How did Agent Carter became a spy? Was she ever smitten before Cap? Are there any thematic comparisons between her and Whitney “Agnes Cully” Frost? All those questions and more were answered this week as “Smoke & Mirrors” treated us to a series of flashbacks detailing the pasts of both Peggy and Whitney. You can read Doug’s review here and read about the episode’s biggest moments below.
1) The Secret Origin of Peggy Carter & Whitney Frost
Rather than splitting the discussion of Peggy and Whitney’s pasts into two breakdowns, I wanted to talk about them together since they play off of each other and constitute the bulk of the episode. Much like Coulson, we’ve spent a lot of time in the MCU with Peggy Carter; from her numerous film appearances, to the entire first season of her titular show. But so far we’ve only focused on her time during WWII and after. How did such an iconoclast get to where she is today? To my knowledge, I’m not sure we even knew she had a brother until this episode, let alone that she was engaged to be married before she met Steve Rogers.
The first flashback we see is to Peggy as a child, playing with her brother Michael (Max Brown). Before he arrives and she treats him to a signature tackle, she’s playing a game of knight and princess. Unsurprisingly, Peggy is the shining knight saving the helpless damsel. It’s a shock later when we see her surrounded by a group of giggling coworkers while she shows off her engagement ring. But it’s more surprising that when her boss tells her she’s been offered a position in the field as a spy and she seems uninterested. Despite working as a code breaker, Peggy seems to have lost all daring and a desire to rise above her societal station. At her engagement dinner, Michael is appalled that she’d turn down the SEO recommendation (that he, of course, was behind) to settle down as Mrs. Fred. It’s not until her brother dies in battle (in/conveniently before her wedding) that she decides to accept.
It’s not clear whether she takes the position to honor Michael, or whether the shock of his death makes her realize that she’s living a lie, but I’d like to think it’s a bit of both. We see when she’s a child that Peggy’s mother disapproves of her maverick spirit and we can assume that her change in character between that flashback and the next is due to continual chiding like that from everyone in her life (save Michael). His belief in her (and disappointment when she tries to abandon her calling) is likely the key factor in her making the decision to become an agent. When faced with two monumental life decisions, it’s the death of her brother that ultimately makes her see the light and forsake the marriage for the life she truly desires. If only Whitney Frost had a supportive brother.
Frost has been a fantastic analog to Peggy this season, and it’s refreshing to see the show take so much time to focus on its female hero and villain this week. Like Peggy, Whitney, then Agnes Cully, had dreams of being more than just a pretty face or a housewife. While Peggy spent her youth championing justice, Agnes was fixing the family radio and on her way to inventing some of the code breaking techniques that Peggy likely used later. It would have been fantastic if that piece of information were made more explicit, but the rest of Agnes’s flashbacks show her mother, like Peggy’s, looking down on her desires and talents. While we don’t get much of a sense of Peggy’s mother, the wedding dress scene seems to indicate at least some warmth towards her daughter, a luxury Agnes doesn’t have. Mrs. Cully and Uncle Bud never appear to be physically abusive to Agnes, but they’re a far cry from Michael in terms of support. In Bud, Agnes learns what happens in her time when a man no longer desires the looks of a woman, and her mother reinforces that idea by telling her that her pretty face and smile are all that she’s got in the world. She does this after throwing it in Agnes’s face that fact that she didn’t get accepted into the science school she applied to because, according to mother dearest, she’s a girl.
We next see Agnes in Hollywood, desperate to escape her life. As “luck” would have it, she meets a sleazy producer who tells her that if she smiles and sticks with him, she can be in those movies. She just needs to change her name. But hey, it’s Hollywood, it’s all about reinventing yourself. With a rye smile back, we know that Agnes isn’t coalescing, but deciding to fight from the inside. She doesn’t have the opportunity to be an outright hero like Peggy, so she’ll use her looks to hide her smarts in plain sight. We don’t get any more on Frost, like how she meets Chadwick, creates Isodyne, and slowly turns nefarious, but we can infer. And if the show goes into a third season (which, given the state of the ratings, is looking unlikely), we’ll likely get some more flashbacks to Frost building her empire and Peggy training to become a spy. It’s a shame that the show might not get renewed, because I’d very much like to see those episodes. Here’s looking at you, Netflix.
2) Vernon Masters, Definitely Not A Villain
As evidenced above, the flashbacks and how they relate to the modern Peggy and Whitney took up the lion’s share of the episode. But in between those the plot did move forward. Peggy and Jarvis captured their would-be assassin from last week, and, along with Sousa, faux-tortured him until he gave up some info on the Arena Club. This leads to the SSR attempting to get a warrant to raid the AC only to have Vernon Masters and his goons show up to audit the gang. If I have one beef with this season, it’s that Masters is so on the nose about being bad. If he had a mustache, he’d be twirling it. Peggy and Sousa almost put two and two together when they reveal the judge they spoke to was working for the Arena Club, but given the timing of Vernon’s arrival and his creepy speech, it should have been pretty obvious. Hopefully the two of them are smart enough to figure it out on their own (preferably, next week) because I won’t be able to handle a scene in the finale where he reveals himself and everyone looks shocked.
Thanks to the bug the SSR slipped onto Rufus (Chris Browning), however, they did learn that Whitney Frost is some kind of evil. They didn’t see her Darkforce magic trick, but they know something went down. And with Wilkes seemingly being pulled towards the Darkforce himself, it’s probably only a matter of time before the craziness is revealed to our heroes. Hopefully Masters will be uncovered and dispatched quickly, only for Peggy and the SSR to learn that Frost is the true threat they face.
So, what did you think? Let us know in the comments what your favorite moments were and what you’re hoping to see next week. You can check out the promo for episode 5 titled “The Atomic Job” here and for all things Agent Carter, follow along here. For more MCU related news and features, make sure to follow us on Twitter.