Agent Carter's first(?) major mission has been completed, but how does it all tie into the Marvel Universe, and what questions are left unanswered?
The series ended the way it began - oddly between major events. A lot of Marvel Cinematic Universe plot points that this series was expected to hit, never hit, so I guess this means they're hoping for a season two.
Spoiler-Light Recap: Most of Stark's weapons were recovered and Peggy is doing great with the SSR, but one item is still out there and the bad guys are planning something messy, it's going to take everyone to bring this to a final conclusion!
The episode opened with the fan-favorite Captain America Adventure Program, first (and last) seen in the second half of the pilot episode. In their original appearance, the theatrical adventures of "Captain America" and his favorite gal "Betty Carver" were juxtaposed with images of Peggy's real world life-and-death struggles, here they just seem like an afterthought tacked on to the finale. Either way, their presence is welcome. Radio serials were all the rage before the popularization of television, and superhero radio shows were some of the best! The theater of the mind has an unlimited special effects budget, so Superman vs. Atom Man had the most intense Superman battle acted out until the (rightly) maligned Man of Steel movie.
While the last radio show was brought to us by Roxon Motor Oil, this one was brought by Diamond Toilet Soap, with the slogan, "Be a Diamond girl!" This is not a direct reference to any particular Marvel character, but it could've been. For one, 1940s Marvel spy Master Mind Excello is somehow related to the Excello Soap Company that ran the "smartest person" contest that put child prodigy Amadeus Cho on the path to becoming an Avenger. Also, there was a 1940s hero called the Blue Diamond who helped form a secret agency after the war, and in modern times hooked up with an alien called Shanga the Star-Dancer. He has a modern legacy in the form of a diamond girl appropriately called Hope.
The radio players describe "Cap" crashing into the Sea of Japan while saying goodbye to "Betty," a scene meant to evoke Cap's fateful plane crash at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, a moment still painful for Peggy. In the comics, the experimental plane crash involved Cap and Bucky; Cap was found decades later by the Avengers, and Bucky was fished out of the sea by the Russians who rebuilt him into an assassin!
Back to the main story, Fennhoff and Dottie's mass-madness experiment in the movie theater's been discovered, and it was a gruesome sight - more so than anything else this series has shown. A total of 47 people killed each other thanks to a chemical Howard Stark calls Midnight Oil. Apparently it was intended the substance to keep soldiers fighting without sleep, instead it induced an instant, murderous insanity. Apparently General McGinnis stole some from Stark and released it in Finow hoping to get the Russians fighting on the American side, but causing the massacre instead. Stark severed ties with the army and hid away his weapons. Aside from psychosis, the gas also constricts the throat, requiring a laryngotomy in some cases (explaining why the two Leviathan agents had Y-shaped scars).
Agent Sousa gets a dose of Midnight Oil and attacks Agent Thompson and Carter, something that unnerved him, but Carter reassured him that he wasn't himself. This calls to mind the most infamous hit in Marvel Comics, the time Hank "Ant-Man" Pym hit his wife. It's important to note that while this event has marred the character for decades, he was not in his right mind at the time, and even the writer said he didn't intend the scene as it played out. Strangely, other "heroes" who beat their wives while mentally unstable have not received this stigma.
Everything starts to make sense once Howard Stark enters the building, offering to fix Sousa's bum leg and use himself as bait to catch Fennhoff and Dottie. Obviously, artificial limbs are a little more advanced in the comic book world than in the real world. Forge, for example, built his own leg and hand after his own were lost in war. Before leaving SSR headquarters, Stark secretly grabs the Blitzkrieg Button housing Cap's blood (or was it the fake he asked Peggy to place there?). Howard serves as a precursor to his son, as he suggests a public ceremony honoring him for his greatness and forces his former opponent, Agent Thompson, to talk about how amazing he is (his son Tony Stark would do much the same thing in Iron Man 2).
Things don't go as planned, however, as the bad guys manipulate the event to capture Howard, this despite Agent Comden checking the rooftops (the credits also mention an Agent Butch Wallace and Agent Fisher). You see, Dottie and Fennhoff had previously captured hapless Officer Pike who helped them snag Howard before they (presumably Dottie) killed him. They tricked the officer after Dottie claimed her "grandfather" lost sight in one of his eyes during the war. Interestingly, this was kind of what happened to the original Nick Fury, as he had his eye so severely damaged in the war that he gradually went blind in that eye, but he didn't start wearing the eye patch until years later.
