Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’ Episode 5 review: ‘The Iron Ceiling’

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If Agent Carter had been involved with the suffragette movement I can’t help thinking the vote would have come a lot sooner because within the space of only five episodes Peggy has managed to go from being patronised and ignored by the rest of the SSR, to being invited out for an after-work drink with the boys.

To be fair, Agent Thompson’s invitation comes at the end of a particularly hard day at the office. Peggy’s former life fighting alongside the Howling Commandos comes into play, as she is able to call on their assistance to help an SSR team on a covert mission to an apparently abandoned institution in the Russian wilderness. There they find, in no particular order, two kidnapped scientists, several armed guards, and a child assassin.

This last takes the team by surprise rather more than it does the audience – because we’ve been here already. In a quietly disturbing sequence at the start of the episode we flash back to 1937, with children living in the building, an uncomfortable combination of orphanage, prison, and brainwashing facility.

The children are handcuffed to their beds at night, one assumes to prevent escape. And they are taught not just to fight but to kill – the scene ends with one girl vanquishing her opponent, and being given the instruction to finish the job. With a twist of the neck, it’s done.

We’ve been here before too. The child, now grown, is Dorothy Underwood (Bridget Regan) who is Peggy’s neighbour at The Griffith and who last week broke the neck of Mr Mink without a moment’s hesitation. In a neat parallel to events in Russia, as we see Peggy and her colleagues entering the Soviet institution that was formerly Dot’s home, we also see Dot breaking into Peggy’s current home for a nose around.

Agent Carter Hayley Atwell

Unexpectedly allowed out of the office, Peggy really comes into her own and there’s an obvious contrast between the treatment she receives from her present day SSR colleagues and her former wartime squad mates. Hayley Attwell continues to be outstanding in the title role and here gives a beautifully subtle performance – in the company of the fighting men, treated with respect and as an equal, she is more comfortable and free, both in her behaviour and in her language.

Once again, we find that nobody is quite what they seem. Agent Thompson in particular reveals more about himself than we had previously suspected. Twice in fact – first he is coaxed into telling the story of how he earned the Navy Cross by preventing some Japanese soldiers sneaking into his camp and slitting his CO’s throat; and later, having only survived the trip to Russia thanks to Peggy, he confesses the real truth: the Japanese had entered the camp to surrender, but he didn’t realise until it was just too late.

It’s hard not to feel something of “there but for the grace of God” on hearing the confession, and the writing is sparse and effective – no long-winded emotional angst, it’s all there in the performance and the line, “I buried the white flag before anybody else saw it.”

In fact it’s a good episode all round. The SSR team all get the chance to do something a little different: Carter and Thompson get a trip to Russia and the opportunity to get shot at; Chief Dooley gets to do a little hands-on investigating as he begins to suspect that somebody may be framing Howard Stark; and Sousa not only gets to see Peggy half undressed, he also spots the distinctive bullet wound scarring on her shoulder that matches with the ‘mystery woman’ in his photos of episode one…

The story as a whole is beginning to take shape now, which with only three episodes remaining is probably just as well. One of the scientists rescued from Russia (Ralph Brown gamely wrestling with his accent) confirms that Howard Stark has not been involved, merely his stolen designs; the Soviet base is clearly linked to the placing of ‘Dottie’ at The Griffith; and the suggestion of a conspiracy to frame Howard is coming to the fore.


Aired at 9pm on Sunday 9 August 2015 on Fox.

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