On its eighth and final episode of the season, “Valediction,” Agent Carter comes to something of an awkward conclusion. In many respects, the show does a workmanlike job of bringing its first season to a close. It wraps up its main storyline, leaves several interesting ends dangling tantalizingly loose, and drops a big revelation in the last scene. But it also makes a couple of odd little missteps… and one big mistake.
I’ll get to all that in a second, but first a quick catch-up: when we last left the intrepid Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) she was searching for the evil Russian scientist Dr. Ivchenko (Ralph Brown) and his lethal assassin sidekick Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan). They’d just unleashed a gas canister that made a movie theater full of people kill each other.
Turns out the gas was another Howard Stark invention, called Midnight Hour, that he’d developed for the military. The gas was supposed to help keep soldiers awake, but instead it makes people psychotic. Ivchenko blames Stark for the deaths of a town full of Russian soldiers who were exposed to the gas by a rogue general. Now he kidnaps Stark (Dominic Cooper) and brainwashes him into thinking that he can save Captain America by flying a planeload of the gas into Times Square.
This all leads up to a couple of dueling storylines, as Peggy faces off with Dottie while the boys capture the doctor. The showdown between Peggy and Dottie is fun, but it’s intercut with the guys grabbing Ivchenko. This kind of intercutting is common in movie and TV shows, of course, but here it doesn’t quite work. We get the battle royale between Peggy and Dottie in bits and pieces, and it ends up being good without being great. You know how in a movie, the good guy and the villain have a fight at about the halfway mark of the film—usually resulting in a draw—and then have a big fight at the end to resolve everything? This feels like the fight in the middle. The fact that Dottie escapes at the end, setting up her return in a possible second season, contributes to the feeling that their fight was more of a placeholder than a climax. “I thought you’d be better,” Dottie tells Peggy. We all kind of thought the fight would be better, too.
The show ties things up with a scene of Howard giving Peggy back the vial of Steve’s blood. I have to admit that ever since the blood subplot has come up, I’ve been a little grossed out. I mean, it’s blood. Blood is gross. So it’s odd to see it used here in the show’s big romantic finish, with Peggy pouring out the blood over the side of a bridge as the soundtrack warbles “The Way You Look Tonight.” I mean…it’s blood. Hard to make a vial of blood romantic.
Toward the end of the episode, Agent Carter makes a mighty misstep. After all the dust is settled, Peggy returns to work. The boys welcome her back with the kind of slow-building applause that only happens on TV. After some pleasantries are exchanged, smiles all around, the delegation of a US Senator shows up. Senator Blowhard congratulates…Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) on saving the city, telling everyone in the room that American needs more men like him. Jack blushes, trades knowing glances with Peggy, and accepts the praise. Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is outraged that Peggy, who has saved New York City two or three times in the last couple of months, has been overlooked.
Peggy tells him not to worry about it. “I know my own worth,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
Which is 100% bullshit.
Agent Carter has spent eight episodes dancing around questions about gender. As I’ve pointed out a couple of times, the dance has been a little clumsy. Here, it finally trips over its feet and lands on its face. If we were supposed to see Peggy’s decision to let her value go unacknowledged as some sort of sacrifice then the scene might have weight, but there’s no sacrifice here. She’s not taking this hit for some higher cause. She’s taking it because she doesn’t think a man getting credit for what she did is anything to be upset about. Even more awkward is the inspirational spin the writers put on the scene. We’re supposed to see Peggy as empowered by the fact that she doesn’t need the validation of some random senator—which exactly the sort of thing you tell women they should feel when you want them to be quiet and go on propping up the patriarchy. It’s a weird speech to hear come out of the mouth of an aspiring female superhero. Hey, the show seems to be saying, as long as you believe in yourself, honey, that’s all that matters. Let the boys get the new office and the pay bump.
After a run of strong episodes, it’s a disappointment to see the show end on such a dumb note. As a way to close out the episode, the filmmakers wisely give all the Marvel geeks a doozy of a cliffhanger: we see Dr. Ivchenko packed off to prison where who should he find himself sharing a cell with but…Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), the mastermind who first appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger and then later popped up as the brain of a evil supercomputer in The Winter Solider.
Will the series get a second season? I hope so. Yes, it has things to fix. Hopefully, it’s done milking the Captain America connection and is ready to begin building on its own internal drama. And, yes, the filmmakers need to set down and give the gender politics of the show a nice long think.
Despite my problems with this episode, though, there’s a lot to like about Agent Carter. Hayley Atwell is a likable badass, her chemistry with Jarvis (James D’Arcy) is fun, and the show has a strong supporting cast and a steady supply of enjoyably over-the-top shenanigans. Here’s hoping that if it does come back, it will only keep getting better.
Read all of Jake Hinkson's posts for Criminal Element.