‘Agent Carter’ Season 2 Episode 4 review: ‘Smoke and Mirrors’

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Peggy Carter, special agent, and Mr Edwin Jarvis, chauffeur, make for an effective if unlikely team.

She supplies keen intelligence and ruthless fighting abilities; he provides transport and a boot full of elephant tranquilisers. All these diverse skills come together in ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ this week, enabling Peggy & Jarvis to capture Mr Hunt the aide-cum-henchman of Calvin Chadwick, and more generally of the Arena Club and its mysterious Council of Nine.

We learn a little more about the Council this week, but only a little – and what we do learn is enough to worry us. “They’re in everything… President McKinley. Black Tuesday. You think those things just happened?!” exclaims an imprisoned Hunt, neatly sketching in the range and style of the Council’s involvement in past US affairs.

Present US affairs too it seems, with the council clearly involved at the highest levels. Armed with the knowledge that the pre-Watergate Council conveniently tapes all its meetings, Peggy and Sousa prepare to raid the Arena Club. When a scenes starts with the phrase “The minute we get the warrant…” the audience suspects something will go wrong and sure enough before the briefing is even over a spot audit of the SSR by the War Department puts a stop to the raid.

“Let’s put that on the back burner,” smarms Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith). We’ve seen him subtly manipulating Agent Thompson in previous weeks, now he’s got another member of the SSR in his sights. His smile scarcely wavers throughout an exchange of barbed comments and veiled threats with Peggy, all of which leaves the Arena Club safe and Peggy more aware than before of just how far this conspiracy spreads.

But if that’s all the news that’s fit to print plotwise, through a series of flashbacks this week’s episode also fills in the ‘back stories’ to the two leading ladies – Peggy herself (of course) and rising villain Whitney Frost.

With Peggy, we see her go from childhood tomboy scraps with her older brother, to working at Bletchley Park during the war. For an English audience it’s hard not to be amused by the array of US talent putting on their best English accents, with the prize probably going to Christopher Grove as Bletchley senior officer Edwards.

For all my sarcasm, though, there is something very unsettling about seeing a Peggy so timid and so lacking in her usual spirit. Offered the role of agent in the SOE (at her brother’s suggestion) she turns it down because it’s not what her and her fiancé had planned. “One thing I’ve learned from the war: a boring life is a privilege,” is fiancé Fred’s summary, an attitude that the modern-day Peggy would surely have punched him for – and it is only her brother’s death that prompts Peggy into action, leaving her old life behind on the eve of the Wedding.

No less dramatic a change of lifestyle for the young Agnes Cully, who we first encounter as a schoolgirl fixing her mother’s radio. Whereas Agnes is using her brain, her mother is using her body to keep ‘Uncle Bud’ sweet. Without spelling it out, it’s still made very clear how she is keeping a roof over their heads and food on their table – and though we can hardly condemn her for whoring herself it’s a different matter when she tries to whore out her teenage daughter. When Bud unceremoniously dumps her for a younger model and demands they get out of his house, Mum takes it out on Agnes: “You could have been nicer to him,” she snarls.

Ironically it’s her looks rather than her intellect, at least as far as the movies are concerned, that have got the present day Agnes, or rather Whitney, where she is. This week she begins to re-employ her brain, and having recovered from the initial shock of her zero matter infection is now employing scientific principles to assess it. It’s not good news for the cage full of lab rats she has delivered to her boudoir.

Nor is it good news for Mr Hunt, who pays the price for having spilled the beans to the SSR. And it’s not good news for Calvin either, who has now seen the zero matter in lethal action. The power behind the throne has stepped out into the limelight. “What are you?” he asks his wife. “Whatever I want,” she replies.

Aired at 9pm on Thursday 18 February 2016 on FOX.

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