Darkness Closes In. Agent Carter: “The Life of the Party” / “Monsters”

Peggy Carter is a highly capable individual, a boxer who just won’t stay down, but this season has been particularly trying on the super agent. Her resources are dwindling, her enemies always seem one step ahead, and she’s dealing with a power that looks increasingly impossible to contain.

In this week’s sort of two-parter: “The Life of the Party” and “Monsters,” Peggy doggedly makes one final valiant effort. But the darkness has already won.

Our theme is visualized in the very first scene of “Life of the Party.” Jason Wilkes has apparently put on the One Ring and is now waiting for Sauron’s eye to bubble up.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

He comes back to the real world, because as we all know the temptation doesn’t become overwhelming until you get to Mount Doom, and Peggy asks if Wilkes could be solid again if he was able to absorb some of the zero matter that Whitney’s been making. He thinks yes, then he’d have enough mass to be able to building himself a prison cell containment unit where he could be solid all the time and, yes, the implications of this have been well thought through by the episode’s writers. Well thought through.

While both of these episodes have some very lovely moments, they’re overall very rickety in terms of how they use (or don’t use) what the viewer already knows. Conclusions are arrived at because the plot demands it. And some scenes play out as if the character speaking doesn’t know what other characters are also present in the room. Wilkes’ “containment unit” storyline is one example of this. The character represents a very specific racial viewpoint on the timeframe that Agent Carter exists within, and so far that viewpoint has been sidelined. To make Wilkes central to the story again by having him build his own prison cell essentially doubles down on the obliviousness that sidelined the character’s viewpoint in the first place. Why would Peggy suggest this as a solution to Wilkes? Or at least, why would she bring it up without wondering over the implications? Because the plot demands that the episode set up their goal and move on. This is a small frayed thread in the episode’s tapestry, but it’s not the only one, and by the end of “Monsters” there are so many of these eyebrow-raising moments that the two-parter’s overall darkness just ends up feeling manipulative.

That darkness propels the events of the two-parter, raising Whitney up and casting Peggy down in a variety of ways. Cal has arranged for Whitney to meet with the Council so that she can ask them to help with her plans to make more zero matter. Whitney is super excited but, of course, the viewer knows that Cal is just setting her up. “Life of the Party” actually spends a lot of time re-building our sympathy for Whitney. Sure, she’s kind of mean and has eaten some guys, but only really bad guys, not innocents, and she’s really only mean to Cal, who obviously deserves it. This is the Marvel Universe, so we want to cast Whitney as the villain, but hold on, slow down says “Life of the Party,” it’s not that simple. Whitney isn’t the bad guy here. Yet.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

Back at Stark HQ, Peggy limps down to the lab where it appears Sousa has been sleeping after being dumped by Violet also WOW, Peggy, doesn’t that skirt hurt like hell the way it’s squeezing your rebar-punctured abdomen? Anyway, she tells Sousa that she wants to make a smoothie out of Whitney Frost so Wilkes can absorb her zero matter blood and become stable and Sousa just looks wistfully out the window and mutters, “Violet liked to turn people into smoothies… it was out favorite thing we did together…”

They need Whitney’s blood, but Whitney knows what all of the look like now. Peggy’s been lucky to build a support network out of the remnants of the SSR and Clan Jarvis, but she’s already called upon more than that network feels comfortable offering. Peggy reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this way, in that show’s latter seasons where Buffy asked more and more of the people around her, seemingly without gratitude, then getting surprised and frustrated when they broke. Peggy can’t even move, she pops open her stitches just sitting up later on in the episode, and is similarly frustrated and desperate. She has one really bad idea left to explore: Freeing Dottie.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

In prison, Dottie promptly sherlocks Peggy based on her disguise and wounds and knows that Peggy is there to ask her for her help. It’s a rickety justification, there because the plot demands that Dottie agree to help Peggy immediately, but in this case it works, thanks to the insane chemistry between Dottie and Peggy, plus Dottie’s pre-established capabilities. There are thematic parallels pushing the plot here, as well. Peggy is a highly capable individual, but she’s been brought low by her wounds, so she brings on someone who is just as capable, but not as trustworthy. In her desperation, Peggy unleashes “Dark Peggy.”

Dottie is off-the-charts happy about all of this. Following the escape plan that Peggy lays out for her, her glee only briefly rattled when she gets outside and Sousa shoots her with a net. Dottie’s face is understandably WTF, but we know better. It’s not a net. It’s a taser! The SSR loves tasers.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

Dottie wakes up to the sound of her hair getting did and Jarvis pretending that he can use nunchuks. She’s given her mission by Peggy, meets Wilkes for the first time, and discovers that he’s a ghost. Dottie is immediately suspicious. There’s a lot more going on here than she knows, and you can feel her trying to figure out how to twist it all to her advantage.

