[Review] - Agent Carter, Season 1 Episode 4, "The Blitzkrieg Button"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Entertainment
When you are dealing with a limited run series, a shift in tone and direction is all the more obvious and all the more important. I've mentioned this many times in my Justified reviews, that the middle episode in a run is the mountain top towards which every episode to this point has been climbing, and the slope down which all remaining episodes will run. This was the episode, in many ways. And because this is the inaugural season, the first three and a half episodes were the pitch. It introduced the characters, the concept, the relationships, and the hook. This was the episode that turned a lot of that on it's head.

It also officially became a Marvel product, because Stan Lee popped in for his inevitable cameo.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which are sad, but true.

The State of the Union preempted the show last week, and putting that extra week in-between episodes three and four didn't really work with the emotional impact that Krzemenski's death was meant to have. As the episode opens, her colleague's assassination still hangs heavily over the SSR, but some time has passed and Carter and Jarvis have become an effective team. Enough time has passed that they've burned through the macguffin of the series, and acquired all of the outstanding Stark tech. I applaud the series moving away from an element that could have easily and lazily developed into a procedural. By introducing it, using it to set up what they needed, and then moving on, it not only forces the writers to be more creative with the remaining episodes, it gives the series a sense of momentum. Off screen, things keep happening. These characters aren't all just sitting around, waiting for us to peak in on them. A tactic that Agents of SHIELD doesn't make use of.

And because the toys have all been accounted for, Howard Stark returned. His full-episode appearance here allowed for two important developments. First, he didn't get this much attention in his film appearance, which means that we know a lot more about the man than we did before. He know about his family history, what makes him tick, and about his motivations. We're not dealing with rumour and second-hand references from characters loyal or suspicious of him, we're getting primary intel direct from the source. Second, it allowed for his and Carter's chemistry to shine through. The implication has been that these two worked together considerably more during the course of the war than the film showed, and this episode did a lot to help canonize that claim. These are two people that know each other better than just passing acquaintances. These are friends.

In a wise move, tonally, the episode allowed for a strong influx of humour in it's first half. More overtly comedic than it has been. Stark and Carter have a Tracey and Hepburn vibe and the chemistry to match, and that made for a couple of mad cap-lite scenes, which I'd like to see more of in the future, if only because Atwell doesn't get a lot of chances to be funny, and Cooper is so darn good at it. Unfortunately, because so much focus was on Stark this week, Jarvis took a hefty step back. Jarvis had, to this point, been the stand in for Stark. From this point on, he'll be the neutral body between them, attempting to rebridge the now opened gap. Because always be wary of an episode that unexpectedly turns towards the laughs, as it might be preparing to drop a bridge on you. And that is exactly what this episode did. In a few different ways.

First, what seemed like a straight up comic book plot of a doomsday device quickly gave way to an ethical debate about the use of Steve Rogers' blood. Peggy, firmly on Steve's side and acting in his interests, exclaims that no matter the good that might come from the study of his enhanced genetics, for that good to be done in anything other than a selfless and charitable fashion would be a black market on Captain America's memory. I like how they've managed to make Cap influence almost a character on this show in it's own right. Second, it provided Stark with a subtle bit of definition that, his intentions with Rogers blood is entirely about using it to make the general public's lives better. It seems that he hasn't even considered using the blood to make new Captain Americas, which you can be damned sure is how the government has burned through their ten viles. It betrays that, while Stark might be keeping an eye on his bottom line, he is still aiming to be altruistic.

The show also kept moving away from the comic book (and arc-based TV in general) notion of having a Big Bad as the main opponent. There is still plenty of time for a master mind to reveal themselves, but I like how the series keeps adding on the layers of the conspiracy without it feeling like padding. As each layer gets peals away, it genuinely feels like we're solving a mystery along with the SSR, rather than being strung along by writers who need to pad out their episode count. Whomever is on the other end of that typewriter is a real, honest-to-gods mysterious threat, and not knowing anything about them makes them so much more effective, then being spoon-fed little details about them week by week until the characters catch up to us.

These writers are also getting really comfortable with the last minute twist. In this week's case, it was the crazy ninja skills of Bridget Regan's naive Dottie. I was expecting something of the kind when they introduced her in the last episode - Regan is recognizable enough not to just be playing a Mid-west simpleton. The treat was in the sudden burst of action by which they revealed her nature. I am muchly looking forward to her and Peggy dropping the gloves. The choreography on the series has been second to know thus far, and that fight is going to be a thing of beauty.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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