Last week’s episode will remain the high watermark for the series, but Marvel’s Agent Carter still finished with a flourish with the appropriately titled “Valediction.” This may be a farewell to Peggy, Jarvis, Sousa, Howard and Jack Thompson.
On my cable provider’s website where I streamed this episode, “Valediction” was described thusly: “Howard Stark returns in this Season 1 finale.” It’s a laughably simplistic premise, but it hints at one of the problems Agent Carter had. It was fundamentally about Howard Stark and Steve Rogers, two characters that either couldn’t be there or weren’t there enough, and became distractions.
The finale begins with the wonderfully cheesy Captain America radio show, with an episode retelling Peggy and Cap’s final moments. The season began with the real version, and we end with the soap operatic version. Over an entire season, not a whole lot has changed, even if Agent Carter has found its legs during the latter half of its run.
SSR arrives at the theater, where Stark’s invention inspired a murderous rage last week. It’s “like a monster” swept through the theater, but this is no Marvel Easter egg, it’s just the evil that Howard Stark’s can inspire. Sousa tracks down the gas canister and is rewarded with GAS IN THE FACE, inspiring a coughing fit and a blind rage, attacking Agent Thompson and Peggy. Fortunately/luckily, they manage to knock him out before he can do any real damage.
Elsewhere, the perpetrators of this ghastly crime, Dr. Ivchenko/Johann Fennhoff/Doctor Faustus and Dottie Underwood/Pre-Black Widow get pulled over by a well-meaning cop. Dottie turns on the ditzy, referring to herself as “the silliest goose,” which will make any cop relinquish a ticket. Except, a radio announcement announces their stolen car. Poor dude turns around to find a gun in his face.
Sousa wakes up, locked to his bed, wondering what the hell happened. He remembers wanting to kill Thompson, and everyone, and admits he still wants to kill Thompson, but no more than usual. Jokes! Sousa seemed to have escaped from the whole ordeal with nary more than a sore throat. His recovery is interrupted by the return of Howard Stark, who interrupts everything. “Miss me?” he asks Peggy, and I’m not so sure. When the show first began, I bemoaned his absence, because it mostly just felt like they couldn’t afford Dominic Cooper’s paychecks. That still doesn’t feel any less true, but he also comes with a lot of baggage and tends to dominate the narrative, taking away from the principal members of the cast we’re supposed to care about the most. Anyways, he, of course, is under arrest, and whereas Peggy had to prove her innocence last week, Howard has the task of doing so this week. Even if he’s technically “innocent,” he’s far from it, since the guy only invents things that lead to grisly murders. Like father, like son seems to be the theme of Avengers 2, when Tony’s Ultron invention doesn’t work out so well.
Stark, after mentioning that he could help Sousa out with his leg (which feels like a hollow promise of what they can do with a Season 2 that probably won’t happen), reveals the origins of the gas. It’s Midnight Oil, an invention that was commissioned by the army to try and keep soldiers awake for days at a time. Instead…well, bad things. And instead of heeding Stark’s warnings, General McGinest (this show’s offscreen patsy) broke into Stark’s lab and used the gas at the Battle of Finau, creating an unholy massacre, that proves to be Dr. Fennhoff’s inciting incident of super-villainy, and the reason (rightfully) Stark stopped trusting government.
Stark, feeling guilty, agrees to be bait, and to do so in a public, showy fashion, as is his MO. The event is billed as a heroic homecoming, and it works completely to keep Dottie and Ivchenko in NY, though I’m not entirely sure what they were planning before Howard Stark fell happily into their lap. If they were just going to go, that might’ve been worth avoiding the possibility that all of NY would be inflicted with the Midnight Oil. But, who knows.
We do get to see the man behind Stark’s immense ego and bravado in this episode. He doesn’t care what people think, but he cares what Peggy thinks, and he’s still reeling from her truth bomb in “The Blitzkrieg Button.” He’s putting himself in the crosshairs to try to make up for his past, rummaging through the SSR’s lab (whose scientists are unsurprisingly bungling his inventions) to find a powerful bulletproof vest that won’t make you sick and kill you (sorry Dooley!). As he bares his soul to Peggy, he still steals Steve Rogers’ blood, proving that he can never ever be trusted.
At the press conference, Stark feeds compliments to Thompson, who grudgingly spits them out, until shots are fired. They’re not even close to hitting Stark, and his escape is exactly what Leviathan wants: Stark’s whisked off by the policeman from before, now under Fennhoff’s mind control. It’s hilarious to see Stark try and fail to bribe the driver with money and Rosalind Russell’s phone number. When he’s brought to Fennhoff and Dottie, Stark doesn’t remember the Russian lass, despite spending a weekend with her. “Is it Alice?” Stark asks, as she hits him across the face.
It’s apparently May 8th, or VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), which the SSR think is integral to the plan. It’s not really, but it’s a quick and easy way to add to the tension, until Jarvis realizes where they’re headed: Stark’s private vault. But SSR locked all of his stuff down and confiscated everything, Thompson says. Not everything, because Stark always has another bunker full of planes.
