‘Agent Carter’ Review: “The Iron Ceiling”
Early on in “The Iron Ceiling,” Jarvis tells Peggy that she’ll never get her male co-workers to respect her, to which she replies that she’ll just have to make them do it. And that’s just what Peggy does in tonight’s new episode of ‘Agent Carter,’ for it’s only her Russian expertise and code-cracking abilities that can help the SSR on their mission to pursue Leviathan and Howard Stark, and it’s only Peggy who’s pals with the 107th, aka the Howling Commandos (they hate that name).
All season long we’ve been waiting for Dum Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandos to show up on ‘Agent Carter,’ and as promised, they’ve arrived in one of the best episodes of the season. “The Iron Ceiling” ticks off all the right boxes: intrigue, action, foreign destinations, more MCU connections, Peggy finally getting that overdue respect from the SSR, and then some. And it all begins in Russia in 1937, with a little program comic fans might know as the “Black Widow Ops” program, which took in little Soviet girls to brainwash and train into deadly miniature assassins who would grow into even deadlier adult assassins.
In last week’s episode, we got a peek at Dottie pulling off some impressive physical moves—moves that were immediately evocative of Black Widow. As it turns out, that’s not coincidental because nothing in the MCU is coincidental. Everything is connected. Everything serves a purpose. And Dottie’s (totally not her real name) purpose is as an agent/spy for Russia, presumably involved with Leviathan, gathering intel on Peggy. Dottie and Peggy smartly serve as a sort of good/evil mirror reflection of one another. Peggy has a particular set of skills and connections that make her highly valuable for the Russia mission, while Dottie’s own talents make her the perfect person to infiltrate Peggy’s life. While Peggy is trying to establish that she’s strong and smart and brave, and teach the SSR that her gender shouldn’t matter, Dottie is relying on her gender as an additional skill.
Seems like Russia (and Peggy, as she’s proven time and again) knows something America doesn’t: being a woman can give an agent an advantage over the enemy because no one ever suspects a woman. But where Dottie plays into that, Peggy hasn’t been too keen on using her gender as a trick. She’s more concerned with getting the job done and serving justice using her immense skill set than she is in trying to prove a point. Let the work speak for itself, and the point will be proven.
And tonight Peggy totally proves her point and shows these dummies that she’s worth more than a damn—she’s worth at least 100. These men will never respect her because she’s a woman, but she can make them respect her by forcing them to rely on her and, given the chance, by proving herself in the field.
So off Peggy goes with Agent Thompson to Russia to meet up with the Howling Commandos and figure out if Howard Stark is trying to sell his weapons to the opposition. I love the moment when Thompson stands in awe of Dum Dum Dugan because this is a man who fought side by side with Captain America, only to be casually told by Dugan that it was actually Peggy who fought by Cap’s side more than anyone else. But it doesn’t take these other men to prove to Thompson and the SSR agents that Peggy is fantastic because Peggy does that on her own. What could be a real bummer moment where Thompson just changes his tune because some other dude told him, “Nah, bro, Peggy’s awesome,” is instead a restrained moment in which Thompson gets mentally sent to the corner to think about what he’s done.
While in Russia, the team discovers what Peggy and Dugan already knew: Stark isn’t a traitor, and back home, Dooley’s sort of figuring that out with his own investigation, talking to an old journalist pal (pretty sure that’s John Glover) about the mysterious battle at Finnau. Will Stark take Dooley up on his offer to chat? Someone with an ego that large surely would take any and every opportunity to set things straight about his favorite topic: himself.
Tonight also brings some shading to Thompson’s character, who accidentally murdered six Japanese soldiers who were entering his camp to surrender during the war. I know we’re supposed to start empathizing with Thompson, and I suspect the show has been hinting at this love interest for Peggy, but I’d much rather see her with someone like Sousa (if she has to be paired with anyone, though it’s totally not necessary), who’s a match for her in wits and brains and ethics. He may have tried to white knight her on a couple of occasions, but he just means well, is all. Sure, white knighting is sort of like well-intentioned sexism, but it’s preferable to being told you can’t do something because you’re a stupid, soft woman.
It also feels as if ‘Agent Carter’ is trying to backpedal or explain away Thompson’s sexism toward Peggy with Dooley scolding Thompson for his crush on Peggy, and the story about his time in the war, and the way it takes Peggy to snap him out of a traumatic moment mid-firefight. As if, all of a sudden, we should understand that the only reason he’s been so crummy to her is because he has feelings for her, and he’s simply employing the old school rules of the playground: if you like someone, you show it by picking on them.
Regardless of my issue with the potential something-nothing-whatever between Thompson and Peggy, “The Iron Ceiling” is such a riveting and exciting episode where the great parts really overshadow the minor flaws. And the stuff with Dottie and the Black Widow Ops program is so intense and intensely fascinating, just the kind of thing that makes you want to see more. I really hope this isn’t the end of Marvel shedding light on Russia’s secret program.
- “Why are there shackles on the beds?” “It’s Russia, man.”
- There is nothing more intriguing and stirring about this episode than the opening sequence, in which little Dottie shares her crust of bread with a fellow Black Widow Ops “recruit,” only to later break her neck (following an approving nod from her teacher) during training. This whole plot teaches us a lot about the contemporary Black Widow’s origins, and makes me want to learn so much more about her and this entire program. CAN WE GET A DAMN SOLO MOVIE ALREADY? Are you there, Kevin Feige? It’s me, Margaret.
- Sousa continues investigating Peggy’s blonde alias from the club in the first episode, and he’s closer and closer to figuring out that DUH, it’s Peggy.
- Next week: it looks like maybe Sousa shared his discovery because Peggy is going on the run from the SSR. Oh dang.