Agent Carter 1.05: The Iron Ceiling

About Agent Carter 1.05: The Iron Ceiling

Agent Carter just keeps delivering the action, the humor, and one great script after another. The show runners have been really smart in mapping out an entire story arc, and then breaking it down into each weekly episode. Agent Carter took the first few episodes establishing Peggy and her world at the SSR, and took their time to include the Black Widow Program and the Howling Commandos. This week, it was confirmed that Dottie is a Black Widow, and it’s a great way to layer in an important element from the Marvel movies and give it even more context, as we learn that in the MCU, Russia’s been training girls like this for a long, long time.

The episode starts in the Soviet Union, 1937, at an all-girls school that teaches all the things a young woman needs to know. Things like learning English by reciting the script of Snow White, and getting physical exercise by snapping the neck of the little girl that just shared bread with you. Nope, this isn’t Natalia Romanova, it’s a flashback to our new favorite psycho killer, Dottie Underwood. (Let’s just pause and think about how awesome it is that Marvel got permission from Disney to use one of the most beloved animated films of all time in a sequence about little girls being turned into highly trained killers) Then we move to seeing Dottie’s training in action, as she steals the key to Peggy’s apartment while the two women share an identical piece of bread that we just saw Dotting splitting with her childhood sparring partner.

Back at the SSR, Dooley, Thompson, and the others are trying to crack the encryption of the Soviet typewriter, and are getting nowhere. Peggy realizes that it’s a Russian encryption, and unlocks the code easily. We’ve established that the boys at the SSR don’t realize what an asset they have in Peggy, and it’s nice for her to be able to shine and prove her worth. She can also guarantee the help of the Howling Commandos, so she is allowed to travel to Eastern Europe and be a part of the mission.

A great moment of character writing occurs when Peggy refuses to go downstairs to suit up in the women’s restroom and insists on changing in the co-ed locker room. When Souza arrives to provide the mission intelligence, Thompson tricks him into walking in on Peggy while she is in her underwear. It’s Thompson trying to remind Carter and Souza of their place on the totem pole, but it gives Souza a major breakthrough on the identity of the blonde mystery woman when he sees old battle wounds on Peggy’s bare shoulder. The whole episode if full of small, but smart writing, where people around Peggy are developing into three dimensional people, and not just stereotypes. SSR chief, Roger Dooley confronts Jarvis without threats, saying he isn’t on a witch hunt for Stark, but just wants the truth. Did anyone notice that Jarvis very nearly touches his ear during their conversation—the very gesture Carter identified as his lying tick. I love the level of subtle detail this show uses.

After a parachute jump that hints at the reveal of Thompson’s big secret, we’re reunited with the Howling Commandos. So we’re headed behind the Iron Curtain into Belarus on the trail of the smoking gun that will prove Stark is selling weapons to the Soviets. Instead, Peggy and the boys discover the creepy assassin school that trained Dottie and numerous other little girls. They also partially clear Stark’s name when they find a Russian engineer who has Stark’s plans, but no sign that Stark was personally involved. During a shootout, Thompson freezes under fire, and later reveals to Peggy that he was no war hero. He fell asleep during watch, woke up to find Japanese in the camp, and he shot them all before other soldiers woke up. Afterwards, he realized they were trying to surrender, and he hides their white flag in shame. It’s a nice flip side to Peggy’s post-war feminine hell. They’re both forced to keep silent about the truths the war taught them in service to gendered ideals. She has to wear the mask of a fragile girl when she knows she fought alongside a superhero. He has to playact as a war hero when he knows he was a coward. It’s a subtle moment that so many shows and even feature films don’t attempt.

Back in the US, Souza realizes that the blonde woman that beat the SSR to Stark’s implosion bomb at the club was Peggy. Dottie has snooped in Peggy’s apartment, and she discovers the photos Peggy took of Stark’s inventions, but also that Peggy had a relationship with Captain America Steve Rogers. When she spots the photo of Steve Rogers on Peggy’s vanity, Dottie tries on Peggy’s identity and has visible joy in invading Peggy’s privacy. Did anyone else feel that she also showed some eroticism in handcuffing herself to her bed at night? Yes, this behavior has obviously has been ingrained in her from a young age, but the use of handcuffs is a powerful image that has different connotations depending on the context. The image of a young girl handcuffed to a bed, no matter how happy she looks, gives the viewer a negative connotation. The image of an adult woman handcuffed to a bed doesn’t necessarily have that immediate negativity, but it still felt unnerving. It also suggests that Dottie is a willing servant, rather than a forced prisoner, showing how Dottie’s belief and dedication to the Leviathan cause has only strengthened since she was a child.

It was great to see Peggy in full command of herself and her environment, and really helped jumpstart the second half of the season. We’ve seen Peggy operate undercover, in disguise, from the shadows, but this episode highlighted that Peggy is just as comfortable charging into battle like the superhero she really is. She earns the respect of her SSR colleague by giving him a first-hand example of her strength, smarts, and stability in battle. Peggy isn’t a woman that should sit behind a desk and take lunch orders for the men, and “The Iron Ceiling” did a good job reinforcing that this week.

Best quotes:

  • “Really regretting the lack of knickers right now.”
  • “He may be an utter wanker, but he is one of us.”
  • Dugan: “What would cap say if I left his best girl behind?” Peggy: “He would say, ‘Do as Peggy says!’”

What did everyone else think of this week’s episode? Sound off below!

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