TV recap: Agent Carter season one, episode five – The Iron Ceiling

Previously on Agent Carter, Howard Stark returned to New York under the guise of tracking down one of his most deadly inventions. After getting Peggy on side the two fell out when Peggy discovered what Howard was actually hiding was a vial of Steve Rogers’ blood. Meanwhile, Dottie revealed herself to be more than just a sweet Southern girl in the big city – she’s an assassin.

“They don’t respect you, they don’t even see you.”
A young girl wakes up in Russia in 1937, and we see she is handcuffed to her bed. She is freed, along with a host of other girls all in similar positions, and sneakily eats a bread roll she’s been hiding. In the classroom, the little girl and her classmates recite lines from Snow White as they watch the animated film. And then they’re outside, watching as two of the girls fight each other, to the death.

And then Dottie wakes up in New York in 1946, starting her day with a series of sit ups before joining Peggy at the diner, where her syrupy Southern accent hides her Russian assassin background. When Peggy pulls a pen out of her bag, she’s confronted by Jarvis’ business card. Oh, she obviously misses him. Dottie knocks Peggy’s bag over, on purpose. What has she grabbed from there? Ah, Peggy’s room key.

Jarvis approaches Peggy at a newsstand, begging for forgiveness. Jarvis is sorry, but is also keen to show that Howard isn’t a bad person, that he just had Peggy’s best interests at heart. When that doesn’t work, Jarvis tries to make Peggy see how little she is valued at the SSR. I have every faith in Peggy’s skill, intelligence and ability, but she’s still a little blind – convinced that the SSR will one day see her value. I hope she’s right.

At the SSR everything is in chaos. Sasha Demidov’s typewriter switched itself on and the SSR now has a message they’re desperately trying to understand, as it’s encrypted. The translator isn’t having much luck, much to Chief and Thompson’s dissatisfaction, but Peggy takes a look and works out that it’s a system she saw once at Bletchley. And she solves it, working out that the message is giving map coordinates, instructions and a date and time. 

The coordinates are for a forest in Belarus, and the message also mentions Leviathan, which Chief tells everyone is a covert Russian organisation which seeks to purchase weapons to fight the Allies. Leviathan is after something called a Havoc reactor, and the message says that payment for the reactor is to be made to Howard Stark. Oh.

Chief gives instructions to Thompson to head to Belarus, and Peggy fights to get herself on the trip by pointing out her qualifications as a code breaker. Thompson is against the idea, but Peggy keeps fighting, saying she’s been to Belarus and is more than ready and able. Chief seems to want to let Peggy go – he explains to her exactly why he can’t send her. I know that sounds weird, but I think if Chief really didn’t want Peggy going, he wouldn’t have given her the courtesy of giving her decent reasons for his refusal, after all, in the past he’s hardly deigned to give her the time of day. But Peggy has one more ace up her sleeve – the 107th, the Howling Commandoes.

“Gear up.”

Peggy heads to the men’s changing room to get into her tactical gear. This is a great bit of composition – Thompson and the male agents on one side of the lockers, Peggy on the other – showing the physical divide and differences as they change. Sousa wanders in to give Thompson briefing notes, and is tricked into taking a look at Peggy, who is now in her underwear. It’s awkward and funny, but the Sousa’s discomfort is soon for another reason – he sees two dots on Peggy’s right shoulder that he obviously is confused by.

On the plane to Belarus, Thompson seems nervous. He’s about to make his first parachute jump outside of training. It’s nice to see Thompson looking unsure of himself for once. On the ground, the agents cover up their parachutes and head into the woods where they find themselves facing a group of men with guns – it’s the Howlies! 

The SSR agents are pretty star struck, but the best bit about this scene is the support and respect the Howling Commandoes have for Peggy. Thompson tries to assert his authority by laying out his plan, but Dum Dum has a better idea, so off they go.

“I’m an SSR agent, sir, my life is my job.”

Dum Dum gets the lowdown on what the SSR have been investigating from Peggy, who, despite her current hatred of Howard, still believes he isn’t a traitor to the U.S. and that the coded message is trying to lure the SSR into a trap. Dum Dum is in agreement, about that, and the fact that he and Peggy both miss Steve Rogers. 

In the U.S. Sousa is still at his desk as Chief leaves for the night. Something is bugging Sousa, and it’s to do with Peggy, whose file he’s looking through. Those marks he saw on Peggy’s shoulder are from a gunshot wound, and the blonde woman from the club also has the same marks – Sousa has put two and two together and found out the identity of the mystery woman from the club in episode one.

Peggy and the Howlies are having a laugh round the campfire, but Thompson is all business, although he tries to join in. But when Peggy asks about his time in Japan, Thompson says he doesn’t have any stories, and that he spent most of him time digging trenches. Was he a POW? When Peggy pushes him, Thompson tells the story of how he got his Navy Cross. Thompson’s camp was attacked by Japanese troops one night, and he shot them all dead, saving his commanding officer and fellow soldiers. It’s a dark story, but it helps the Howling Commandoes and Peggy understand, and respect, Thompson a little bit more than they did.

