Before the season finale of Agent Carter, catch up on all the Marvel references hidden in the episodes so far – What is the connection to Doctor Strange? Where is Iron Man’s archenemy? Who is the real traitor?
I miss one week of Agent Carter recaps – busy with paying jobs (nothing that exciting) – and four amazing episodes come out! Let’s catch up on the comic connections in double time! Other episode recaps can be found here.
Comic Connections in “Life of the Party”
This episode opened with Jason Wilkes saying the magic words: “I’m at the whim of some Dark Force.” We still haven’t had Zero Matter officially confirmed as Darkforce – the quasi-mystical other-dimensional power that grants various abilities but often causes terrifying side effects – but it’s good to hear the phrase used. Rumor had it, this will tie Agent Carter to Doctor Strange.
As for Whitney Frost, she’s still speaking in tongues, though the subtitles establish her saying, “… and I did it. But then it went away, but I will get it back.” Spooky.
When Peggy starts formulating a plan to steal Zero Matter from Frost to help Wilkes, she walks in on a very hungover-looking Sousa, fresh off having Nurse Violet dump him. She doesn’t notice, but does say they need to stop “that Arena social cabal.” While the Secret Empire, Roxxon, and Hydra are all secretive and rather evil organizations that have been tied to each other at some point in the comics, the Cabal takes that one step further, as it is an alliance of the Marvel Universe’s most influential villains, with members (at various times) like Doctor Doom, Thanos, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. This isn’t the Cabal, of course, but the name-drop is nice.
Peggy is sidelined for this adventure due to her recent injuries, so assuming the fake identity of Dr. Katherine Wexford (not Katherine Hornstock, someone else Peggy knows), and after a brief recruitment/threat, Peg helps her evil Black Widow counterpart Dottie Underwood escape lock-up. They use some useful Stark-designed magnets, the Sweet Dreams lipstick from last season’s premiere, and an electric net gun to not only get Dottie out, but keep her from running away. Peggy also notes that Dottie’s old bosses, Leviathan, have not been heard from in a year. As a reminder, Leviathan in the comics is an evil organization that often butts heads with Hydra, and the Arena Club sure seem like Hydra-connected creeps.
Dottie wakes up to find herself gussied up for the social event – wearing a black and red dress (reminiscent of various Black Widows)– where she’ll encounter Frost. She’s given a diamond choker with tracking device and deadly, remote-activated neurotoxin, a two-way radio hat (while Jarvis had two-way radio glasses), and told she’ll be accompanied by Jarvis, whom she calls “Jeeves.” Did you know Jeeves was a well-known character from books for decades by this point, setting the standard for later fictional butlers, including Jarvis? The more you know.
At the MacArthur Grand Motel, they see Chadwick and Frost – who we learn starred in The ‘F’ Stands for Freedom – and Jarvis admits Dottie is a phenomenal dancer (as all Black Widows are trained to be, it seems). Their plans almost get derailed by the SSR’s Jack Thompson (who might’ve had feelings for Peg once, but has lately been tempted by the dark side), and Vernon Masters (the smarmy guy who works for the Arena Club). Masters mentions Thompson helping stop a Soviet threat, he’s referring to when Peggy stopped Dottie from blowing up New York the year before, but due to red tape, Thompson took the credit for solving the case. Masters also points out Arena Club members like Wall Street mucky-muck Thomas Glouster and Mortimer Hayes, who controls major newspapers west of the Mississippi. Other important people there: Jarvis mentions talking to “Mr. O. Selznick.” Presumably he’s referring to the producer of Gone with the Wind.
Meeting with the Council, Frost says she first thought, wrongly, that Zero Matter could be an energy source, but that it should be used to take power. When the Council, on Chadwick’s request, tries to capture Frost, she uses her dark Zero Matter force powers to “eat” (for lack of a better term) several Council members and her husband. She keeps some alive, like Roxxon’s Hugh Jones and Hayes, as they are useful to her, and will help her build her new empire.
Having witnessed all that, Dottie tries to escape, but drops the vial of Zero Matter she absconded from Frost (Jarvis picks it up) and is captured by Thompson, who works for Vernon, who works for the Council, who now work for Frost. So Dottie is Frost’s prisoner.
