This week's Agent Carter reveals the origin of an Avenger, brings back the Howling Commandos, and finally has Peggy take charge! It all seems too good to be true. Is this the rising action before the fall?
Dang this was a strong episode. There were Marvel references galore, continuity nods to other Marvel films, plot development, dramatic tension and even a growing romantic subplot (but for who...?). Great stuff all 'round!
Spoiler-Light Recap: Peggy has apparently left her secret benefactor behind as the SSR falls into its biggest lead yet in this game of high-stakes espionage. Unraveling the clues will mean reuniting Peggy with some old friends and going into enemy territory, but big changes are in store for the team along the way!
The episode opened with the flashback many fans were eager for. In 1937, a secret Russian facility trained young girls in the art of murder, violence and deception. Handcuffed to their beds at night, by day exposed to subliminal message-laced American cartoons - prominently Disney's Snow White - and all the while taught to kill without mercy. For all intents and purposes, this is the Red Room, the place where little orphan girls are raised to be Black Widows - assassins for the Soviet government. Of course, in Earth-616 (the comic book Marvel Universe) the most prominent young woman in the program in the 1940s was the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (before her stint as a brainwashed ballerina). Yep, that's right, Scarjo's character in The Avengers wasn't born 30 years ago, she was born over 80 years ago!
Of course, on Earth-199999 (the Marvel Cinematic Universe) the young girl we learn about turns out to be Dottie, the presumed Krzeminski assassin, supposed ballerina and mini-gun enthusiast that lives next door to Peggy! In one of the most obvious moves ever, Dottie steals Peggy's room key and later sneaks into Room 3E looking for... something. Inside she finds a string Peggy left in her door to detect just such an intrusion, a hidden music box (with a ballerina - again with that motif!) housing images of Stark tech, the sleeping drug-laced lipstick from the series opener, and a picture of pre-Serum Steve Rogers. Then she goes all Single White Female and pretends she is Peggy for a few seconds before going out the way she came. Later she handcuffs herself to bed for a good night's sleep. That is one psychologically messed up spy. According to the credits, Dottie's classmates are Anya and Eva.
So where's Peggy during all this?
After talking with Pete at the newsstand and having an out with Jarvis, Peggy heads to SSR headquarters. There's an Agent Billy named off screen, for what it's worth, but more importantly the Magic Typewriter from the premier episodes has sprung to life. The cryptographer from Arlington tried using the Turing method , but couldn't crack the message. Fortunately, Peggy's a talented codebreaker and she uses a Russian-based Bletchley one-time pad system to learn of a location in Mar''ina Horka, Belarus, where clandestine Russian espionage agency Leviathan will supposedly pay Howard stark $100,000 for illicit goods. How serendipitous!
Chief Dooley assigns agents Thompson, Mike Li and Rick Ramirez (who speaks Russian) to investigate the site immediately, and Carter notes her codebreaking skills and her connection to the 107th (a.k.a. the Howling Commandos). All this, and Dooley mentions Thompson's crush on Carter (which is not denied). Shortly after, Carter lets herself into the men's locker room (as there is no ladies locker room) to prepare for the trip, only to have Thompson prank Agent Sousa, leading to an awkward moment between Sousa and Carter.
Stopping in Poland before sneaking into Russia, the SSR agents meet up with the Howling Commandos! After some confusions, we learn the codeword uniting the team is not "emu" or "ostrich" but (naturally) "eagle." For the record, this was Captain America's military codename during WWII, while Bucky was "Canary" (the second Bucky was "Falcon").
The most focus is on Timothy "Dum-Dum" Dugan, naturally, as he's usually the de facto second-in-command when their leader (Cap in the movies, Nick Fury in the comics) isn't around. Peggy tells the bowler hat aficionado to stop smoking - appropriate since there is no smoking in the Marvel Universe. It was recently revealed that the 616 version of Dum-Dum has been dead since the 1960s, and that every modern appearance of that mustachioed hero has been a well-programmed LMD robot.
