A Look at Agent Carter- Season 1 Finale: “Valediction”

Is it already time for this to end?

It’s been a fun ride with every single episode of Agent Carter, but here we are at the end of the season with “Valediction.”  With Chief Dooley’s death last week, SSR now has their eyes set on Dottie Underwood and Dr. Ivchenko, who just recently got their hands on some Stark technology.

The episode begins with another thrilling adventure of The Captain America Adventure Program!  When we last left our hero, he had saved the 25th Infantry, but his plane is going down over the sea of Japan.  The Captain shares one final moment with Betty.

Valediction- Sousa, Thompson, and Carter arrive at the theater

In the real world, Peggy, Jack, and Daniel head to the theatre.  The detective there informs them that 47 people all died not through natural causes, but because they killed each other.

Valediction- Sousa finds the canister inside the theatre

Inside, Sousa finds the stroller and the canister, which sprays him in the face.  He goes berserk and attacks both Jack and Peggy before an officer knocks him out.

Valediction- Officer pulls over Dottie and Fennhoff

We then rejoin Dottie and Ivchenko, who we may as well just call Fennhoff at this point.  The doctor admires New York City as a testament to American strength and ingenuity, though Dottie is much more interested in tearing the whole thing down.  All of a sudden, a Negro cop- huh- pulls up from behind to let Dottie know that she ran a traffic light.  Innocent Dottie tells the officer that she must not have been paying attention.  The officer falls for it and prepares to leave…until he hears over the police radio about a car that matches the one this blonde woman is driving.  Before he can make a move, he’s staring down the barrel of Dottie’s gun.

Sousa wakes up and finds himself strapped to the bed for his protection.  He tells Peggy that all he can remember is the gas and wanting to kill everyone.

Valediction- Sousa and Carter return to the SSR

He and Peggy return to SSR as Jack briefs the agents.  The scientists have determined that the gas is a chemical that induces psychosis upon exposure.  Fennhoff managed to get away with 10 canisters, which is enough for half of the city.  Given how Fennhoff managed to get SSR to bring him into the United States, he must have a specific target in mind, and he does.

Valediction- Jarvis and Howard Stark come to the SSR

It’s Howard Stark, who arrives with Jarvis.

Valediction- Howard briefs SSR on midnight oil and the Battle of Finow

SSR initially places Howard under arrest, but he has some information that they’ll find valuable related to the Battle of Finow.  The gas is called midnight oil.  Howard never intended to make it a poisonous gas.  The Army needed something that would help keep soldiers awake for days, but the experiment failed.  Instead, it caused symptoms similar to sleep deprivation, such as anger, hallucination, and psychosis.  Howard’s lab was raided and his samples and research stolen on the orders of General McGinnis.  Next day, the midnight oil was dropped on the Russians to help them take Finow.

Afterward, Howard went to survey the damage for himself.  He’s surprised that Sousa took a hit and survived, given that the gas causes asphyxiation.  That would explain why the likes of Leet Brannis and Green Suit had laryngotomy procedures performed on them.  Howard is all too familiar with Mr. Johann Fennhoff and his specialty in hypnosis.  Since this is on his hands, Howard offers to use himself as bait.  All SSR has to do is set the trap in a very public space.

Valediction- Dottie and Fennhoff arrive at the hangar

Dottie and Fennhoff arrive at a hangar.  Dottie handles the guard there while Fennhoff hears on the radio that Howard Stark has returned to New York and will be making an announcement at a press conference soon regarding his stolen technology.  Looks like plans have changed, even if Dottie already went and killed the guard.  She got too eager.

Peggy tries to dissuade Howard from what she sees as a suicide plan, but Howard is too focused on finding his technology which, to his displeasure, the SSR has mishandled.  Howard knows this could be a bad idea, but Peggy doesn’t have any good alternatives at the moment.  More than that, Howard tells Peggy that he values what she thinks more than anyone else, especially after she told him off during their last encounter.

Peggy says that she was just angry, but she doesn’t want Howard to die.  Even still, Howard knows that this is his fault.  He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t try something.  As Peggy leaves, Howard pockets the orb with Steve Rogers’ blood and leaves.

Valediction- SSR press conference

At the press conference, Thompson and the SSR conclude that Howard Stark is innocent of theft and selling weapons to America’s enemies and, as a result, drop all charges against him.  When Howard takes center stage, he tells the audience that his name has been dragged through the mud for far too long.

Then a shot is fired.

Jarvis whisks Howard away to a police cruiser and tells the driver to head to the SSR.  Jarvis doesn’t get a chance to get into the cruiser before it speeds off.  Only then does Jarvis see the two dead police officers.  How did he miss that?

