[This is a review of Agent Carter season 2, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week, Agent Carter was an arguably more serious episode for the series as 'Smoke & Mirrors' delved into the back stories of both our heroine Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) as well as season 2's main antagonist, Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett). Now in this week's episode, 'The Atomic Job', Agent Carter capitalizes on the history of Whitney to explore how the effects of Zero Matter have manifested in her need for more power and to further experiment with the extent of her abilities.
'The Atomic Job', written by Lindsey Allen and directed by Craig Zisk, additionally explores the parallel differences between Peggy and Whitney as the two race against each other to get their hands on two atomic bombs being housed by the Roxxon company. While Whitney turns to mob boss Joseph Manfredi (Ken Marino) for help infiltrating Roxxon, Peggy seeks out Hugh Jones (Ray Wise) - who viewers may remember from season 1 - in order to steal a key to Roxxon. Meanwhile, Chief Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) proposes to his girlfriend, Violet (Sarah Bolger), though their relationship hits a brick wall when she figures out Sousa's real reason for moving to Los Angeles.
While the previous week's episode was one of the more serious of the season, 'The Atomic Job' takes on a much lighter tone and manages to highlight how season 2 has elevated the premise of Agent Carter above season 1 as a much more enjoyable spy/superhero story. Although season 2 has largely seen Peggy operating against the SSR's wishes (read: Jack Thompson's wishes) just as she did in season 1, the team she has helping her is much different. With the reasoning of avoiding the Council established earlier in the season - and re-established in this episode - Peggy and Sousa turn to the few people they can trust: Jarvis (James D'Arcy), SSR receptionist/agent Rose Roberts (Lesley Boone), and SSR lab tech Dr. Aloysius Samberly (Matt Braunger).
Although Rose appeared in season 1 as one of the phone operators helping maintain the SSR's cover in New York City, she has taken on a much larger role in season 2 as the only person maintaining the secrecy of the SSR's L.A. office. Boone brings the perfect amount of humor and charm to the character in order to elevate Rose as not only another competent female agent, but a good (and nearly evenly matched) counterpart to Peggy. Additionally, Peggy fighting back against Sousa's reluctance to bring Rose on their mission - "It's funny, I'm seeing Daniel Sousa, but I'm hearing Jack Thompson" - is indicative of Agent Carter season 2's approach to sexism; which is to say it's still incredibly overt, but much more grounded because though men like Sousa and Jarvis are more understanding of Peggy's capability, Sousa can have his moments of falling back on sexist ideologies.
Lastly rounding out Peggy's team in 'The Atomic Job' is the SSR lab tech first introduced in the season premiere, Dr. Samberly, who provides the gadgetry and technical knowledge for the mission. All together, the five team members attempt the slow-motion walk action trope (also known as the "Power Walk"), which doesn't go as planned when Dr. Samberly trips and Jarvis must run off the fetch the car - the Power Walk fumble that has almost become as much of a trope as the walk itself.
However the scene highlights Agent Carter as an atypical hero story by showing that no one on her team fits the hero mold that's seen elsewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; her team includes a man with a disability, two women (one of whom doesn't fit into the ideals of beauty standers), a man who has more of a penchant for technology than fitness, and a man who knows more about baking a soufflé than diffusing a bomb. Altogether, they epitomize where Agent Carter excels: taking these characters that don't seem like typical heroes and proving they're just as capable (if not more so) as the superheroes of the universe.
Elsewhere in the episode, Whitney is going further down the path of succumbing to the Zero Matter that she absorbed earlier this season, using her husband Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) to help her track down the atomic bombs in order to further experiment with her powers. Though we may know of Whitney's eventual evolution into the Marvel Comics villain Madame Masque, her descent into a power-hungry antagonist is incredibly interesting to watch - especially when it is shown next to Calvin's reactions to her plans and requests of him.
As it was established in 'Smoke & Mirrors', Whitney has always been forced to use men to gain what little power she has had - she helped establish Isodyne even though Calvin was the public face of the company, and she was spotted by a male talent agent who helped her become a successful actress. However, with her gaining more power from the Zero Matter, it has permanently altered the dynamic in their relationship, evidenced when Whitney tells Calvin, who is upset that she is demanding more uranium for her experiments, "You need to calm down, you are overreacting."
Because Whitney is gaining her own abilities and power through Zero Matter for the first time, she no longer defers to Calvin (or anyone else), and doesn't wish to give up the Zero Matter in her when Peggy offers to "fix" her. This focus on Whitney in Agent Carter has been a strength of season 2, with the character development rivaling - if not flat-out outpacing - that of the other main characters. As a result, Whitney is becoming the most fascinating villain of the series as well as one of the most compelling characters on the show as a whole.
The majority of 'The Atomic Job' may have taken on a lighter tone overall, but the relationship between Sousa and Violet was a more serious aspect of the episode. Sousa's botched proposal dinner and his later fight with Violet when she realizes that he left New York to run away from Peggy (and that he's still in love with her) offer an emotional throughline to the episode that is decently acted by Bolger and Gjokaj. But, the machinations of the episode to cause the rift between Sousa and Violet in order to set up the eventual relationship between Sousa and Peggy come off a bit too contrived to fully enjoy the drama of this storyline.
All in all, 'The Atomic Job' was another entertaining episode of Agent Carter in a much more compelling season 2. New members on Peggy's rogue SSR team and an exceptionally well-developed antagonist prove to further strengthen the show's second outing. Although some aspects of the episode fall a bit too far into using tropes and conventional storytelling, 'The Atomic Job' is another example of Agent Carter season 2's capability in balancing fun spy humor with moments of more serious drama.
Agent Carter continues with ‘Life of the Party’ and 'Monsters' on February 16th at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: