Considering that Agent Carter is a show about a female hero proving herself in a sexist world, it's fascinating how much of the storylines have turned out to deal with male insecurity and blind spots. And last night's episode saw an increased focus on this theme. Spoilers ahead...
From the beginning, Peggy Carter has been underestimated and overlooked by her male colleagues. She was able to use the blindness of the male SSR agents to her advantage, at times, to let her sneak around behind their backs, and also to steer them in the right direction without them realizing. The irony of "A Sin to Err" is, she's finally getting some respect around the office, just as she finally gets rumbled by Sousa and the rest of the SSR.
Basically, "A Sin to Err" is divided pretty sharply into two halves. In the first half, Peggy Carter and Edwin Jarvis are hunting down all the women that Stark slept with in the past six months, on the theory that one of them was a Russian mole, while meanwhile Dooley debriefs the Russian defector, Dr. Ivchenko (and almost gets hypnotized.)
In the second half, Peggy's been found out and the whole SSR is hunting her while Dottie Underwood is also under orders to kill her. (And Dr. Ivchenko finds someone else to hypnotize, the long-suffering Agent Yauch.) At last, Peggy gets drugged by Dottie, and then nabbed by the SSR.
All the secrets coming out
So the general theme here is one of the threads tightening, and secrets coming out — Peggy comes pretty close to identifying Dottie before she gets bushwacked, and now everybody knows about Peggy's freelancing.
What's sad is, Dooley seems ready to put more trust in Peggy Carter at the start of the episode, after her killer performance in Russia last week. When Peggy keeps bringing up the idea that the Russians might have female agents in the U.S. and one of them probably killed Krzeminski, Dooley shoots it down — but then he authorizes Peggy to go follow it up. If her earlier activities hadn't caught up to her when she did, she might have been able to bring real evidence back to the SSR.
As it is, Carter gets cornered by the SSR at her favorite automat, leading to a terrific musical fight scene:
Sousa and Thompson are both feeling sore about her treachery, not least because they've both gotten pretty invested in her for different reasons. Sousa saw her as an ally from the beginning, as the two underdogs at the SSR, while Thompson bared his soul to her last week. And to make matters worse, she gets the drop on Jack when he has a gun on her, and then walks away from Sousa, something he says will mean that he was wrong about her.
There's a lot of subtext after Peggy's gotten caught and Sousa's sent in to interrogate her, and Jack tells Sousa not to go easy on her.
Surprising absolutely no-one, the "captive" Russian psychologist who agreed to come back to the States with our crew, Dr. Ivchenko, is a baddie. There's one moment where Dottie (having killed a letch dentist) has a sniper rifle on him from across the street, and we think maybe she's going to take him out. But in fact, she's just using it to signal at him in morse code. (The same trick Reese uses in last night's Person of Interest, even down to the fake-out.) Ivchenko tells Dottie to kill Peggy.
And meanwhile, Ivchenko's mission is to retrieve the stolen Howard Stark weapons that the SSR has impounded in its lab — or one item, in particular. But to achieve this, he goes about hypnotizing first Dooley and then Yauch — and in both cases, he preys on their weaknesses.
We've already gotten into the insecurities and trauma of Sousa and Jack, in previous episodes, but now we get to see Ivchenko preying on the damage behind the tough facades that Dooley and Yauch put forward as well. Dooley's weakness is his estranged family, especially his wife — who cheated on him with a plumber who was excused from military service due to flat feet, during the war.
As for Yauch, he feels passed over for plumb assignments and respect, thanks to that blow-hard Thompson stealing the spotlight. Somehow the idea of Yauch impressing Dooley gets turned around until Yauch is disobeying Dooley's orders, sketching a map of the entire facility for Ivchenko, and finally going out a bar before walking into traffic. (Ivchenko's hypno-ring is freaking powerful, basically.)
Unfortunately, due to Peggy's traitor status, Ivchenko can't get at those hidden weapons without Dooley's help, so he's stuck for now.
Poor Angie, the waitress from the automat and Peggy's neighbor, has lost out on a lot of roles in her Broadway auditions. But when Peggy's hiding from the SSR, Angie puts on a virtuoso performance as a weeping "wronged woman," something that makes Jack and Sousa so uncomfortable, they have no choice but to bail. (And later in the episode, Angie starts snooping in Dottie's apartment, something that probably won't end too well for her.)
Meanwhile, Jarvis is just as uncomfortable as Jack and Sousa, when it comes to confronting the women that Howard Stark slept with and then threw away. There are a lot of them, and they're all pretty much identically pissed. Howard gave each of them the same bracelet as a parting gift, and used Jarvis to let them know it was over. And Jarvis squirms rather a lot at the prospect of dealing with these indignant exes.
As for Dottie Underwood herself, we get to see her being a master manipulator in a number of situations — from tricking the aforementioned dentist, to playing the role of the sweet Iowa girl around the Griffith, to getting the better of Peggy. She stole some of Peggy's "special" lipstick and uses it on Peggy this week, and Peggy doesn't see it coming at all.
If the SSR hadn't shown up in the nick of time, Peggy would have been toast. As it is, we can hopefully still look forward to an epic Dottie-Peggy fight scene, preferably to the strains of Glenn Miller.