Oh, hello there, Howard Stark. Haven’t seen you in awhile. You aren’t still womanizing are you? Wait, what am I saying?
The episode begins with Peggy meeting with Sousa at Wilkes’ home. Nothing on Zero Matter, though. When Peggy notices that some of the floor is hollow, Sousa pulls out the floorboards. There, they find an envelope filled with cash, a Russian passport, and a ticket to Moscow – all the evidence needed to paint Wilkes as a spy.
Agent Vega, played by Rey Valentin, believes just that, as he found a Tokarev underneath Wilkes’ bed and figures it’s the same gun used to kill the two agents transporting Jane Scott’s body. However, Peggy thinks that Isodyne is trying to frame Dr. Wilkes and using the SSR to do their dirty work. Interesting theory, so let’s investigate.
Or we can cut to a Howard Stark production of Kid Colt. Once Peggy and Jarvis get out of the shot. When the shoot ends, Peggy shows Howard the Zero Matter film that Wilkes showed her.
Howard notes that this kind of power doesn’t exist in the natural world, but it would be the greatest find in the world yet. It’s important enough, Jarvis notes, for Isodyne to paint Wilkes as a Communist. Howard agrees with Peggy that the Russian connection is just a ploy to set up Wilkes. Noticing the lapel pin, Howard mentions that the insignia is from the Arena Club, which has been around since 1906 and is filled with wealthy, influential members- all male and pale.
They’ve tried many times to recruit Howard, but he’s refused. When Peggy mentions how she first came across the pin, Howard, unsurprisingly, does not remember Dottie Underwood until Jarvis reminds him what he was wearing when she kidnapped him. Of course.
Whitney Frost, meanwhile, observes the Zero Matter on her forehead when Calvin enters. There’s a news article calling Wilkes a spy, so everything is going according to plan. Whitney asks Calvin what he would think if she wanted to retire, and he feels that would overshadow his Senate campaign. He figures that she can retire once they move to Washington. Dick.
At SSR West, Peggy and Daniel receive a surprise visit from Jack, who is in town on business and has made a few changes to Peggy’s incident report to state that she chased down a Russian spy. His justification is that he’s covering Peggy’s behind to keep people from thinking that she herself is a Communist. Peggy refuses to sign the incident report. She tells Jack to watch the Isodyne film, but Jack still considers the case closed.
Peggy heads off, not noticing some items floating on her desk.
Peggy meets some of Howard’s very attractive and useful production assistants when Stark finally arrives to continue working, which he calls thinking. The women help him think. Peggy wants to plant listening devices inside The Arena Club, but Howard wants something snappier. Besides, Peggy is a woman and no girls allowed.
Jack, meanwhile, watches the Zero Matter film, when Vernon arrives for a visit. Okay, is everyone coming to Los Angeles? Jack maintains that this won’t be controversial. Vernon needs Jack to recover some sensitive materials- which isn’t standard procedure for the SSR- but doesn’t give any details. There are bigger fish than the SSR, Vernon reminds Jack. If the material that Wilkes stole falls into the wrong hands, it could be disastrous for the United States. Jack will keep Vernon in the loop if he finds anything.
Jarvis and Howard visit The Arena Club and learn of its admittance policy from the host, Torrance, played by John Balma. Even Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t allowed. Howard is short on time and he’s not a fan of the stuffy atmosphere, so Jarvis opens the doors as tons of Stark girls flood the club. This is a massive improvement. Plus, never let it be said that Howard Stark didn’t get completely behind the Suffragettes.
With this lovely distraction, and with Jarvis helping Leopold make martinis, Peggy starts planting bugs in various spots. She soon enters the library and places a bug on the suit of armor previously seen. As this happens, the Council of Nine, Calvin included, exit their secret meeting room.
When the council departs, Peggy heads in and notices two copies of the Los Angeles Tribune, each with a different main headline, but the same story- and tomorrow’s date. Hearing a noise, she ducks under the table and plants another device. Problem is that the device makes a buzzing sound, so she’s forced to destroy it. And then a man enters the room.
He paces about, gun in hand, and calls security for a possible breach. Peggy, using the wiring from the devices, creates a spark and burns a piece of cloth to distract the man long enough for her to escape. She slips out of the room and is caught by another man, when Jarvis calls Miss Wendy to the powder room. Again, Atwell has a superb American accent. Jarvis tells Howard that it’s time to go, so Howard bids Torrance farewell.