It seems Fennhoff was present at Finow and survived thanks to a gas mask, but he saw hundreds of others, including his own brother, die from Stark's gas. Everything from breaking into Stark's vault to convincing the SSR to "rescue" him was all part of his plan for revenge, as he would brainwash Stark into releasing his own weapon on New York City during VE day (placing this episode on May 8th, 1946). This also including having "Dottie" seduce Howard Stark six months earlier, as we'd learned in "A Sin to Err." Stark is sent out on one of his private planes, with Jarvis hot on his tail in a fighter plane and Peggy forced to confront Dottie to get to a radio and help Stark.
The fight itself seemed over a bit quick, as Peggy was greatly outmatched by Dottie, but a lucky kick sent Dottie to her seeming death (spoiler alert, she apparently didn't die!). Also, Dottie didn't use the cool gun she got in "The Blitzkrieg Button."
Since I neglected to bring it up the first time, I might as well talk about a cool 1940s gun that only made one appearance and was never mentioned again. The Angel Detective was a detective noir pulp magazine published by Marvel that featured a masked detective - heavily inspired by if not quite the same as Marvel's comic hero Angel - who carried a unique gun called "Belshazzar." Here's how the story described it: "It was a curious weapon, a .45 with a bulbous muzzle and a double barrel mounted somewhat like a derringer." The butt of the handle had an engraved image of "the Angel Gabriel, blowing his horn" that would be left on anything (and anyone) the Angel Detective pistol-whipped. Despite this rather specific description, Angel Detective and Belshazzar only showed up once.
And this brings us back to the beginning, both of the episode and the series, as Peggy once again finds herself on the radio, desperately trying to stop a friend from crashing tragically on an ill-fated plane-ride. Damn, Peggy should just stay away from radio booths. Howard once again describes working at Project Rebirth, the program that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Unlike the plane incident with Steve Rogers, Peggy is able to talk Howard down, ensuring that Iron Man will someday be born.
By the time it's all over, Senator Walt Cooper personally congratulates Agent Thompson - who was put in charge of the New York SSR branch now that Dooley's dead - and Thompson accepts the accolades despite the fact Peggy did all the work. Considering his unearned medal from WWII, clearly Thompson is used to accepting praise for things he didn't do. Sousa once again tries to defend Peggy's honor, and she puts him down once more; he also asks her on a date, which she politely offers a raincheck to as she's off to accept Howard Stark's luxury Manhattan home (which she had turned down in the second half of the pilot), allowing her and Angie to share the eight-bedroom home for free. There's also a nice moment of goodbye between her and Jarvis, in which he says he'd gladly adventure with her again. He also gives her Cap's blood. Apparently, despite the camera focusing on Howard's theft of the Button, Jarvis took the blood from under Stark's nose to give it to Peggy, who promptly pours the one working sample of Super Soldier Serum into the
Hudson East River. (Thanks for the correction, Antipodes!)
Meanwhile Dottie is MIA and the now-gagged Fennhoff is taken to an SSR prison where he meets his cellmate, conveniently Arnim Zola from Captain America movies. Fans know Zola will eventually be digitized, serving as the AI behind Hydra as Hydra quietly operates behind SHIELD, using brainwashing techniques like the "Faustus Method." Now we see how it all ties together.
So what hasn't been addressed, let's see:
- Why did Brannis break away from Leviathan, and what was his deal?
- Why did Fennhoff say "Leviathan is coming" if, in fact, he and Dottie were leaving?
- For that matter, what is Leviathan and what did they have to do with Fennhoff's petty revenge plot?
- How does Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter fit into this? Was she relocated to a different office, then put back into the secretarial pool?
- How and when does Peggy Carter found SHIELD with Howard Stark?
- How does Howard Stark "betray" Whiplash's dad?
- Who is Mr. Agent Carter?
- If Agent Coulson's team is using Peggy's old base, which base was it? It doesn't seem to be the Bell company.
- Is there going to be a second season?
So many questions... so few answers...