'Marvel's Agent Carter' 2×03 Review: 'Better Angels'

Last week’s episode left us with quite a bit of questions about the fate of Jason Wilkes, Whitney Frost’s powers, and of course that shady group of men that Calvin Chadwick reports to, and in ‘Better Angels’ many of our questions were answered.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of this week’s episode about what I loved and what I didn’t:
 

The return of Howard

Have I mentioned yet how much I’m in love with Howard Stark? If not, it’s a lot. There’s something about the way that Dominic Cooper portrays this character that just gets my blood going.
Anyways back to the episode, Howard was back with a bang – providing Peggy with information about the Arena Club (where the council of men was from), infiltrating the club, investigating the ‘zero matter’, bringing Jason Wilkes back and while still producing a movie, romancing starlets and giving us awesome one-liners – he’s a one man machine.
Howard Stark is not so subtly based on Howard Hughes – the film producer turned inventor – even though it seems as our Howard are doing things the other way around. We get to see Howard’s gig on the set of a cowboy film, which we find out is Kid Colt, a Western Marvel comic that ran for over 30 years. We discover this when Peggy says the ultra meta-line, “But they’re ready for a movie based on a comic book? Sounds like a dreadful idea!” when Howard says the world is not quite ready for her to play a cowboy, a not so silent dig at society, and even Marvel’s, lack of female leads or females in traditionally male roles.

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Howard and Peggy have an excellent repartee and it’s great to see Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper working together again. At the end of the episode, Howard flies off to Peru to search for a scientist that can help him and Dr. Wilkes, so it looks like we won’t see him again for a few episodes. I, of course, will be looking forward to his flamboyant return.

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Jason Wilkes is still alive

At the end of last week’s episode, Jason Wilkes appeared to be dead and at the beginning of this episode we are still lead to believe this, as Peggy mourns him (did anyone alert his family and friends though?).
Peggy, Sousa and the S.S.R. crew search Wilkes home and seem to stumble upon a lot of evidence that prove that Wilkes was a Russian spy, which seems so incredibly unlikely that I didn’t even for a moment suspect it to be true. It seemed like a bit of a stretch, and even when Peggy tells Howard that she suspects that the evidence was planted there and Howard says that it makes sense because, he’s already a target because of the color of his skin”. It’s one of the rare instances where they acknowledge the racist society that they are living in. Howard openly refers to the Arena Club as a speciality of that culture as well.
Later on, they discover that the zero matter has trapped Jason Wilkes in an alternate dimension, and he can only be seen or heard with a special formula that Howard concocts. And Howard and Wilkes work together in the hopes of making him tangible again, and able to touch.

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Last season got a lot of flack for its lack of racial diversity, and it seems like this year Wilkes was their attempt to change that – until they killed him off. Yes, yes, I know he’s not really dead, but this exact trope has just been done – by Agents of SHIELD with Andrew Garner, another black man. In fact between Antoine Triplett in Agents of SHIELD, Ben Ulrich in Daredevil,  and Detective Clemens in Jessica Jones, the trend of black, male characters getting killed in Marvel series is far too common.
If the show wants to make an allegory to Wilkes’ position as a minority struggling in a segregated country where he is practically invisible, where his voice is not heard and he is not seen as a physical human being, there are going to do a lot more to make the racial issues known, much more than a few lines by Howard.
 

The male and pale Arena club

Talking about Howard’s references, this week we got to learn more about that mysterious club that decided Chadwick’s fate and insinuated that they were behind 1929 Wall Street crash. Real stand out guys.
Howard tells Peggy that the Arena Club is an exclusive club for white males and she decides to make some commotions by getting Howard to inundate the club with women (who are not allowed) and Peggy poses as one of them while secretly poking around and attempting to bug the place.
She discovers that the Arena members (sidenote: it was the Arena symbol on the pin that Dottie stole) have been manipulating the future in order to further their own agendas, and she communicates this information to Thompson and Sousa. Without hard evidence, Thompson does not believe her and orders the case closed and for Peggy to return to New York with him.
Even though Peggy does not return with Thompson (she tells Sousa that she chose to miss that flight), Thompson kind of gets his proof. After Peggy so eloquently tells him off, “You are so afraid of ruffling powerful feathers that you’re doing what you always do: burying an ugly truth and hoping someone will pin a medal on you,” he gives the video footage of the zero matter to Vernon, his shady government friend, although lies about having watched it himself. Thompson then gets an invite to the Arena Club himself, and he sees what Peggy had been talking about. We don’t know what Thompson intends to do with this information yet, but we have to wait and see if he’ll ultimately make the right decision.