We return to SSR, with Jack maintaining that this case is closed and Peggy still believing that this is a conspiracy. After all, she’s found proof in the newspaper with a date from tomorrow. The conspiracy is that the Senate campaign is being rigged. It’s proof enough, but Peggy’s bugs were destroyed and she doesn’t have the newspaper. The two clash again, with Jack claiming that her emotions are clouding her judgment and Peggy calling Jack a coward that bows to higher authorities. While valid, Jack tells her to drop it and leave.
Daniel is on Peggy’s side, but he still says that Wilkes went onto the lab of his own volition. And while Sousa believes that Peggy is doing the right thing, he won’t be able to help her if she keeps going about this like the Lone Ranger. But then Daniel notices the floating devices- a side effect of Zero Matter.
Following this, the two pay a visit to Howard, who places various items around Peggy- all of which float. Well, not the bottle of wine, which is unfortunate. The temperature around Peggy is approximately seven degrees cooler than the rest of the room, not unlike the Lady of the Lake, the medical examiner, and Detective Henry. But while Peggy isn’t freezing or contaminated, there’s a disruption in the gravitational field around her.
In his lab, Howard works on an experiment dealing with photography and recording visible wavelengths on film. Silver nitrate creates a coding that recreates the captured image on film. In essence, he can make visible invisible light. If Stark could pull this off, he could make another fortune. Howard sprays the air and Jason Wilkes appears.
However, he’s only visible and transparent, but not tangible. Also, no speech until Howard coats his vocal chords. Jason has been shadowing Peggy since last night to get her to notice him. Howard is unsure right now if he can make Jason whole.
Sousa asks him about last night and Wilkes mentions running into Whitney Frost, who also wanted the Zero Matter and knew more about it than expected. As Jason explains this, he fades in and out. Despite Howard spraying him, Wilkes fades.
Howard briefs Jarvis on the supplies he needs…as well as cheese. Howard notices the spring in Jarvis’ step, noting that he and Peggy would make a good team. Stark tells Peggy that he’ll stay up to work on this case, but she maintains that Jason deserves a better fate than this. So the question is whether Whitney Frost survived the explosion. While Sousa looks into this, Peggy plans to poke the bear.
She then meets the bear-er, Whitney Frost, to ask about the Isodyne incident. Whitney asks Peggy if she knew that Jason was a Communist. It’s hard to believe one of them could infiltrate a secure lab. Whitney claims to know nothing about Isodyne, despite being there the night of the incident.
Whitney left Calvin’s office at 9, security goes home at 10, and newspapers reported that the explosion happened around midnight. Peggy notes that papers are in the business of selling papers. Facts aren’t their top priority. Whitney can attest, as the press once reported that Whitney was in a torrid love affair with Cary Grant. As if.
But Peggy’s instincts are telling her that something is still off. Even if something is, the conversation is brought to a halt when Whitney is called to the set.
Back at SSR, Jack gives Vernon the film reel of the atomic testing. Vernon tells Jack that he’s doing the right thing and a great service for the United States, which is all that Jack wanted to do. But judging from his facial expression, he doesn’t fully seem sure.
Following this, Peggy meets up with Howard and Jason, who still isn’t fully corporeal. Howard appears to have been working around the clock with little to no sleep. Jason doesn’t know if he can fix this, but Peggy says that he’s impressed both her and Howard Stark, so he’s in good hands. But that’s when Howard walks right through Jason as he searches for drinks. Great timing, this Stark.
Over at SSR, Jack prepares to head out for the night when he spots Sousa still going through files. Jack believes that things between Daniel and Peggy have mended things and Daniel’s heart is no longer broken, but hey, Daniel is getting engaged. Jack offers to get Daniel a drink, but Sousa makes a rain check for next time. Oh, and he compliments Sousa’s shirt.
Whitney gripes to Calvin about her encounter with Peggy Carter- something needs to be done about her. Official channels won’t cut it, so Whitney wants Calvin to let Mr. Hunt to take care of her. Calvin is concerned with that idea. After all, they have had enough run-ins with the Feds to last them all year.
Then Whitney turns on the waterworks, claiming that Peggy threatened her. She thinks that Peggy is using her to get to Calvin and would just hate if this caught the Council’s attention. Calvin promises to take care of this by calling Mr. Hunt. Quite an award winning performance by Ms. Frost here.
