NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “Agent Carter” are present in this review
After a merely good, though not fantastic start to its second season in the back-to-back premiere episodes last week, Agent Carter seemed to better find its footing with this week’s episode, “Better Angels.” Now that the setup is firmly established, and the stakes are firmly set with the unleashing of Zero Matter from the confines of Isodyne, Peggy’s next case is really starting to heat up in a superb, highly entertaining way.
After the big explosion at Isodyne, Peggy and Sousa fend off the press and try to get the bottom of what happened, and why assassins were coming after Wilkes. When evidence surfaces that Wilkes is a Russian spy, the city quickly believes the story, though Peggy knows that something is up. Clearly, the Zero Matter conspiracy goes far deeper than anyone would have imagined. It’s about time then that we call in the clever eye of Howard Stark!
Yes, we finally get a reunion with Stark Sr. this episode, with Peggy and Jarvis paying him a visit as he shoots a movie about Kid Colt, an obscure Western hero of Marvel’s pre-Stan Lee days, which was a very neat throwback to Marvel’s little-known Golden Age history. We don’t have long to revel in that easter egg however, as Howard gets a chance to view the archive footage of the Zero Matter incident from last week’s second premiere episode, and as he says to Peggy, “She’s got a blockbuster picture on her hands.”
With Howard coming into the mix, it finally feels like the pieces are fully set for the second season of Agent Carter, especially when he quickly identifies the mysterious pin that Dottie was after as belonging to an Ivy League social club, which Marvel fans already know is a front for the villainous Secret Empire organization. Since the club doesn’t allow women, Peggy’s got her hands full getting in, but leave it to Howard Stark to come up with a brilliant and hilarious plan to slip Peggy inside, after he fakes an interest in joining the club, only to unleash a horde of women upon it, which Peggy uses to sneak off unnoticed.
Naturally though, things aren’t that easy, as Peggy finds that planting bugs is useless, as the club has some sort of defense mechanism that makes them loudly vibrate and become worthless. After just barely making it out of the Council of Nine’s meeting room unnoticed, with a little help from Jarvis, Peggy is left to return to the SSR with no evidence of the conspiracy that’s currently gripping Los Angeles. Worse still is that Thompson has flown to the West Coast office to boot, at the behest of Vernon Masters, no doubt as a means to keep that branch of the SSR out of the business of the Zero Matter incident.
Thompson yet again becomes a thorn in Peggy’s side, and Sousa’s for that matter, as he tells Peggy to drop the case, reinforces the false allegations against Wilkes, and tries to strong-arm Peggy into flying back to New York. It’s obvious that this won’t work though, and given the events of the show’s first season, you’d think Thompson would be a lot more inclined to trust Peggy’s judgment. Sure, Masters is pushing to get Peggy and the SSR as far away from Zero Matter as possible, but even then, Thompson views the Zero Matter film against Vernon’s wishes, and doesn’t tell him. Why be such a dick to Peggy then, if he’s clearly seen with his own eyes that something dangerous is afoot?
Fortunately, Peggy at least gets a win with the help of Howard, who uses a photography trick to make Wilkes partially materialize from invisibility (which apparently happened to him after the Zero Matter explosion in the previous episode), enough to talk at least, even if people and objects still phase through him. Apparently, Wilkes has been shadowing Peggy since the Isodyne explosion, trying to get her attention, which Peggy and Sousa eventually notice when objects start floating around Peggy in a disturbed gravitational field. After Howard and Wilkes put their heads together, they decide that they have to seek out an old mentor of Howard’s, with Howard preparing to board a plane to Peru as Peggy urges Wilkes not to run away for her safety. Even with Wilkes outside of tangibility, he and Peggy have incredible chemistry, and I certainly wouldn’t hate it if Wilkes ended up being the mysterious husband that an aged Peggy referred to during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Once again though, it felt like Whitney Frost made the biggest impact in this episode, as Peggy’s party starts to cast suspicion on her. After Peggy pays her a visit, Whitney gets skittish, and sends an assassin after Peggy, though Peggy and Jarvis both manage to drive the guy off before Peggy is hurt. This seems to fully incriminate Whitney, and the episode pretty much winds down with Peggy’s group about to pursue her even harder, especially when Sousa points out that, “Whitney Frost” is actually the stage name of a brilliant inventor with a deadly history of war expertise. That definitely can’t be good, especially as the episode’s final minutes show Whitney accidentally absorbing a creepy manager that got a little too handsy with her, which appears to feed the Zero Matter inside her, and makes the cracks in her face grow.
The fallout of the Isodyne explosion is being explored very well, and is helping to make Agent Carter’s second season more interesting and exciting than its good, though slightly goofy beginning. This episode also seemed to achieve a better balance between a gripping mystery and light-hearted comedy, especially with the very welcome return of Howard Stark. It’s also interesting to see Thompson appear to get sucked further and further into the clutches of the Secret Empire, even being more or less invited into their club towards the end of the episode, despite seeming to be leaving for New York again. Might the Secret Empire start using Thompson’s ego and cowardice against him?
With the supernatural elements of the story no longer appearing to override everything else for want of obligatory setup, “Better Angels” is finally giving way to some good old-fashioned clever espionage, and oftentimes, that’s when Agent Carter is at its best. There was less action this week, but that’s still fine, as this is the second season’s strongest episode so far, particularly given the many interesting plot developments. As we continue to gradually peel back the true implications of Zero Matter, and the true mastermind of Isodyne, it looks like there’s plenty to look forward to as we begin to get the sense that Los Angeles could be even more dangerous than New York for Peggy!
Agent Carter's second season hits a particularly strong episode, as the emphasis returns to clever, old-fashioned espionage, just in time to discover the true menace of Whitney Frost, and the true reach of the Secret Empire.
THE GOOD STUFF
Howard Stark finally returning
Cool and amusing espionage throughout
Fallout of Zero Matter explosion for Wilkes and Whitney Frost
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Why is Thompson being so dismissive of Peggy again?