Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Even when Agent Carter is cartoonish and clichéd, it’s still loads of fun

Illustration for article titled Even when Agent Carter is cartoonish and clichéd, it’s still loads of fun

Agent Carter isn’t the most original show on television, but by golly is it fun.

A prime example: “The Atomic Job” features one of those stereotypical slow-motion shots of a team walking toward the camera in a horizontal line, but it’s set to “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, giving the sequence a bright, breezy tone that usually isn’t paired with these kinds of narratives. The scene continues to undercut the badassery by having Dr. Samberly (Matt Braunger), the team’s bumbling scientist, trip in slow motion, and when the group arrives at its destination a few feet in front of it, their ride isn’t there. That’s when the slow motion breaks and Jarvis exclaims that he parked the car around the corner because of street cleaning, cutting through the bravado with humor. It’s a delightful way to send these folks into action, showcasing the style and personality this series brings to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That type of slow motion walk can look very unnatural, but director Craig Zisk wisely positions the actors so they’re not in a perfectly horizontal line, making for a much more organic moment. It’s a group of people walking out of a doorway, into an alley, and to the curb, and they just so happen to look cool doing it in slow motion (well, most of them). That staggering is a small detail, but one that keeps the viewer in the moment rather than pulling them out with an overly artificial arrangement of actors. Zisk is a great partner for cinematographer Edward J. Pei, who has created some very dramatic shots for this season of Agent Carter.

Pei does strong work in this episode, and I want to focus on one specific moment that highlights the specificity and depth he brings to the visuals. When Whitney Frost needs help hauling some equipment, she seeks help from her ex-flame, mobster Joseph Manfredi (Ken Marino), and the conversation builds to the moment when Manfredi furiously beats a passerby for admiring Whitney. The beating is framed so that Manfredi is in close-up on the right side of the screen with Whitney and Calvin Chadwick sitting at the table in the background, fully visible on the left side. Having Manfredi so close to the camera heightens his wild rage, but we also get to see Whitney and Calvin’s very different reactions to his actions at the same time, with Calvin dropping his head in pity while Whitney coolly observes the violence without flinching. The actors, director, and cinematographer are able to convey a lot of information in a single shot, and it’s refreshing to see such layered visual storytelling on this series.

The women’s costumes have a big impact on this series; they add pops of color to the screen, but also inform the characters on a deeper level. Whitney Frost is wearing pants now that she’s become more dominant in her relationship with Calvin, but there’s still no shortage of movie star glamour in her ensembles, like the striking purple number she wears when she sucks the Zero Matter out of Jane Scott’s dead body. When Peggy needs to steal a key from Roxxon CEO Hugh Jones (Ray Wise), she puts on a Bettie Page wig, a tight pencil skirt that accentuates her curves, and a white top with a bow at the bottom of the neckline, giving the impression that she’s a gift waiting to be unwrapped. Peggy tries to use her appearance to fool Jones (who she met back in season 1), and when that doesn’t work, she uses Samberly’s memory-wiping device, which shocks a person’s brain so they forget the last two minutes.

The repeated shocking of Jones’ brain is played for laughs, but it’s one of the overly cartoony sequences that weakens Lindsey Allen’s script, distracting from the graveness of the main plot involving Peggy and friends stopping a crazed Whitney Frost from detonating an atomic bomb. Samberly is a very broad character, and the attempts at humor are very forced when Rose drops a bunch of sexual innuendos to convince Samberly to work with them. Whereas Rose proves to be very adept in the field, Samberly is a lousy agent, and his only real purpose in the plot is to be the person that eventually free Jarvis from the containment room he gets trapped in, which he only accomplishes after considerable motivation from Rose.


While not all of Rose’s bits work in this episode, she’s generally used more effectively than Samberly. There’s a heavy Spy influence in Rose’s plot, which involves the secretary jumping into the field for the first time and proving that she’s more than capable of handling herself. Lesley Boone has a perky presence that brightens up the screen, but she also does excellent work when Rose is in badass mode, throwing down one-liners and beating up goons like an experienced action heroine. The plus-sized Boone isn’t the type of actress that normally gets spotlighted in action sequences, but like Melissa McCarthy in Spy, Boone’s size is a considerable advantage in a fight, enhancing the raw power of Rose in action.

When it comes to ass-kicking women, “The Atomic Job” delivers in spades, which is a good thing because the rest of the spy material isn’t as dynamic as the hand-to-hand combat. There’s not very much suspense when Jarvis has to disarm the atomic bombs—although I fear for his health after exposure to uranium without a containment suit—because it’s obvious the show isn’t going to kill off all of its characters halfway through the season. There’s no atomic explosion, but there is a shocker at the conclusion of Peggy’s confrontation with Whitney, which ends with Peggy falling from an elevated walkway and getting impaled on a long metal rod.


The episode doesn’t show how Sousa and the rest of the team get Peggy off that rod and out of the Roxxon facility, and instead jumps straight to Sousa’s place, where his new fiancée patches Peggy up surprisingly easily. The damage done to Peggy’s abdomen ends up delivering a major blow to Sousa and Violet’s relationship when Violet sees the way Sousa cares for Peggy when her life’s in danger, and she realizes that she can’t marry a man that is still in love with another woman.

The Sousa and Violet romance hasn’t received much attention this season so this scene doesn’t have as much emotional resonance as the script wants it to, but the work done by Allen fleshing out the lovers’ history earlier in the episode provides valuable context that prevents Violet’s words from feeling totally hollow. This development helps bring the episode back down to a personal level after becoming increasingly fantastic, and it will be exciting to see how Sousa’s affection for Peggy will affect her relationship with Dr. Wilkes, who is still incorporeal. Sousa is hot, heroic, and tangible, so I can’t blame Peggy if she decides to ditch the ghost.


Stray observations

  • It’s great to see Rose this week, but where did Ana Jarvis go? There’s not an easy way to integrate her into the Zero Matter/Council of Nine plot, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the writers try to find one.
  • An air duct that can fit two people side-by-side and support their weight? That’s a huge, impeccably constructed ventilation system.
  • Some wonderful facial expressions from Peggy and Jarvis when they hear Whitney reveal that she needs an atomic bomb.
  • That gadget that directs the current of an electric fence to people in the surrounding radius of the device is really cool.
  • “I could have shot…Howard.”
  • “Isn’t that why you wore your recreation tie?”
  • “You arrogant plonker.”
  • Secretary: “Did you have a nice lunch?” Jones: “I must have.”
  • “Nothing says classy like bone china. I always say that.” That’s some signature Ken Marino line delivery right there.