Warning: The following information is classified. Spoilers are ahead for Agent Carter: “Smoke and Mirrors.”
Everyone has an origin story, and it’s time to learn Peggy Carter’s. Agent Carter took a trip into the past in “Smoke and Mirrors” and explored the similarities and differences in Peggy’s and Whitney’s upbringings. Oh yeah, it’s about to get all nature vs. nurture up in here. Flashbacks can be dangerous because they steal time away from the present and the story at hand, but when they’re done right, they enhance current events and add resonance. These flashbacks fell into the “done right” category. Learning about how Peggy and Whitney handled challenges and crossroads made the characters come into focus and gave the audience a reason to sympathize with Whitney.
Whitney wasn’t always Whitney. Raised in Oklahoma as Agnes, Whitney’s childhood wasn’t happy. Her genius intellect was overlooked by her mother — by the way, Wilkes’ comment about Whitney’s know how was a natural way to communicate how crazy smart she is — while her appearance was emphasized. If you didn’t walk away from this episode realizing how completely gross it is to tell a woman to smile, you missed the point. Agnes didn’t let her mother’s criticisms discourage her, not entirely. She got away from Oklahoma and as we know, went on to use her femininity and the world’s obsession with her looks in her favor. She publicly walked in the spotlight as a movie star and privately worked as an inventor. Her scheme is nothing short of brilliant.
We got a brief glimpse of Peggy as a kid, and I can’t tell you how much I adore her wanting to be the knight. Besides being a lovely vignette, the scene served as solid background for what we saw next. The Peggy who was excited about being engaged and turning down the S.O.E. job wasn’t the younger Peggy who wanted to save the day. It was an intriguing contrast to dive into. It seemed like Peggy was going to settle. Nothing is wrong with settling down and getting married, but Peggy’s attitude made it obvious she wasn’t entirely gung-ho about wedding Fred. She eventually realized she wanted another life, but it took her brother’s death to make her reconsider. Peggy might not have had a crappy mom, but her career started with tragedy and has been riddled with loss ever since. The flashback really made me consider how much Peggy has suffered. Her experiences make her resilience and competency all the more remarkable.
Pocketing the information about the past rounded out what occurred in the present. Peggy, Jarvis, and Sousa got an iota of information about the Arena Social Club, but their uh, encounter with Rufus revealed a bigger problem: corruption within the government that affects the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR). I’m getting ahead of myself though; there are important things to say about the capture of Rufus. First of all, Jarvis’ booming police voice nearly made me fall off my seat with laughter. James D’Arcy is so deft with comedy. Secondly, it was cute as hell to watch Peggy get all awkward with Sousa. We don’t often see Peggy miss a beat; it’s telling how she stumbled all over herself while trying to hide the fact that Rufus was in the trunk of the car from Sousa.
The other particularly interesting part of the Rufus interrogation was seeing how Peggy was willing to blur the lines. She absolutely has a code and overall, she sticks to the letter of the law, but when the case requires more, she doesn’t hesitate to go there. Her morals and ideals are solid, but she knows when to smudge them for the greater good, if you know what I mean. She very much toed the line with her actions, but if you thought she went too far, your tune probably changed after Vernon swept into the SSR with his audit.
I’m sure Peggy realizes dirty government officials are a thing but being aware of it and encountering it firsthand are different beasts. Her reaction brought a satisfying level of Peggy-branded sass but also a touch of shock. I think Peggy was flabbergasted to have to face compromised people within the SSR, especially someone as high up as Vernon. He’s not an adversary on the level of Whitney Frost, or at least not in the same way, but it looks like he’s going to cause plenty of trouble and impede Carter and Sousa’s investigation into the Arena Club.
Speaking of Whitney, she did what any scientist would do and tested the Zero Matter. Where are the people and animals she’s consuming going? Are they destroyed or do they exist in a similar way to Wilkes? There are so many questions to answer there, but I think the more important takeaway is Whitney’s not afraid. She’s embracing what’s happened to her and using it to her benefit. Because physical appearance has been such a big part of her story, it’s important that the Zero Matter has a visible side effect. It’s not something she can hide under clothing, and the crack is too big to conceal behind her hair now. It’s looking as if Zero Matter will finally be the thing that lets her escape the trap of beauty.
- “Its adorable appearance belies a vile temperament.” – Jarvis, discussing a koala
- “Jarvelous.” – Jarvis
- “What are your feelings about committing a felony, Mr. Jarvis?” – Peggy Carter
What did you think about the use of flashbacks in the episode—did they add to Peggy’s and Whitney’s stories for you? Talk to me in the comments or on Twitter.