Last night’s two-hour Agent Carter season premiere was a lot of fun. But it also gave us two other ambitious women who are foils for Peggy Carter—one of whom we’ve seen before. And it introduced us to a brand new shadowy organization. Looks like Peggy’s going to have her hands full.
A lot of last night’s episode was just a big noir misdirection, on our way to the actual arc of the season. There’s a mysterious murder case, which looks like the work of the “Lady in the Lake” serial killer, but actually the victim is a scientist from a company called Isodyne who was sleeping with her boss. And she was exposed to something called Zero Matter, which turned her into an icicle that freezes anyone who comes into contact with her blood.
We eventually learn that the Zero Matter was discovered during an atomic test in the desert, and apparently it’s connected to the “darkforce” we saw during Agents of SHIELD season one. (And it’ll pop up again in the Doctor Strange movie.) Isodyne was actually a front for a shadowy organization whose leaders all wear the same snazzy lapel pin, and that organization tells Isodyne head Calvin Chadwick to pull the plug on the operation because it’s getting too much attention.
But Chadwick’s wife, movie star Whitney Frost, decides to take the Zero Matter for herself—and it all goes horribly wrong, and she gets the Zero Matter in the worst possible way, becoming some kind of human receptacle for its unstable power.
So there are two foils for Peggy in this episode.
At the start of the episode, she takes down Dottie Underwood, the psycho Russian spy who became obsessed with her last season. Now Dottie is straight-up impersonating Peggy, robbing a bank to get hold of one of those Evil Organization membership pins, and Peggy tries to interrogate her. But Jack Thompson, who is head of the SSR but still feels threatened by Peggy’s competence, takes her off the Underwood case and sends Peggy to L.A.
Watching Jack try to interrogate Dottie himself is kind of sad—his insecurity and fear that he can never be the agent that Peggy is are right there on the surface, and Dottie exploits them. Soon, though, Dottie is taken away from Jack, and Jack’s mentor—who has “corrupt stalwart of the evil old order” written all over him—offers Jack a leading role in what comes after the SSR. It’s pretty clear that Jack is about to be initiated into the Society of the Evil Lapel Pin. (Is it Hydra? Sure looks like. And if this really is Hydra, then we know Peggy won’t win this fight.)
Here are the Lapel Pin Monsters discussing how they caused the crash of 1929. (Hi, Ray Wise!)
And meanwhile, what happens to Dottie? She was trying to steal from the Evil Lapel Pin Order, so maybe an unpleasant fate is in store for her. But I’m betting that either A) she escapes, or B) they decide to use Dottie to take out Peggy when she gets too close to the truth.
The other foil for Peggy this time around is Whitney Frost, who barely makes an impression in this opening two-parter, until she eats all the Zero Matter. She’s an aging starlet, so we get a few scenes where people do “aging starlet” stuff like talk about the lines around her eyes. She is ambitious and wants her husband to rule the world, but is starting to realize the old boy may not have it in him.
And then there’s the Secret Society of Lapel Pins—which may or may not be Hydra—and its simmering threat in the background. To the extent that the running theme of Agent Carter is the creeping conservatism of American society after World War II, and the way in which someone like Peggy, who was allowed to be a total badass during the war, is pushed back into a traditional feminine role, the Lapel Pin Conspiracy is probably going to wind up representing the Old Boys Network and the Patriarchy and stuff.
Sadly, the show already killed off the most interesting new character—Jason Wilkes, the African American physicist who works at Isodyne, is set up as a potential love interest for Peggy, as well as someone that she can bond with over not getting invited to the “white blokes” club. He’s charming and kind of sweet, and brings a fun energy to the show—but then he’s exposed to the Zero Matter and dies at the end of hour two. Kind of a waste, honestly.
Meanwhile, Jarvis is back, and still adorable. And now we get to meet his equally adorable wife. And Souza is also back—he’s got a sweet girlfriend whom he’s about to propose to, but he’s still got a thing for Peggy. And telephone-operator-lady is also back, and not getting nearly enough screentime. I was actually hoping telephone-operator lady was Souza’s girlfriend, because they have great chemistry together.
Honestly, this two-part episode felt like the setup for a lot of interesting stuff later in the season, but felt pretty run of the mill on its own merits. There was a lot of noir murder-mystery/corrupt cop stuff, and one more verse of the “Jack Thompson is a jerk” song from last season, and some cute Peggy-Jarvis moments.
But supposedly, Whitney Frost is supposed to become the live-action version of Madame Masque, and meanwhile the showrunners have teased an arc where Peggy loses some of her idealism and faith in people, and becomes more cynical. Which sounds fascinating—looking forward to seeing more of both those things in the coming weeks.