“What you don’t have is the whole story. Somebody does, and they’re keeping it to themselves.”

At a bar Chief is trying to get information on the Battle of Finow from some journalist, who tells him that he wrote a piece implicating Howard in the massacre, since Howard was there for the clean-up and tried to punch an army general who was also there. That general subsequently resigned, and Howard shortly afterwards walked away from a massive army contract.

In Belarus, the agents and the Howlies are at the meeting place, and Thompson is giving instructions about who goes where and how no one should shoot their weapons unless absolutely necessary, instructions which have Peggy coming close to rolling her eyes. The Howlies want to hear Peggy’s plan, which Thompson decides to go with without any argument. I’m surprised, but if we’ve learnt anything it’s that he’s really good at reading people, and I guess he can read the Howlies’ respect for Peggy and wants to keep them on side. Plus her plan is better.

“Does anyone else feel a chill going up their knickers?”

Inside the building where the meet up is to take place, the Howlies find themselves in a classroom. I think I know where they are – the classroom from Dottie’s childhood. This must be the Black Widow training facility/farm. A projector switches on and Peggy realises it carries a subliminal message in the film it’s showing: “Instil fear.” And then the group hear a little girl crying. IT’S A TRAP.

They find the dorm room from Dottie’s flashback, and a little girl on the floor weeping. Dum Dum approaches, and she stabs him. TRAP! Before the Howlies and Peggy can get their act together, the little girl has shot a Howlie, leaped across the room and disappeared into a vent. Thompson and the SSR agents come charging in, and Peggy takes control, issuing instructions like a pro.

Chief tracks down Jarvis, and tries to get him to talk about the Battle of Finow. Jarvis denies knowing anything, and Chief wants Jarvis to tell Howard that he wants to hear the truth, and that’s all.

“We’re the good guys.”

Dottie is busy searching through Peggy’s belongings during her absence. Fingers crossed she doesn’t find that vial of Steve’s blood behind the picture on the wall. She has found a jewellery box – complete with a dancing ballerina, oh the visuals are just so en pointe – which is full of photos of Howard Stark’s inventions. And she finds the picture of Steve that Peggy keeps on her dressing room table, which leads her to do a little bit of role play in the mirror. Hands off Steve, Dottie.

In Belarus, the gang have come across two prisoners and are questioning the older of the two. He tells them that Leviathan has some schematics and wants the younger prisoner to build whatever the instructions lead to, while the older guy is his psychiatrist. The younger guy is a genius, and slightly unstable, but is able to tell the SSR that the schematics are for a photonic amplifier (I don’t quite understand what this does, but it’s powerful and bad). The two men say that Leviathan stole the plans from Howard, perhaps putting him in the clear, but before much discussion can take place, the enemy approaches.

Peggy and Thompson lead the prisoners away, but get caught in a gunfight. And then the little girl from before appears and starts shooting too. The captured engineer takes one of the Howlies hostage and says he will give them to Leviathan if they let him go free. The psychiatrist shoots the engineer dead, and the fight continues, but Thompson is frozen. What’s wrong with him? All his usual traces of bravado are gone, and he looks like a man suffering serious flashbacks. I assume he’s got some sort of PTSD that’s been triggered by the current situation?

“Tempting, but I think it’s time I put my days on the front line behind me.” 

Dum Dum comes to the rescue, blasting a hole in the wall, but Thompson is still hesitant. It takes Peggy shouting in his face for him to get it together enough to run away and escape, leaving Peggy to fire her machine gun until the bullets run out and then make a run for it to the truck the Howlies have commandeered.

The SSR guys leave, and although Dum Dum tries to persuade Peggy to stay, she knows she has to leave. Perhaps Peggy needed this mission to help her put the past behind her and move on. She’s proved to herself she’s still got what it takes, and maybe that’s enough for now. The SSR guys take the psychiatrist home to New York with them, hoping he can help them fight Leviathan.

On the plane, Peggy and Thompson have a heart to heart. Thompson reveals that the men he shot in his camp, the action that got him the Navy Cross, were carrying a white flag. He buried the flag after he realised, but every day he finds it harder and harder to be the man everyone thinks he is. It’s a real moment of vulnerability, and it’s the thing that finally makes me like Thompson. I don’t think he’ll suddenly become a nice man, but I understand him more now, and I think he’s a good man.

At home, Dottie is getting ready for bed by grabbing a pair of handcuffs from her bedside drawer, putting them on and attaching the other end to the headboard. Old habits die hard. 

At their briefing, Thompson is unusually humble, and gives Peggy full credit for everything she did. And Peggy is all about the teamwork, determined to make sure Chief knows she and Thompson played their parts. She also makes it clear that the psychiatrist doesn’t think Howard is involved in Leviathan, and neither does she. Thompson disagrees. More old habits.

“Good work, Carter.”

Carter, Thompson and Chief might be happy, relatively speaking, but Sousa looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He declines Thompson’s offer of a drink. And then we get the surprise of our lives – Thompson invites Peggy to hang out with the boys. It looks like she’s finally got the respect that she has been longing for from the “guys”, although unbenownst to her she’s lost the friendship and respect bestowed upon her by Sousa.

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