This week’s episode of Agent Carter was equal parts delightful and frustrating, as it showcased all the things I love about the show as well as the things that make it inferior to the rest of Marvel Television’s output. On one hand, this episode contained some of the greatest character moments we’ve seen of the series so far, excellent humor and visual gags, and an origin story for Whitney Frost–who is quickly becoming one of Marvel’s most interesting villains. On the other hand, the show is so serialized–focusing on a single, overarching plot line and hardly ever deviating–that the episode struggles to stand up on its own merits. The result is an episode chock-full of great individual scenes that won’t have a satisfying payoff for weeks.
Comparing Agent Carter to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Netflix shows makes the problem of balancing the episodic elements with the serialized elements even more obvious. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. obviously has season-long story arcs and tons of serialized elements, but it also has “case of the week”-style stories that open and close within the span of a single episode. The Netflix shows–especially Jessica Jones–exist on the opposite side of that spectrum: the lines between individual episodes are completely irrelevant, and the whole season might as well be a 13-hour-long movie. In this regard, Agent Carter has much more in common with the Netflix shows than with her network sister. That’s a problem, because unlike with Daredevil and Jessica Jones, you can’t binge an entire season of Agent Carter in a single sitting. With a week between each episode, far too much of my attention while watching “Smoke and Mirrors” was focused on remembering minor details from previous episodes, trying to figure out which puzzle pieces fit where, and guessing where this season might be going.
But I don’t want to make it sound like I hated this episode, or Agent Carter in general. As I mentioned above, I found myself thoroughly enjoying each individual scene. The general tone of the show feels like a classic radio serial brought to life, which makes it quite possibly the most consistently funny movie or show in the MCU. For example, the sequence when Mr. Hunt refuses to be tranquilized, springing out of the trunk and stabbing Jarvis with a tranquilizer dart was, to steal Jarvis’s own new word, positively Jarvelous. Likewise, when the episode shifts into a more serious or dramatic tone, it handles that flawlessly as well. The series of flashbacks telling both Peggy and Whitney Frost’s origin stories were simultaneously fascinating and heartbreaking. Peggy finding out that her brother died is handled extremely well without being overly melodramatic, as is Frost’s extremely unpleasant childhood. Those same flashbacks, as well as the scenes where she scientifically and methodically tests her powers, made Whitney Frost a complex and interesting villain that the show has always lacked–I only wish they’d done it sooner.
Overall, this episode manages to accomplish a lot, despite its serialized nature working against it. It adds an extra layer to Peggy’s character, gives almost every other character a moment to shine, and furthers the season’s plot–which I’m sure will be even better when I binge watch this season once it’s all over.
3 sepia-toned flashbacks out of 5. An observation from another MCUExchange writer: “It’s funny how for flashbacks, they basically apply a double sepia filter.”
“If spending time with you is the byproduct of my current state, I’d almost say it’s worth it.”- Oh Wilkes, you smooth operator, you.
Seriously though, “Jarvelous” is my new favorite word.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Wilkes starts having trouble holding onto reality as Whitney Frost uses her powers. It seems that the two are linked via the Zero Energy, and as one gets stronger the other gets weaker.
“Agent Carter, how are you enjoying your vacation?” “Vigorously!”
The timeline isn’t exactly clear, but it looks like Peggy only broke off her engagement fairly shortly before meeting Steve Rogers.