In the eighth and final episode of the first season of Agent Carter, FEELINGS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Agent Carter.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of terrorism, brainwashing.
Well, goddamn, that was a fun ride.
I think that Agent Carter holds a unique place within the Marvel universe, especially since it’s the only entity aside from Captain America that exists in a specific place in time. That allows for plots much like this one, where the entirety of the first season can be a serialized and contained story. But it also makes for a unique experience because Agent Carter is a period piece as well as a superhero story. Except…it’s more about what’s left in the wake of that superhero story. There’s no one in the entirety of this season who’s got a superpower or some sort of supernatural skill. In fact, this feels far more like science fiction than anything you’d consider fantasy, and I think that’s the case when you examine how “Valediction” turns into an examination of Howard Stark’s guilt.
I think there are echoes of the Iron Man films in this story, but this somehow felt a million times more intimate than any of those movies. That’s not to suggest there isn’t any grandeur here; the very idea of a Midnight Oil attack on Manhattan, in Times Square, on V.E. Day, is pretty damn huge and ridiculous and frightening. But we don’t ever see it. The entirety of the violence is only in “Snafu,” and “Valediction” is all about the threat of that terror. And who perpetrates it?
Well, if Fennhoff had gotten his way, he would have manipulated Stark into dropping Midnight Oil onto Times Square, and Stark’s suffering would have lasted at least up until he was executed for his act of terror. That’s the narrative Fennhoff wanted to craft, and it was all because Stark was the easiest person for Fennhoff to blame. Obviously, Fennhoff is misguided here, but not entirely, and I don’t think that Agent Carter wants us to believe that Stark shouldn’t feel guilty. His exchange with Fennhoff in his secret hanger is genuine because he genuinely feels as if he’s done the world a disservice for creating any of the things that were used against others. He knows that his invention was used against the Russians, leading to Fennhoff’s brother’s death, and he knows that it’s not the first time his scientific pursuits were exploited for their destructive value.
But blame is not a straight line, nor is it a simple case of cause and effect. The general who chose to use midnight oil is the one truly responsible, and Fennhoff’s plan also would have ruined thousands of innocent lives. It’s a convoluted and vicious act of revenge, and Fennhoff doesn’t care. It’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of things because all that’s important to him is the end result: Howard Stark suffers.
I think that it’s a hell of a story, but I also wonder why the show changed the focus to Stark as opposed to Peggy Carter in the end. It’s true that the sole person who supported Carter prior to this whole mess was Howard Stark. Jarvis came to her aid, too, but I understood the emotional value that Stark held for Peggy. I also thought it was pretty cool that out of everything Stark had done, he realized that the only thing that was wholly good about his work was Captain America. I appreciated that sort of honesty, as well as the fact that Stark destroyed all of his inventions by the end of “Valediction.”
I suppose that I’m just a little selfish, in the sense that I want Agent Carter to be about…Agent Carter? I don’t mean that to sound as sarcastic as it’s coming off, but it’s true! I think that there’s an element to this ending where Peggy feels sidelined, which isn’t to say she can’t be emotional, nor does it mean that her role here is necessarily diminished. She is the one to break through Fennhoff’s brainwashing!
At the same time, the whole point here is that Peggy doesn’t want glory. She doesn’t want the credit or the national attention. (Thompson clearly does, NO ONE IS SURPRISED.) She is perfectly fine knowing what she’s done and being aware of her own worth, all without the need for validation. So I think she’s just as aware that her role here at the end was to stop Stark from doing the unthinkable and to prevent Jarvis from having to make the worst decision of his life. Plus, I don’t think it’s at all fair to craft a character who is a massive response to the pervasive misogyny of this time period and the genre and then to stop them from being emotional.
I’m selfish, that’s all. It’s the same reason I want Dottie as an ally, BECAUSE I’M SELFISH. I want more of Peggy, more of Dottie, MORE OF ANGIE, a million scenes of Angie/Peggie in that goddamn mansion, and I want to see Jarvis and Peggy become even better friends and I WANT A LOT. The truth is that even though I’ve got my critical thinking cap on, I really enjoyed Agent Carter. A LOT. It’s flawed in a few ways – namely in portraying Manhattan as almost entirely white – and it’s also immensely entertaining to me. And hey, we even got a glimpse of how the whole Winter Soldier program started! (I suppose you could also say that this pre-empted the brainwashing we saw on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., too!) It’s a very good story; the acting was fantastic; and I think thus far, it’s the best Marvel television show. I still have a soft spot for Captain America: The Winter Soldier more than anything else, but I’m pleased that Agent Carter was as good as it was.
So! I hope to get to season two sometime in 2016. In the meantime, tomorrow we start a brand new show for Double Features: The 100. I’ll be watching seasons one and two, and I hope you’ll join me!
The video for “Valediction” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on Patreon!!! MANY SURPRISES ARE IN STORE FOR YOU IF YOU SUPPORT ME.
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– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be season 1 of Agent Carter, seasons 1 & 2 of The 100, Death Note, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
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