Agent Carter: Smoke & Mirrors Review

Marvel's Agent Carter delivered its best episode yet by revealing Peggy's origins, which are every bit as rich as Spider-Man's!

Not much happened on this week’s Agent Carter to move this season’s plot forward. Not much more about Isodyne was revealed, nor did we get closer to finding a cure for the intangible Jason Wilkes. We also didn’t get any closer to resolving the unrequited love between Sousa and Carter nor did we learn more about Whitney Frost’s unfolding plans. The plotline barely budged but yet, this week, Marvel’s Agent Carter presented its finest episode to date.

How did it do that, you ask? Well, instead of moving forward, we moved back and found out exactly what drives Peggy Carter. Since Iron Man hit theaters in 2008, we have been privy to many Marvel origin stories, both in film and on TV. We had Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Star Lord, Daredevil, and so many more. Peggy Carter’s origins and motivations are just as iconic as any of the Marvel heroes we have met so far. And this week, we finally saw them realized.

The most impressive thing about this revelation is that it isn’t mined from any classic Marvel comic, but it feels like it could have been; it has that classic,  grand, iconic, tragic feel that defines so many Marvel origins.

This week we are gifted with witnessing Peggy Carter in a number of flashbacks. First, we meet Peggy as a child, playing knight, rescuing princesses, doing the things you would imagine a little Peggy would do. First off, the adorable little scamp that played ‘lil Peggy really needs to play Lucy in the Narnia reboot. But be that as it may, when we meet Peggy, she is already a girl hungry for adventure.

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Fast forward to post college Peggy, and we find a freshly engaged, fresh faced young lady ready to embark into her life as a loyal wife. She also is accepted into a secretive wartime spy program as we get to witness the first conflict of Peggy’s young life. To be a spy and serve her country against the Nazis or to be a wife? Next, we see her at her engagement party and meet her nice but forgettable husband to be.

Most importantly, we meet Michael Carter, Peggy’s brother, her best friend, and her confidant. Michael understands how much potential Peggy has as a soldier and encourages her to leave the life of domestic bliss she was never cut out for and serve her country. Peggy resists. She follows the gender expectations of her era and strays from the path of duty. Until the notice came that her brother was killed in the line of duty. Only then is Peggy Carter truly born.

This newly revealed origin is every bit as potent as the death of Uncle Ben, the murder of Jack Murdock, or any other iconic Marvel moment. It is a shot to the gut and it makes Peggy a character with even more dignity and inner strength. This is the woman who walked onscreen and won the hearts of Marvel fans in Captain America: The First Avenger, this is the ghost of her past that has her kicking ass in 1947. This is the woman, driven by the death of Michael, that Captain America falls and love with. This is the woman who founds SHIELD. And now we know why, and holy crap, it just works.

As if these flashbacks aren’t potent enough, they are coupled with additional reveals for the origin of one Whitney Frost. Frost is growing into quite the big bad as the dark matter or whatever inside of her is getting bigger and hungrier. This week, she eats that big dude that Peggy fought poolside in the pilot and even a few mice. Ewww. This isn’t the Madame Masque from the comic but a powerful unstable, greedy force; a consumer who hides behind her beauty and really is a perfect foil for Peggy. Again, not much new happens with Frost, but by jumping back, we discover what makes this woman tick. Mostly, it’s an awful mom and a society that won’t let her be brainy.

All this sounds really heavy but there was some levity, namely Jarvis and his usual antics. This week, we get to see Jarvis tranquilize himself and drool a lot. But listen, it’s funny because he’s British. We also get to see Peggy in some badass interrogation scenes and we also get to see her finally confront the Dad from That 70s Show. That was pretty intense with some Cold War overtones as the show is barreling towards the ‘50s. Speaking of Red Scare, isn’t it time we saw Dottie Underwood again?

The action is good, the comedy is satisfying, but it’s not every week you get to see a new, potent, tragic, inspiring Marvel Comics classic origin tale unfold for the first time on your TV screen and for that, I am damned impressed.

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Retro Marvel Moments

I guess it’s time to cover the Madame Masque business. We discussed the first appearance and origins of Whitney Frost a few weeks ago. Remember? Mobster’s daughter and all that? Well, Frost donned the identity of Madame Masque in Iron Man #17 (1969) in a classic issue penned by Archie Goodwin and drawn by George Tuska.

The comic book Madame Masque has no powers and certainly doesn’t have an evil black hole in her face. The comic book Masque donned the distinctive golden disguise after she was chosen by her crime lord father Count Neferia as his successor. When Frost’s plane crashes, she is hideously scarred. Even in her disfigured condition, she forms a relationship with Tony Stark and is torn between her lover and her destiny as the head of a crime family. Her evil side wins out and she becomes the infamous Madame Masque. No super powers, just highly trained, greedy, and evil with a mad on for Stark.

It’s interesting that the Agent Carter brain trust decided to present such a radically different version of Frost, but it’s working. I do hope we get to see that Tuska designed mask in the series though.

When Jason Wilkes sees that crack appear, was that the first glimpse of the Dark Dimension we saw? Is Wilkes trapped between our reality and a dark realm of sorcery? It’s sort of cool we’re seeing some hints and clues of the world of Doctor Strange in the usually rather grounded Peggy Carter.

Nice little touch as it was revealed that Whitney Frost grew up in Broxton, Oklahoma. If that name sounds familiar, it was the rural town where Mjolnir crashed to Earth in the first Thor movie. It was also the town where the Thor comic was set for most of the 2000s. 

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4 out of 5