Better Angels – Howard Stark is back in LA and with his help; Peggy gets a lead on the mystery pin carried by Dr Wilkes and Dotti; The Arena Club. Jack Thomson is also in town following the incident at Isodyne but cares more about the cover up than any investigation.
So with a winning hand already on the table care of last week’s double episode comeback, Agent Carter throws down it’s ace, the infrequent episode appearances of Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. He absolutely dominates this episode as the new LA stetting extends his character towards being a full blown Howard Hughes parody. Admittedly, much of “The Aviator” was already in his veins but seeing him venturing into film making (complete with all his “production assistants”) just completes the picture and is both lavishly stylish, and at times, downright hilarious. He’s giving us exactly what we want from his character in embodying the Tony Stark (we more commonly know) of his time period while still giving us something different. His best moment comes as he crashes the gentlemen only Arena Club with a full blown code pink, playing by his own rules and owning the screen as he does it. Yet this Mr. Stark is still a team player. He, Peggy, and Jarvis form a veritable holy trinity of chemistry, comic timing and charisma. Any time they’re all united the subject or context could not matter less as just they’re capable turning anything into great entertainment. This is especially helpful when the science comes out and even those inclined to snooze at the sight of black boards and lab coats will keep a smile on their face.
The Arena Club itself makes some surprisingly early connections, or at least form an audience perspective. The secret door and early editions are enough for Peggy to deduce that more than just the bartender’s martini is suspect but not enough to match our comprehension over it being the meeting place of the Council of 9. This looks like it will continue to be a regular location but its interesting contribution comes at the very end as Vernon Masters introduces it to Jack. Jack’s opening episode events implied some degree of manipulation at the hands of Vernon as his trusted mentor figure, but Better Angels manages to take that as a good idea and make it far more interesting by adding notable internal conflict. We see that in front of Peggy & Sousa, Jack is clearly dancing to Vernon’s tune as Jack covers up the lab exposition on his orders. But at the same time, we’re shown just enough to believe that Jack is at least conflicted or even fully aware that something just isn’t right here as he lies about watching the nuclear test reel on mentally connects the dots over Peggy’s newspaper headlines over the senate election. You could almost liken Jack to more of a dashing version of Harry Potter’s Percy Weasly when Voldermort took over the Ministry of Magic. Even if he has figured it out, he’s working for the bad guy, being able to act against them when their power has become so embedded is a very different matter altogether. Keep in mind what happened to the last SSR chief. Jack knows all too well the position comes with a bull’s-eye painted on your back, and maybe he doesn’t fancy going the same way as Chief Dooley. It’s going to be very fascinating to see the choices Jack makes over the coming episodes: whether he joins the old boys or fights like the girl.
The other theme of side choosing about is that of being a Russian/Communist sympathizer. Like its inclusion last season, such “better dead than Red” viewpoints tie in well to the time period and could even be embedding for bringing back Levaithan into the overall scheme. In fact, after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s recent Hydra ret-con (the organization now goes back thousands of years before WW2), it’s entirely possible that we could see Leviathan revealed as another derivative Hydra organisation.
After teasing the idea of extra dimensional activity last time we see it via the curious re-appearance of Dr. Wilkes following the Zero Matter incident. His effectively spectral presence would imply he’s either in another plane of existence and or stuck in a limbo like state between them. It presents great material to see how Wilkes deals with this state of being but right now, it’s this episodes one week link. He’s just taking it too well. Yes, his status has improved but right now, he’s still screwed.... so let him freak about it! Instead, all we get is Wilkes spending most of his time being more or less happy and thanking people. It would be much better to see this break him and build further bonds between him and Peggy as she comforts him. As for the impact other dimensions will have on the series, that is still being kept close to the chest, but our time with Whitney confirms that Zero Matter still has a big part to play (did anyone else get Resident Evil ouroboros flashbacks) . There’s also some greater deepening of Whitney’s character as she’s revealed to be the real scientific brains behind her relationship with Chadwick.
The LA sun continues to be good for Agent Carter as this episode continues to make superb use of its character base. It keeps to its format of being a spy mystery drama but still successfully incorporates not only science fictions aspects but MCU ties as well (like Peggy’s genius riff on comic book adaptations). It still feels bigger and better than the first season and its barely got started.