Agent Peggy Carter reasserts herself as a bad ass even as she learns uncomfortable truths - but who is the World War II Marvel villain in this episode, and who is The Man in the cameo?
This was a strong episode overall, and it's great to see Peggy show off her fighting skills (even if mostly off-screen), though Howard Stark seems to be digging himself deeper and deeper into trouble while taking Peggy and Jarvis down with him!
First the Spoiler-Light Recap: Peggy takes out the trash while bringing home the trashy, but will her secret client get her in trouble with her actual boss or landlord? And who is this deadly killer on the loose? Some answers and more questions lie ahead...
On with the Comic Connections
The episode opens with Peggy stalking some black market smugglers (including one named Jimmy) from the shadows like some horror movie monster. The tactic is both successful and intimidating, reestablishing some of Peggy's street cred with audiences after last week's pratfalls. It may seem odd having the hero act like the monster, but scaring criminals from the shadows has been a comic book staple since Batman first declared them a superstitious, cowardly lot. The bad guys work for Mr. Mink, who doesn't seem to be based on any particular comic character, but we'll get to him in a bit.
We learn more about Howard Stark's past as he describes growing up on the Lower East Side where his father sold fruit and his mother worked in a shirtwaist factory. That could mean a hard life in early 20th century New York City, especially considering what happened to some shirtwaist factory workers, but that means Stark was a self-made man, moving past economic barriers just like Peggy wants to work past gender barriers. Stark describes this as a "ceiling" that needs broken through, using a metaphorical term that didn't come into vogue until the 1980s. Interestingly, Stark was not a self-made man in the comics. Howard Stark did revolutionize the family company with his inventions, but his ancestors were railroad tycoons in the Old West, who even back then were thinking about making technological marvels.
After feigning claustrophobia, Stark sneaks into Peggy's apartment, Room 3E, in the Griffith Hotel, a place he knew all too well. Already on a first-name basis with Griffith head Miriam Fry, Howard slinks in and out the rooms of Peggy's hotelmates, Lorraine and Helen. Viewers also get to meet Carol, who has clothing with chicken-pockets, and Gloria, who has a gravy container in her purse. The credits also list a "Vera" in this scene, perhaps the one talking with Gloria. Ever watchful of lecherous suitors, Miriam almost catches Stark, but she mentions successfully catching Alice Shaw and her "sister" (re: boyfriend) sneaking around previously. Miriam also accuses Peggy of participating in "taxi dance halls," which was a somewhat risqué practice when Miriam was younger that involved men paying a fare to dance with a young lady. It was no champagne room, but it certainly raised eyebrows back in the day!
Meanwhile, the SSR has found new information on Leviathan (although they don't know the name "Leviathan" yet). Official military reports of the Battle of Finow were heavily redacted by the recently deceased General John McGinnis, but SSR Chief Dooley learned Nazi Col. Ernst Mueller was set to be executed in Nuremberg soon, so Dooley hops across the pond to interrogate the soon-to-be-dead man. Dooley informs Mueller that fellow war criminal General Wilhelm Keitel was executed the day before, and offers Mueller the coward's way out - a cyanide pill. Mueller explains that the "battle" was actually a massacre that had finished by the time his unit got to Finow, and that numerous Russian bodies were found ripped apart. As payment, Dooley offers the pill - a breath mint. In the comics, Ernst Mueller is a member of the evil Howling Commandos known as the Blitzkrieg Squad (he's the one in the peaked cap second to right). These guys were a bunch of highly trained Ratzis with really good taste in hats that worked for Baron Strucker (soon to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron!) against Nick Fury and the Invaders during the war, but haven't been seen much since.
The SSR also learn Howard Stark landed a plane in Finow Airfield soon after the battle. The passenger list includes Alex Hale, Jesse Adams, Peter Tothpal, Melissa Feinberg, Mary Kane, Lisa Zugschwerdt, and others - all named for people on the production side of Agent Carter. Man, consider it's in the middle of a warzone, near an apparently bloody battle, before passenger planes became commonplace, that is one busy airport.
While Dooley's away Agent Thompson will play as acting SSR chief. Thompson apparently had a reputation as a prolific killer in the war, and he's certainly a slave driver as he sends all of the SSR on round-the-clock missions to find Agent Ray Walker Krezminski's killer. Except for "Marge" (as he calls Agent Carter), she's in charge of getting lunch. You did know "Peggy" was short for "Margaret," right? Hence the whole "Marge" thing.
Agent Sousa follows his own hunches and finds a pair of indigents, Frank and George, at the pier. Frank, a veteran of the war, witnessed Peggy and Jarvis (though not enough to identify them), but didn't want to blab to the authorities, even after Sousa gave him a sob story about being a wounded vet himself. Thompson plied Frank with some of Dooley's scotch, and he eventually opened up.
Peggy visits the SSR's science lab, including absent-minded scientist Mr. Alex Doobin who is having a heck of a time trying to figure out Stark's gadgets, confiscated last episode. You know, considering this place is called the Strategic Scientific Reserve, they aren't very good at science. Or strategy, come to think of it. Maybe they're too reserved.
Speaking of gadgets, Stark gives Peggy a camera-pen to see what all the SSR is toying with, and he tasks her with finding this episode's titular McGuffin, the Blitzkrieg Button. Ostensibly a powerful EMP bomb, Peggy discovers it actually contains SR-53, a sample of Steve Rogers' blood from Project: Rebirth. As one of the lead scientists, Stark kept some blood and claims to have only altruistic intentions for it, but Peggy is tired of Howard's lies and misdirections, so she hides the blood in her apartment wall. Believe it or not, Cap's blood was once an actual plot point when Cap fed his green blood to Sam Wilson, granting him the proportionate strength and speed of a Captain America! No, it still doesn't make any sense, but it was part of a pocket reality, so we'll pretend it doesn't count. (And no, Cap's blood is not usually green.)
Peggy discovered Stark's lies largely due to Jarvis' rather obvious "tell": he pulls his ear when he's lying or nervous. On that note, the recent S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 revealed that Agent Phil Coulson is not only a master of Marvel Universe lore, but he can see through the poker face of any hero at the Thing's traveling poker games.
This brings us back to Mr. Mink. Listed as Otto Mink in the credits, this imposing blonde mob boss takes no guff from his men - quickly killing any who disappoint him - and seems to be something of a technical genius, as he is seen working on (and firing) an advanced automatic pistol and has some means of quickly unscrewing screws from the underside (maybe some kind of sonic device?). But, as interesting as he is, he isn't meant to last. New Griffith resident Dottie in Room 3F, introduced last episode, straight up kills the man and takes his gun. She definitely seems like Krezminski's assassin, but who exactly is she working for?
Oh hey, and the obligatory Marvel Cinematic Universe Stan Lee cameo pops up, as The Man borrows Howard Stark's newspaper. Too bad we didn't get an insightful speech like last time Stan showed up on TV.
Bonus: Special Thanks
This episode specifically includes the note, "Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby," which is pretty cool, and since we haven't spotlighted his work before here, let's showcase Don Heck's artwork. The co-creator of Howard Stark (and Mr. Hyde in the regular SHIELD series) deserves some more attention!
Bonus 2: Next Time on Agent Carter
Next episode has Peggy break through that ceiling Howard was talking about to team-up with the Howling Commandos and meet a deadly little red-headed girl in Russia. Interestink, very interestink...