Next we have "Happy Sam" Sawyer, the Howling Commando's captain who went on to become an important general in his old age before dying by the sides of Captain America and Nick Fury. Despite his epithet, he was almost never happy and spent most of his time yelling at Nick and the other Yahoos. Oh, and for the record, yes he is white on Earth-616 and black on Earth-199999. It happens. Move on.
Finally, there's Jonathan "Junior" Juniper, the youngest Howling Commando and the one with the dubious distinction of being the first to die in battle. His cinematic counterpart lasts a bit longer (but just a bit), and was the one who coined the "Howling Commandos" name! He also, apparently, met a yeti in Tibet.
Junior is adamant that yetis are real, and he's half-right. The yeti he met in Tibet was probably the Inhuman known only as Yeti. He's been active for decades - even serving as an American superhero in the 1960s - but generally prefers to keep to himself. That said, large ape-like men (or man-like apes) also exist in the Marvel Universe. One was a brief member of Alpha Flight (they mistook a real sasquatch for their erstwhile member Sasquatch), and many gather at secret meetings in the Pacific Northwest. There's a lot of abominable snowmen, and that's not even mentioning Yetrigar.
The yeti story comes up as the guys share stories while eating beans around a campfire - kind of a Marvel tradition.
In the mysterious Russian base, the team encounters a violent young girl (presumably another Black Widow candidate), a troubled scientist named Nikola and his apparent psychiatrist Dr. Ivchenko. Nikola is a prisoner of Leviathan, but excited by schematics for Stark's light-altering Photonic Amplifier, stolen by Leviathan, and it's Ivchenko's job to keep Nikola working. Despite this rather specious premise, and the fact that Ivchenko shoots Nikola during their escape attempt (apparently for the greater good of the group), Carter immediately trusts the Russian shrink and invites him to join the SSR. Some random Marvel notes here: Thanks to comic book science, light is a very malleable substance and can be made physical or even altered into any form of radiation, as noted by the hero formerly known as Photon (currently Spectrum). Nikola is not Nikola Tesla, a similarly unhinged real-world scientist, but Tesla is a Marvel superhero and a member of the Brotherhood of the Shield, the secret organization that included the likes of Howard Stark and apparently led to the formation of SHIELD.
By the time the whole thing is over, Junior, Li and Nikola are dead, Carter is declared a hero for her competent leadership skills, and Dum-Dum suggests giving her the nickname "Miss Union Jack," which she promptly shoots down. Union Jack is, by the by, the United Kingdom's own Captain America, though he spends more of his time killing vampires in the shadows than he does busting up gangs of costumed criminals. Yes, he's named after the flag. EDIT: Alliterator points out that the WWI Union Jack, John Falsworth, was in Captain America: The First Avenger, albeit playing the Pinky role from the comics!
Of course, Thompson was supposed to be the leader, but he was too shell-shocked to be of much help. We learn Thompson's war hero story, hinted at by Sosa last episode, in which he supposedly saved his Naval unit from Japanese assassins on Tsuken Island in 1945, but the truth is he shot surrendering Japanese troops, a fact he's kept to himself for the past year. Peggy, a combat veteran herself, understands his fears and actions, and accepts him for who he is. He accepts her in return, inviting her to drinks with the guys.
Even Dooley thanked her! While the team was away, Dooley continued his own investigation, speaking to Jarvis about Howard Stark's enemy General John McGinnis, and to an unnamed former reporter (played by John Glover!) about how Stark might not be as guilty as it seems.
Well let's see: the guys accept Carter as one of their own, Dooley is realizing Stark may not be the bad guy, and the Howling Commandos are eager to join a group with Peggy (i.e. SHIELD) - series over!
Wait, no... there's Agent Sousa. See, when he saw Peggy in the changing room, he noticed her distinctive bullet wounds - the exact same wounds he saw on the mysterious blonde from the premier.
Everything falls apart.