Marvel's Agent Carter is, as the name suggests, Peggy's show. It's very specifically structured around the character's life during her time at the S.S.R. and not a series about the organization and how Peggy fits into it. But it's easy to forget, especially after "Smoke & Mirrors" took a detour into the past for both Peggy and Whitney to examine how each woman ended up on her current path, that Marvel's Agent Carter has a small ensemble cast without whom Peggy could not be that woman. As proficient as Peggy is, she can't do everything all the time, which was why it was nice to see several of the show's supporting characters shine in "The Atomic Job," a fun caper episode that reminded viewers this is still a spy show, but also continued to drive the main plot forward.
As Peggy's right-hand man, Jarvis is often relegated to being the comic relief, a position he fills spectacularly and without incident, but for a few brief, tense moments in "The Atomic Job," he was allowed to be the hero while still delivering those laughs. Even if his removal of the uranium from the atomic bombs Whitney wanted to use to replicate the test that originally opened the rift and brought Zero Matter to Earth was quickly overshadowed by Peggy's injuries (and Sousa's feelings for her), Jarvis's actions were an important contribution to the mission at hand. A small mistake and he could have destroyed all of Los Angeles, and that shouldn't be overlooked just because it was someone other than Peggy who pulled it off.
It's always a nice change of pace to watch supporting characters step into the spotlight and save the day, and Jarvis handled the pressure surprisingly well. What could have felt very contrived and convenient—of course Steady Hands Sousa would be locked out of the room!—felt fairly natural. It also worked to showcase how far Jarvis has come since he started this journey with Peggy last season. Maybe he didn't put to use all of the training he's done since then, but he's become more than just Peggy's sidekick. He's someone she can count on and someone she trusts completely to get the job done, a sentiment that extended beyond Jarvis to Rose as well.
Who knew she was hiding all that bravado behind her friendly attitude? Well, Peggy, probably, since she fought Sousa to include her in the mission as one of the few people at the S.S.R. they could trust to not be working for the Council of Nine. As unequivocally well-liked as Sousa is as a character, and as accepting as he is of Peggy's merits, his initial inability to see Rose as someone worthy of including in their plan was the show's way of pointing out that even the best of us occasionally fail to live up to expectations and look like asses when we make assumptions about other people. That being said, it's probably safe to say that Sousa's blindspot was not a comment on her gender as it might have been coming from someone else, but the fact that Rose wasn't a tested field agent. Which was actually a fair argument until you remember that Jarvis has also been on several field missions with Peggy in some manner, and so Peggy had a better point.
Rose had the same training as the "the men upstairs" and was expected to act as the first line of defense for the West Coast bureau of the S.S.R., but Sousa still had his doubts about bringing her along. "It’s funny," Peggy said, "I’m seeing Daniel Sousa, but I’m hearing Jack Thompson." Not only was that a sick burn by Peggy, but it was the kick in the ass Sousa needed, and the decision to bring Rose along eventually proved to be quite fruitful when she easily took out one of the men working for Whitney (and seemed to relish doing so), and again when she was able to manipulate Dr. Samberly's feelings for her to coax him through his breakdown while unlocking the door to release Jarvis.
Peggy may be an anomaly at the S.S.R., but how much of that is a systemic issue related to gender inequality and how much of that is because Peggy's a one-of-a-kind badass? While it's true that she's often the better fighter or the more intelligent person in any given situation, it'd be foolish to assume that all of her success stemmed simply from her natural talent and not because she'd had opportunities that most women did not. It took years of hard work for Peggy to reach the level at which she's currently operating, but it'd be nice if her decision to take a chance on Rose would set in motion the idea that the S.S.R. could benefit from having more women in the field. Especially because they're frequently underestimated by their opponents, which could allow them to gain the upper hand.