Comic Connections in “Monsters”
This episode opens at Anvil Studios, where Whitney Frost began her rise to fame, as she discusses her husband’s death before the press, with the official story being that he and half the Council perished at sea off Catalina Island. Watching the whole event are Peggy and Sousa – and this probably isn’t anything, but does Peggy’s dress look like Deadpool‘s costume to anyone else? I mean, it did premiere this week. Just me then?
Meanwhile, Vernon Masters (following Frost’s orders), tries all the methods at his disposal to get information out of Dottie, but his techniques are nothing compared to her Leviathan training in the Red Room (which is where all Russian Black Widows are trained). Masters compares torturing her to torturing Ilse Koch, the Witch of Buchenwald (scarily, a real person). He also mentions Dr. Fennhoff – aka Doctor Faustus – who was Dottie’s handler last season and the originator of the Faustus Method, used by Hydra as a form of mind control. To really turn the screws, Masters calls her “a girl without a country,” which is the nickname of one of the modern Buckies, Rikki Barnes.
Over at the Stark mansion, Peggy and Wilkes are growing increasingly distant, Ana Jarvis is getting increasingly nervous about her husband Edwin’s escapades, and Peggy, now as obsessed with finding Dottie as she previously had been with helping Wilkes. For his part, Edwin is excited to point out Stark has a dirigible. What seems to particularly irk Wilkes is that Peggy would go out of her way to save a “Russian spy.” A tinge of guilt perhaps? In the original Tales of Suspense story, Jason Wilkes was a Russian spy, whereas in this series, Peggy is convinced all evidence he was a spy was planted by Masters. Eventually, Ana builds Wilkes containment chamber, allowing him to regain tangibility, which he immediately uses to kiss Peggy.
After Jarvis fixes the transponder connected to Dottie’s necklace (and after Frost turns on the tracking device), Peggy plans the rescue. Jarvis then introduces Peggy to the Jitterbug – not the dance move, but a sonic cannon, activated by entering the measurements of various actresses Stark has had dalliances with, like Carole Lombard and Barbara Stanwyck (because of course). Ms. Lombard passed away in 1942, so presumably Stark knew here much earlier, but Ms. Stanwyck was still pretty big around this time. Sonic weapons are a big deal in Marvel (and Doctor Who for that matter), as they are the primary weapons of many villains, and one of the easiest ways of taking down a Symbiote like Venom or Carnage
After some pecking around by Jarvis about the sticky wicket Peggy is in, between Wilkes and Sousa, though she declares she isn’t a chippy toying with two quality suitors – the banter between these two justifies every second of this series! When they finally arrive at the compound near Newhall in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Jitterbug fails to take out Manfredi’s men in time, leaving Peggy and Jarvis trapped alongside Dottie (though all three escape on their own simultaneously). Dottie taunts Peggy by hinting at “how deep the rot goes in the SSR” – again, the seeds are being sown for Hydra to grow inside of SHIELD leading up the Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Meanwhile, Wilkes is enjoying the first food he’s eaten (or needed to) in days (weeks?), and declares he feels “born again” (possibly a reference to Frank Miller’s famous Daredevil storyline). Frost though, takes advantage of everyone’s distraction to sneak into Stark’s home. Just as people react to car alarms today, Ana doesn’t give Stark’s verbal alarm system a second thought, even if it has her husband’s disembodied voice. Frost sneaks into Wilkes’ lab where she looks over Stark’s notes and deduces he’s building a Palladium core – a very subtle reference to the Arc Reactor designed by Howard Stark and Anton Vanko (who appeared briefly last season – where’s the big betrayal we were promised in Iron Man 2?).
Frost describes the “marvelous” Zero Matter as affecting each host differently while retaining its base properties. This is a pretty accurate description of Dark Force in the Marvel Universe, as Nightcrawler uses it innocuously to (very occasionally) blend into the shadows, while Cloak uses it to teleport across space and dimensions, while leaving pain and suffering in his wake.