At the base, Fennhoff reveals that he was at Finau, that he saw everyone die, including his brother. Howard apologizes sincerely, accepts his death, but urges him from killing innocents. Instead, Fennhoff starts playing with his ring and doing his thang. I thought for a moment that Howard knew what he was up to, but nope, he falls under the spell faster than Dooley did, as Fennhoff quickly attacks his biggest weakness: Captain America. Soon, Howard imagines that he’s saving Steve in the polar ice caps, except he’s flying one of his planes full of the Midnight Oil, straight toward New York city.
The SSR get there right as he takes off, and Jarvis happens to be the only one who can fly a plane. He will be their last defense if they can’t snap Howard Stark out of it. They’ll have to shoot him down. It’s a big moment for Jarvis, who has routinely been one of the highlights of this show, to the point where his folksy British antics almost become a crutch.
Peggy, meanwhile, tracks down Dottie and Fennhoff. Instead of shooting them both before they see her, she instructs them to freeze and all that, which never works. But it ensures we get the Dottie/Peggy face-off we’ve all been waiting for, where Bridget Regan cements her place as MVP of this show, as she flits from “silly goose” to insane badass like one would flip a page. The fight is great, but abruptly brief, ending with Peggy kicking her out the window, blood pooling on one of Stark’s many planes.
Fennhoff has escaped, however, meaning Jack Thompson and Sousa actually have to do something. Thompson’s quickly knocked out, and Sousa, despite knowing full well that he can’t let the damn guy talk, does, and it looks like he’s going to be manipulated into shooting Jack. Instead, Sousa bashes Fennhoff’s face in with his gun, taking out his earplugs, Doctor Faustus’ greatest weakness, and one of the best moments of the night.
But none of that really matters if Peggy can’t talk Howard Stark down, a situation similar to her last words with Steve in Captain America: The First Avenger (and this show’s pilot; it all comes full circle). Howard’s still living the fantasy of saving Cap’s life, but Peggy speaks for all of us and the show when she pleas, cries and admits that they need to move on. It’s a tender, emotional moment, but yes, Peggy and Marvel need to move on from this moment. After seven episodes, I feel like we’d distanced ourselves from Captain America, but we hadn’t at all, not really. Finally, this moment lets Peggy Carter advance to the next chapter in her life as a hero and character. We love Peggy because she’s a badass woman in a male-dominated world, but in many ways, she was still defined by her relationship with men, with Howard Stark and with Steve Rogers. This closes the book on that, hopefully, as she snaps Howard out of it just in time, before Jarvis had to blow up his employer/friend.
In the aftermath, Dottie of course is nowhere to be found, a trail of blood in her wake. “We haven’t seen the last of her,” Peggy predicts, and that’s precisely because Bridget Regan was the breakout character on the show, alongside Ralph Brown’s soothing psychotic Dr. Fennhoff. While Leviathan was a blah Russian version of Hydra, the two faces we did see were fantastic. Say what you want about the inconsistencies of Marvel’s TV efforts, but they’ve done a lot better job creating villains on the small screen than on the big one. Agent Carter‘s tag bridges the gap, bringing one of the best villains from the Captain America series back in the form of Toby Jones’ amazing Dr. Arnim Zola, who happens to be Fennhoff’s new cellmate. Fennhoff, sporting a Hannibal Lecter-like mask that prevents him from speaking, seems quite down, but Zola has heard of his methods, and wants to collaborate. After all, they found themselves in an American prison, and America “is the land of opportunity.” Doctor Faustus and Arnim Zola are two of the best and most devious villains in Captain America’s history, and have a large part to play in some of the best stories, including “The Death of Captain America,” a Ed Brubaker penned story that funnels out of “The Winter Soldier,” and could hint at the future of the franchise. At the very least, this hints at the creation of the Faustus Method, that Daniel Whitehall has perfected in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Agent 33. Hopefully, somehow, it means we can see this team-up on AOS or…perhaps, season 2 of Agent Carter?
Is this the last we’ve seen of the SSR on the small screen? Agent Carter‘s finale ratings tied a series low last night. The silver lining is that the show inspired a marked improvement over last year’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hiatus programming, but it wouldn’t shock anyone if this was the end of the line for Agent Carter, which is a shame if only so ignoramuses can’t chalk this up to “proof” that a female driven superhero show can’t work. ABC and Marvel likely don’t want to admit defeat here, so I predict either a surprise renewal, or a different Marvel presentation to fill these eight weeks next season (I’d love a show from Dottie’s Black Widow perspective). Regardless, we’ll certainly be seeing Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter again, what with her being one of a million people in Avengers 2, and it’s not hard to imagine Dominic Cooper popping in for flashbacks here and there, and even for James D’Arcy’s Jarvis to show up somewhere in the Ultron/Vision origin story. The outlook isn’t as rosy for Sousa or Thompson, which admittedly, isn’t a huge loss to the MCU (I still love you Enver Gjokaj). There’s certainly more story to tell. In many ways, Peggy Carter’s story has only just now begun, as she pours Steve Rogers’ blood into the Hudson River, saying goodbye to her love forever.
Well, until Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but you know what I mean.