Up until “The Iron Ceiling,” most of the featured members of the SSR have been caricatures and different levels of male foils for Peggy Carter. But tonight, they became full characters and that’s not nearly all that happened on this week’s Agent Carter.
Where to begin? I expected lots of extended story beats and characters from the Captain America films, particularly First Avenger; what I didn’t expect from Marvel’s Agent Carter were the origins of Natasha Romanov revealed. Well, not the Black Widow herself, but girls like her, transformed into killing machines in Russia’s Red Room. Of course, Natasha doesn’t appear, but it isn’t such a stretch to imagine that the young girl that does appear in this episode, as well as the events that Peggy’s faux neighbor Dot went through, was the same type of conditioning endured by one Natasha Romanov. After tonight’s episode, we now understand who Natasha Romanov is and what she means when she said she had “Red on her ledger.”
That kind of synchronicity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the main reasons Marvel TV has been working so well this season. Imagine, during this TV series, fans got a deep look into the origins of one of the core Avengers during the course of a 1946 pre-Cold War espionage story while involving characters from Captain America. Just awesome.
As for the plot itself, Peggy and fellow SSR Agent Jack Thompson traveled to Russia to find out if Howard Stark has been selling his technology to Leviathan. Call this episode “Captain America: The First Avenger 1.5” as Cap’s crew of Howling Commandos helped Peggy and Thompson in Russia.
A few things: One, Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan is probably the eeriest exact translation from comic to screen I have ever seen. This actor, who doesn’t look a thing like Dum Dum Dugan in real life, is just transformed into a Jack Kirby drawing of the bowler wearing Howler. Now, allow me to wear my fanboy hat for a moment…
If you told me five years ago that in 2015, I’d be chilling on my couch watching an exact adaptation of the Howling Commandos, I would have asked you what prescription drugs you were on. But there they were, fighting the good fight in Russia with Cap’s best girl. This stuff just never gets old. As for the mission itself, the Howlers and Peggy find that Leviathan has kidnapped a nutball Russian engineer to try and recreate Stark’s weapon. The mission didn’t really have an impact on the unraveling plot of Leviathan and Stark’s innocence, but it did allow Thompson to see Carter in action and fully revealed as the bravest, most noble warrior he has ever seen in action.
Before this mission, Thompson was kind of just an alpha male jerk, or rather Peggy Carter’s watered down version of a Flash Thompson type of character. But seeing Peggy, a woman so respected by Captain America’s elite crew of commandos, allowed Thompson to reveal his own secrets. A particularly powerful moment came when Thompson froze under fire, but Peggy did not judge him, even after all the snide cracks in the past he made about Peggy and women in general. No, Peggy Carter helped Thompson find his courage. Furthermore, Thompson revealed some dark secrets from his past to our heroine. Again, Peggy never judged, she just listened.
Suddenly, Thompson and Carter were not posturing male and plucky female; they were just two soldiers who had both run the gauntlet of war and now understand each other’s pain.
Speaking of soldiers, can I gush about the Howling Commandos a bit more? We were treated to more Howling Commando action in this episode of Agent Carter than we were in the entirety of the first Cap film. When Dugan busted through the wall to save Peggy and her squad, screaming his signature “waa-hooo!” let’s just say it was one of the most profound nerd chubbies I had in years. Series wise, the contrast of the abject respect Dugan and the Howlers had for Peggy stood in stark contrast to how she is treated by the SSR. This week, we witnessed the real Peggy Carter in action. Cap’s best girl.
On Peggy returns home, there will be some tough times ahead. This week we got to look into the past of Peggy’s faux neighbor Dot, a product of the Red Room. Dot’s origin was shown in great detail, an origin that it is not a leap to assume is shared by Natasha Romanov, and if Dot is even half as capable as the Black Widow, Peggy is in for one hell of a fight when she returns home. Dot busted into Peggy’s pad and went through Peggy’s private things, finding pictures of the stolen Stark tech. Thankfully, Dot did not find Captain America’s blood which Peggy hid last week. But this highly trained Russian agent has a key to Peggy’s pad and was established as a dire threat moving forward.
We also got a bit more insight into Dooley’s character this week as he confronted Jarvis over Howard Stark and showed that he is a much deeper thinker than even Peggy gave him credit for. Not much Jarvis this week, but there was a nice scene on how deep his loyalty to and admiration for Stark goes.
From the reveal of the Red Room to Peggy winning the respect of her harshest critic to the Howling Commandos in action, this episode was truly a winner. Waaaa-Hoooo!
Retro Marvel Moments
A bit of a breakdown on the featured Howling Commandos:
– Junior Juniper first appeared in Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos vol. 1 #1 (1963) and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Junior has the distinction of being the first name Marvel character to die in action, a huge deal back in 1963 where such a thing just didn’t happen, an incident mirrored in this week’s episode as Juniper fell in battle. A nice tribute to a seminal Silver Age Marvel moment.
– Happy Sam Sawyer also first appeared in Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos #1 (1963). In the original comics, Sawyer gave Nick Fury and the Howlers their marching orders. In Agent Carter, Sawyer was an African American soldier who did not seem to be a commanding officer. But, he did have his signature scowl and persnickety demeanor, so this old school Marvel fan was happy. In the comics, Sawyer was white and also appeared in Captain Savage and his Battlefield Raiders and Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen, so he was kind of the go to military figure of Marvel’s war books.
– Pinky Pinkerton was a Howling Commando mainstay and first appeared in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos vol. 1 #8 (1964). He was a flamboyant character who always sported his signature beret and pompom. Years later, Stan Lee confided that Pinkerton was always supposed to be homosexual although that was never acknowledged on page. What was acknowledged was Pinky’s combat prowess and courage under fire, attributes that were fully on display in Agent Carter.
As for the Red Room, introducing the location that birthed the Black Widow set up many story possibilities both on television and in film. I’m sure the Red Room will be brought up in Natasha’s future film appearances.