Frost kidnaps Wilkes, and to slow Peggy down, she shoots Ana in the abdomen. Sousa would have helped, but he was busy getting roughed up by his fellow SSR agents, on Masters’ orders. At the hospital, Dottie escapes from Peggy thanks to an unfortunately curious police officer.
Comic Connections in “The Edge of Mystery”
This episode opens with a flashback to the premiere episode of last season, with Peggy in a gold dress trying to figure out what to do with the Nitramene bomb she’s found. Even that early in their partnership, Jarvis was already in the thick of danger, though he promised Ana he’d stay safe. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” she assures him.
Back in the present of 1947, Jarvis is desperately trying to find the pleasing sounds of Benny Goodman, rather than the sarcastic wit of Groucho Marx, to sooth Ana as she recovers in the hospital. Jarvis quietly prays over Ana in his own way, promising to be an even better husband than he already is and stay far away from danger, but Ana awakes, urging him, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” It’s a poignant moment, made all the more so as Jarvis learns the bullet injured Ana in such a way that she’ll never be able to conceive a child. This is handled remarkably well, as Jarvis is a t first afraid to tell Ana, but comforts her later on – unlike, say, Avengers: The Age of Ultron, where Black Widow’s inability to conceive labels her a “monster” for some reason. Oh, and their doctor is Asian American, which is only relevant due to the racial biases of the time – did you know the first Chinese-American doctor was Holt A. Cheng in San Francisco in 1904? You do now!
Back with the bad guys, Whitney Frost spends much of this episode manipulating Wilkes’ emotions and feeding him Zero Matter to keep him solid and in her custody. He sees their powers as a curse, she assures him, they are gifts. As much as Wilkes claims to despise her, he is lured in by her seeming control over Zero Matter, and under her tutelage, learns to control his own powers. It’s a tradition in comics, especially X-Men titles, to view powers as a gift and a curse.
Sousa meets up with Peggy to confront Manfredi (their main lead on Frost’s whereabouts), and Sousa mentions Manfredi was connected to the Figueroa Street Slaughter a few years earlier. Confronting Manfredi (and his rather erasable Italian grandmother), and threatening to create a divide between Manfredi and his business associate Tommy Fontana, Carter and Sousa are able to get their offer to Frost – the stolen uranium rods in exchange for Wilkes. Also, Mrs. Manfredi thinks Peggy is “the devil.” So Figueroa Street and organized crime in Marvel – well, X-Men associate Skin (who has the ability of too much skin – no really) was a former gang member in Los Angeles, and his primary gangland rivals were the Figueroas from Figueroa street. So apparently that street has a long history of gang violence in the Marvel U.
Across the pond in London, Chief Thompson is following Masters advice by looking for dirt on Peggy. Masters believes that as long as everyone has incriminating evidence on everyone else, agreements can be made (kind of a mutually assured destruction). Thompson’s friend from “MI-whatever” hands over a heavily redacted file that implicates Carter in some kind of war crime involving a massacre of civilians (presumably the Battle of Finow, which Stark was tied to last season). Obviously, the Military Intelligence programs are a long-standing tradition in Britain, with MI6 being somewhat equivalent to the CIA in the states, but in the Marvel Universe, MI13 is the department that handles the weird, the otherworldly, and the above top secret.
Peggy and Sousa turn to Dr. Aloysius Herbert Samberly to create fake uranium rods and decipher instructions Howard Stark sent for a Gamma Cannon that fires a pulse of photons to counteract sources of Zero Matter. Howard is still out of the country, but sent the plans via telex, basically an early form of the fax machine. Gamma is forever linked with Hulks in the Marvel Universe, with most Gamma Cannons designed by Bruce Banner himself for use against his alter ego. While that’s going on, Chief Thompson shows up to threaten Peggy about her connection to activities in June 1944 (when the Battle of Finow occurred). Peggy knows the papers are forgeries and trusts Thompson to figure that out for himself.
