TV Review: Agent Carter 2X04 “Smoke & Mirrors”

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After “Smoke & Mirrors,” I wonder if it’s at all necessary to move forward with the story of Peggy Carter. While that may seem like my final stab in the heart to what I’ve outspokenly felt has been a disappointing series, it’s actually a fairly large complement to what is by far the best episode of the season so far. It’s not the continuation of the still-flat main story that makes this episode strong though, it is the writers’ wise choice to take a note out of the Arrow playbook and weave in some flashbacks centered around both Peggy and Whitney’s troubled past. It’s unclear if this is going to be a running motif for the rest of the season, but I certainly hope it is, as it gave some much needed depth to both characters, and started to make some fascinating dichotomies between the two more clear.

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Beginning with Peggy’s story, we saw her fruitful relationship with her brother Michael (Max Brown) grow from playing make believe games in the yard, to becoming best friends in adulthood. While her mother always wished for her to become more ladylike, Peggy yearned for action, which Michael understood better than anyone. Even in a very limited amount of scenes, Max Brown did a fantastic job of endearing us to Michael, particularly in a fantastic moment at Peggy’s engagement party, where he begs her to take an investigative field job he has recommended her for instead. We can see how pained he is to hear his sister untruly claim that “a boring life is a privilege.” He didn’t feel like the contrived, over protective brother troupe that has dominated so many of these stories, but a genuinely kind-hearted person who loves and believes in his sister. It’s easy to see just how Peggy became so headstrong. Unfortunately, Michael being killed in action is ultimately what propelled Peggy to call off her engagement and take the job, so we won’t be seeing more of him.

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That story richly contrasts that of Whitney Frost, who as it turns out was formally known as Agnes Culley. A engineering prodigy from an early age, Agnes was anguished to watch her mother fall victim to an oafish, sexist man who she never liked to begin with. When that man leaves, her mother throws a tantrum, blaming Agnes’ rejection from a prestigious science school on her gender, and harshly enforcing that her face “is the only thing that’s going to get her anywhere.” Whitney, who was forced to change her name to something “as beautiful as she is” is ultimately the inverse Peggy. While our heroine had the adventurous parts of her personality nourished, Whitney was told time and time again that those wouldn’t amount to anything. Finally, we’re dealing with real, human themes in this show again. 

Oh, right, there’s the main story.

There truly wasn’t anything terribly eventful in the present day sequences here, but now that the more procedural moments are starting to focus on the right characters, they’re starting to show more personality. The majority of the story centered on Carter, Jarvis and Sousa capturing and interrogating a man by the name of Hunt, an enforcer for Chadwick and Frost. Since it was a smaller mission, we got a nice mix of a few fun sillier moments (Jarvis impersonating an American police officer being the highlight) along with an opportunity for Carter to show off just how cunning she really is. Injecting Hunt with a cold while telling him that it is fatal Malaria, the antidote to which can only be received by talking, was a nice move on her part, and brought back Peggy’s resourcefulness that has been missing a little bit in this season. Of course, the fun couldn’t go on for too long though, as Vernon showed up right before a raid on the Arena Club to make sure things didn’t get too fun. How many times can villains make up metaphors about tidal waves and our heroes drowning before it’s outlawed from writers’ rooms altogether. Frankly, Kurtwood Smith was better suited to the ’70s.

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Also slightly awkward were the scenes between Peggy and a still disembodied Wilkes. While I totally buy how much respect Peggy would have for him, the romance between these two just isn’t clicking. It’s not even subtle anymore. At one point, Wilkes describes to Peggy not being able to feel the urges of his own body, followed by a moment of the two of them practically tearing their pants off for each other. Come on guys, keep it together, Jarvis doesn’t want to see that! There’s clearly a bit of stalling going on with that story until either Howard Stark returns, or some major attack on the home base sends him into the nether-relm again, and he’s about the 25th most interesting thing going on here.

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While it’s certainly telling that this season’s strongest material so far took place outside of the main story, it was still solid stuff nevertheless. I’m finally starting to see what could make Whitney Frost a formidable foe for Peggy, and if the rest of the story decides to further explore their relationship, we could be in for a better back-half of this season. For now, I’m just glad to say that I fully enjoyed an episode of this season for the first time. Give yourself a pat on the back Peg, you won this round.

Rating: 7/10

When Michael Fairbanks first saw Sam Rami's Spider-Man film back in 2002, everything changed. The experience began a lifelong passion for cinema that has gone undeterred since. In 2009 he began reviewing movies on Youtube, which ultimately sprang into a lifelong passion for film criticism and entertainment reporting. He is currently studying screenwriting at Chapman University. Aside from seeing movies, Michael enjoys making bad puns while playing video games, going on long late night drives, and socializing over large plates of food. For more of Fairbanks' movie reviews check out: https://fairbanksonfilm.wordpress.com