Valediction- Peggy and Jack check the hotel room

Peggy and Jack check the hotel room where the shot was fired and find that the rifle had been rigged to fire on its own.  It also missed its target by a long shot, meaning it was just a diversion.

Valediction- Howard offers Rosalind Russell's private phone number

Howard, meanwhile, is unable to convince his driver- the officer from before- to stop what he’s doing.  He offers cars, money, hell, he even offers Rosalind Russell’s private number!  How can you turn that down?

Back with the agents, Peggy figures that Howard could not have been part of Dottie and Fennhoff’s original plan since they had no idea he would even show up in New York.  They need to find the doctor’s next target, which they learn once they realize what day it is: May 8th– V.E. Day.  Fennhoff plans to hit Times Square.  Elsewhere, Sousa and Jarvis find the car with the driver dead and Howard still missing.

Valediction- Dottie holds a gun to Howard

No, Howard is being held at gunpoint by Dottie…or, at least some woman who he’s met before.  Dottie reminds him that they spent a weekend together.  So who does Howard think of?  Alice.  He’s promptly knocked out for that.  Howard really needs to make a list.

Valediction- Trying to figure out where the Russians took Howard

When Sousa returns to the other agents, he gives them an eyewitness account from a man at the coffee shop who saw a blonde forcing a man with Stark’s description into the back of a black Sedan.  They were last seen heading toward the Lincoln Tunnel.    Also, as Thompson informs them, the V.E. Day celebration isn’t going to be called off.

Now the gas is meant to be deployed by air, so the agents can shut down airports and private airfields, but then it hits Jarvis where the Russians may be taking Howard.  If Fennhoff is looking to blame Stark for the attack, he would use one of Stark’s planes.  Only most of them were confiscated.  There’s another vault that’s much larger than the first.

Valediction- Flashback, Dottie and Howard

The episode then briefly- and I do mean briefly– flashes back to six months ago when Howard brought Dottie to his hangar.

Valediction- Fennhoff speaks with Howard Stark

Back in the present, Howard guesses Lorraine and gets another crack across the face from Dottie.  Fennhoff gets a few words in with Howard.  He tells Howard that it’s a shame that his genius has been put to the creation of horrible weapons, even if Howard says that the midnight oil was never meant to be a weapon.  Even still, it exists because of him.  Howard may have seen the aftereffects, but Fennhoff saw it live.  He was only spared because he wore his gas mask.  The others, including his brother, were not so fortunate.

All this time, Fennhoff has only had Howard on his mind.  He doesn’t want to kill Howard, but just make him suffer.  The empathy that Howard feels, Fennhoff says, will just cloud his vision.  Guilt is eating away at him, but there’s a way to atone for that.  All Stark has to do is focus.  As Fennhoff works his hypnosis again, he has Howard think back to his greatest shame and what he could change about it.

Valediction- Vision, Howard sees Peggy with Steve's shield

In a vision, Howard hears from a soldier that others may have found a signal from the Valkyrie, meaning that Steve Rogers may still be alive.

Valediction- SSR arrives at the hangar after Howard has already left

SSR arrives at the hangar just as Howard takes off.  He could reach New York in 12 minutes or less.  There’s a radio room in the hangar for communication purposes, but just in case, someone should go after Howard, should he need to be shot down.  Neither Thompson nor Sousa has flown a plane, but Jarvis has, so he’s the volunteer.  He’s never shot a man down before, but if Peggy is successful, he may never have to.

Valediction- Peggy confronts Dottie and Fennhoff

Peggy heads to the radio room and confronts Underwood and Fennhoff.  Carter faces off with Dottie, who admits that she used to be jealous of girls like Peggy.  She wanted to be like them, but now she can be anybody that she likes.  The two fight and Dottie overtakes Peggy for a bit.

Until she swings and misses with a bat, giving Peggy the opportunity to kick Dottie out a window.  Well, that was brief.

Peggy gets on the radio and speaks with Howard, who believes that he has found Steve Rogers’ signal when, in actuality, he’s heading straight for the city.

Valediction- Sousa confronts Fennhoff

Fennhoff, meanwhile, escapes the radio room and manages to knock out Thompson.  Sousa, though, approaches him from a distance.  Fennhoff feels no fear.  He knows that Sousa won’t shoot an unarmed man.  It’s not in his nature.  Unlike Thompson, he is virtuous.  Neither Sousa nor Fennhoff will ever be the men they once were before the war, but Fennhoff tells Sousa that he has helped soldiers overcome their pain.

