[This is a review of Agent Carter season 2, episodes 8 and 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week's double episode of Agent Carter, 'Life of the Party' and 'Monsters', rushed to set up the character development of Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) and Ana Jarvis (Lotte Verbeek), while Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Edwin Jarvis (James D'Arcy) reluctantly teamed up with the enemy assassin Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan). Though Dottie shone in her return as the quick-witted and deadly Black Widow agent - whose humor perfectly plays off of a straight-man version of Peggy - Jason and Ana's character development was contrived to serve a bleak ending to 'Monsters' with Jason kidnapped by Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett) and Ana having been shot by the villain.
Agent Carter returns for another double episode with 'The Edge of Mystery', written by Brant Englestein and directed by Metin Hüseyin, and 'A Little Song and Dance', which has a story by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters and a teleplay by Chris Dingess and was directed by Jennifer Getzinger. In 'The Edge of Mystery', Peggy attempts to trade Whitney fake uranium rods for Jason's safe return, but the plan goes awry and Jason sides with Whitney, leading the villain to be able to open a new rift in an attempt to create more Zero Matter. In 'A Little Song and Dance', Peggy is forced to reexamine who she's able to trust while Whitney attempts to steal the Zero Matter absorbed by Jason before the rift was closed.
Both 'The Edge of Mystery' and 'A Little Song and Dance' bring a more heavy spy influence back to Agent Carter, given Jason's - albeit rather brief - betrayal of Peggy in order to help Whitney obtain the uranium. His standoff with Peggy and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) epitomizes the small and tense moments where Agent Carter truly shines; Peggy calmly telling Jason he'll have to kill her is a moment of strength that the show has not only earned, but built up to throughout its entire two seasons. Additionally, though the result of the scene - Jason threatening Peggy to get to Daniel - is predictable, it's an emotional payoff of Jason's jealousy from previous episodes.
However, the double-crossing, more spy-geared storyline of these episodes that truly works best is Jack Thompson's (Chad Michael Murray) ever-changing plan in 'A Little Song and Dance'. Though he is predictably now on the side of good after betraying Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith), his actions in the back half of the episode - seeming to abandon his fellow SSR agents to side with Whitney and the Council only to reveal he wishes to take out Whitney and her entire operation, including Jason - are quick turnarounds that wouldn't make sense with any character besides the morally questionable Jack.
With Peggy and Daniel both firmly established as heros who very rarely face any kind of moral dilemma, Jack is a necessary contrasting character who wrestles with what is the right thing to do. Although he may not be a likable character, especially given the show's portrayal of him as the most sexist of its core cast members, he adds an interesting depth to Agent Carter's core group that otherwise consists of Peggy, Daniel, and Jarvis: three characters who are, for the most part, incredibly (almost unrealistically) steadfast in their upstanding morals. Agent Carter's main heros would be almost too cartoonishly good, but Jack adds a necessary balance.
Speaking of characters wrestling with doing the right thing versus doing the selfish thing, 'The Edge of Mystery' dealt with Jarvis' emotional fallout from Ana being shot and, though she recovers, her losing the ability to have children. Seeking revenge, Jarvis attempts to go after Whitney by himself on a suicide mission, but this results in him and Peggy being captured by the villain. This storyline leads to an incredibly well-written - and expertly delivered by D'Arcy and Atwell - conversation between Jarivs and Peggy about how seriously he takes these adventures. The cathartic moment is two seasons in the making, with Jarvis finally feeling the real world consequences of these "larks," and the viewer is reminded of why these two are the central partnership of the show.
That being said, as with previous episodes this season, Agent Carter strikes a balance between the more serious moments and those that are lighter in tone. The opening musical number of 'A Little Song and Dance', "Whatcha Gonna Do (It's Up To You)" is a highlight of the double episode this week as Peggy attempts to decide between Jason and Daniel - though she admits they're both distractions. The scene also welcomed back Angie Martinelli (Lyndsey Fonseca), whose female friendship with Peggy was one of the more compelling aspects of season 1.
The culminating song-and-dance number, which featured Atwell, Gjokaj, and Fonseca singing their own solos, was a welcome reprieve after the more serious finales of both 'Monsters' and 'The Edge of Mystery'. However, though the dream sequence works to offer space between two episodes, it isn't set entirely apart, managing to capitalize on the love triangle between Peggy, Jason, and Daniel in an original way. Although it may not serve the larger plot of the season, it does offer audiences a fun breather bookended by the more serious dramatic developments in this double episode.
Furthermore, the seemingly more-present humor of both 'The Edge of Mystery' and 'A Little Song and Dance' helped to contrast the serious moments of both episodes. The inept scientist/frustrated agent dynamic of Dr. Samberly (Matt Braunger) and Daniel, Jack's one-liner about letting Jason blow both Peggy and Daniel away to break up their fight over Daniel giving up the location of the uranium, as well as Jack and Daniel yelling for Samberly to "Do as Peggy says!" all worked as standout moments of the double episode. Especially shining in these episodes, though, was Ken Marino, who is perhaps best known for his comedic roles, as Joe Manfredi. Marino's turn as the violently manic and at-times heartfelt Manfredi is equal parts horrifying and hilarious.
Agent Carter can certainly be guilty of using contrived character development to either further the plot forward - such as Jason's sudden hints of darkness in recent episodes leading to his betrayal of Peggy - or further the character development of others - like Ana's worrying for Jarvis' safety only for her safety to be compromised in order for him to feel the consequences of his adventures. But, in its essence, Agent Carter is a series that is fun to watch, offers slick fight sequences (Peggy and Daniel beating up Manfredi's goons in the background while he argues with his Nonna in the foreground of a scene), and features enough heart from its main cast to make up for the show's faults.
'The Edge of Mystery' and 'A Little Song and Dance' perfectly epitomize what works about Agent Carter as well as its excellence in delivering an entertaining spy series based on a well-known Marvel Cinematic Universe character - while also using Zero Matter to foreshadow the Marvel Studios release, Doctor Strange. But, though this week's double episode of Agent Carter offered some emotional cathartic release and further developed the Zero Matter arc, it also set up an exciting season finale, with everyone facing off against Whitney Frost. Whether Agent Carter can bring all the threads of season 2 together, and give viewers an entertaining final showdown between Peggy and Whitney, will be seen next week.
Agent Carter season 2 concludes with 'Hollywood Ending' on March 1st at 9pm on ABC. Check out a preview below: