I Know My Value. Agent Carter: “Valediction”

I’m having a hard time remembering the first 30 minutes or so of the Agent Carter finale “Valediction.” The really gripping stuff, the takedown of Faustus and Dottie and the showdown between Peggy and Captain America’s emotional shadow doesn’t happen until near the end, and until that happens the show isn’t so much about Agent Carter as it is about Agent Carter’s Friend Howard.

How did we get here? Let us re-select the episode on Hulu and part the veil of time.

Oh, right. That theater full of people killed each other last week thanks to StarkTech. The SSR are ON THE CASE and Sousa immediately freaks out because there’s a baby carriage in the midst of the carnage and oh god oh god his face says, please don’t contain a torn-apart baby because I will puke. We will all puke. I want to puke just typing that.

Sousa finds the gas canister instead and takes a contrived gulp of Kill You and that’s how the SSR finds out what Stark’s nuttiest invention does. Howard himself gets wind of what happened in the theater and clutches his moustache in anguish. Just like Finow! It’s all happening AGAIN! He goes to the one organization that he knows has a shot at sorting this out: Peggy. Er, I mean, the SSR.

Agent Carter: Valediction

Then there’s a press conference to draw out Dottie and Faustus but it’s more like a press conference to draw out the SSR and Howard, as Dottie consistently stays one step ahead of the SSR and captures Howard with googly-eyed ease. She is really killin’ it in the 1940s, I gotta say. No one has been able to lay a finger on her throughout this entire series.

We flash back to six months earlier, when Dottie was Ida but was still killin’ it, this time in an evening gown. It turns out that she finagled her way into not one but two of Stark’s vaults: the small one with all the weapons and the big one with all the cars and planes and stuff.

Agent Carter: Valediction

That’s where they’re going now! Because Faustus doesn’t want to only turn the residents of New York City into murderous lunatics. (Which does not require such a complicated plan. Just build the L train. Done.) He wants Howard to be the domestic terrorist who does it. Because Faustus’ brother died at Finow, you see, and…wait… why are we just hearing about this now when we’ve had plenty of time to get to know Faustus in the last four episodes? There’s been more than one flashback to Faustus’ early days. Couldn’t our favorite hypnotist’s connection to his brother have been included in that? Anyway, Howard has to suffer just like Faustus’ brother. No, the younger brother. The one without the eyeballs.

But Howard has suffered, Howard argues. He feels guilty like all the time, bro, about how he inadvertently builds bombs and stuff when he’s just trying to invent normal things, like no-doz, or a warm jacket. He lives with the consequences every day of others, totally not him, stealing his irresponsible inventions. The only way he’s even able to live with himself is because of all the alcohol and women and fancy things that he buys with all the money people pay him to invent irresponsible weapons. There there, Faustus says, it’s okay. Why don’t you dry your eyes with these hundred dollar bills, you sweet baby-faced playboy.

Faustus’ actual plan is a little weird. He’s going to hypnotize Howard into flying a plane full of The Gas into Times Square but he does it by accusing Howard of being heartless and then focusing on the aspects of Howard that really aren’t heartless. It makes sense in a different manner to the both of them. Howard immediately fixates on Captain America, because Cap was the only invention of his that worked and that actually inserted something good into the world. Faustus doesn’t see Howard’s devotion, though. He just sees Cap as Howard’s latest justification for his irresponsibility, and urges Howard to really explore that feeling. Really go with it. Like, in a plane full of Murder Gas. (Which I originally spelled “Mardi Gras.” Close enough?)

We’re 30 minutes into the episode at this point and Peggy finally shows up in her own finale, having spent the majority of this time figuring out how Dottie tricked her yet again. To make up for lost time, she suddenly pulls double duty as Howard’s conscience (complete with kick-ass Cap shield!) and as the Person Dottie is Wailing On With a Baseball Bat.

Agent Carter: Valediction

Dottie really lets it loose during her fight with Peggy, going full Joker and proclaiming how much fun it is to just hit Peggy, you know? And how she wants to be like Peggy so maybe after this she’ll wear Peggy’s face. Why not? The world is Dottie’s oyster to systematically torture.