The other agents and even Peggy just see Sousa as a broken man who will never value him for who he is.  If Sousa wants to change, he just has to focus.  Fennhoff tells Sousa to point his gun at Thompson, and he does, but he then knocks out Fennhoff.  Earplugs do wonders, you know?

Valediction- Peggy speaks with Jarvis and Howard

Peggy is now communicating with both Jarvis and Howard.  They’re just one mile from land and Jarvis is ready to take the shot, but Peggy tells him to wait.  She reiterates to Howard that Steve is long gone.  He doesn’t have to try and fix this, but Howard insists that he does since all he’s done is create destruction.  Rogers was the one thing that brought good into his life.  Though they both loved him, Peggy tells Howard that this won’t bring him back.  Howard is the one person who believes in her and she can’t lose him as well.  It’s time to move on.

For a moment, Peggy gets no response, but Howard eventually snaps out of it.  He and Jarvis are en route back to the hangar.

When Peggy heads downstairs, she finds the plane that Dottie landed on, but no Dottie.  Just a small pool of blood and some red prints.  Fennhoff is carted off by Thompson and Sousa while Howard makes up with Peggy and Edwin.  Oh, and Howard finally remembers the name: Ida!

Valediction- SSR agents congratulate Peggy

Next day at the SSR, Peggy is greeted with applause and congratulations by her fellow agents who commend her on a job well done.  She’s just there to collect her paycheck, though.

Valediction- United States Senator Walt Cooper, played by John Prosky, congratulates Thompson

In enters United States Senator Walt Cooper, played by John Prosky, who is looking for Agent Jack Thompson.  Why?  He’s there to congratulate Thompson for stopping the attack.  More men like him are needed.  Even the President wants to thank him.  In a moment that slightly disappointed me, but doesn’t surprise me at the same time, Thompson gladly accepts credit for the work.  I have a very minor issue with this, but I do get Thompson’s reasoning for it.  I’ll address this later.

Daniel, however, isn’t at all pleased with this and plans to go tell the senator what really happened, but Peggy is fine.  She doesn’t need anyone’s approval since she already knows her value.  Everyone else’s opinion doesn’t matter.  Nice life lesson, Peggy, but we’ve known that for seven episodes now.  Anyway, she accepts Daniel’s offer for a drink, but will have to join at a later time.  She has other plans.

Valediction- Jarvis shows Peggy and Angie one of Howard's apartments

Courtesy of Howard Stark, Peggy and Angie now get to stay in one of his apartments free of charge.  It’s a very swanky place and, wait for this, there’s a phone in every room!  That just blows Angie’s mind.  She goes off to call her mom while Edwin and Peggy talk.  Now that his work is done, Jarvis has plans for his next project: a complete overhaul of kitchen spices.  Riveting stuff.

However, he would still be glad to assist her if necessary.  Howard, meanwhile, is in the process of negotiating the return of his property from SSR.  More than that, he’s decided to destroy everything since he doesn’t believe the government should be trusted with those kind of weapons.  A fair assessment.  As a parting gift, Jarvis presents Peggy with the vial of Steve Rogers’ blood, which Howard believes he lost.  Howard Stark may have done much for Jarvis, but he does not own his integrity.  Only Peggy knows what to do with the vial.

Valediction- Peggy pours out Rogers' blood

She does.  Peggy heads to the bridge and bids Steve Rogers farewell as she empties the vial into the river.

But wait!  We get a stinger!

Valediction- Fennhoff with a mask

Fennhoff, meanwhile, is tossed into prison, now wearing a mask that’s very Hannibal Lecter-like, but also looks similar to the one that Bane wore in The Dark Knight Rises.  However, the doctor is not alone.

Valediction- Dr. Arnim Zola with Fennhoff in prison

He’s joined by Dr. Arnim Zola, Toby Jones reprising his role.  Though Fennhoff’s vision has not come to pass, new visions will arise.  In fact, there may be a way for them to collaborate.  Fennhoff may be imprisoned, but he’s in America, and America is the land of opportunity.

Indeed.  So we’ve arrived at the end of Agent Carter’s eight episode run and it has been a great ride from start to finish.  What could have been a bunch of references and nods to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe instead took the established world and managed to craft out its own identity that didn’t need to rely on the Marvel world.  Though Agent Carter takes place in the past, it managed to find a way to fit comfortably into the universe.

This goes hand in hand with not just great writing, but a well-established and consistent tone.  The writers of Agent Carter have a feel for how the Marvel universe works and they managed to give us not just dramatic moments, but lighter, comedic situations as well.  If I could refer to two films in the Marvel universe, I’d say, obviously, Captain America: The First Avenger, and the first Iron Man film are good examples of what to compare this to when it comes to tone.

