For my money, “The Iron Ceiling” is the best episode of Agent Carter so far as it delivers on both action and strong character development for Peggy and Agent Thompson. We get a visit from some familiar looking Howling Commandos, Sousa closes in on Peggy, and we learn what exactly Russian girls did to pass the time in the 1930s. This is “The Iron Ceiling.”
The episode begins in the past. We start off in Russia, 1937, where we see a bunch of girls handcuffed to their beds. That’s one way to keep them there, I suppose. Anyway, one girl, a young Dorothy Dottie Underwood, played by Veronika Bonell, shares her bread with the girl next to her. So what did young, Russian girls do in the 1930s to pass the time while at extreme boot camp?
They watched Snow White…
And they fought. I wonder if the girls’ wing of the Hitler Youth went through similar training. Anyway, this brief flashback ends when young Dottie snaps her opponent’s neck.
In the present, current Dottie, begins her day with some sit-ups.
At the L&L, she asks Peggy about ennui since Angie is apparently too consumed with it to work. After offering Peggy half her baguette, Dottie plans to do some sightseeing around New York and hopes that Angie can join her. Peggy, however, is too distracted by the card she received from Jarvis, but snaps out of it when she tells Dottie to start her exploration by talking to the people. Go to Brooklyn, she says. The Statue of Liberty will always be there, but everything she stands for can be found in the hearts of the people. Dottie then accidentally knocks over Peggy’s purse, but when Peggy leaves, she’s none the wiser as Dottie managed to snag her key…
So Peggy meets up with Jarvis, who tries to make amends, but Peggy still hasn’t forgiven Howard for how he used her. Jarvis admits that he couldn’t tell her himself due to his current situation and even concurs that Howard can be vain, thoughtless, arrogant, and so on, but he’s still a good man. Peggy argues that Howard just used the both of them. But Jarvis counters that Peggy is in a similar situation at the SSR. She may be a federal agent, but she’s used to fetch coffee. The men there don’t respect or even see her. Even if Peggy doesn’t think they’ll change their minds, she plans to make them.
Things are a bit busy at the SSR due to the typewriter sending an encoded transmission. They’ve brought in a cryptographer from Arlington, but he’s doing a less than exceptional job. The cryptographer, played by Jared Gertner, wants to take the typewriter back with him for more work, but SSR won’t have that. Peggy tries her hand and is able to account for the fact that the original message was in Russian.
They’re map coordinates and confirmation for an exchange set for April 27th, not too far from now. Leviathan is set to acquire a prototype Havoc reactor by payment of $100,000 to one Howard Stark. Dooley orders Thompson, Agent Li, played by Eddie Shin, and Agent Martinez, played by Greg Serano, to Russia. But Carter includes herself in that list as well.
So Thompson and Carter argue over why Peggy should or shouldn’t be allowed to go. Peggy figures that Leviathan will continue communicating in code and the team will need her skills as a translator. Thompson is glad that Peggy cracked the code, but believes that she has no idea what she’s getting into. Even though Martinez speaks Russian as well, Peggy spent three years over there and knows the area better.
Dooley is caught in the middle of this and asks Peggy to put herself in his shoes: if he sends her and she dies, he will be responsible for getting a woman killed in action. If Peggy does still go and one of the men dies, Dooley will be responsible for setting him up to die. His priority is putting together a European tactical team that knows the terrain. Peggy figures that no one knows the terrain as well as her or the 107th Regiment.
If Peggy could deliver them, she’d be set to go, but Dooley, reluctantly, doesn’t allow Peggy to go. Before Thompson can gloat, Dooley shuts him down. He has enough on his plate with the Vice President calling for Howard Stark and Colonel Mueller’s claim that Stark was involved with a massacre. The last thing Dooley needs to deal with is Thompson’s crush on Carter.
Just as Dooley begins making tactical plans, Carter returns- after making a brief phone call- and confirms that the 107th Regiment will meet them at the Polish side of the Russian border. Time to gear up.
