Agent Carter: Smoke & Mirrors Recap

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By Katie Hughes, @MsKatieHughes

 

Flashbacks! Ladies! Science! Flashbacks of ladies using science! And a super surprise of an engagement! Episode 4 of Agent Carter was a wealth of character development, where we learned so much more about what caused our heroine Peggy Carter and our season 2 antagonist Whitney Frost to be the ladies we’ve come to know.

 

Episode 2×4: Smoke & Mirrors

 

2x4-smoke-and-mirrors

 

The episode begins with the sepia-toned flashback of young Margaret Elizabeth Carter — our little Peggy! — reading and acting out the story of Saint George and the Dragon, with herself in the role of Saint George.  She rescues her doll-princess, and her older brother, Michael, interrupts her to begin a good-natured scuffe over possession of her wooden sword. Their mother comes out to break it up, exasperated with Peggy and looking to clean Peggy’s dirty face. Mrs. Carter tells her that one day she’ll have to ”start behaving like a lady” — as we cut to the Peggy Carter we know in 1947, with a massive mouthful of sandwich, dripping condiments on scientific paperwork.


Peggy is, in fact, visiting Wilkes, who is still working on solving his intangibility problem. He indicates that he doesn’t have a sense of his body, which comes along with not needing food or sleep, and Peggy and Wilkes seem equally frustrated, in a non-platonic fashion, that he’s not inhabiting the corporeal realm. In the meantime, Wilkes is showing Peggy his research, which includes blueprints for a fast neutron reactor, the likes of which Whitney Frost patented, at a thousand times the power, three years before a real one was developed.

 

With the sudden “disappearance” of Whitney’s movie director, Whitney has also disappeared. Jarvis and Peggy visit her husband Chadwick’s senate campaign office, but there is no sign of her there, either. Peggy theorizes that uncovering Whitney and Chadwick’s involvement with zero matter might expose the ties to Isodyne, the Arena Club and other mysteries. As she ponders this, she notices that the man chauffeuring Chadwick has a wound on his hand matching where she shot her masked assailant in the previous episode. A phone call to Rose at the SSR uncovers the man to be Rufus Hunt, former black market profiteer, Arena Club head of security, and, as we the viewers know, an occasional fedora-wearing man who does dirty work for the Chadwicks. Jarvis proposes using the tranquilizer gun he keeps for maintaining Howard’s private animal collection on Hunt so that Peggy can kidnap and interrogate him.

 

We enter another flashback, to Broxton, Oklahoma, in 1920, where a young Whitney Frost, then known as Agnes Cully, is repairing her home radio and keeping notes on her progress. Her mother tells her to clean up the “mess,” because “Uncle Bud” is coming. It becomes clear that Agnes’ single mother is hard-pressed to keep them in their home, and Bud, of no familial relationship, is supporting the Cully family in exchange for Agnes’ mother’s attentions. Agnes is not charmed by Bud when he arrives and tells Agnes, “I bet you’re real pretty when you smile,” and asks her to smile for him (tactics, I should note, recently employed elsewhere in the MCU by Jessica Jones villain Kilgrave.)

 

Agnes, now Whitney in 1947, continues recording her scientific experiment data (in handwriting that could double as an autograph) as she tackles her zero matter contamination to music coming from the 27-year-old radio she fixed as a child.  Whitney, in her dressing room at home, has received a shipment of lab rats from Isodyne, and she is trying to determine if she can absorb the rat as zero matter in the same way that she absorbed her director.  She doesn’t have luck simply trying to will it to happen, but then hides the experiment as Chadwick enters. Chadwick is fully focused on his senate campaign, hoping bad press about Whitney’s missing director doesn’t impact him negatively, and passes along an outfit suggestion from the photographer of Life Magazine, which will be doing a photoshoot later that evening to feature the Frost-Chadwicks on the cover. Whitney keeps up appearances, but gets back to her experiments when Chadwick leaves. The rat she selects bites her, and she is then able to absorb the rat. We’re thus to deduce that Whitney can absorb living matter when she’s feeling strong emotions, presumably when she’s angry, hurt or scared. The dark matter crack on her forehead continues to enlarge with each absorption. She writes down her findings.