Valediction- Vision, Howard sees Peggy

We get the seriousness of the post World War II era, but also see shades of Tony Stark’s demeanor and personality through his father.  It’s clear that the creators of Agent Carter have a great deal of respect for the source material, and that’s evident in the writing and direction.

Valediction- Thompson and Sousa talk with Peggy at the SSR

It’s been interesting to watch SSR develop since we first saw it in the pilot.  We knew these were federal agents, but that was the extent of it.  Dooley was the chief, Thompson was the braggart, and Sousa was the one nice guy who treated Peggy with respect.  Very one-dimensional stuff, but as the show progressed, we learned more about their pasts and what makes them who they are.  This includes their friendship and partnership with Peggy, who Dooley and Thompson saw as subservient, but between “The Iron Ceiling” and this episode, they saw her as an equal.

As mentioned before, these agents know that their lives are always on the line, but they never knew the full extent of what they were dealing with.  The deaths of Krzeminski and Chief Dooley still sting, but their deaths have also emboldened the SSR to get to the bottom of this whole Leviathan matter and away from leading a witch hunt after Howard Stark.

Valediction- Sousa asks Peggy out for a drink

Sousa has remained Peggy’s biggest defender in the SSR since the pilot and it’s not just because he pines for her.  Rather, he sees her the way that she sees herself: a competent and dedicated agent.  Even though he still did his little investigation into her and the club photo, he didn’t do it out of spite or revenge.  Sousa is a detective and this was an investigation the SSR had looked into.  Sure, the others had moved on when Leviathan took priority, but Sousa remained dedicated to getting to the bottom of this case.

Like Peggy, Daniel has his limitations because of his handicap, but that hasn’t weakened his resolve at all.  Sousa knows who he is and doesn’t need anyone to give him a pat on the back or make him feel good when he knows in his heart what he’s capable of.  It’s clear from the end that he’s still pining for Peggy, but as of now, the door is left open on where that would go.  It was also smart of him to wear earplugs when confronting Fennhoff.  At least someone at the SSR seemed to learn.

Valediction- Thompson with Senator Cooper

Thompson has made a big change since the pilot and it’s a change I appreciate.  One of the first things Thompson did during the first episode was ask Peggy to file surveillance reports since that was her kind of thing.  Now he, Peggy, and Daniel are investigating together like an actual team instead of adversaries.  The trip to Russia did Jack some good because he knows what Peggy is capable of.  At the same time, he’s fully aware of the world that they live in and the type of discrimination that Peggy faces as a woman.

Before, Jack once told Peggy that the natural order of things dictated that a man would never treat a woman as an equal.  Obviously that’s not universal, but for 1940s America, it probably does apply to a good number of men.  Not Thompson- at least, not anymore.  Or, at the very least, not towards Peggy.  Thompson knows how the world works and he knows that it’s expected for someone to credit him for work over Peggy, even when Carter herself did a lot of the heavy lifting.

The point I’m making is that while I’m a bit upset that Thompson didn’t acknowledge Peggy when Senator Cooper congratulated him, I sort of get why he didn’t.  Thompson has seen Carter in action.  He’s seen her kick major ass overseas and knows that she isn’t this damsel in distress that people may think she is.  The senator, however, doesn’t know any of that and chances are if Thompson had acknowledged Carter’s work, Cooper would still find a way to give Thompson the credit anyway.  At the end of the day, it is what it is.  Plus, it’s not really out of character for Thompson, anyway.

Valediction- Senator Cooper congratulates Thompson

Cooper even talks about the world needing more men like Thompson, as if Peggy were invisible during that scene.  Thompson could rattle off a list of Peggy’s accomplishments to the senator, but Cooper could and probably would still find a way to treat Peggy like a subordinate, and Thompson knows this.  He would be an example of the kind of man that would need to see Peggy in action as opposed to just hearing it.  At least Thompson and Dooley had ample time to learn and witness Peggy’s true capabilities.

Valediction- Howard speaks with Peggy

It really is interesting how much of the events in Agent Carter ended up tying back to Howard Stark.  As his son would later on, Howard is trying to atone for what he’s done.  He’s a brilliant inventor and credits Steve Rogers as the one thing Howard did that brought good into the world.  There’s a lot of regret in Howard’s voice as he tells Peggy about the things he’s responsible for, but even when talking with Fennhoff, Howard has to accept how much bad has come out of his technology.

