After a whirlwind eight weeks, we’ve arrived at the end of Season 2 of Agent Carter. This season has certainly had its ups and downs, hasn’t it? This week, does Team Carter get a Hollywood ending? Well, yes and no. Spoilers after the jump.
Marvel’s Agent Carter finished off its second season in… well, I wouldn’t exactly say top form, but a lot of stuff happened. After Jason Wilkes exploded last episode, Team Carter’s primarily concerned with escaping Whitney Frost, who absorbs all the zero matter from Wilkes and chases after them. Fortunately, they manage to get out with the weakened but zero-matter-free Wilkes in tow, and they’re able to focus on the real issue: getting the zero matter out of Whitney and sealing it away forever. When Manfredi, Whitney’s gangster boyfriend, comes to Team Carter and tells them that Whitney’s building a way to get the rift open again, Howard Stark proposes that they just wait until Whitney’s done with the equations, then steal it from her and open the rift first. With some adjustments, they’ll be able to hold the rift’s zero matter at bay, force the zero matter out of Whitney so that the rift will absorb it, and then re-seal the rift.
This plan actually goes in a fairly straightfoward manner. Peggy and Sousa steal the equations, and Howard, Wilkes, and Samberley build all the things necessary for rift generating. During the plan, Whitney gets the jump on the hapless Samberley, of course, but Howard is able to fire the gamma cannon at her and eject all the zero matter, which is then instantly sucked into the rift. The only hitch comes when the rift doesn’t close properly, forcing Sousa to almost sacrifice himself for the team before Howard and Jarvis figure out an alternate way to shut the rift. Everyone ends up okay, except Whitney, who we leave talking to herself in a mirror, and Thompson, who gets shot by an unknown male figure. Ana Jarvis lives, Wilkes gets a job with Howard, and Peggy and Sousa, apparently, get to snog to their hearts’ content.
I’m not exactly disappointed with the finale as much as I’m a little disappointed with the season itself. Chief among my issues with Season 2 has been its treatment of women. In a show that started out so extraordinarily well—as we’ve said before, in Season 1, Peggy got a storyline that is almost always given to a male character—it seemed extremely out of character for her now to be concerned with choosing a love interest and being caught in a constant battle between logic and emotions. Mikely illustrated the main problem with Ana Jarvis’s infertility in his review, and this episode Jarvis only said that he and Ana had “had a good cry about it”, offscreen, where we’ll conveniently never see Ana’s reaction. Furthermore, there were many occasions in Season 2 where Peggy or Rose compliment the scientists in order to get them working—apparently the scientists can’t stop bickering and can’t work on their own and need a woman’s compliments to spur them on to greater heights. All these tropes are outdated and unnecessary.
We can see an interesting amount of sexism in the agency of the show’s two lead women, as well. Season 2 took care to show us both of their origin stories, Peggy as a young girl growing up in England and Whitney as a young girl in the midwestern U.S. As a young girl, Peggy loved playing make-believe as the white knight, saving the princess, and although Peggy’s mom disapproved of her daughter’s life choices, Peggy’s older brother always supported her in her fighting and encouraged her to go into the field. After her brother’s death, Peggy does indeed go into the field and eventually joins the S.S.R. Similarly, Whitney’s mother also disapproved of her daughter’s scientific endeavors, but we never see any of Whitney’s male peers and it’s unlikely that they encouraged her. In a short flashback, she’s also rejected from a science university. Finally, when Whitney is outside a cinema in Hollywood, she meets a creepy agency guy who encourages her to smile and then tells her that she could be a model.
In short, both Peggy and Whitney are interested in male-dominated fields (the military and science, respectively), and while both were discouraged by their mothers, Peggy is encouraged by her brother and so goes into the field, while Whitney is only encouraged to go into modeling by some guy and so she does. While I appreciated the backstory, it seems to be saying that women can only succeed in fields where they’re supported by male figures.
The one thing I did love about this season, though, was how it handled Whitney Frost as a villain. We know from all the aforementioned backstory that Whitney is scarily intelligent, and we can also see that she’s only valued for her looks. From the beginning, her mom tells her that the only important thing about her is how beautiful she can make herself seem, and in her acting career, we see her berated for “looking too old” and then being sexually harassed by her director. All that intelligence has nowhere to go, and all she can do is manipulate her less-intelligent husband into doing her bidding. Once she gets the zero matter, she’s suddenly set free. We see her as the scientist she is, taking notes and performing experiments with her newfound abilities, and we see her realize that now, despite her gender and the institutionalized restrictions it comes with, she finally has true power. This is what makes her such a great villain: we know why she needs power and why she’ll do anything to get more of it. She’s not just some guy who wants to destroy the world because of megalomania or misplaced daddy issues—we can see how unfairly she’s been treated and, to some extent, sympathize with her helplessness.
Unfortunately, this great villain gets a terrible ending. Whitney ends up in an institution, literally driven insane by the zero matter. My question: how does this make sense? Wilkes had the same amount of zero matter in him, albeit for a shorter amount of time, and he ended up completely fine with a new job in hand. After he held a gun on Peggy, Wilkes even said that the zero matter had no effect on his actions. Why did the zero matter affect Whitney to such an enormous extent? Or is it just that the writers think that any woman who goes after power, like Lady Macbeth, must end up punished for it?
And all that aside, Season 2 didn’t do the greatest job with Jason Wilkes, either. At first, we thought that Dr. Wilkes would be a great way to kick start this show’s diversity. However, he spent most of the show being acted on by the plot—Whitney dropped the zero matter, forcing him into an invisible, intangible state, Howard made him visible again, and then Whitney convinced him that he needed to join her in opening the rift once more. The one thing that Wilkes actually did was build a containment chamber to turn himself corporeal again, but even that had more to do with Peggy, who realized that the zero matter would be integral to Wilkes succeeding and set off to steal it for him. And other than Wilkes, we only saw a couple of extras of color with a couple of lines each. So I wouldn’t say that the show answered the call to #DiversifyAgentCarter particularly well.
In addition to everything here, I feel that Agent Carter missed an opportunity to make some kind of connection to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or to any MCU properties at all. We know that Peggy made S.H.I.E.L.D. what it is today and that Hydra had snuck in under her nose from the very beginning, but with Thompson not Hydra (and dead) and the Arena Club decimated, we still don’t know how that happened. When the zero matter appeared, I hoped that it would connect to Jemma Simmons’s monolith, but its rift didn’t lead to a dark otherworld, so… I guess the MCU is just full of other dimensions that it can bring up at any time. Dottie Underwood, for her part, didn’t end up teaching us anything about the Black Widow program and generally seemed poorly integrated into Season 2.
However, on its worst day, Agent Carter is still funnier and more entertaining than most of the other TV shows I watch, and I’d much rather see it again than continue hate-watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So, although we don’t yet know if it will return for a Season 3 or if all its missteps this season will send it to a premature grave, I certainly hope Agent Carter will return to our screens next year. Until then!