The folks behind Agent Carter have been smart about how they parcel out information. Take the character of Dr. Ivchenko (Ralph Brown). We first met him as a prisoner that Peggy (Hayley Atwell) rescued back in Episode 5. He seemed like a harmless old man. Last episode, however, we discovered he was in league with Leviathan and its killer agent Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan). Now, in Episode 7, Ivchenko reveals himself to be a full-on super villain.
We begin back in 1943. (I like how the last few episodes have begun with flashbacks, another nice way of giving us little breadcrumbs to follow in a story with a lot of twists and turns.) We see Ivchenko on the frontlines with the Russian army. The medics have run out of morphine, and they come to Ivchenko because they hear that he can alter the state of people in pain. What we discover in this sequence, which is nicely done, is that the good (actually bad) doctor can control minds, sweeping people away into alternate states, so that a solider having his leg sawed off smiles happily because he thinks he’s sitting next to a river talking to his beloved mother.
After the flashback we leap forward to find Peggy in trouble at the SSR. Busted as a double agent, she’s interrogated by her boss Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham), Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), and Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). The boys try to sweat her down for information, but Carter parries all their attempts and turns the interrogation into a referendum on her place in the agency. Asked how she could have done what she did, she tells them, “I’ve never been more than what each of you has created.” As a woman in all male environment, she’s been shuffled into different fantasy roles, and she confronts each man with his fantasy. Dooley: “To you I’m a stray kitten left on your doorstep to be protected.” To Thompson: “The secretary turned damsel in distress.” Sousa: “The girl on the pedestal transformed into some daft whore.” This nicely brings together all the strains of sexism Carter has faced so far in the series, and for the first time everyone is forced to confront each other on equal footing.
It’s also nice to see Jarvis (James D’Arcy) return to form. He shows up and attempts to rescue Peggy by forging a confession by Howard Stark. It’s a goofy plan to be sure, but D’Arcy is as dry and likable as ever. His chemistry with Hayley Atwell, moreover, is the most charming part of this show. If Agent Carter goes to a second season, it’s unthinkable without the sparring of Jarvis and Carter.
It’s a long established fact that a superhero tale is only as good as its villains. After the opening episodes, where Peggy beat down a parade of pretty indiscriminate thugs, Agent Carter has given us two entertaining bad guys. You have the mastermind Ivchenko and the scary-but-sympathetic henchman Dottie. Things really start cranking up when Dr. Ivchenko and Dottie put their plan in motion. The doc starts doing mind games on Dooley, and Dottie fends off an attempted arrest by the SSR boys.
As Dottie, Bridget Reganis simply terrific. Dottie toggles between sweet and sharp, between cuddly and creepy, depending on what the situation calls for, and Regan is great at playing it either way. The fight between Dottie and Sousa is nice and quick, and Dottie manages to whup Sousa without humiliating him in the process—though, in true superhero movie form, she doesn’t kill him (despite the fact that she’s killed just about everyone she’s ever met) because…well, because he’s a major character. (Plot armour!) She does, of course, instantly kill some other random agent. Her final escape down the atrium of a skyscraper stairwell, jumping from banister to banister like Spider-Man is a fun blast of super-powered badassery.
As fun as the Dottie stuff is (and it’s a lot of fun), the best part of the episode is the interaction between Dr. Ivchenko and Dooley. The doctor taps into Dooley’s unhappy home life, convincing him that he can return home and make things better with his estranged wife and children, if he will first help the doc steal some of the Stark weaponry being held in the SSR labs. Shea Whigham is particularly good here, and the scenes make use of his world-weariness. The scene where he thinks he’s returning home to reclaim the life that he lost long ago has genuine emotional impact.
The episode culminates with a couple of Stark weapons gone horribly wrong. First, we get Dooley strapped into an Iron Man prototype vest-turned-bomb. The chief goes out like a champ, hurling himself out a window to save his gang. Then we get a great sequence where Dr. Ivchenko and Dottie roll a gas canister disguised in a baby carriage (a creepy touch) into a movie theater. Once the gas is released everyone in the theater goes batshit. The big reveal at the end of the episode, as a movie theater employee opens the doors and discovers that everyone in the theater is dead, is a fantastic way to end an episode.
There’s an important point at the end when Dooley, before taking his celebrate leap, commissions Peggy with finding Dr. Ivchenko and Dottie. Can we see this as the moment that Agent Carter more or less takes charge of the SSR?
Things are looking good for the big finale, as Peggy and the boys try to track down Ivchenko and Dottie, and head off worse things to come from Leviathan.
Read all of Jake Hinkson's posts for Criminal Element.