Peggy ends up having to change in the men’s locker room because, you know, there is no women’s locker room. The closest would be the ladies’ room in the lobby of the ad agency, and Peggy would rather suffer a man’s musk than change in a public restroom. Can’t really say I disagree with her logic. Anyway, Peggy and Thompson have a little back and forth before Sousa enters with field reports, though he says that Peggy is the best intel they’ll need. Thompson asks Sousa to grab his compass from locker 42, which is on the side opposite the men.
Then this happens. Thompson, you dick. But I’d be lying if I didn’t find this a bit funny. Before leaving, though, Sousa notices some very distinct marks on Peggy’s right shoulder.
So on the plane, Peggy’s right at home, but Thompson is nervous. No need for him to be, though. He’s jumped nine times. Eight of them were training jumps. Ha!
They land and run right into the Howling Commandos: Dum-Dum Dugan, with Neal McDonough once again reprising his role, Junior Juniper, played by James Austin Kerr, Pinky Pinkerton, played by Richard Short, and Happy Sam Sawyer, played by Leonard Roberts. Huh. No Morita, Falsworth, Jones, or Dernier, though. Oh, and we learn that Juniper here came up with the name Howling Commandos, which Sawyer himself hates. I dunno, I kinda like it. It’s already stuck.
Anyway, after this brief reunion, Thompson’s plan is to head due East until they reach the border. Dugan argues against that, stating that they’ll run into a wall of Reds before they reach the border. The preferred plan is to head to Lithuania, cross over into Russia at Ashmyany.
On the way, Peggy and Dum-Dum catch up. She even brought some bourbon from her personal stash, much to Dum-Dum’s delight. The Germans may know how to brew a damn good beer, but no one knows bourbon like the United States. Here-here! Peggy informs Dum-Dum about how the SSR is convinced that Howard Stark is selling technology to America’s enemies. Peggy doesn’t believe it, though. Even if Howard can be an outright wanker, he’s still one of them.
So even if this is a trap, if Leviathan is just trying to lure them with the promise of capturing Howard, what do they really want? Dum-Dum jokingly suggests they just want Peggy’s company, prompting her to toss his cigar from their truck. It’s like time never stopped, but even if Peggy used to be much more fun than she is now, both she and Dum-Dum still miss Steve.
Back at SSR, Dooley is set to head out for the night. Sousa, however, is not. He receives a file on Peggy- in this file he reads that Peggy sustained two gunshot wounds to her right scapula. He then cross-references this with the club photos and finds that the woman in the picture also has distinctive marks on her right scapula.
Peggy and the Commandos shoot the shit around the campfire when Thompson returns and informs them that Li and Ramirez are on the night watch, so they’re relieved for now. Peggy tries to get Thompson to talk about what he did out in the field. Thompson is reluctant, considering he did a lot of ground work like digging trenches, but Peggy counters that no one gets a Navy Cross for digging trenches.
He finally takes us back to Tsuken Island, 1945. He fell asleep on the night shift. He woke up to find six Japanese soldiers walking into the camp. One of them got close enough to his commanding officer to slit his throat. Thompson finally snapped to and fired on all of them before any of the others realized what happened. Thompson realizes he may have liked the yeti story a lot better. In a moment I can’t help but like, Juniper offers his drink to Thompson, who takes a long swig.
Back in the States at a bar, Dooley asks his fellow patron, played by John Glover from Smallville, to tell him whatever he knows about the Battle of Finow. He does- 247 Russians massacred in a battle, but no one takes credit for it? Strange enough, but this is something Dooley already knew. He needs new information. The informant actually wrote about this for the Times, but the editor killed it. Probably got scared, but that tends to happen when you implicate the army and Howard Stark in a Russian cover-up. As far as Stark’s role? He was there for the clean-up. The guys in charge, including General McGuiness, weren’t a fan of that.