One of the things I appreciate about the fights in Agent Carter is how brutal and realistic they are without going overboard. The showrunners gave Peggy a very distinctive fighting style that works with her character. She goes in fast and she goes in as hard as she can, knowing that her smaller physical stature might only give her that one shot. The show also depicts Peggy as more clever than most in using her environment to her advantage. Everything in the room is a weapon for her. Peggy’s fights are believable and fun to watch, and that’s a really hard balance to strike.

The show is also very consistent about Peggy’s fighting style, and that consistency is what makes the Dottie-Peggy showdown so satisfying. Sure, they start by punching and kicking, but they move on to weapons fairly quickly. Dottie is a trained killer and so it makes sense for her to really really seem to have the upper hand. But it’s Peggy who finally lands the kill by using the room as a weapon against Dottie.

Agent Carter: Valediction

Jack and Sousa mess around with Faustus down in the hangar while Peggy tries to talk Howard into realizing that he’s flying a plane full of bad things and isn’t actually in the Arctic about to unearth Cap’s frozen body. Howard is focused on Cap as his salvation, and for Peggy to really put some weight behind her words, she has to come to the realization (and fast!) that she’s perhaps been a little too focused on Cap coming back, as well.

Agent Carter: Valediction

And that’s fine, I think. Cap is great and how are you going to move past that? But also… the world hasn’t stopped just because Cap did. And while that hasn’t initially mattered, it’s been two years and now that mourning process is preventing Howard and Peggy from moving forward with the world. So, in a way, Peggy owes Leviathan a thank you (not really) for providing just the right kind of focusing threat to get her to realize that. To get Peggy to realize her value without Cap.

Agent Carter: Valediction

The series wraps up with Peggy moving into one of Stark’s houses with Angie, with Jarvis sad that there’s no more secret spy stuff to do, and with Jack getting all the credit for stopping Leviathan. Jarvis makes mention of Howard’s distrust of all governments now, making you wonder if maybe Howard is thinking of inventing a better kind of organization. Something a little S.H.I.E.L.D.-ish….

We don’t find out. It seems like a thread to be picked up next season, should a next season occur, along with the matter of Faustus being put in the same cell as Arnim Zola. (Does anyone think about these things? Why would you put a high-ranking member of Leviathan in a cell with a high-ranking member of Hydra?)

I am totally on board with a season 2 of Agent Carter. Although Hayley Atwell made one hell of a splash in Captain America: The First Avenger as Peggy Carter, I wasn’t initially sure what could be done with an interquel series, especially when ABC, Marvel, and Disney have been struggling to realize the potential of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I am so happy to have been so immediately proven wrong by this show. Agent Carter is the perfect mix of fun, weirdness, and style that you hope for from the Marvel Universe. This show really jumps off the screen at you, daring you to look away. And while it’s not without its flaws (Peggy is offscreen for a large portion of this episode and the pacing just absolutely dies as a result) I’m sad that it’s over. I could watch a whole episode of Peggy and Angie jawing at the automat, or avoiding the Matron, or just taking a day in the city. I want to see how the Black Widow schools infiltrate the post-war world. I want to see what other women did after the war. I want to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. grows out of the SSR. I want to see Peggy discover rock and roll!

Someday, Peggy. Someday.

Agent Carter: Valediction

 

Thoughts:

  • Peggy doesn’t follow Dottie’s copious trail of blood…why?
  • Also wow did Dottie lose a lot of blood after that fall. Even if Peggy doesn’t feel like following the trail of blood, Dottie has almost certainly stumbled to the nearest emergency room. You don’t survive that kind of blood loss and blunt trauma without medical assistance.
  • I mean, story-wise, I’m all for Dottie slipping away to return as a mangled yet still highly superior assassin. Just to put that out there.
  • That hug Howard gives Jarvis is just the perfect amount of awkward. I’m interested in how Jarvis will manage to move forward after having his faith in Howard so shaken by the events of this series.
  • Peggy can date now! Or at least she feels like she could date.
  • Of course Steve’s blood ends up in the East River. What doesn’t?!
  • Next week we return with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and “Aftershocks.” Here is a hilariously overwrought trailer for the episode:

There’s something very wrong with SkyeQuakes!


Chris Lough has a creepy feeling that you’d somehow find him at the end of Dottie’s trail of blood.

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