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Marvel’s Agent Carter Review 1.05 – ‘The Iron Ceiling’

February 4, 2015 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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Marvel’s Agent Carter Review 1.05 – ‘The Iron Ceiling’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Tuesday’s episode of Agent Carter.]

Agent Carter hasn’t been afraid to access its Marvel roots to date, but neither has it used them as a crutch. References to Captain America–either in flashbacks, mentions or his blood–have been inserted strictly when important to the narrative and that’s worked nicely to date. Eventually though, even the most devoted Peggy Carter fan wants to see a little more of the Marvel brand extended in and “The Iron Ceiling” brings plenty of that. With both the arrival of the Howling Commandos and the further development of Dottie, Agent Carter brings back some previous elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe mythology to establish new plot points that allow the episode to excel.

This plan works because of the execution; it doesn’t just toss Dum Dum Dugan and company in so that we can have a fan service moment. Don’t get me wrong; there is certainly fan service in bringing Neal McDonough back in the bowler hat and trademark mustache. But that is secondary to the reason for pulling in the Commandos, which is to deconstruct both Peggy’s relationship with her SSR brethren and Thompson’s reputation as a war hero. Both of these are important developments for entwined reasons. We need to have some advancement of Peggy’s station in the SSR for a number of reasons, but most importantly because otherwise we’ll be stuck in a quagmire of perpetual motion toward nothing. If Peggy keeps butting heads against Thompson and Dooley to be taken seriously without results, we begin to wonder why we should care about her struggle. It’s difficult to get emotionally invested in something that doesn’t go anywhere and as such, this episode was essential to keep the series from getting mired in a frustrating position.

And make no mistake; “The Iron Ceiling” irrevocably changes Peggy’s status within the SSR for everyone. Dooley, Thompson and Sousa all find themselves seeing Peggy in a new light where they have to take her altogether more seriously. The most significant, at least over the course of the episode, is Thompson. SSR’s golden boy gets the chance to see Peggy in action and the results are spectacular. With the Howling Commandos at her back Peggy proves to Thompson that she isn’t just comebacks or codebreaking; she’s as much a soldier as he is and even more of one in some ways. She has the camaraderie with the Commandos, particularly Dugan, and she is cool and collected under fire.

But as we said before, this episode isn’t all about Peggy as Thompson gets a nice bit of fleshing out to his backstory. Thompson had been a solid but mostly uninteresting character up until now, representing the era’s male chauvinism but not much else. This week he has his first major failing and it allows us to explore him deeper as a character. We learn through his backstory that he received the Navy Cross because he supposedly saved his unit from a group of Japanese soldiers, but in truth he mistook surrendering soldiers for invaders. This causes him to freeze up when the team is under attack in the Russian facility and this instantly makes him a more interesting character. He’s no longer just the boorish golden boy; he’s a person with his own experiences and flaws, and those are where a character’s greatest strengths are often found. It’s a profound moment for him and his dynamic with our heroine, one that should mean great things going into the home stretch.

As the team ventures into a Leviathan facility looking for Howard Stark–assuming he’s there selling weapons to them thanks to the long-distance typewriter–they find themselves in a precarious situation. Peggy finds most of the clues that lead them to the conclusion that things are more than they appear…which leads us into the second major subplot of the episode in the Black Widow program. Yes, as revealed last week, Leviathan is behind the Red Room, the program that created Russian assassins and will eventually spawn the Avenger herself, Natasha Romanov. The team finds themselves in a training center where one of the young girls proves just how deadly she can be, stabbing Dum Dum and killing Junior before escaping. It’s a great moment that shows just how lethal these girls can be even at an early age, making someone like Dottie truly a force to be reckoned with.

Oh yeah…as if we didn’t already know from last week, Dottie is one of those prototypical Black Widow types and we see in flashback how she was trained to insinuate herself into the United States and become a stone-cold killer from a young age. It’s very The Americans in feel, but with the glossy coat of a Marvel comic and it works because Bridget Regan is so wonderfully creepy in the role. As she searches Peggy’s room she has the greatest facial expressions, part awe and part smirking confidence. She takes a photograph from Peggy’s room of the Stark crates she snapped in the boat for reasons unknown. All we know is, it can’t be good for Peggy.

Speaking of not good for Peggy, Sousa does get to see Peggy in a new way but instead as an equal, it is as an enemy. A chance encounter with a dressed down Agent Carter (thanks to Thompson’s practical joke) allows Sousa to realize that Peggy was the blond woman at the nightclub, by virtue of two bullet scars in her shoulder. Sousa now has to treat Peggy like a threat and that’s another benefit of this episode showing them how seriously to take Peggy. Before they could have easily underestimated her but Thompson, Dooley and Sousa all know the score with Peggy and that will up the stakes next week. Agent Carter appears to be quickly putting the pieces together for a great final stretch of the season and I can’t wait.

Some Final Thoughts:

• The line of the night comes from a glorious exchange between Thompson and Peggy, trading barbs in the dressing room. When Thompson takes a jab at Carter’s Captain America association by suggesting she should be used to serving “under” captains, Peggy fires back “I’m just not used to serving with boys.”

• Did I mention that Dottie handcuffing herself to the bed was wonderful and creepy? I did? Good, because it was both in spades.

• Kudos to Peter Leto for his direction of the action scenes this week; they looked and felt like they belonged in a much bigger budget situation.

• Another kudos go to the showrunners and writer Jose Molina for having the restraint not to feel obligated in bringing Derek Luke back as Gabe Jones in order to provide a narrative tie to Agent Triplett in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not that I would have minded, but there were more than enough Marvel connections this week and one more would have been a bit of overkill.

• Bless Hayley Atwell for her stellar work in this show. The little smile she gets on her face when Dooley congratulates her was subtle and yet really lit up the room. Same with her smile after she fired back at “not bad for a woman” barb with, “I hate you.”

• Next week: Peggy is hunted by the SSR after her secret is revealed! That should be a good time.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
It's no surprise that the Howling Commandos helped "The Iron Ceiling" become Agent Carter's best episode to date; what is surprising is how that was accomplished. By avoiding the trap of getting too fan service-y, this episode used the Marvel connections to deconstruct many of the core relationships on the show to great effect. We’re poised to end this season out strongly, carrying the momentum of Marvel’s ABC series plans nicely.