A lot of secrets were revealed in last night's episode of Agent Carter — and a lot of them revolved around Howard Stark, one way or the other. Peggy Carter's been sticking her neck out for a man who hasn't been honest with her, at all. Spoilers ahead...
Last night's "Blitzkrieg Button" was the least standalone episode of Agent Carter thus far — mostly, it moved various pieces forward, rather than providing much in the way of resolution. But that didn't make it any less eventful.
In a nutshell, Howard Stark comes back to New York, courtesy of some smugglers who try to shake Jarvis down. He holes up at the Griffith, the women-only building where Peggy Carter lives, and instead of keeping a low profile he keeps hooking up with Peggy's neighbors. That somewhat cavalier disregard for Peggy's living arrangements is emblematic of his overall deceptiveness.
Now that the SSR has recaptured all of Stark's nastiest inventions that were stolen from his secret vault, he claims he wants Peggy's help with disarming one particular device, which he calls the "Blitzkrieg Button." He spins a tale about developing it during World War II, to disable London's electrical grid permanently in case of German attack. But Peggy figures out she's being lied to, thanks to the transparent Jarvis, and opens the device up — revealing a vial of Steve Rogers' blood.
Turns out Stark's visit to New York has nothing to do with clearing his name, or even keeping his worst weapons from being used — he wants to secure that vial of Captain America's precious bodily fluids, which could be used to synthesize the cure for all sorts of ailments (maybe). He knows if the government finds out about it, they'll seize it to replenish their own dwindling stock of Rogers' blood. So he uses Peggy as his dupe, to regain a valuable asset.
Peggy is justly pissed about being manipulated, so she socks Stark in the eye. He seems genuinely stung by her claim that he just wants Rogers' blood so he can make money off it, so maybe he really does have an altruistic use for it. That doesn't change the way he treated Peggy, who's putting her career and freedom on the line here — nor does his reminder that he's the only one who believes in her worth. (Because, as Peggy says, at least with the men who don't respect her, she knows where she stands.)
Howard tries to draw a parallel between his disadvantaged background, as the son of Lower East Side workers, and the misogyny that Peggy faces — the only way to climb the American ladder, if you're someone that nobody believes in, is to lie, he says.
Stark's Other Secret
A big part of the episode involves Dooley's visit to Germany to interview a Nazi colonel who's two days away from being hanged. Dooley wants to find out the truth about the Battle of Finow, where Leet Brannis and the other voiceless man supposedly died. Dooley offers the Nazi a cyanide pill (actually a breath mint) and discovers that there was no battle — all the Russians were dead, "torn apart," before the Nazis arrived.
And then when Dooley gets back to New York, he talks to Thompson (who was swaggeringly in charge in Dooley's absence) and learns another curious thing about the Battle of Finow: Two days after the fighting ended, Howard Stark and a group of others arrived there.
So obviously there was some kind of weapon, or alien force, or technology, that took out hundreds of Russians in Finow. And Stark was sent to help investigate. And now two men who were in that massacre, or stole the identities of two of the victims, helped to steal some of Stark's inventions. So it's likely Stark discovered something in Finow that Leviathan, the mysterious organization Brannis used to work for, wants to claim.
At the end of the episode, the long-distance Fringe-y typewriter starts typing on its own, in the SSR office — either tapping out a message intended for a Leviathan agent, or reaching out to the SSR on purpose.
In any case, it seems like wanting some of Steve Rogers' blood is the least of Howard Stark's secrets — there's a lot going on here, that Howard is keeping under his hat.
Souza's Postwar Trauma
While Dooley is away, Agent Jack Thompson reminds his colleagues that the most important part of the late Ray Krzeminski's name was "Agent," and the same goes for them — so they need to work around the clock until they bust some heads. (Except for Peggy, who has no need to work overtime, and needs only to fetch lunch orders and be reminded that she'll never be equal to a man.)
The only person who makes any progress, during this frenzied operation, is Souza, who finds a witness who saw Peggy Carter and Edwin Jarvis at the docks before they called in the SSR to confiscate Stark's stolen weapons. But the witness won't talk, even after Souza tries to play the "we're both damaged war vets" card. So Souza decks him and hauls him back to SSR headquarters.
There, Souza keeps trying to get through to the witness by working the post-war trauma angle — sharing a sad story about how he went into a restaurant wearing his dress uniform and everybody applauded, but they didn't applaud for the next G.I. who still had both legs. He's trying to bond with the witness, who lost his wife and job while he was fighting overseas. But Souza makes no headway, until Thompson shows up and tempts the homeless man with a burger and some Scotch. (Then the man coughs up a vague description of Peggy and Edwin.)
The moral, says Thompson, is that not everybody came home from the war wanting a hug.
But it's unclear, in the end, how much Souza wants a hug and how much he's just trying to work any angle he can to get the truth out of this guy. Just as Howard compares his lower-class background to Peggy's sex, Souza has previously compared his disability to Peggy's disadvantages at work. So he's probably just trying to climb the "American ladder" the same way Howard does — by lying.
One of the most interesting things about Agent Carter, thus far, is the way some of the men on the show compare their struggles to be respected with Peggy's — setting themselves up as foils to her. Either they want her sympathy (in Howard's case) or they sympathize with her (in Souza's). But either way, it mostly serves to show how restrictive this era was — but also how much their situations are not like hers at all.
Dottie wants a pickle compartment and an automatic gun
Another big secret that gets revealed, this time around, is that Peggy's neighbor Dottie Underwood is not what she appears.
Dottie just has a thing for other people's gadgets. First, she's down in the dining room, when Angie is stealing rolls and Carol is squirreling away entire chickens inside her sweater in her "chicken pocket". And it turns out one of the residents, Lori, has a special compartment in her purse to hold gravy (which sounds like it could go very, very wrong.) Dottie asks if Lori can make her a similar compartment to hold pickles:
And then later, Mr. Mink, the smuggler whose men brought Howard Stark back to New York, sneaks inside the Griffith to try and kill Peggy with his amazing automatic pistol — and Dottie decides she covets it, with exactly the same intensity that she coveted that pickle compartment. She disposes of Mr. Mink (somewhat conveniently for Peggy, who's had rather too many male visitors already) and then is about ready to use the gun against Peggy when Angie invites her to supper.
So what's Dottie's game? Is she just someone who loves other people's toys too much? Or does she have a hidden agenda?
Speaking of which, one thing I'm admiring about this show thus far is the way it blends comedy and ugliness. Last night's episode, in particular, has a number of funny moments and cute lines (e.g. "I can't agree to such — pardon my language — extortion." "It's not extrortion (sic), it's a shakedown!"). The women-only boarding house setting is mined for a lot of great comic bits as well, like the dumb waiter of man-smuggling. But at the same time, we're never allowed to forget that most of these characters are damaged and grieving after a terrible war, or that Peggy is routinely humiliated by her less capable colleagues. It's a tough balancing act, and thus far Agent Carter is pulling it off quite well.