So Howard did the logical thing and took a swing at the general. Geniuses, these Starks. Needless to say that Stark got his ass kicked, but then McGuiness resigned a week later. One week after that, Howard walked away from a seven figure R&D contract with the army and cut all ties with them. Dooley tells the informant that the SSR isn’t railroading Stark. They have evidence, but what they don’t have is the whole story. Whoever does is keeping mighty quiet about it.
Back on the other side of the world, the team has managed to arrive at their location ahead of the opposition. Thompson suggests breaking up into four teams of two. No weapons discharged and they’ll meet on the ground floor in 30. Carter, however, suggests that two teams of four is safer than four teams of two. Since they don’t know what they’re walking into, it’s best to be discrete.
The teams split up and we follow Peggy’s squad into a building. They end up in a classroom and Li accidentally triggers a projector that begins playing a cartoon. Peggy slows the projector and winds back the reel to find two words hidden in the footage: “Instill” and “fear.” The group hears the sound of a child crying, so they continue onward.
Upstairs, they find a series of beds with handcuffs. At the very end, the group finds a young girl. Dum-Dum heads over and calms her down. But the second he asks why people call his type of hat a bowler hat, the girl stabs him.
She swipes Dugan’s gun and manages to fire a shot into Juniper before escaping down a shaft. Dugan prepares to throw a grenade, but Peggy stops him. The other group arrives and now it’s time for an exit strategy. Peggy has Dugan, Pinkerton, and Ramirez find a back way out. The others are with her.
Elsewhere, as Jarvis leaves a bakery, he runs into Dooley, who lets him know that Stark has a lot of enemies. Jarvis doesn’t think much of it- in fact, he expected an apology- but stops when Dooley mentions McGuiness. Does that ring a bell? It’s Dooley’s only question, but Jarvis eventually denies knowing this general or any fist fight. Dooley isn’t interested in a witch hunt. He just wants to get to the truth. If Stark is willing to tell his side of the story, Dooley is available.
Back in Russia, Sawyer downs a guard and the others find two men locked in a cell.
Dottie enters Peggy’s room and looks through every nook and cranny until she eventually finds a hidden box containing the photos of Howard Stark’s technology.
Now, the prisoners are locked up because Leviathan acquired some schemata on the black market, but doesn’t know how to build it, so they need engineers. Well, engineer. One of them is just a psychiatrist: Dr. Ivchenko, played by Ralph Brown. The engineer, Nikolai, played by Alex Veadov, knows more than we can imagine, though.
What we see as just grass, he’ll see biology and phytochemistry. It requires discipline and stability in order to keep his gifts in check, and it’s hard to have stability when Leviathan takes your family from you.
The weapon in question that Leviathan wants constructed is a photonic amplifier. Light is both particles and waves, but Howard Stark found a way to alter the waves’ behavior. Stark himself, however, is not there and the prisoners have heard no mention of him.
Suddenly, Sawyer alerts the others to incoming soldiers. Peggy frees the prisoners and they make their way to the boiler room. A shootout takes place and Li is downed by the little girl from before.
Then Nikolai gets the idea to present the Americans as hostages. He refuses to listen to reason, but a bullet puts him down. The firefight resumes, though Thompson is too shell-shocked to respond. The rest of the team finally enters and everyone makes their retreat.
SSR and the Commandos say their goodbyes as they part ways. Dugan wants Peggy to stay on since the Commandos could always use another good fighter, but Peggy has put her days on the front line behind her. Plus, someone needs to convince the SSR of Howard’s innocence. Dugan even thought up a name for Peggy: Miss Union Jack! Dugan, never speak again. As for Dr. Ivchenko, Peggy offers him a chance to help the SSR fight Leviathan.