 

Meanwhile, Jarvis and Peggy flush Rufus Hunt out of his home. Peggy finally takes him down with two tranq darts and several punches, and Jarvis gets tranqued accidentally (“Jarvelous!”)  Upon arrival at Howard’s estate with two tranqed men in the car, Peggy finds Sousa there to tell her that her “vacation days” were approved by Thompson so she can stay in LA for the time being. Peggy is uncharacteristically not in top form trying to get Sousa to leave, and while the two try to protect each other from further implication in illegal activity, it is agreed that Sousa will help interrogate Hunt.  Hunt isn’t talking, until Peggy injects him with what she tells him is malaria, but is, in fact, a common cold.

 

The next flashback is Bletchley Park, 1940.  We find that Peggy has recently become engaged (!) after a long courtship with a man named Fred.  Peggy is called away from her fellow codebreaking ladies by her supervisor to be offered a position with the Special Operations Executive, the SOE. Peggy is very reluctant to take on field work, and she says she must discuss it with her fiance. (There’s so much real-life history going on in this scene, as well as character history! We even got a musical cue very reminiscent of the Captain America theme!)

 

Another flashback to young Agnes in Broxton, 1928. Agnes is working on the blueprints of the fast neutron reactor seen earlier in the episode, but Bud is breaking off his “arrangement” with Agnes’ mother in light of a new, younger girlfriend, leaving her some money and telling Agnes and her mother to leave their home by the next day. Agnes’ mother, angry, emotionally hurt and scared for their future, lashes out at Agnes, showing Agnes that she was not accepted to the University of Oklahoma, and that, as a girl, Agnes should give up on science and focus on her looks. This hits as a heavy message, and is immediately compared to our return to the 40s, where Whitney is still in her dressing room, ignoring a call from Chadwick and blowing off the Life Magazine cover, in light of all her lab rats having been absorbed and the dark matter crack in her forehead having enlarged even more.

 

At the interrogation, with Hunt believing he’s dying, he finally gives up his information, spouting the names Calvin Chadwick, Thomas Glouser of wall street, Hugh Jones of Roxxon, and finally naming the Council of 9, the group that meets at the Arena Club. He states that the meetings are recorded and that the SSR should get the recordings to find out what they need to know.

 

Peggy and Sousa get a warrant and set the SSR in motion to raid the Arena Club for the recordings, but are halted by Vernon Masters and an audit from the war department. Masters pulls Peggy aside for a brilliant discussion, with Peggy covering her less-than-legal source acquisition and promise to protect Hunt, and Masters veiling pointed threats to Peggy and the SSR as compliments.

 

Returning to the year 1940 for a flashback, we are in Peggy’s Hampstead home at an engagement party for her and her fiance, Fred. Peggy is sharing a drink with Fred and her brother Michael. We find that both men are involved with the war, with Michael fighting on the front lines while Fred has been in England (we could, perhaps, presume also working at Bletchley Park, or involved with other home office duties). We also see a Peggy who is not quite the Peggy we’ve known to this point — embarrassed that she can down her drink, craving the approval of others, shying from an adventurous life — and we get the impression that Peggy has been working to keep her spitfire side from Fred.  It’s jarring to see a side of Peggy that craves stability, even at her personality’s expense, though perhaps at least shows there is more to Peggy Carter than meets the eye. Michael confides in Peggy that Fred seems nice enough, but questions the match. He is disappointed that Peggy turned down the SOE job that he, in fact, recommended for her, and encourages her to rethink her choices.

