Marvel’s Agent Carter S02E04 “Smoke & Mirrors” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Fox TV, new episodes every Thursday
Writer: Sue Chung
Director: David Platt
Essential Plot Points:
- In order to expose Whitney Frost’s involvement in Zero Matter and the Arena Club’s plans, Peggy and Jarvis decide to go after the club’s head of security – and Calvin Chadwick’s bodyguard – Rufus Hunt.
- In flashbacks we get to see Peggy and Whitney’s respective pasts, particularly showing how the pair became who they are today.
- After overcoming her fear of her ability, Whitney starts to test her powers on lab rats.
- Peggy and Jarvis kidnap Hunt, and Sousa helps with the questioning.
- They discover the identity of the Council of Nine, but the SSR’s investigation into them is stopped before it can even begin.
- After placing a listening device on Hunt and allowing him to escape their custody, Peggy and co learn that there’s more to Whitney than meets the eye though they’re not quite sure what it is yet.
Hoping to discover what the Arena Club and Whitney Frost intend for LA, Peggy enlists Jarvis’s help to kidnap the Arena Club’s head of security. After a scuffle with a tranquiliser gun takes the man, and Jarvis, down, Peggy brings him back to the Stark residence to question him. There, she is quickly intercepted by Chief Sousa, who agrees to help. While this is taking place, Whitney is starting to adapt to her new powers, becoming a formidable force.
The main focus of the episode is not on these events, but on how Peggy and Whitney came to be who they are in present day. The episode opens on a flashback of Peggy’s childhood when she often played the hero, saving damsels in distress. It is a charming way to start the episode, giving a little more insight into Peggy’s life before Captain America: The First Avenger. Her relationship with her brother, in particular, was enjoyable since he was able to see the potential Peggy had as a spy, and was determined not to let the glass ceiling stop her from taking on this role.
In contrast, Whitney Frost’s childhood is not as liberal. A genius from a young age we see Frost, then Agnes Cully, work on mechanical designs in her home while her mother and boyfriend “uncle Bud” constantly criticise her for not smiling, saying that she will be a lot prettier if she did that. They ignore her intellectual potential, and enforce the idea that only a pretty face will get you by in the world. Then we see how Agnes has developed the mask she uses in front of those who only focus on her beauty, and she begins to learn to manipulate those around her, a skill she uses quite often to her advantage in the present day.
The contrast between the two women’s past is intriguing, making it clear how one’s surroundings can shape the way you see the world. Where one woman learnt not to let other’s expectations limit her potential, the other learnt to hide her intellect and to use her face to get up in the world. Now that Whitney Frost no longer needs to use her face, since Zero Matter is leaving a rather large crack down the side of it, she is now free to do what she wants.
From start to finish, “Smokes & Mirrors” brilliantly reveals the reason why Whitney has become a villain. She has been limited and demoralised all her life, and now she has been given the opportunity to finally reach her potential, albeit as a villain. One thing that this week’s episode makes clear is that the MCU television universe is so much better at developing villains than its film universe. While this is probably due mainly to the lack of time the villains have onscreen in the films, Loki is the only one who seems like a formidable enemy so far (let’s hope the build-up for Thanos’ reign of terror will have the same effect). Whereas in television, the MCU universe is able to develop its villains in such a way that we can sympathise with them and understand why they’ve decided to do what they do, such as Whitney Frost in this episode. (Take a look at both Netflix Marvel shows so far to see extra evidence for this observation – ed.)
The problem with the episode, though, is that so many flashback sequences eat away at the episode’s 40 minute runtime. While both storylines are interesting, and are essential in developing each character, it does mean that there is very little actually happening in the present day (well, the show’s present day… you know what we mean). As such, the episode does feel a little thin. One other factor of having so many flashbacks is that there is no room for secondary characters to appear. Dr Wilkes, for example, doesn’t do a lot in the episode, and spends most of his time staring into space. Other characters such as Ana and Rose are nowhere to be seen, again. Hopefully they’ll return to the series soon.
- Unlike MCU films, it seems that Marvel’s TV series are a lot better at developing their villains. With the exception of Loki, none of the villains in the MCU films have been as well-developed or as menacing as Whitney is in Agent Carter.
- The contrast between Peggy and Whitney’s past works really well in this episode, where one was able to look past what other’s expected of her, the other learned to act according to their prejudices and began to manipulate those around her.
- So Peggy went through a lot more tragedy than we originally thought. Her relationship with her brother was really heart-warming to watch, and it was nice that he was the one to recommend her for the SOE division. He knew her so well.
- “You gave him a cold?” “An intense cold.”
- “Not the flamingo?” “The koala. Its adorable appearance belies a vile temperament.”
- “We caught a possum on the property earlier this morning. Vicious little creature… Or I have a man stashed in the boot.”
- Wilkes doesn’t get the opportunity to do much in this episode other than stare into space or periodically talk to Peggy, it’ll be great if he gets to do more as the series goes on.
- While the flashbacks are interesting and give an insight into Peggy and Whitney’s past, they have the effect of slowing everything else down so there’s doesn’t seem to be as much happening in this episode as there has been before.
- The Arena Club plot seems to have been revealed rather quickly.
- How did they get the microphone onto Hunt without touching his back?
- Where have Ana and other secondary characters gone?
- Chris Browning, who plays Rufus Hunt, was last seen on Supergirl as Reactron.
Review by Roxy Simons