On board the flight, Peggy checks on Thompson. She tells him that the most important thing is that he recovered, but Thompson finishes his story from before. The soldiers that came to his camp in Okinawa were carrying a white flag of surrender, but Thompson didn’t realize it until it was too late. Thompson buried the flag before anyone before anyone else saw it. People think that Thompson is this hero that he isn’t, and every day it gets harder for him to live with that. He’s been trying to tell that story since he returned.
Back at The Griffith, Dottie cuffs herself to her bed. Some things never change, I guess.
Though Thompson reports to Dooley that Li died honorably in battle, there’s still no Howard Stark or Leviathan. However, Thompson does say that Agent Carter acquired intel from Dr. Ivchenko about the enemy’s possible end game. He’s able to cooperate in any way that he can. The doctor may not have all of the information, as he only worked off of Stark’s blueprints.
Sousa is deep in thought and not set to go out for a drink, so Thompson invites Carter instead. After all, he owes her a bourbon. Sousa, however, just looks back at his photo, then Carter, and wonders…
This was a fantastic episode that delivered on all fronts. It had plenty of action, slower moments of character development, revealed some truths about some of our characters and, at last, not only put Peggy Carter back in familiar territory with the Howling Commandos, but she earned the validation and respect from Thompson that she rightfully deserved.
Watching Peggy interact with the Commandos, it felt like time never stopped and it was a great way to continue connecting this series with the events of the Captain America film. This is Peggy’s environment. I enjoyed every single exchange she had with Dugan and the Commandos and it was very sad to see them part ways again. I think, deep down, Peggy agrees with Dugan that she’s good on the field and she’d probably want to return.
I think back to what Jarvis said earlier in the episode about the fact that her SSR colleagues don’t respect or even see her. With the Commandos, however, she’s right at home. Even after Thompson gave the order before entering the building, the Commandos wanted Carter’s input. Peggy doesn’t have anything to prove to the Commandos because they already respect her for what she’s done. They know fully what she’s capable of and treat her as an equal. This is why I still argue that Carter should have some form of validation from her SSR coworkers by now.
As far as the Commandos go, I was surprised to see that Dugan is the only one of the Commandos featured in Captain America: The First Avenger to return. It’s not a giant issue at all and I can just assume that the others were off on some other mission. Hell, maybe they went looking for Bucky. But it did give me pause for a second.
Then again, I don’t mind it since the ones we got in their place were still fun to be around and Neal McDonough is just as energetic as he was in Captain America. Makes me forget about the fact that he played M. Bison in that god-awful Street Fighter film, but that’s another story.
I loved when he and Peggy caught up in the van because it felt like old times. These two literally served together and now, however brief it is, they’re back together again. There’s such genuine rapport between Hayley Atwell and Neal McDonough that I would like to have seen more scenes of them interacting.
However, they both still acknowledge that they’ve lost someone special in Steve. It would have been easy for the show to just shove in a flashback from Captain America to remind audiences of who he was, but it wasn’t necessary. We could tell on Carter and Dugan’s faces how much they missed him, and that’s a product of great writing, direction, and acting.
Stepping away from the Commandos for a second, this episode also provided some depth and development for the SSR agents. Chief Dooley is a man with 1001 problems. In addition to weighing whether to let Carter go on the mission, he still has to deal with the Howard Stark situation.
Again, Dooley seems like a man who is more interested in doing the right thing and getting the facts straight than just leading a witch hunt after Howard Stark. I like that not because it takes the heat off of Howard- even if he is an outright wanker- but it shows his commitment to the job. He puts the truth first and his feeling toward Stark second as learns more about the battle.
And I’m sure that Dooley would have easily sent Peggy on the mission if he weren’t considering the risks. After all, if she died, it would be on his hands and he’s already vowed not to let another agent die on his watch. But now, even though Carter and Thompson didn’t deliver much, Dooley still appreciates the work. It felt very gratifying to hear him commend Carter on her work because he realizes that she’s more than just a woman who grabs coffee or translates messages.
