Agent Carter continues to walk that fine line between humor and some fairly intense moments. In Smoke & Mirrors Peggy Carter shows she can bluff, using “an intense cold” injection to break an unbreakable source. Jason Wilkes proves he is still top in his field, despite his weird distraction and Jarvis is willing but not always able.
This episode provides a double backstory element where the viewer learns of the humble (Whitney Frost), and not so humble (Peggy Carter), beginnings of the two main female characters. The dual flashbacks for each character, that visit both Whitney, nee’ Agnes, and Peg at significant junctures of their lives explains much about each woman.
Whitney comes from the wrong side of the tracks, American tracks, and her mother sleeps with the landlord to keep a roof over her and Agnes’ head. In England, Peg and her brother Michael play in the garden of a house that could belong to landed gentry.
Each memory shows how similar the two women are in temperament and attitude while their backgrounds are wildly dissimilar. Whitney (Agnes), is like Carter; intelligent and full of drive. The main difference is that Peggy’s life is shaped by war and tragedy while the young Whitney’s world is shaped by poverty and a mother who stresses that the world does not care how smart a woman is.
This focus on the build up of both character’s past storyline, which has shaped them into the individuals they are today, seems to indicate that they will face one another. It is interesting to note that the future Madam Masque was always more internalized than Carter. Not self-centered so much as just introspective and motivated more by her own needs.
Peggy on the other hand was set to live a life dictated by her soon-to-be husband, despite her brother Michael’s attempt to move his sister on a path more suited to her abilities and desires. It is his, her brother’s, death that motivates Peggy to stop the lie and take those first steps to becoming “Agent Carter.”
Backstories aside, the episode also revealed just how influential the “Council of Nine” really is and that Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith) has been perfectly placed to play for the other side. Whitney shows that coldblooded may be too tame a term for her pursuit of power and that SSR has a leak.
In Agent Carter, the cold war is ramping up, and Masters references the Hollywood 10 and makes a very unveiled threat toward “foreigner” Carter. (This appears to be the main thought process of the villains, later when Chadwick learns that Peggy kidnapped his lackey Hunt, he threatens deportation.)
Jarvis (James D’Arcy) and Hayley Atwell make a brilliant double act and their chemistry is spot on. D’Arcy is adept at comedy and his delivery is both perfectly timed and expertly performed. As Carter’s “sidekick” Jarvis manages to be all manner of things to Peggy, not least of which is being ready to take on all threats to his colleague.
The fires of romance still smolder between Carter and Wilkes (Reggie Austin) as the scientist struggles to fix his “problem.”
Whitney continues to do her own research, bringing in a cage of white rats to see if she can replicate making her director disappear. After one, inadvertent, success, the neophyte super villain goes on to do the same to the overconfident stool pigeon Mr. Hunt.
By the end of the episode, there are two memorable moments revealed via flashback. Peggy’s decision to enter the war as a field agent and pre-Whitney Agnes learning that in Hollywood one can be whatever they want.
Agent Carter also maintains that level of amusing moments, relying upon the atypical English delivery from Peggy, that makes this Marvel offering so much fun.
Example: As Carter and Chief Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) interrogate Rufus Hunt (Chris Browning) and Peggy gives him an injection she claims contains a deadly strain of malaria. Sousa questions her about this and Carter reveals that Howard Stark developed a cold injection.
Sousa: “You gave him a cold?”
Carter: “An intense cold.”
It is brilliant to see Kurtwood Smith doing what he does best; portraying an absolute stinker of a baddy. In Smoke & Mirrors, Resurrection actress Samaire Armstrong plays Agnes Cully’s mother Wilma opposite prolific character actor Chris Mulkey in Whitney’s flashback sequences.
Wynn Everett is disturbing as Whitney and she manages walk the fine line between delighted discovery (of her new power) and an underlying fear of this new ability. Yorkshire actor Max Brown plays Peggy Carter’s older brother Michael with quiet conviction, in the limited time allotted his cameo appearance and Olivia Welch is spent on as the teenage Whitney/Agnes.
Agent Carter airs Tuesdays on ABC for 10 episodes. With six left in the second season, wise Marvel fans will opt to tune in “on the day.”