We’re at the end of a road. Season one of Marvel’s Agent Carter wrapped up tonight with “Valediction.” It’s a fitting title for a finale, and we don’t know yet if the episode marks the end of the season or the series. Let’s hope there’s more to come because the series has made a memorable splash with its eight episodes, and selfishly, I’m not ready to let go of this world.
The blessing of having just eight episodes to tell a story rather than the 22 of a full season means no time has been wasted. None of the scenes in Agent Carter have felt like filler because they only have time to keep moving forward with the plot. This approach meant each episode was action-packed but not overstuffed. That continued in the finale as Peggy Carter, Jack Thompson, Daniel Sousa, Edwin Jarvis, and Howard Stark led the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) in their hunt for Dr. Ivchenko/Fennhoff and Dottie Underwood.
When we last saw Ivchenko and Dottie, they’d released the deadly Item 17 upon an unsuspecting movie theater. We learn the purpose of the attack was to get the attention of the SSR and flex their villainous muscles. It takes a few beats for their motivation to unfold: Ivchenko wants revenge upon Howard Stark for the tragic events at the Battle of Fennel.
And speaking of Howard Stark, he hits many different levels of fantastic. Dominic Cooper has incredible range and transitions from Howard’s remorse to his arrogance in a moment. It says so much about his attitude that when he strolls into the SSR with Jarvis his first instinct isn’t to say, “Let’s clear this up.” It’s to criticize their security systems and say he should have been hired to install them. That quip paired with Jarvis hilariously putting his hands up provided welcome relief after the horrors of the movie theater. The writers and performers have managed to hit that comfortable place where comedy and serious business rest side by side, and they’ve done it since the first episode.
The mood quickly changes when Stark shares the real story of the Battle of Fennel. His Midnight Oil didn’t do what it was supposed to, but the commanding American officer stole the gas and used it on the Russian soldiers even though he knew it wasn’t fit for use. It’s apparent Howard feels intense guilt, and it’s not an emotion he wears often. Then, in mere minutes we see him play the jerk card again and steal Steve’s blood back when no one is looking.
Since Howard feels responsible for the mess, he volunteers to be bait to draw Ivchenko and Dottie to them (by the way, Howard and Jack during the press conference? Best.). He realizes the duo wants to use the remaining canisters of Midnight Oil to make New York City tear itself apart. Unfortunately for Stark but fortunately for the plot, Ivchenko and Dottie out-maneuver the SSR and capture Stark. I like repeatedly seeing how formidable the villains are.
And Ivchenko doesn’t waste any time using his hypnotizing powers on Howard. The constructed world he chose to put Howard in hit us hard and it hit Peggy hard. Ivchenko plays on Howard’s feelings of guilt and takes him back to the loss of Steve Rogers. It would have been so easy to have Ivchenko do this to Peggy – and I think many fans expected that – but no, they smartly put Howard under duress and let Peggy be the hero. By doing so, they also confirm just how much Steve meant to Howard. Captain America is a truly good person, and Howard played a part in transforming Steve into the hero. Project Rebirth is one of the most positive and meaningful things Howard’s been a part of.
By the time Jarvis sheepishly confesses he’s been hiding the existence of Howard’s hangar from the SSR, Ivchenko hypnotizes Howard into a plane loaded with Midnight Oil and headed towards Times Square. Once the SSR arrives at the hangar, the episode is nonstop action and emotion.
The inevitable Peggy and Dottie showdown didn’t disappoint. Though I wish Peggy’s first move would have been to shoot Dottie in the knee, she handled herself well. I think that like the men in the SSR, Dottie underestimates Peggy and Peggy uses it to her advantage. Peggy also continues her “use whatever’s on hand” fighting style which seems like it would put Dottie off her game. Their combat was violent and choreographed in such a way I was legitimately worried for Peggy’s life. She took some hard hits.
Before you have time recover from their fight and the ingenuity of Sousa wearing earplugs when going after Ivchenko, you’re faced with a poignant and deeply touching scene. Peggy talking to Howard on the radio was a well-used parallel to the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. I can’t imagine how hard it was for Peggy to be in that position again, but Hayley Atwell did a hell of a job expressing it. Her performance throughout the scene was utterly heartbreaking and so was Cooper’s. It was powerful and one of the most well written and performed scenes in the season.
The ending doesn’t drop the ball. I was disappointed and surprised to see Jack return to form so quickly. Sousa’s reaction was endearing though and a nice callback to a similar moment in the first episode. So was Peggy’s comment: “I know my value, everyone else’s opinion really doesn’t matter.” It was sweet to see Angie come back into the picture and doubly so to see Jarvis return Steve’s blood to Peggy. His loyalties to Howard might not have wavered, but it’s expanded to include Peggy. I do not have words to express the relief I felt when Peggy opened the vial and dumped out Steve’s blood rather than leaving it whole. A lesser show would have done so, and it would have popped back up to bite them next season.
Let’s not ignore the Marvel Cinematic Universe-shaped elephant in the room. Dr. Arnim Zola is in the cell with Ivchenko, and it sure sounded to me like he wanted to discuss the possibility of transferring someone’s mind elsewhere. That was a fitting stinger, but I also would have liked some sort of follow-up scene where Leviathan was discussed. Ivchenko and Dottie are only two people in the organization, right? Was Ivchenko’s revenge scheme personal or part of a bigger Leviathan plan? If the episode went into that, I missed it.
Much about “Valediction” was smart. The series has been anything but predictable and tightly paced with no formulas. It’s sharp and performed by an eminently talented cast. The period aspect that’s defined so well by music, sets, and costumes add to Agent Carter and help put it head and shoulders above others. Each episode has left me feeling giddy. Agent Carter exceeded my expectations, and I hope we get more.
As per tradition, allow me to share my favorite gif from last week’s episode, “Snafu,” with you:
Gif via kaytiburton
What did you think of “Valediction?” Let me know in the comments and feel free to tell me if I totally missed a mention of Leviathan.