Agent Carter is back and, somehow, even more sure of itself after a solid first season. What’s interesting is that the first two episodes of this second season, “The Lady in the Lake” and “A View in the Dark,” offer a flurry of new developments without making it seem as if everything has changed. Nothing feels different, even when everything looks different, and the opening episodes of the second season play with this expectation to devastating effect.
Agent Carter is now a show that’s very aware of its impact, and “The Lady in the Lake” is an exceptionally sleek episode, answering our questions and offering interesting developments with a rapidity bordering on the manipulative. We see Dottie immediately, for example, and it should be enough that she’s alive and capering. And it is, but also she’s now obsessed with Peggy, and Bridget Regan’s mirroring of Hayley Atwell is a treat to behold. She wants to be Peggy, but also she wants to be chased by Peggy, because only Peggy will do. Peggy is life, Peggy is world, Peggy is ALL. Peggy Peggy Peggy. Later on in the episode, silly Jack Thompson tries to fill the void left by Peggy’s transfer to a different plotline, but ends up trapped under a table in about two seconds. The entire sequence borders on the meta, lacking only Dottie uttering the line “This show is titled Agent Carter, Jack.” It’s good to have Dottie back. Also, it’s good to see that she’s evolving into a Joker/Deadpool-style nemesis for Peggy.
In essentially the same sequence we also find out that the esteem that Peggy earned from the SSR at the end of season one has not gone away. In fact, it has only intensified. Peggy is a sensibly-heeled legend in the bureau now (which tracks well with her eventual founding of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The show could rest on this revelation alone, but it makes an effort to point out that Peggy is just as uncomfortable with adoration as she is with being underestimated. Now Peggy is relied upon to fix everything, and in between moments of Peggy being confident in her obvious greatness, Atwell lets escape terrible and sighs. Even though Peggy has traded obscurity for a pedestal, she’s still considered as an Other, as something separate from the men of the SSR. And she’s still expected to do all the work.
We have a couple more questions about Peggy’s return this season. Namely, what’s up with her and Sousa, and where’s Jarvis? The show wastes no time tackling this, as well. Not only is Sousa now chief of the SSR’s new west coast branch, but he and Peggy Carter attempted a relationship in between seasons! This was a twist I wasn’t expecting, but I adore the producers and showrunners for jumping here. I’m not sure why, but asking why Peggy and Sousa didn’t work out is a far more interesting question than wondering if either will admit to their attraction. Possibly because the first question has a definitive answer, and when we’ve only got eight episodes per season, definition is key.
Sousa and Jack kick off the season by summoning/tricking Peggy into helping Sousa with an investigation in Los Angeles and oh, look, here’s Jarvis to drive her from the airport! He’s been so bored without Peggy that he’s positively bouncing when he first sees her. He wants adventures and procuring flamingos for Howard Stark just isn’t cutting it, even though the flamingo consistently thwarts Jarvis at every turn.
You guys, Jarvis is so great.
As is his wife Anna, who we finally see and who immediately threatens to steal the show, dubious accent not withstanding.
She later makes Peggy a garter holster, just because. Worth stealing a plane for, that one. (Also, look, at the end of “A View in the Dark,” you can see that there’s a statue of a plane on the Jarvis’ sideboard Agent Carter stop feelings I CAN’T.)
About 25 minutes in “The Lady in the Lake” remembers that as fun as these reunions are, the plot has to kick off at some point. Peggy is asked to come to L.A. because one of its ponds froze over in the middle of a heat wave and also there’s the body of a girl in that ice and oof, the show is pretty light and fun but the visual of the Girl Who Refuses to Thaw is exceptionally disturbing.
We eventually find out that the girl is Jane Scott, a particle physicist at Isodyne Energy who was having an affair with Calvin Chadwick, the president of the company. Chadwick is married to actress Whitney Frost, and at first it seems as if Frost has killed her husband’s mistress with…frost. Especially since Ms. Frost has temper flare-ups from time to time.
Whitney’s name is just a coincidence, however. It turns out that Isodyne has discovered something they’re calling “zero matter,” a substance which has a seemingly endless capacity for absorbing energy and also, anything.
Chadwick is now of interest to a secret cabal of people who love manipulating society to their own ends, which includes scoring free drinks and engineering the Great Depression. We don’t find out much about them. Just that they think zero matter is a dead end, that they wear the same lapel pin that Dottie was trying to steal from a bank early on in the episode, that Ray Wise is one of them, and that they like putting out candles with their hands. I’m just going to call them the Candlestick Cabal from now on.
