For every little girl who dreamed of being something more exciting than just “a lady,” or who would rather use her brain than use her face, Agent Carter episode four gives women two strong female characters that broke through the ceiling of unfair female stereotypes. One became a murderer, but you know, at least she’s taking hold of her own life.
In “Smoke & Mirrors,” we finally get to see a little of our favorite kickass lady agent’s life before she met sexy super-soldier Steve Rogers during WWII. Through a series of flashbacks to her childhood and then her life right before the war, Peggy’s origin story of how she became the hardened no-nonsense SSR agent extraordinaire is revealed. It was somewhat surprising to find out that Peggy herself fell victim to the societal pressures put upon women of the time–she planned to listen to her boring, white-bread fiancé and turn down the opportunity to become an espionage agent in the field because, as he says, “that’s not our Peg.”
Wait just a minute, NOT our Peggy Carter? The same woman who regularly smashes men in the head with blunt objects and/or her fists? Yes, even the strongest of women sometimes need a push to step out on their own path, and in Peggy’s case that push came at a high price. I know I’m not the only one who had major tear duct malfunction when the officers came to the Carter household with bad news. It is great scene, by the way, and it parallels countless war stories that have the youngest son join the fight after his idolized older brother is slain in battle. This time, Peggy takes up the challenge her brother made to her to be true to herself– to the little girl we met at the beginning of the episode who would rather be the valiant knight slaying the dragon than the damsel in distress. And with that we have a fuller understanding of what makes Peggy just so… Peggy.
On the opposite side of the badass females spectrum, this episode also divulges the secret past of Whitney Frost, or should I say Agnes Cully. Though Agnes/Whitney, like Peggy, grew up under the pressure to “be sweet,” “smile,” and generally be more ladylike, our villainous vixen learned that to get what she wanted in life, she would have to embrace that sweet facade instead of being true to herself. Watching a young Agnes display prodigy-level engineering abilities and then be chided by her mother and demeaned by her mother’s lover was heartbreaking. Knowing that even today, young girls face the same pressure to hide how smart they are and just be sweet and smile, is even more heartbreaking.
Growing up, Agnes watches her mother get by on her looks by taking a lover who will take care of her. She knows what is expected of her and she rejects it, deciding instead to apply for college. Watching this, you can’t help but root for little Agnes and hope that she grows up to be a strong, smart, female scientist who breaks stereotypes and hearts along the way. But reality crashes down on her and she realizes that she really can’t get anywhere with her brain alone (damn you society!). So what’s a girl to do but head out west to the city of dreams where she can finally be whatever she wants, as long as she plays the game.
The way that these two backstories were woven together throughout the episode, and the clear
parallels they draw to each other, did absolute wonders in connecting Peggy and Whitney’s characters and helped solidify how evenly matched they are as protagonist and antagonist. The best rivalries exist between characters who can see elements of themselves in one another, and Peggy and Whitney have a whole lot in common. This will go a long way to make the main storyline of season 2 even more dramatic and personal for Peggy than season 1.
Okay, so now that I’m done gushing about my favorite lady hero and my favorite lady villain… Other stuff did happen in this episode.
The incomparable Hayley Atwell continues to have off-the-charts chemistry with everyone she comes in contact with, making it impossible to predict where exactly the writers are moving with her romantic storyline. On the one hand, as Peggy continues to help Dr. Wilkes become whole again, she and the doctor gaze deeply into each other’s eyes and she gently strokes his incorporeal arm. On the other hand, while this is happening, our old friend Chief Daniel Sousa is looking on with sad-puppy-abandoned-in-the-rain face. Then, when Sousa finds out Peggy is doing dangerous things without him (like always), he practically quotes Cap and Bucky’s BFF catchphrase. “I’m with you to the end.” Yeah, Sousa, you have totally moved on.
Fortunately Atwell’s chemistry with James D’Arcy’s Mr. Jarvis causes much fewer complications and brings joy to every man, woman and child who witnesses it. Jarvis continues to bring the laughs with his usual sincere charm and adorable mishaps while being a constant support and friend to Peggy. Everyone could use a friend who will readily commit a felony with you when you need them. Additionally, I won’t be getting over his “Jarvelous!” anytime soon.
Peggy continues to be fabulous in her sunglasses and colorful Hollywood attire. Hayley Atwell continues to be a stunning actor. Wynn Everett’s performance is haunting. And again, no Ana Jarvis sightings.
Looking forward from here, it appears that the zero matter’s effect on Dr. Wilkes and Whitney Frost will continue to cause problems for Peggy– and probably a lot more people that Ms. Frost doesn’t like. Wilkes seems to be getting weaker in his intangible form while Whitney is only getting stronger, using her newfound power to suck people (and rats) into oblivion like nobody’s business. In her final scene, we see her stand up to her puppet of a husband and tell him in no uncertain terms, I am in charge here and I will do anything it takes to get what we came for. I also anticipate more trouble will come from War Department suit, Vernon Masters, whose threatening conversation with Peggy (and Sousa off-screen) promises more political tie-ins relevant to the Red Scare in forties-era Hollywood. Speaking of Red, was I the only one waiting for him to threaten to put his foot up someone’s ass? Anyone? Ok, wrong decade.
We are now nearly halfway through the season and things are picking up. Agent Carter is ready to start kicking more butts and taking more names. Until next week, be whatever you want. Unless you want to be a murderer.