This week on Agent Carter, it’s not extortion, it’s a shakedown! I don’t want to get too Freshman Literary Workshop about it, but “The Blitzkrieg Button” is all about unexpected switcheroos, which makes that little joke from the opening scene particularly apt.
We open on Jarvis doing a bit of shady dealing with some smugglers, which becomes a caper when Peggy joins the action and simply knocks out the toughs rather than have Jarvis pay the extortion/shakedown money. It turns out that Howard Stark himself is the cargo being smuggled home from Europe, which is a nice touch, as is the fact that his shipping crate is all done up like a swank billiards room.
Because Stark’s Manhattan penthouse is under surveillance by the S.S.R., Peggy is forced to sneak him into The Griffith. Which we knew was coming from the moment she signed the lease in a strict women-only apartment building. I can’t decide whether I’m disappointed that we didn’t go full Bosom Buddies, or I’m glad the show hung a lampshade on that particular trope.
Stark sends Carter on a wild goose chase to steal back what he claims is an apocalyptically dangerous weapon the S.S.R. can’t comprehend. Except it turns out there is no such weapon, and Stark just wanted to make sure he was in possession of Steve Rogers’ blood. Because, this whole time, Peggy hasn’t been working for truth, justice, and the American way. She’s been Howard Stark’s goon.
Meanwhile, back at the S.S.R., Dooley has connected some of the crumbs on the Leviathan trail (which he thinks is the Howard Stark trail). Leet Brannis and The Other Silent Leviathan Dude supposedly died at the battle of Finow, at the hands of the Nazis. So Dooley decides the only way to get more information is to go talk to a Nazi commandant who was there. Sounds legit? Except it turns that no Nazi ever killed a single Russian at the battle of Finow, because the Soviets were all dead by the time they arrived on the scene.
While the rest of the S.S.R. focuses on Leviathan and Stark’s trail in Europe, Agent Souza is looking a little close to home. In other words, right now he’s the only one actually doing anything. He brings in a likely witness to Peggy and Jarvis’ discovery of the Heartbreak. While he tries and fails to break the dockside hobo with an appeal to post-war emotional closure, ever-irritating Agent Thompson cracks him within moments by waving a bottle of whiskey in his general direction. Except it turns out that the dockside hobo didn’t see anything of use in the case. Just a brunette woman and a well-dressed man.
So we’ve got three big reversals that frame the episode: the weapon that isn’t a weapon, the battle that wasn’t a battle, and the witness who didn’t witness anything.
These aren’t the only bait-and-switch moments in the episode, of course. We’ve also got the naïve rube who’s actually an elite killer (AKA Dottie), the S.S.R. agent who’s actually a corporate thug (that would be Peggy), the blond who’s actually a brunette (Peggy again, in Souza’s photograph), and a genius inventor who is actually a craven war profiteer (Stark)
In the middle of everything is a scene I’m still parsing this morning. Carter comes into Thompson’s office, and he asks her why she’s working at the S.S.R. Presumably it’s not because she adores handling the lunch order. This begins like the standard scene you’d see in a show like Prime Suspect or Cagney And Lacey. We expect a rousing speech from Peggy about how she’s working for justice and equality and someday people like her will show people like him just how wrong they are about the world. But that isn’t what happens. Peggy is relatively quiet here, and instead it’s Thompson who has the speech. And his speech is a little more nuanced than the average boor’s rant: “No man will ever consider you an equal. It’s sad, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”
So just why is that scene in this episode, anyway? It’s not to make Thompson seem like a misogynist, because we already knew that. It’s not to tell us that the late 1940s was a sexist period in American history, because, yeah, ditto. My best guess is that this scene is meant to start the wheels spinning in Peggy’s head. Why is she here? What’s the purpose of the work she’s doing? Is she fighting on the side of good? Is she winning that fight? Is it a fight that can even be won?
Because when Peggy discovers that Stark’s “Blitzkrieg Button” is a lie – and it’s a lie about the blood of a man she loved, who fought and presumably died for all the things Thompson just told her would never be won – those wheels stop turning and land on an ugly truth. She’s not fighting to clear an honorable man’s name or protect people from powerful weapons slipping into the wrong hands. She’s a corporate spy. And a mole. For a man who profits from others’ suffering.
But I’m also wondering whether there will be bigger callbacks to Thompson’s ode to inequality, later on. Next week’s episode is called “The Iron Ceiling”, and this week we saw that Peggy isn’t the only tenant at The Griffith with dangerous secrets and a literal killer instinct. But is Dottie a force for chaotic good, or just a psycho killer with a taste for interesting weapons?
Other fun things that made my list of notes for this episode:
- Obligatory Stan Lee cameo! How dare Howard Stark hog the sports section?
- The S.S.R. scientists who keep lighting themselves on fire with Stark’s inventions is just the kind of levity that makes an episode like this sing. I also couldn’t help thinking of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s FitzSimmons there. Man, they’d have fun with Stark’s inventions…
- I’m quickly falling in love with Enver Gjokaj’s Agent Souza. It’s not just do-gooding Souza, or the fact that he’s played by someone especially dreamy. Gjokaj brings something to the character that puts me so firmly on Souza’s side that I’m going to have a hard time when he inevitably catches up to Peggy.
- Quote of the day: “Is that gun an automatic? I want it.”
This week’s homework is another visual reference that Agent Carter’s production team clearly has on a bulletin board somewhere: the work of legendary press photographer Arthur Fellig, AKA Weegee (warning: graphic images). Between the tiny camera pen that allows Carter to document the whereabouts of Stark’s inventions without suspicion (Weegee would have died to get his hands on that) and the parting shot of a dead Mink under Dottie’s bed, Weegee’s fingerprints are all over Agent Carter. In the 1930s and 1940s, Fellig trailed New York police and fire fighters to crime scenes all over the city, documenting street life in a way more traditional photojournalists didn’t have the guts to try. There’s a little of Weegee’s freelance instinct in the character Peggy Carter, especially her ability to blend in and stay one step ahead of everyone else.
So what did you guys think of “The Blitzkrieg Button”? Who is Dottie, really? What was the Typewriter Of Doom transmitting in that last scene? And did you guys miss Angie as much as I did?
Sara Clarke is the creator of the web series Fake Geek Girls. When she’s not writing and directing her own film projects, she’s coming up with new questions for her next live trivia comedy show and slaving away at her TV production day job. She reads Ms. Marvel religiously. Find her on twitter: @sara_clarke.
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