her.
By the time they actually arrive at the target location, she's already co-leading the mission, helping Thompson realize his lack of tactical smarts. (Like when he wants to split the team up into pairs.) And instead of getting everybody killed or turning out to be a millstone around the crew's necks, as they predicted back in New York, she pretty much saves the entire crew when the mission inevitably goes pear-shaped.
When Peggy gets back to New York, she's the hero of the hour, getting some rare praise from Dooley and an invite to go drinking with Thompson and the gang. (So of course, you know it's not going to last.)
The biggest surprise this week is delving into the cocky, jerktastic Agent Thompson, who's been one of the biggest thorns in Peggy Carter's side since she joined the SSR. He's a war hero with a Navy Cross, and a tough-as-nails, can-do, man's man. Except once he's back in the field, when he suddenly reveals he hasn't jumped out of a plane apart from eight practice jumps. And he's not quite as blustery, next to the genuinely larger-than-life Howling Commandos.
Turns out Jack Thompson got his medal for shooting six Japanese soldiers who sneaked into his camp in the middle of the night and nearly slit the C.O.'s throat — only, by the end of the episode, we find out that's not how it happened at all. In fact, the Japanese soldiers were carrying a white flag, and hoping to surrender. When Thompson realized his mistake, he buried the white flag and pretended it was a sneak attack.
And when shit goes really crazy, and their team is trapped under attack from Russian troops, Thompson freezes and can't handle the danger — or the guilt, one or the other. Carter is forced to pull Thompson's fat out of the fire while also taking down a shit-ton of Russian soldiers single-handed.
(And of course, Thompson, who taunted Sousa that not everybody needs a shoulder to cry on, turns out to need a shoulder to cry on.)
This show continues to do really interesting things with war-time trauma as a flipside of the big, impressive legends represented by Captain America, and by the Howling Commandos. A lot of the dysfunctional behavior seems to come back to people trying to live up to their own legends, while also coping with hideous experiences they can't process in a postwar world.
Dooley goes digging
And meanwhile, Thompson's SSR boss apparently gets tired of being led by the nose this week, and starts digging for the truth about Howard Stark and the Russian organization Leviathan. Dooley keeps getting phone calls from the Vice President at home, asking when they'll capture Stark — but Dooley still has enough integrity to see a possible set-up.
So Dooley goes drinking with a journalist who fills in some of the gaps about the Battle of Finow, that massacre where a bunch of Russians were killed. Turns out Howard Stark objected to something the U.S. military wanted to do with whatever killed all those people — so much so, that Stark punched a general and got in a huge fist-fight. And then severed all ties with the Army.
Dooley has enough doubts about Stark's guilt that he reaches out to Jarvis and asks him about the Finow incident — which Jarvis apparently knows nothing about. And Dooley offers to listen to Stark's side of the story, if Stark wants to contact him.
When Carter's team comes back with a Russian doctor and some Stark plans, but no sign that Stark was ever in Russia or ever worked with Leviathan, Dooley continues to question the story they've been following up to now. It seems a bit convenient that Dooley is suddenly having an open mind, but it's also cool that Carter's colleagues aren't portrayed as totally incompetent meatheads.
What was the mission about?
I'm still unclear on what was going on here — hopefully, we'll find out more next week. Was the meeting in Russia a set-up? Or a trap? We know (or at least we think we know) that Stark isn't a traitor, so why did Leviathan mention Stark by name in their typewritten message, if not as part of an effort to trick the SSR?
And if this was just a trap for the SSR fighters, why was it such a sloppy one? The message leads Peggy and her team to a facility where Leviathan trained girls to go undercover as spies in the United States (more on that in a moment.) They find one young girl, who stabs "Dum Dum" Dugan and fatally shoots another Commando. Then they find a cell, where the aforementioned Russian doctor is looking after a supergenius scientist, Nikolai, who turns out not to be very smart when the chips are down.
It's unclear why Leviathan would lure Carter's team to this facility, letting them see all this stuff and discover possible proof of Stark's innocence along with the secret plans to a super-bomb. The only thing I can think of is that the Russian doctor, who seems awfully eager to go with Carter and Thompson back to New York, might be a plant.
Dottie Underwood's dark past
And yes, the facility in Russia that the SSR and the Howling Commandos sneak into is the Red Room, where girls are trained to be undercover assassins — and this is the beginning of the program that eventually creates Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow from the movies.
At the start of the episode, we see Dottie Underwood's training, which involves being handcuffed to the bed, reciting dialogue along with Snow White, and fighting to the death — killing another girl, whom Dottie had shared a precious bread roll with not long earlier. This makes it especially creepy in the present day, when Dottie likewise offers to share her roll with Peggy.
Peggy gets a pretty good look at the facility, including the cuffs, the weird American movies, and one of the inmates — probably enough to figure out what they're doing there.
And meanwhile, Dottie keeps busy. She steals Peggy's keys and sneaks into Peggy's room. She doesn't find the hidden vial of Steve Rogers' blood, but she does find some photos of stolen Stark tech (one of which she keeps). And as she goes through Peggy's stuff and pauses with the photo of Captain America, she seems to get kind of Single White Female about imitating Peggy in the mirror.
And then when Dottie goes to bed, she cuffs herself to her own bedpost, because once you get used to sleeping in handcuffs, it's hard to sleep any other way.
Sousa figures out the truth
And finally, just as Peggy is getting the respect of her colleagues at last, she's about to be exposed as a traitor. Sigh. Sousa catches sight of Peggy's bare shoulder in the locker room, thanks to one of Thompson's dumber pranks, and notices some telltale wounds — which match those on the mystery blonde in the photos he's been studying. (The one who was the last person to see that arms dealer alive, back in the first episode.)
By the end of the episode, Sousa seems pretty sure that Peggy Carter was the mystery woman — but he's kind of an insomniac wreck, maybe because he doesn't want to turn in his only friend at the SSR. Still, judging from the previews for next week's episode, it looks like he gets over his hesitation pretty soon.
Which only makes sense — we should have known that Carter can't catch a break for too long.