Whitney Frost knows about the zero matter and super duper wants it. (Although her connection to it is yet to be explained.) By the end of “A View in the Dark,” Peggy Carter’s after the zero matter as well, and it’s all thanks to Peggy’s new friend Professor Handsome.
I mean…Jason Wilkes, Plasma Physicist at Isodyne Energy.
Jason is interesting in that he represents an aspect of Agent Carter‘s world that the show is not all that interested in: science. Sure, Peggy and Stark and the rest of the cast have to constantly stop the spread of insane macguffins, but the job of explaining the macguffins (with science!) has always been portrayed by lab-coated bumblers. The show hangs a lampshade on this in “The Lady in the Lake,” when an SSR scientist reallllllly extends his scene by pouting that he’s never included in the SSR’s office functions, but other than that scene, Agent Carter‘s second season still seemingly pushes the scientists to the background.
Wilkes seems as if he may change this, but his story is actually more about his place in the world than it is about the work that he’s doing. It’s a fascinating thwarting of expectation for the viewer. We assume that we’ll learn more about zero matter and otherworldly realms, but instead Agent Carter uses Wilkes to explore the different ways that Peggy and Jason experience the same world.
Issues of race didn’t come up at all in the first season, but they’re the strongest part of the second season episode “A View in the Dark.” The plot itself is perfunctory. There’s a bad macguffin, Peggy’s gotta get it, the bad guys chase her, etc. In between that, though, is Peggy and Jason going on a date, relating their histories to one another, and encountering the various everyday barriers created by those who judge Jason based on the color of his skin. Although it is brief, for a moment Jason gets Peggy to understand how racial inequality supports and encourages the world-shattering evil that she is trying to stop. Jason wants to help Peggy, but Isodyne is literally the only place that will employ him. No other company will hire a black scientist. Morally, his loyalty is to Peggy. Realistically, his loyalty has to be to the only company that will give him work. This is how the Candlestick Cabal-joining Chadwick uses racial inequality to do harm, by placing good people like Wilkes into positions between him and the authorities.
Peggy seems to realize this, and becomes positively murderous at the very next person (a donut salesman) who treats Wilkes like something lesser. Peggy not only knows her own value, she is adept at judging the intrinsic value of others. Jason Wilkes clearly lives up to Peggy’s high standards, and for a brief moment, Peggy allows herself to find comfort, to be attracted, to someone else.
The first two episodes of Agent Carter‘s second season expertly blends reunions and updates on the established characters, while pushing them swiftly into new developments. It comes as a shock, then, when Wilkes is seemingly killed at the end of “A View in the Dark.” Not only because his character is featured so heavily in the new season, but because it puts Peggy right back where she was at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. Steve Rogers died shortly after Peggy admitted her feelings and finally kissed him. And Wilkes dies in very much the same manner.
This parallel scrambles Peggy, who was already having some difficulty adjusting to the adoration and trust she receives from the SSR. Steve is gone, the SSR relies on her. Even psychopaths like Dottie want to be her. Shouldn’t things be different now?
- Back in New York, Kurtwood Smith is telling Drinkin’ Jack Thompson that the FBI will be dissolving the SSR. It sounds like Peggy may not have a job by the end of the season. Though we all know how she fixes that particular problem.
- “Don’t Fence Me In” was a mainstream hit of Roy Rogers’ in 1944, so much so that a cover of his cover was a hit in 1945. Its presence on Jarvis’ radio in 1947 seems quite appropriate. I wonder if the presence of the Roy Rogers version over Cole Porter or Ella Fitzgerald’s versions of the song is foreshadowing of Wilkes’ storyline?
- Peggy sneaks in a VERY unflattering comment about Howard Stark during the drive from the airport. Jarvis likens Stark to Cecil B. DeMille, a famous silent filmmaker turned industrialist, while Peggy likens Stark to Fatty Arbuckle, a silent film star who…had his life destroyed by being falsely and publicly accused of rape in the 1920s. (His films remain largely destroyed as a result.)
- Anna Jarvis shares her name with Anna Jarvis, the woman credited with inventing Mother’s Day. The real Anna Jarvis would still exist in the 1947 time frame of Agent Carter‘s second season, and judging from her biography linked above, the real Anna Jarvis could very much use rescuing.
- Zero matter acts a lot like Ice9 from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, published in 1963. If the show manages to sneak in a young Vonnegut being inspired by the events of this season, I will die.
- How does the only white guy in the bar in “A View in the Dark” escape Peggy’s notice?
Chris Lough writes about fantasy and superheroes for Tor.com and is Team Dottie 2016. He has a website, okay.