The team’s target is a fundraiser for Cal at The Fancy Man Hotel (I forget the actual name). Peggy and Sousa sit in the conspicuous van ever outside the hotel, listening in on the mission, which is being undertaken by Jarvis and Dottie. Dottie spots Cal and Whitney, but also spots Wandrin’ Jack Thompson nipping around the heels of Vernon Masters. Jarvis makes the mistake of looking to his left for a split second and Dottie takes off, scampering behind Vernon as he robble-robble-robbles at Listenin’ Jack Thompson.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

As if getting pick-pocketed by Dottie wasn’t enough, Vernon then summons Roxxon chief Hugh Jones to curse Jack out for Peggy’s theft of the uranium rods in the last episo…hey, actually, where did that uranium GO, anyway? Did they leave it at Violet’s house?

Anyway, Vernon tells Managin’ Jack Thompson that he’s pretty sure Peggy and her support network took the uranium, and to fire Peggy right now please. Jack responds by going to get more whiskey which, honestly, is a very apt response when the dad from That 70’s Show tells you to do something weird.

A random blonde woman at the bar tells Jack to smile, and before we can appreciate the casual flipping of a common gendered form of harassment, Jarvis pops in to distract Jack while Dottie confronts Whitney. Perceptive Jack Thompson isn’t fooled, and cottons immediately to the fact that if Jarvis is there, Peggy probably is too, so Jarvis pulls out his only true weapon: shamin’ Jack Thompson. Jarvis calls Chadwick his “employer,” which makes Jack mad, and we finally find out that Jack is probably, maybe, actually seduced by the promise-of-political-power that Vernon and Cal have offered him.

Dottie bangs into Whitney in the ladies room, gets the blood, and uses the altercation to rid herself of the listening device Peggy put on her. She then hastily sneaks into a cabinet to watch Whitney’s meeting with the Council. Frost goes full crazy eyes, intones a deep “Observe,” takes out a rat, and eats it in front of the Council. The show goes down about as well as you’d expect, and the Council gives the nod to Cal. With a final “Darling, you were perfect,” Cal calls for two goons to noose Whitney up like she’s a friggin’ velociraptor and again we feel so, so sorry for Whitney.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

It’s a jarring scene, and it’s supposed to be, because if the Council isn’t holding back then Whitney isn’t going to hold back either. She eats the goons who are noosing her, then half the Council, with barely a crack in her veneer. Then finally…FINALLY…she eats Cal. The remaining Council members get the point: Whitney is in charge now.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

The fundraiser goes haywire after that. Vernon finds Dottie in the chambers and sends goons after her, which only gives Dottie an opportunity to take them out while looking awesome in an evening gown.

Agent Carter Life of the Party

One of the goons’ bodies is tossed out a window onto the van that Peggy and Sousa are in, interrupting an almost-kiss between the two. Meanwhile, Suddenly Jack Thompson actually manages to knock Dottie out, although he unknowingly leaves behind the vial of Whitney’s blood. Jarvis secures it but Peggy isn’t happy. She wants Dottie back, too. Sousa and Jarvis are a little surprised. While the evening didn’t go as planned, this is essentially a victory. There was always a 50/50 chance Dottie was going to escape anyhow. It’s clear that Peggy is starting to get a little Ahab-y, letting her obsessions unravel her victories.

This isn’t the only thing Peggy is blind to now. When they bring the vial back to Wilkes, he notices that Sousa is now sweet on Peggy, and that she seems more openly receptive to it. This face promptly happens:

Agent Carter Life of the Party

In the aftermath of the fundraiser debacle, Vernon blames Jack for letting Peggy go rogue, which resulted in the Council’s destruction and Dottie’s rampage. It’s not a logical accusation, and again it’s the episode dictating the plot to us instead of letting it grow naturally through the characters, but for the most part it works, because we know Vernon has been manipulating Jack from the start, and will say anything to further his dominion over Supplicatin’ Jack Thompson, regardless of its veracity. Vernon now wants Peggy utterly discredited and disgraced. Jack is hesitant, though, and Vernon surmises that Peggy knows a secret or two about Jack. That’s fine, Vernon says. That just means that Disgracin’ Jack Thompson’s first step is to dig up some dirt on Peggy.

Jack promptly leaves for New York, but stops by the Stark mansion on his way to…warn Peggy? Threaten Peggy? It’s unclear. Agent Carter is playing a long slow game with Thompson’s character. Jack obviously knows something is up. And he’s an ambitious guy, but he somehow doesn’t seem like the type to go along with Vernon. His departure for New York is another puzzler. The action is clearly in L.A. now. Why is Jack sidelining himself?

In the second episode, we jump to a press event where Whitney mournfully announces the death of her husband (boat sank off of Catalina). Peggy is there too because she’s convinced that Whitney now has possession of Dottie because…reasons? The storyline starts to fall apart here. There’s every reason for Peggy to believe that Dottie has vanished, and very little to point to Whitney kidnapping Dottie. And yet, that’s the conclusion that the plot needs Peggy to make. The two-parter makes sure to show us Dottie chained up in one of Whitney’s trunks, so that we know it’s true and Peggy isn’t crazy. It’s a fun, creepy visual, but it’s also lazy. It’s the show scrambling to cover its own mistake.

