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Peggy and Whitney Frost get parallel origin stories, detailing their respective rises to power in a man’s world.

Season 2, Episode 4: Smoke and Mirrors

Young Peggy Carter imagines herself slaying a dragon and saving her princess doll. Her brother interrupts her, and she tackles him to the ground, much to the chagrin of their mother, who wishes Peggy could be more ladylike.

Grown Peggy may be a woman, but I am not sure if it’s ladylike to flirt with a non-corporeal physicist while trying to find a cure for his disembodiment. Not that I’m complaining – Peggy’s chemistry with Dr. Jason is still undeniable. But since she wants to touch him, she has to go spy on Whitney Frost so she can find some answers.

Jarvis accompanies her, celebrity magazine in hand. While watching Whitney with Congressman Chadwick, Peggy notices that their bodyguard has the same wound as her assassin had after she’d finished with him last week. Because he’s already bested Peggy and Jarvis once, they decide to go after the beastly Hunt with a tranquilizer gun. Jarvis has one on hand because he has recently wrangled Howard Stark’s personal koala, who is apparently a real stinker.

We get our first flashback of tiny Whitney when she was still Agnes Cully. She puts together a radio in her kitchen, making notes. But her mother is unimpressed. She tells little Aggie to be sweet for her “uncle,” a vile old man that she’s boning in exchange for a house. Aggie, of course, is not sweet. She refuses to smile for the old man because she’s thinking. Even though we all know what she will become, one cannot help but like the little girl.

Back in 1947, adult Whitney also does not feel like smiling. She gets a cage full of lab rats, and she begins experimenting so she can better understand her new zero matter power. After one of the rats bites her, she’s able to absorb it. The cut on her face grows, but the bite heals. I’m not sure this is a great trade-off. If my face looked like hers, I think I’d take the rat scar on my finger, you know? But Whitney is unfazed because she is a scientist and a stone-cold villain in a comic book show.

Jarvis and Peggy manage to sedate and wrangle Hunt, but Jarvis gets tranquilized in the process. My ears maydeceive me, but I think before he passes out, he actually says the phrase Jar-velous instead of Marvelous. If that is not true, please don’t tell me. I want to believe.

Anyway, Sousa notices Peggy hauling a passed-out Jarvis and then hears Hunt rattling around in her trunk. He’s mad she did not invite him to join her, but he still agrees to help her question him to make up for how crummy he’s been in the previous two weeks. They use some of Howard Stark’s bio-weapons, infecting Hunt with a fast-acting cold and convincing him it’s malaria. Hunt actually spills, rattling off names of members in the Arena Club. He knows he is a dead man, but he opts for the antidote anyway, which allows Peggy and Sousa to save face. And Hunt, too, now that I think about it. Caving over the common cold would be pretty embarrassing.

Another flashback shows us Peggy, just a young code breaker helping England’s war efforts, getting recruited to join the SOE – an intelligence unit. She tells her C.O. that she’ll consider the offer, but that she needs to talk to her fiance. It is legitimately jarring to hear Peggy Carter defer to anyone, let alone a dude, especially with regards to her civic duty.

And in Whitney’s flashback, we see teen-aged Whitney/Agnes as she watches her mom scream at the old man. He’s leaving for a younger woman. Brilliant mother that she is, she tells Agnes that her smarts don’t matter – only her face. It’s counter-intuitive in the moment, given that Agnes’s mother is a stunner and is still getting dumped. Luckily, Agnes seems to ignore her.

Peggy and Sousa, armed with Hunt’s information, try to get a warrant to search the Arena Club. They’re stopped by Vernon Masters and his FBI goons. Vernon takes Peggy aside, personally threatening her in the most passive-aggressive way possible. This guy is the worst – no wonder Jack was so fond of him.

We cut to another flashback, giving Peggy time to consider her options. In this one, young Peggy is at her engagement party. Her brother, Michael, meets her new fiance. Michael has been out of the front lines, and her fiance works a desk job. Mr. Bore D. Lamesauce, fiance, laughs at the thought of Peggy taking the spy job, and then goes to get a drink. Michael tells Peggy he put her up for the job. He’s disappointed in Peggy, not just because she’s marrying a drippy uggo, but because she’s turned her back on her dream to have a life of adventure. Peggy just ignores him. You should never ignore a man on the front lines in war time, Pegs.

Peggy and Sousa, thwarted by Vernon, have to release Hunt. They let him think he’s escaped, but they’ve bugged him. He goes to Whitney and Chadwick’s house, where he refuses to speak until Chadwick gets home. Peggy and Sousa go back to the lab with Jarvis and Dr. Jason to listen and wait patiently while we cut to another flashback.

This time, it’s Peggy’s wedding day to Bore. Before the ceremony, her mother is called to the front door. Michael has been killed. Rather than get married, Peggy honors her brother and takes the job with the SOE. Thank goodness, too. Despite every good looking, good natured man in her presence either dying or getting life-alteringly injured, she’s still done far more good in the world than she would have with Mr. Lamesauce.

While they’re listening for Chadwick, Peggy also talks to Jason. He’s been feeling a pull from the darkness to just let go and stop existing. She urges him to fight to stay here in this dimension, using the same encouraging words she once heard from her brother.

And now Chadwick is home, so everyone at the lab listens carefully. He starts talking to Hunt with sympathy, but Whitney realizes that Hunt must have said something. She starts questioning him, and he reveals that he told Peggy the names of the Arena Club’s Circle of Nine – the proper name for the shadowy cabal we met earlier this season. Outraged, Whitney absorbs him using her zero matter powers. Peggy, Sousa, Jarvis and Doctor Jason can only hear Hunt scream – they have no idea what she’s done to him, but after he dissolves, they lose the feed.

In the closing tag, we see a flashback to Whitney’s first week in Hollywood. She’s discovered by an agent, who tells her to change her name from Agnes to something prettier because she can be whatever she wants to be. Then we see Whitney facing down a shocked Chadwick, just after absorbing Hunt. He asks her what she is, and she turns to him, her black zero-matter scar larger than ever and says “Whatever I want to be.”

What could have been a filler episode proved to be super interesting, providing great character moments for both Peggy and Whitney Frost. It’s a shame these two have found themselves at odds, because I think in another world, they would be great friends. In fact, they aren’t all that different from Jessica and Trish in Jessica Jones – a rough and tumble crime fighter and her beautiful TV personality counterpart. Watching them play cat and mouse as two people who have been constantly underestimated their whole lives, two people who are finally meeting worthy adversaries, is very thrilling.

I can’t help but hope for a giant zero matter cure-all this season. I want Whitney to have a chance to redeem herself, and I need Dr. Jason to be the future Mr. Carter. Of all the guys in the show, he remains the most competent. Even in this episode, when he’s feeling weak, he’s smart enough to go to Peggy for help. I hope he keeps fighting the good fight.

Watching Peggy, Dr. Jason, Sousa and Jarvis together, combining their mad science and spy skills, I think we got our first glimpse of the founding members of SHIELD. Here’s hoping they all make it out of this season alive and whole, because I think that’s a great foundation on which to build a cinematic and television universe.

 

Directed By: David Platt

Produced By: Tara Butters, Louis D’Esposito, Chris Dingess, Michele Fazekas, Kevin Feige, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Joe Quesada

Written By: Sue Chung

Starring: Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Enver Gjokaj, Chad Michael Murray, Reggie Austin, Bridget Regan, Kurtwood Smith

Network: ABC

Date released: February 2, 2016

Run Time: 42 minutes

Rating: N/A

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