While Peggy takes out her anger on a punching bag, Jarvis bids her a good night, but also asks if he can help with her anger, even offering to have Howard call a sparring partner. But no, Peggy will take up her issues with the bag.
But once Jarvis leaves, Peggy is ambushed from behind. Peggy, no small fry, is able to battle her attacker as the two are thrown into pool. Jarvis, hearing the noise, soon enters the battle, but the attacker is able to hold them both off and soon escape as Peggy fires at him. I’m left wondering why this assailant didn’t just use his gun first.
Next morning, Peggy feels reinvigorated. She won’t act as rash as Whitney Frost. Jarvis, meanwhile, is installing improved security measures around the house- including a recorded alert with his own voice. It’s just a temporary measure, as Jarvis has no desire to spend the rest of his life as a disembodied voice. Ha. Foreshadowing.
Howard, meanwhile, hasn’t slept. He’s headed to Peru to meet with an expert in subatomic and gravitational physics- his old professor, Abner Brody. Jason is to stay and work on the math and anything he needs, Jarvis will be able to help. Just like last season. Jason calls Howard a genius, but also a menace.
Even still, he invited a stranger like Jason into his home without a thought. Peggy apologizes again for getting Wilkes involved, but Jason figures that better him than her. This is why he can’t stay. Someone tried to kill him and is now going after Peggy, so he’s removing himself from the equation. Peggy counters that if he removes himself from the people trying to protect him, he’s as good as dead. After all, she did help him out of the observatory.
Peggy maintains that they need each other, particularly if Whitney Frost is an expert on Zero Matter. Jason figures that Peggy doesn’t want him to leave, and chances are that’s true, so he’ll stay.
At SSR, Peggy, having missed her flight to New York, turns down Sousa’s offer of a security detail. Sousa, meanwhile, found something in the file he was looking at last night- something related to an inventor named Agnes Cully, whose work helped put Isodyne on the map. The radio frequency modulators that the Allies used to send coded messages across enemy lines? It was Cully’s idea to rotate the frequencies. So what’s Agnes Cully got to do with all of this? Well, for starters, her stage name is Whitney Frost.
Back at the Arena Club, Vernon and Jack meet Calvin Chadwick, his new best friend. Everyone at Isodyne appreciates Jack’s help. Jack also spots Calvin holding a newspaper- the newspaper with the same headline that Peggy spoke of earlier.
Whitney Frost speaks with the director we saw previously, Kenneth, played by Randy Sklar, who tells her that she’s to be replaced with a fresh face. Kenneth told the studio execs said that he would walk if his star was replaced, so the studio heads folded.
Frost thanks Kenneth for his help with a hug, but Kenneth doesn’t let go. As he calls her beautiful and goes in for a kiss, he notices the black mark on her forehead. She then grabs his arm and the Zero Matter absorbs him into her body. The crack on Whitney’s forehead deepens…
Three episodes in and “Better Angels” deepens the mystery of Isodyne Energy, the Council of Nine, and works at setting up a grander conspiracy than what’s presented on the surface. However, while all of the mystery elements were fine, I again found much of my enjoyment coming from the bits of character development. With a few exceptions, Agent Carter has a knack for making dialogue exchanges feel natural.
It’s less heavy handed than last season and it feels more like we get to see societal norms played out, rather than have characters spell out in various ways how hard it is to get by if you’re not a well-off White male.
Take Whitney, for example. Her image is what’s led her to stardom and at face value, one would take her to just be the humble wife that’s perfectly fine letting her husband make the decisions and be the breadwinner. But Miss Frost, as we learn, is the one making the calls- she pushes Calvin to have Peggy assaulted, she elected to have Wilkes set up as a Russian spy, and she’s not afraid to call out her husband on his crap.
This sort of assertiveness wouldn’t be expected from a woman of the 1940s. And given how Whitney faces sexism on the job, this and her uncontrollable wielding of the Zero Matter show that she’s slowly coming into her own all the time as opposed to hiding behind a mask and pretending to be someone she’s not.
Women like Peggy and Dottie have had training, learned to fight, and don’t take guff from anyone, man or woman, who second guesses their abilities. But Whitney, as far as I can tell, hasn’t dealt with anything like Zero Matter before, so while it may harm her pristine Hollywood image in the eyes of some, it allows her to exert control over others, so long as she learns to control it first.