Stark’s weapons are as much curses as they are blessings.  Not everything that happens is his direct fault, but the weapons are still made by his hands.  He wants to make things right and even takes the dangerous decision to offer himself up as bait.  At the end of the day, though, we still shades of a somewhat sneakier man when he retrieves the vial of Steve Rogers’ blood.

Valediction- Howard with Dottie in flashback

Though he wasn’t on the show a great deal, Dominic Cooper was just as excellent as Howard Stark as he was in the Captain America film.  Even though he wasn’t featured in every episode, Howard is still very present due to the effects of his technology and the Russians searching for it.

Valediction- Peggy with Sousa and Thompson

Peggy ends up accomplishing just what she set out to do at the onset of the series: she cleared Howard Stark’s name.  At the same time, she refused to be treated like a second-class citizen in the face of so much adversity and managed to stay one step ahead of her SSR counterparts- until she got caught, anyway.  Though it was brief, I did like the scene where she walks into SSR and receives applause from the agents.  This is the sort of validation I still think Peggy should have had from the start, but at the very least, this helped round out her character arc.  In the beginning, the men saw her as someone to file papers or fetch lunch, but at the end, they’re clapping for her.

Valediction- Jarvis gives Peggy the vial of Steve Rogers' blood

In addition to clearing Stark’s name, she received some closure on Steve Rogers when she poured out the vial.  It was the last remaining memory she had of the bullied kid she grew fond of and now he is truly out of her life forever.  It was a touching moment, I will admit, and the musical selection helped.  Now, obviously we know that Peggy will see Steve again because they reunite in the Winter Soldier film, but for the purposes of this mini-series, Peggy has put Steve to rest.

I wasn’t a giant fan of the parallel between Peggy and Howard’s conversation to the last one between Peggy and Steve just because it felt too easy.  It wasn’t cheesy by any means and I thought the performances between Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper helped elevate the scene, but I thought it was a tad too obvious what the writers wanted to do.  At the very least, it did help bring the series full circle, since we started with Peggy and Steve’s final conversation, and we nearly come to a close with Peggy having what almost could have been the last exchange between her and Howard.

This is a bit nitpicky of me, but while I’m glad that Peggy acknowledged that she doesn’t need other people’s validation, this isn’t really telling us anything new.  We’ve known this from the start.  Hell, Peggy said in the very first episode to Daniel that she’s more than capable of standing up for herself.  Peggy has always been able to handle herself and aside from the moment on “Time and Tide” when she wanted to call the SSR about locating Stark’s technology, she’s never done this for glory or fame and she doesn’t need to.

Valediction- Peggy at the bridge

There’s nothing bad I have to say about the performance.  Hayley Atwell is Peggy Carter.  I can’t imagine anyone else in the role right now, but that speaks mostly not just to the writing and characterization, but how Atwell breathed such life in the character and made her feel human.  Peggy doesn’t use her gender to flaunt and never feels to throw it in people’s faces that she’s a woman.  She walks and speaks with authority and a backbone, just as any man would.  More than that, she refuses to let the world determine her value.  It’s an incredible performance and I wouldn’t mind seeing Atwell take on this character again sometime.  Plus, it’s always great to see her and James D’Arcy interact.

Valediction- Peggy vs Dottie

The fight between Peggy and Dottie was something we’d been leading up to and it was fine, but like the other SSR agents, I’m left wondering why Peggy didn’t shoot and incapacitate Dottie first and ask questions later.  I liked the fight, but I do wish it had gone on a bit longer and that it didn’t just end with a kick out the window.  But the fact that Dottie is still alive and out there leaves the door open for something to happen later down the road…

Valediction- Dr. Zola

Same goes with Fennhoff being imprisoned with Dr. Zola.  What idiot that this would be a good idea?  Also, if I had any minor issue with the series, it’s that we never got a full explanation of just what Leviathan is.  It’s built up to be some big, shadowy organization, but I have to believe that it’s a lot bigger than Fennhoff and Dottie.

All in all, Agent Carter was a great mini-series and seamlessly worked its way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large, this is just a well-written and directed drama and action/adventure show.  It manages to stand on its own two feet without overly relying on established material.

Like Fargo last year, I don’t know right now where we go from here.  This was slated to just be eight episodes, but now there are rumblings of a Season Two.  Even if we don’t get one, this was an amazing outing by the folks at Marvel.  With some great action, writing and direction, each episode managed to impress me more than the previous one.  The cast, led by Hayley Atwell’s commanding performance as Peggy Carter, made this a very enjoyable watch.

I highly recommend Agent Carter.  Will we see a second season?  Who knows?  Until then, I love what we got all the same.

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