Before the exchange takes place, Manfredi assures Frost that her Zero Matter-scarred face is a sign of power and beauty, and nothing to be ashamed of. This is interesting because in the comics, Whitney’s defining feature is a metal mask used to cover her disfigured face. Clearly this Whitney Frost is not Iron Man’s femme fatale Madame Masque (not yet, anyway). The trade itself goes as expected until Wilkes turns the tables and betrays Peggy for Whitney. Again, in the comics, Wilkes really did betray his country for power and money, could he be just as susceptible to temptation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
With the trade a bust, Frost orders Masters to get the uranium rods from SSR headquarters, and Thompson finally shows some backbone when he tries to stop him – unfortunately, Masters used the same memory-wiping device Peggy used on Roxxon’s Hugh Jones against Thompson. When Peggy and Sousa arrive, they retrace Thompson’s steps through the “Bullpin,” which is what the SSR calls their main office (and what Marvel Comics calls their New York office).
Now possessing the uranium, Frost heads out to the desert to recreate the Zero Matter explosion that spawned her powers, followed by Peggy and her team with the Gamma Cannon. For his part, Manfredi, aka Blackwing, mentions that he’s always loved fire (and in the comics, Blackwing’s most loyal partner is the flaming-headed Jack O’Lantern). The bomb goes off as planned, but rather than Frost gaining power, Wilkes is drawn into the Zero Matter rift until the Gamma Cannon blast releases him (with something additional inside him). Before Peggy can settle things, Jarvis tries to murder Frost for attacking Ana (turns out Zero Matter heals bullet wounds), leaving Peggy and Jarvis at Frost’s mercy.
Ominously, the scene shifts to Ana’s hospital room, where Rose has the Last Will and Testament of Edwin Jarvis, signed July 9, 1947.
Comic Connections in “A Little Song and Dance”
We open with and outstanding dream sequence, first in black and white with Peggy’s dead brother Michael at SSR headquarters (they even make jokes about the lack of color), then in full technicolor to the L & L Automat, Peggy‘s favorite restaurant last season, and workplace of her friend Angie, who reappears here. Jason Wilkes and Daniel Sousa (sans cane) sing for Peggy’s affection while Dottie toys with the fact that she even haunts Peggy’s dreams. The whole musical number culminates with Jarvis surrounded by showgirls and a punch in the face from Rose. Hey, did you know there’s a prominent showgirl in Marvel? Sherry the Showgirl had her own humor/romance comic in the ‘50s, and an alternate reality version of her is immortal and can fly. Neat!
Upon waking up, Peggy and Jarvis promptly escape the van driven by Manfredi’s men – all thanks to another piece of SSR equipment, the Hotwire that melts through chains. On their own in the desert, the two have a heart-to-heart and an argument about who has sacrificed what for the cause.
Thompson, Sousa, and Samberly are likewise stranded (thanks to Jarvis going on his suicide mission), but find a ride home by convincing Masters’ goons, including Agent Vega, to arrest them, rather than kill them. Masters is none too pleased, but agrees to allow Sousa and Samberly in as long as they all have dirt on each other. He calls Sousa “Andy Hardy,” a reference to a decent character played by Mickey Rooney in the movies. (As a personal aside, I interviewed Mickey Rooney once. He was grumpy.) Unaware of all this, Peggy barges into the SSR (where she was persona non grata) and flat out decks Masters while looking for Sousa. She and Masters are convinced to work together as everyone involved wants to take down Frost. The plan to use the rebuilt Gamma Cannon, but they need to stall for time.
Frost and Manfredi take Wilkes to an abandoned waste management facility for experimentation, but despite Wilkes’ protests and Frost’s torture, not much is accomplished. Thompson shows up to stall Frost, and seemingly to ask for a spot on the Council (again, this seems to set up Hydra involvement in the formation of SHIELD). He’s also secretly planning to blow up Frost and Wilkes thanks to Samberly turning the Gamma Core of the Gamma Cannon into a Gamma Bomb. That, for the record, is what created the Hulk in the comics, and boy, would that be interesting if it went off several decades too early near Los Angeles. Sousa and Peggy get Samberly to remotely disable the bomb, however.
With the bomb and cannon ineffective, Masters finds himself at Frost’s mercy, and the only thing that stops her from killing him is the arrival of Wilkes, now freed by Peggy. Wilkes explodes, seemingly taking out Frost and Masters – but we’ll find out next episode, won’t we?
Next Episode: Hollywood Ending.