It is interesting that the one man who respected and talked to Peggy as opposed to down at her may end up being an adversary. Like Dooley, Sousa is interested in getting to the truth, but now he knows that Peggy is the blonde woman in the club photo. He respected Peggy. He saw Peggy and even said to Thompson before the mission that Peggy was the best intel they would need, though that friendship appears to be up in the air as he considers this new information.
So with the inclusion of the Red Room Academy, this episode confirms what many have suspected: Dorothy Dottie Underwood is a product of the same program that trained Black Widow. I like how she’s trying to blend in and act completely clueless about the world around her.
When she knocked over Peggy’s purse, my first thought was of Clark Kent’s clumsy antics in the Superman films. She’s doing it to feel a part of the world she’s in, but that awkward woman is not who she really is and I’m interested to see what the show will do with her.
And now to address Thompson. You know, let’s go back a bit. Last week, Thompson told Sousa that not every soldier who came home wanted a hug. Thompson loves his job. He’s second in command to Dooley and knows how to run a tight ship as an effective leader. At the same time, he’s undermined Peggy at almost every step and made light of her abilities not just because she’s a woman, but because he never saw her in action. He sees a need to protect her because, as a soldier, he’s seen his fair share of carnage.
But that brave soldier bravado isn’t who he really is or ever was. Thompson sacrificed a lot of integrity in taking on this lie that he bravely defended his camp from enemies that, as it turns out, only came to surrender. He reacted in a moment’s notice because he thought he was protecting his fellow soldiers, but made a costly error that cost some men their lives.
Thompson did receive that hug and much more when he came home, but it was based on a lie that he has to bear for the rest of his life. I really enjoyed Chad Michael Murray’s performance during Thompson’s admission to Peggy. It felt like Thompson had just been waiting to let this burden go, and he admitted it to the same person he’s belittled at almost every turn.
This episode felt like Thompson’s redemption and he finally acknowledges Peggy as an equal. Both of them give each other credit for the work that they accomplished overseas, even though Peggy did most of the work when Thompson froze. Much like Dooley commending Carter for her good work, I smiled when Thompson invited Peggy to drink with him and the rest of the boys.
It shattered the notion that she’s only good for certain tasks at SSR and puts the two on good footing. Not too shabby for a guy who told Peggy the previous week that no man would ever treat her as an equal.
It goes without saying that this episode was great work for Peggy. Hayley Atwell fit right back in with the Commandos and this felt like one last glory ride for her in the field. She got to give commands to men who respected her and proved to the SSR how much of a badass she really is. But she also knew how to be cautious, such as when she advised Dugan against throwing a grenade after the little girl.
The episode not only showed us again how great of a fighter she is, but it had slower moments where she could just be herself with her comrades. Peggy still has obstacles to overcome as a woman, yes, but unlike what she told Jarvis early on in the episode, she didn’t have to make any of the men believe what she’s capable of.
All she had to do was show them. And she never once let Thompson walk over her early on, such as when she said that she’s not used to serving with boys, which she saw Thompson as.
Peggy and Thompson’s friendship reached a new level here as they now have something to share: both of them are seen as something that they’re not. Peggy is seen as nothing more than a lackey when she’s capable of more, and Thompson is thought of as a hero, when all he did was kill men looking to surrender.
The only unfinished plot point from this episode that I found was the little girl that Peggy and company found. After all, she killed two people and she’s never addressed when Thompson and Peggy return to the States, but I assume that will be brought up later.
“The Iron Ceiling” was a fantastic episode of Agent Carter and arguably the miniseries’ best one so far. It had great action, significant character development for Peggy, Jack, and Chief Dooley, showed us more of the mystery that is Dorothy Dottie Underwood, put Sousa further on the track towards finding out about Peggy’s involvement at the club, and gave Carter one last mission with the Howling Commandos before heading back to the SSR. It delivered on all fronts and was a satisfying watch from beginning to end.
But seriously, why do they call it a bowler hat?