Recap: Marvel’s Agent Carter, “A Sin to Err” (1×06)

The higher you rise, the farther you have to fall – a painful lesson that Peggy learns tonight when the S.S.R. finally catches on to her side job exonerating Howard Stark. On top of squandering all the trust and goodwill she earned on her trip to Russia, Peggy now also tops the list of people that Leviathan wants dead and buried. Peggy did not have a good day, which is a particular shame, since she started it with the exuberance of a woman on the top of her game.

Discovering the Black Widow training facility in Belarus provided Peggy with the missing puzzle piece explaining how Leviathan was able to get the upper hand over Howard Stark: women. As the not-so-good Doctor Ivchenko says, women are often underestimated, overlooked, and can go places where men cannot, and that included Howard’s bedchamber. Peggy also suspects a woman killed Krzeminski, and although the Chief, typically, is focused more on the male big bad – Leviathan – over his female henchwomen, he gives Peggy the go-ahead to follow her hunch, officially and on the books. She’s earned that much trust.

The irony of the situation lies in the fact that Peggy’s “fathead male co-workers” have never taken Peggy more seriously than they do when they perceive her to be a major threat. Agent Carter has done an excellent job demonstrating that, even though the S.S.R was rife with era-appropriate misogyny leading to Peggy’s underutilization, Chief Dooley, Jack Thompson, and Daniel Souza are all talented investigators. Souza in particular, physically limited by his injury, hungered to prove his talents in more cerebral areas, and here, he succeeds. After a visit to the prison, where a witness to Peggy’s nightclub exploits gave a positive identification, he goes right to the Chief, and the manhunt for Peggy is on.

Peggy and Jarvis, newly reunited, have located an empty apartment belonging to one of Howard’s former conquests: one Ida Emke, dancer. (Not only is our Dottie also a “dancer” and probably the same gal, ballerina is the standard Black Widow cover occupation.) Their inquiry into Miss Emke’s background is interrupted when Peggy sees S.S.R. agents pulling a standard clear and apprehend protocol around her. Peggy handily dispatches the redshirt agents with Jarvis’ adorably enthusiastic help, only to run into Thompson and Souza in the alley. Unlike the other guys, they believe in Peggy’s abilities, and know she’ll evade the men in diner. But Peggy also knows Souza isn’t a killer, and after knocking out Thompson, she turns her back and runs, breaking Souza’s heart.

Even on the lam, Peggy’s responsibility gets the best of her, and she returns to the Griffith to retrieve Steve’s blood. In the most hilarious scene of the episode, Angie flexes her acting muscles (while Peggy hides outside the window) and assumes a disguise guaranteed to terrorize all men: a crying girl. “Please… don’t do that,” begs Thompson, patting Angie awkwardly on the head, while a distraught Souza begs the Griffith’s mother hen, Mirriam, to “do something.” Angie’s sharper than she choses to appear, and Peggy’s not the only one to turn male expectations against them.

Thompson and Souza’s gullibility only extends so far, and they know Peggy’s still around. Their faith in her tradecraft leads to her capture, yes, but it also saves her life. Dottie, wearing Peggy’s lipstick with a topcoat of hallucinatory drugs, knocks Peggy out with a kiss and looms above her with a switchblade, about to fulfill her new directive to kill Agent Carter.

Dottie’s presence as Peggy’s primary adversary and biggest threat is what elevates Agent Carter from a show that simply has a kick-ass female protagonist to one that gives clever commentary (that, granted, is sometimes heavy-handed) about the ability of women to turn their disempowerment around. It’s especially interesting coming from a comic book spin-off in the Marvel Universe, against which people have levied some harsh criticism for its reticence to showcase female characters in a non-exploitative way. Even Dottie has no patience for sexist bullshit, as she takes special pleasure in dispatching a slimy dentist who wants his potential assistants to go “above and beyond” with him. She seemed really excited about that drill.

Killing the dentist was all part of Dottie’s rendezvous with fellow Leviathan-ite Ivchenko, in a sly bit of misdirection. At first, Dottie’s rifle and Ivchenko’s positioning at the window appeared to be one of those eye-roll inducing timing coincidences leading to the assassination of a valuable asset, but no – I called it right last week. Ivchenko is Leviathan, and the important part of the rifle isn’t the barrel but the scope. Ivchenko and Dottie communicate in Morse code, using flashes of light and hand taps Dottie can see when magnified by the sights on the rifle. Neither Ivchenko nor Dottie succeed in their missions, though – Ivchenko fails to hypnotize Chief Dooley and has to settle for poor Agent Yauch, who can tell him where the Stark tech is but can’t get him in. As his reward, Yauch earns a trip to the morgue, compelled to commit suicide via traffic.

Peggy ends the episode in custody, surrounded by Thompson, Souza, and a stone-faced Chief. “I can explain. All of it,” she says. Will it be enough to get the S.S.R. back on her side? I’m not sure, but right now, it might be the safest place she could be.

Odds & Ends

– Angie’s audition monologue is from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which might be the most flat-out appropriate play to pair with this television series.

– Chief Dooley is bereft over the fact that his wife cheated on him with some 4-F from Hoboken, but lest he forget, Steve Rogers was a 4-F too.

– Angie: “What’s YOUR grandmother’s name?” Thompson: “Gam-gam.” Thompson, you big softy.

– Doesn’t anyone on television close their drawers when they move out of an apartment, rather than leave them conveniently staggered open? It’s a visual shorthand that makes me sigh.