From her reaction when she absorbed the director, it’s clear that she is dealing with a power she doesn’t fully understand and is struggling to grasp, but it also provides her with an opportunity to fight back against any nonsense she faces from men. She’s been known so far for just her image, but now she has a chance to show people what she’s capable of, and given what Sousa learned, it’s clear that she knows more than she’s letting on.
Now, let’s talk about Thompson, as I’m conflicted on him. I don’t know whether this is questionable writing or the show is setting him up for something later this season, but I’m not a fan of his clashing with Peggy. He’s seen her in action, respects her work as an agent, and they’ve worked together several times, including this season’s premiere.
Even Chief Dooley eventually allowed Carter to investigate a wild hunch, so I don’t get why Thompson isn’t more trusting of her. Early Season One Thompson would say that Peggy’s emotions are clouding her judgment, but I don’t expect that from Thompson now because he’s learned that Peggy is plenty more competent than the average SSR agent.
Granted, Thompson is in a difficult position. In this post-war period, he and the SSR are in danger of becoming irrelevant. Like how Frost could be replaced with another actress, Thompson could be swapped out for another agent and agency altogether, so he’s torn between his friendship to Peggy and Daniel, and his desire to stay relevant.
From the look on his face when Peggy calls him out for buckling to higher authorities, Thompson knows that she’s right, but he’s too proud to admit it. And for life of me, I can’t understand why. I can understand him wanting to stay relevant, but he’s close friends and partners with both Peggy and Sousa, so I would think he’d shed his insecurities around them.
For him to not do that, changing Peggy’s incident report, giving Vernon the film reel, and withhold information, to me, is a step backwards from his character development in the first season.
Again, I don’t want Thompson to become an antagonist because ever since “The Iron Ceiling,” I’ve found him to be a still flawed, but complex character who grew to respect Peggy for her capabilities. It’s as if he’s traded in being misogynistic for just being an outright dick. That said, there’s a glimmer of hope when he sees Calvin with the newspaper that Peggy previously spoke of, so I’m hopeful that he’s still, in his heart, a good guy.
Now onto the fun stuff. First off, it’s great to see Howard Stark again. I find Dominic Cooper best in sporadic appearances. The first season dealt with clearing his name, but we didn’t see him every episode. To me, that’s how it should be. And that’s just as evident this week, as Stark is still as womanizing as ever, but Cooper brings plenty of charm and charisma to the role.
And it’s not like he’s only being a womanizing director. I mean, that’s part of it, but we’re still talking about a genius here. He openly welcomes Wilkes into his home without question, he doesn’t hesitate or think twice when he notes Jarvis’ bond with Peggy, and he compliments Peggy time and time again on her abilities. Howard may be sleazy at times, but beneath all that is a welcoming intellectual who is just as anxious to solving this mystery as Peggy.
All while Peggy got to continue her detective routine of uncovering the Council of Nine’s conspiracy. Much like her hotwiring a car in the middle of a shootout, Peggy is very adept at thinking on her feet, which I like. Sure, she might not always escape undetected, but it’s great to see her devise a quick way to escape a tricky scenario. Plus, it didn’t involve a costume.
Plus, her feelings for Wilkes are made all the more apparent when she outright demands that he stay. I’ve said before that sure, it would be nice if Peggy eventually had some sort of romantic interest, but generally speaking, there’s no need. She’s fully devoted to her work and maintains professionalism when dealing with coworkers, though Sousa may be an exception to that, given how she spoke of him to Ana.
I did like the little Marvel Easter Eggs. I generally don’t like little winks and nods if they’re blatant, but the Kid Colt film, Peggy’s negative reaction to a comic book based film, and Jarvis saying that he had no intention of spending the rest of time as a disembodied voice were all moments I appreciated. Plus, I could be wrong, but I thought I saw a window pane in Howard’s lab that looked very much like an arc reactor.
Though, part of me wonders at what point James D’Arcy becomes Paul Bettany and Dominic Cooper becomes Roger Sterling-I mean, John Slattery, I mean- Gerard Sanders. Oh, whatever.
“Better Angels” had a great blend of drama and humor both with Howard Stark’s return and Whitney Frost grappling with the Zero Matter. It advanced the storyline a bit, but delivered some strong character moments as well. Again, I’m hopeful that Thompson comes around and is still one of the good guys, as it’d be a shame to undo his character arc from the last season.