Dottie should also be the least of Peggy’s concerns at the moment, Wilkes’ restoration should be, and Wilkes basically agrees with me on this, eventually asking straight out why Peggy is prioritizing Dottie over him. Replace “Dottie” with “Sousa” and you get what Wilkes is really asking, but his question remains valid as stated, and Peggy doesn’t really have an answer.

Vernon now has Dottie, by the way, and is torturing her by telling her grandiose stories about Nazi women. He wants to know where Peggy is but Dottie is, again, too good to be swayed by run-of-the-mill torture crap. This whole scene makes me squirmy, not because of what is being depicted, but because seriously Vernon you took custody of her in the first episode how do you not know she is a Russian super spy and that your basic tactics are useless? Vernon has been a remarkably ineffective character in the show and now his character is so poorly sketched in that he doesn’t even remember the few things he has done.

Whitney goes to talk to Dottie and–OH HI KEN MARINO wait bye Ken Marino there are no small parts except this one–briefly we get a glimpse of how difficult it’s going to be to get Dottie to see Whitney as a superior power. Dottie takes her usual cat-with-mouse stance with Whitney, but the dynamic lands with a thud. The balance of power between these two is something I’ve been really looking forward to seeing, and I wish the show had explored it further before Whitney zero-mattered the notion out of Dottie’s head. Whitney quickly learns about Wilkes, her blood, and Peggy’s plan.

Agent Carter Monsters

Back at the Stark mansion it’s Feelings Time. Wilkes absorbs Whitney’s blood and gets solid enough for his containment unit to work. He and Peggy share a hesitant kiss while Ana and Jarvis talk about the increasing violence of his adventures with Peggy. (Jarvis can’t really deny that, as he’s just blown up a portion of the front yard for no reason.) It’s a weird talk, though. Ana seems to have done most of her processing of her worries offscreen, and even through Jarvis’ assurances, her worry over him does not lessen.

Peggy and Jarvis head off to Whitney’s house to get Dottie back, as Dottie’s transponder has been reactivated. It proves Peggy right, but that, if anything, only makes Peggy more and more reckless in her pursuit of Dottie. They get captured immediately upon their arrival and after a vigorous de-manacling competition with Dottie, the three of them realize that although they knew they were walking into a trap, the point of that trap wasn’t to capture Peggy, it was to get them away from Wilkes.

Peggy has no time to process how incapable she has made herself. The only person left with Wilkes is Ana. And now it’s Jarvis’ turn to go into Beast Mode.

Agent Carter Monsters

Whitney wanders into the lab containing Wilkes and attempts to absorb him. It doesn’t quite work, on account of Wilkes being more zero matter than normal matter, and he’s able to exert the zero matter into resisting the attraction to itself. This just makes Whitney more excited and she asks Wilkes to join her. He refuses, and she almost literally plays the race card, pointing out how marginalized the both of them have been made, even though they are clearly smarter and more powerful. For a moment, it seems as if Agent Carter‘s sidelining of Wilkes has been leading up to this. For a moment.

But it’s too late. We’ve seen too many frayed threads in the tapestry of these episodes and we know that Whitney is just monologuing. Wilkes is still a plot device, to be carried around (literally, in this case, hi again there Ken Marino) wherever he is needed.

Ana, of course, tries to stop them from taking Wilkes, and Whitney permanently crosses the line into villainy by brutally shooting her in the stomach.

Agent Carter Monsters

In the end, Whitney has Wilkes, Dottie escapes, Sousa gets the crap randomly beat out of him, Vernon is in charge of the SSR, and Ana clings to life in the hospital. Jarvis and Peggy wait as the darkness closes in and a brutal two-parter comes to an unmerciful close.

Agent Carter Monsters

 

Thoughts:

  • There is a wonderful scene before the ending where Peggy reveals that she is baffled that good men are attracted to her. Jarvis becomes instantly fatherly and gently points out the shining qualities of her personality–not her looks!–that her suitors see in her. It’s such a nice scene that it almost doesn’t belong in this episode.
  • At the beginning of “Life of the Party” Whitney is muttering to something unseen, just as Wilkes interacts with unseen cracks in reality. Are Whitney and Wilkes just pawns of two warring personalities within the zero matter?
  • I got curious about whether that blood-extraction vial would actually work and learned way too much about venipuncture while writing this.
  • “The decadence in this place is truly repulsive.” So is Dottie a class warrior? Really against capitalism? It’s so hard to tell.
  • Vernon drops some important follow-up from the events last season. Dottie is an embarrassment to Stalin and can never return to Russia.
  • Jack asks Peggy if he knows a “Docterrr Catherine Wexlerrrr”. A follow-up for later, or a bit of Peggy’s history that I’m forgetting?
  • If this show had lightsabers, there would be constant lightsaber duels.
  • Jarvis’ retort of “Unsafe!” to Peggy. I want this gif.

 

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