 

In 1947 at the SSR, Sousa finds Peggy and tells her that the judge who issued the warrant to raid the Arena Club was in with the club, and all the evidence has been removed. Luckily, he managed to hold onto a tissue sample from Jane Scott’s body, the murder victim in the first episode. With assurance that Sousa is with Peggy until the end (of the line! Keep pulling in that Captain America reference, guys), Sousa lets Hunt “escape” with an audio surveillance bug secretly attached to Hunt’s suspenders.  

 

In a flashback to Hampstead 1940, we see Peggy trying on her wedding dress (!). Unfortunately, the happy moment with her mother is interrupted by the arrival of officers, come to deliver the tragic news that Peggy’s brother Michael has died.  The scene fades, and we see Peggy exchange her engagement ring for her SOE acceptance letter, take a look at herself, pick up her suitcase, and walk out of her room (and thus, the next chronological time we’d see her would be picking up in the first Captain America movie).

 

Again in the “present” 1947, Hunt has returned to the Chadwicks’ home, and Peggy, Sousa, Wilkes and Jarvis are listening in.  Wilkes, still intangible, had earlier been having Jarvis help him write a formula on the chalkboard. As Wilkes looked at the chalkboard, he saw a troubling dark matter crack appear in space. He tells Peggy of this, and she insists he has to hold on. Sousa observes them trying but unable to to touch. Through the bug, the SSR agents hear Chadwick arrive home and Hunt tells Chadwick and Whitney he had been kidnapped by Peggy and that he told the SSR about the Council. Hunt insists on protection, or he’ll tell the Council about Chadwick and Whitney’s involvement in the dark matter cover-up. Whitney decides it’s time to reveal her dark matter powers to Chadwick and handle Hunt on her own — and she seems to be able to control her ability to absorb people when she wants.  

 

In 1934, Agnes Cully has made it to Hollywood. She’s trying to see a movie, but she doesn’t have money. The lady at the box office gives her a ticket for free, but before Agnes can enter the theater, she’s stopped by a talent agent who tells her the same thing she heard from Bud 14 years prior — “I bet you’re real pretty when you smile.” She shows a small smile, and, standing unpleasantly close, he says he can get her work as a model or an actress. She’ll have to change her name, because her name should be prettier, and “that’s the beauty of Hollywood: you can be whatever you want.”

 

The final scene is, as with previous weeks, with Whitney. She is coming to accept her new powers, and in another episode mirror, she tells a frightened Chadwick she’s fixed another of his problems and that she has become “whatever I want.”

 

Extra Notes

 

Wow!  This was a truly fascinating look at what the women in this episode would or would not do for stability, and how they are manipulated by or able to manipulate others’ expectations of them. We know more about what is making Whitney Frost tick, and, to be sure, I’m still processing what we’ve learned of pre-Captain America Peggy. There’s quite a lot of feminism to unpack in this episode, and hits on a lot of contemporary discussions.

 

In addition to mind-blowing character development, we had some great history shout-outs! The codebreaking done at Bletchley Park during WWII is incredible, and many stories are being told about it in a variety of media, predominantly featuring Alan Turing and the Enigma machine, but in light of this episode, content involving the women of Bletchley Park is definitely worth a look. Similarly, the SOE was a real organization, though somewhere in the MCU tied in somehow quickly to the SSR.

 

It’s also worth noting that Sousa tells Hunt during the interrogation that he lost his leg at Bastogne; Peggy, in Cap 2, says that her husband and other soldiers had been rescued by Captain America from behind German lines during a hard winter. I’m not here to sink or sail any ships, but that’s the MCU canon we’ve been given, and I’m pointing it out.

 

Next week, Whitney is after an atomic bomb and Jane Scott’s body, and neither of those things can be good. Rose is back, Peggy’s got another disguise, the SSR team is on a mission to stop Whitney, and it looks like we have another showdown between Whitney and Peggy — though this time, they each know the other is a real threat. Uh-oh.  Until next week, Nerds!


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