NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “Agent Carter” are present in this review
The second season of Agent Carter may have taken a short while to start keeping pace with the superb first season, but it seems to have found that momentum now, which is demonstrated more than ever in this week’s episode, “Smoke & Mirrors.” The new best episode of Season Two to date, “Smoke & Mirrors” demonstrates the contrasting origins of both Peggy Carter and Whitney Frost, providing an interesting split between the formations of this season’s main hero and villain, respectively. These flashbacks occasionally show up at various points through the episode, Arrow-style, and give us some shocking insight into Peggy’s background especially.
It may come as a shock, but Peggy wasn’t always a rip-roaring ass-kicker! As recently as the start of the 40’s, a mere few years before she met Captain America during the events of 2011 movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy was on her way to becoming a proper lady, ultimately shedding a childhood where she’d rather be the knight than the princess. Engaged to a well-to-do man, and preparing to start a life as a typical 1940’s-era woman, Peggy is shown in flashbacks to be ready for a life of domestic bliss, until she’s recommended for a job at the SOE, the WWII forerunner to the SSR. Apparently, Peggy was recommended by her brother, Michael, a respected soldier.
This actually led to a beautifully emotional moment, where Peggy brushes off her brother’s demands to embrace her true identity as an adventurer in 1940, believing in the demands of the times instead. On her wedding day however, her family gets word that Michael was killed in a battle against the Nazis, which leads to Peggy breaking down in tears, disillusioned with her choices. This is the key catalyst behind Peggy ultimately taking a job with the SOE, which got her into the SSR, and of course, allowed her to make the acquaintance of Captain America. I’d say that she made the right choice, and I imagine you would agree.
The way that the episode perfectly places these flashbacks at the points where they are most dramatically satisfying, or at times even most comedic, such as demonstrating how unladylike Peggy is, despite her mother telling her she won’t be that way forever as a child, was all very well done. Peggy is more interesting than ever, and feels all the more empowered, when we see that she wasn’t always aspiring to be special. She was honestly of the belief that a boring life was a privilege, something spoken by her then-fiance, and it’s astounding to see how far she’s come in her role as a super-spy.
Peggy gets more intense than ever this week actually, as she and Jarvis successfully apprehend Mr. Hunt, the assassin that tried to do Peggy in during the events of last week’s episode. Against Sousa’s wishes, Peggy tortures the man with an accentuated dose of the common cold, one of the many botched inventions of Howard Stark, which leads to him spouting the name of an important man linked to the Secret Empire, which actually turned out to be the executive of Roxxon Oil, in a neat callback to Season One. This leads to Peggy and Sousa organizing a task force to raid the headquarters of the Council of Nine, though they’re overruled by Vernon Masters.
It’s quickly looking like Vernon Masters is another big bad for this season, since he makes no qualms about threatening both Peggy and Sousa with having their reputations ruined if they proceed with their probing of the Secret Empire, along with obstructing their investigation. He may just end up being an especially career-driven government dick, which might actually be the more interesting twist, but nonetheless, Peggy and Sousa are unfortunately stopped in their tracks before they can pilfer intel from the Council of Nine. This doesn’t stop Sousa from intentionally allowing Mr. Hunt to escape however, albeit with a bug planted on him.
This leads into a great closing scene for the episode, as Peggy, Jarvis and Sousa listen in on Mr. Hunt returning to the residence of Calvin Chadwick and Whitney Frost, and only get to hear the audio of Whitney finally deciding to come out and show her Zero Matter-induced ‘condition’ to her husband, absorbing Mr. Hunt as a way of ‘fixing’ the problem of his presence as a loose end. The way that Peggy and co. could only hear the audio of this, and wonder why they mysteriously lost signal, was fantastically creepy, and put the decisive info of how dangerous Whitney Frost actually is into place, without outright giving away to Peggy’s crew just why she’s such a threat.
Fortunately, the backstory material for Whitney, back when she was ‘Agnes Cully’, was just as well done as that of Peggy. Appropriately, we see that Whitney wasn’t always a conniving villain, and simply grew up as the downtrodden child of an exploited single mother. Belittled and prevented from using her intelligence because she’s a woman, Whitney is told by her mother that her looks are the only thing that will ever matter to any woman in this world. This leads to Whitney fleeing to L.A., where she finds solace at the movie theatre. She’s chanced upon by a talent scout who tells her that she’d be very pretty if she smiled (eerily echoing the same line spoken by her deadbeat ‘uncle’ that was sleeping with her mother), and that the beauty of Hollywood is that people can be whoever they want to be, thus completing the beginning of Agnes Cully’s transformation into Whitney Frost.
On paper, Whitney’s backstory seems surprisingly ordinary. Her intelligence is certainly remarkable, as she sketches invention ideas right from childhood, even proving to be able to fix broken things that even adults can’t, but her gender ends up pushing her into a different life entirely, though one where she’s still ironically allowed to realize her full potential. This is exactly what makes Whitney Frost such a chilling, effective villain. She’s so seemingly ordinary in her glamour, and yet, her sinister secrets bubble underneath the surface. Whitney is proving to be an even better antagonist than Dottie from Season One, and it feels like she becomes an even better antagonist with every episode!
“Smoke & Mirrors” placed a much higher emphasis on drama and character development compared to the previous three episodes, but it didn’t totally abandon the humour, thankfully. Things like Peggy’s slovenly eating habits, and Jarvis getting tranqued by a groggy Mr. Hunt were pretty amusing moments, and yet, they thankfully didn’t override the serious, introspective tone of Agent Carter this week. This ‘event series’ is already plenty good at being fun popcorn entertainment, but when it really finds effective ways to dig into its compelling cast like it does here, this is when it becomes something truly special and remarkable amongst Marvel’s growing lineup of television offerings.
- Peggy's heartfelt journey to becoming a spy
- Whitney showing Chadwick her dark secret
- Vernon's threats to Peggy and Sousa