While it was nice to see Agent Carter's small ensemble shine (complete with a slow motion exit from the S.S.R office), the extra hands also meant Peggy was able to confront Whitney, which went about as well as you'd expect it to given we're only midway through Season 2. Whitney had no desire to be fixed because she didn't believe she was broken; being exposed to Zero Matter had given her the power she always wanted but never had, and in just a short amount of time she has embraced her newfound abilities and figured out a way to control them. She could have easily dispatched Calvin when he finally grew a pair of balls, smashed a glass (you know shit is serious when someone throws a glass on TV), and told her she was out of control, but Whitney still needed her husband's connection to the Council of Nine—right now she needs more uranium from Ray Wise's Hugh Jones if she still hopes to replicate the atomic test to find more Zero Matter—but if she had any other option, she'd likely have ditched him already. As much power as her new abilities have given her, she's still at the mercy of others, which must be a frustrating situation for her.
But is this really Whitney? This question came up last week, but it's becoming more obvious that while, yes, Whitney's desire for power was what underscored much of her story so far this season, she's being manipulated and corrupted by Zero Matter as much as she's manipulating those around her. Dr. Wilkes said the Zero Matter within Jane Scott's tissue sample called to him, and when it touched him it made him briefly corporeal and allowed him to know the location of where Jane's body was being kept. Whitney experienced a very similar sensation, and once she absorbed what remained in the woman's corpse, she was driven to find more, more, more. Wilkes described the place where Zero Matter came from as being dark and painful before disappearing from view completely for reasons still unexplained, but it's becoming more and more obvious that neither he nor Whitney are in full control.
Which brings me to the Sousa in the room. In my review of the Season 2 premiere, I praised the series for writing Sousa's new girlfriend, Violet, to be a likable character and for not falling prey to the tired storytelling cliché that women only see other women as competition. That way of thinking is a lazy way to add conflict that eventually leads to female-on-female drama that's not just overdone in popular culture, but often poorly done. It's also offensive and detrimental to women as it furthers the idea that women must all secretly hate one another or that the only thing that matters is how women are viewed by men. Given how sharp Agent Carter's writing and voice has always been on the subject and treatment of women, Violet being a genuinely lovely character with a friendly disposition toward Peggy was hardly surprising, and her calm reaction to the realization that Sousa had been denying his feelings for Peggy all this time was done similarly well. (For what it's worth, Peggy's own reaction to Sousa's engagement was also handled with care, with her offering sincere congratulations before moving on to the task at hand.)
Though her screen-time was fairly limited, Violet was never portrayed as anything but understanding and warm, and in another world, her engagement to Sousa would have likely been an occasion to celebrate because she really was a fundamentally likable character. It's again to the writers' credit that rather than depicting Violet as a shrill and angry harpy upon the realization the man she'd just agreed to marry was not only still in love with someone else, but someone she'd treated as a friend, she was allowed to simply be both understanding but saddened by the turn of events. It's probably not by accident that Violet was a nurse by trade, and not because it was a common job for a woman in the era or because she was going to need to stitch Peggy up, but because nurses are selfless and sympathetic individuals who frequently put others' well-being ahead of their own. In this case, Violet wanted Sousa to be honest—with her, with himself, and with Peggy—but she also valued herself enough to realize she deserved a man who loved only her. It'll be a shame if this was the last we've seen of her because much like Jarvis and Rose, Violet shined this week. Sometimes the show's supporting characters steal the show and there's nothing wrong with that.
– I'm not sure Peggy using the memory erasing device on Ray Wise's character over and over again played out as well on screen as it probably did on paper. The man was a pig who clearly believed women were there to please him, and it was nice to see Peggy take him down a few pegs, but after the first time or two it felt repetitive in a bad way.
– Ken Marino as the head of the criminal underground in Hollywood? I love it. Yes, please.
– "Oh, this is bringing back terrible memories!" "To the last time you stole a corpse?"
– "For the record, that was nothing like making a soufflé."
– "Oh, I’ve seen bigger." Rose is my hero.
– FYI: Next week's episode and the following week's episodes will both be two-parters.