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In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas said that the Arena Club is based on the Secret Empire from the comics that was a subsidiary of HYDRA and helped to manipulate world events for their own benefit. The ‘club within the club’ that we see meeting in the secret room behind the bookcase is called the Council of Nine that ‘sort of run the world.’

The many faces of Whitney Frost

I just want to take a moment out right now, to say that Agent Carter deserves a 10/10 for it’s writing of female characters. The origin story of Madame Masque is being nuanced and created so excellently and the 360 degree characterisation of her is unrivaled in a lot of shows. She is villain, she is relatable, she is believable.
After the explosion, the apparent death of Jason Wilkes and the planting of false evidence at his home, Peggy goes to confront Whitney Frost and excellently tells her straight that she knows what her game is and she doesn’t believe the show that she’s putting on to incriminate Wilkes. Whitney, of course, denies it and sticks by her story, although she’s a bit shaken by Peggy’s confrontation.

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We get to understand the relationship between Whitney and her husband, Calvin Chadwick, later in the episode where she tells him that she wants to stop working and he tells her that she can only quit her job once the election is over so that it does not detract from their main issue. Once they win, she can be a full time mother – because the only roles for her is to be a pretty actress or a mother.
The first hint of her true intelligence is depicted when she convinces her husband to get a hitman to take care of Peggy because she knows too much. She manipulates Chadwick, pushing all the buttons that she know will affect him, adds a bit of fake tears, and he’s willing to do her bidding. (The hitman fails, of course, Team Peggy and Jarvis forever).
We see the first hint of her powers when a director comes to chat to her to tell her that the studio wanted to replace her with a younger actress but he convinced them not to. Although when they are hugging it becomes pretty obvious that he expects her to thank him with a little visit to the casting couch, but then the zero matter causes the director to collapse and his body disintegrates into black matter which Frost absolves and the marking on her forehead grows larger.
So we can assume that every time she uses her powers the scar will get bigger until she cannot act anymore and will have to use a mask to cover her disfigured face.
In a move that makes it certain that she is the MCU’s version of Hedy Lamarr, Sousa discovers that Frost was actually a scientist called Agnes Cully, whose inventions helped to put Isodyne on the map and help the war effort, before she recreated herself into Whitney Frost, the actress. It sure would explain why she was so interested in the zero matter, and the fact that she is intelligent and resourceful. I look forward to learning just why she made that jump from scientist to actress.
 

Last minute notes:

  • After the attack by Chadwick’s hitman, Howard improves the security in the mansion, which includes a voice recording of Jarvis, it’s supposedly ‘temporary’ and obviously a precursor to Tony’s AI system. Jarvis adorably notes, “I have no desire to spend the rest of time as a disembodied voice.”
  • There is a moment when Sousa makes some scientific observation and everyone looks shock but he notes ‘It’s the Strategic Scientific Reserve’, I totally forgot they had to have scientific knowledge to be a part of the team.
  • “Well I’ve seen old Ellie’s threshold. I believe you’ve made the right choice.” – Howard in response to Eleanor Roosevelt join the Arena Club.
  • Marvel Universe: Also, according to Howard, Kid Colt is a real historic figure in the MCU, so ideas for a new series Marvel? A good ole Western.
  • Real Life: As well as references to the Roosevelts, Howard notes that he was having an affair with Irene Dunne, Whitney Frost said she rumored to be having an affair with Cary Grant, and Howard offers Peggy a role in his movie after Arlene French was apparently too drunk to play her part.

 

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