Saturday, December 17, 2016

Heist Flop: "The Atomic Job" Continues The Disappointing Agent Carter!

The Good: Adequate performances, Hints of character development
The Bad: Bad mix of goofy and menacing, Inconsistent character directions, Predictable plot
The Basics: "The Atomic Job" awkwardly progresses the mystery of the second season of Agent Carter with a heist episode.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a big problem with retcons. As much as fans want to love Iron Man (reviewed here!), it is hard to reconcile the originality of Tony Stark becoming Iron Man with the existence of Ant-Man as an active super hero for decades decades earlier, as glimpsed in Ant-Man (reviewed here!). Going back much further has proven problematic in Agent Carter. While Peggy Carter might have had some interesting aspects to her hinted in her brief appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before Agent Carter The inherent problem with fleshing out Peggy Carter is that it fundamentally weakens the bond between her and Steve Rogers and it asks the viewer to emotionally invest in relationships that cannot possibly endure. With "The Atomic Job" Agent Carter continues to lay the framework for a substantive relationship between Director Daniel Sousa and Agent Carter and that has been a fairly doomed relationship since it was first hinted at.

Picking up where “Smoke & Mirrors” (reviewed here!) left off, "The Atomic Job" is a heist episode of Agent Carter, which relies on the prior episodes to make it at all comprehensible as to why the caper is progressing. At this point in the season, Zero Matter is being developed enough that fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are likely to have developed some theories as to its nature and there appears to be a sentient component to it based upon how Whitney Frost and Jason Wilkes are reacting to it.

Agent Carter wakes up to find Dr. Wilkes in her room and he asks her to accompany him to the lab they have been using. There, Wilkes shows Carter that the piece of Jane Scott's body that the SSR has from her autopsy reacts to the disapperated Wilkes and releases a small quantity of Zero Matter. When the Zero Matter bursts out of the glass jar in which it was contained, Wilkes temporarily becomes tangible to Carter. That leads Carter and Wilkes to hypothesize that the Zero Matter could make Wilkes tangible again permanently and they set out to steal Jane Scott's body (as it should have enough Zero Matter in it to do the trick). Carter and Jarvis's attempt to steal the body is met with the surprise of discovering Frost and Chadwick attempting to do the same thing! Witnessing Frost absorbing the Zero Matter out of Scott's corpse, the pair learns that Frost wants to recreate the disaster that created Zero Matter by getting her hands on an atomic bomb.

After Sousa proposes to Violet, Carter approaches him for a disguise to use to infiltrate the Los Angeles Roxxon facility that is housing a nuclear weapon. After Carter steals a key to the facility from Hugh Jones, Frost approaches her ex-lover to get goons needed to get the bomb she wants out of the Roxxon facility. Carter, Sousa, and Jarvis enlist Rose and Dr. Samberly for their team to infiltrate Roxxon to recover the bomb before Frost. With Jarvis locked inside a room with the atomic bomb, Carter must defend her team and prevent Frost from reaching their location or else risk the uranium falling into Frost's hands. With Los Angeles at stake, Carter and Frost confront one another.

Ray Wise returns to the Agent Carter narrative as Hugh Jones and his return takes a previously dangerous character and makes him into a joke. The gag involving Wise is fun to watch, but completely undermines the menace of one of the Club members and by extension his whole organization. For a change, Ken Marino wows with a performance of the menacing Joseph Manfredi that actually stretches his range in a decent way. For sure, the violence of his gangster character is completely telegraphed, but Marino truly sells the menace and credibility of his character. Wise and Chadwick seem entirely goofy compared to the mob-connected guy and it undermines the threat of the nascent-HYDRA cell.

"The Atomic Job" plays as an awkward mix between a crime caper and a parody of a heist film. Rose's incapacitating of a client at the cover for the SSR facility is troublingly obvious and plot-convenient as opposed to organic. Dr. Samberly continues to be a parody of a scientist character, as he is portrayed as lacking in social skills but possessing excessive intelligence. The stereotype is so old that it is sad that Agent Carter bothered to perpetrate it.

While "The Atomic Job" continues to enhance the character of Jarvis by putting him in the field, he is still treated as something of a buffoon, along with Dr. Samberly. Agent Carter is, for fans who know the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, the story of a woman who is essentially a dupe, so packing "The Atomic Job" with overt buffoons makes the show seem far less compelling than it already was.

The problem is, the heist aspect of "The Atomic Job" quickly degenerates into yet another threat to Peggy Carter that viewers know will play out entirely in her favor. Agent Carter is a spy show where there is zero chance of true mortal peril to the protagonist because other elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe feature Carter at an older age. So, when Carter squares off against a woman who can utterly destroy her with her bare hands, there is no real menace to the conflict. Sure, it is well-choreographed, but the results are obvious from before the episode begins.

Similarly obvious is the character arc for Daniel Sousa. While Agent Carter has not at all settled on which relationship it might develop as a love interest for Peggy Carter, "The Atomic Job" takes the necessary step to foster the potential Sousa/Carter relationship. Even as Carter gets that opening (unbeknownst to her, but well-telegraphed to the audience), she and Wilkes seem to be headed toward a relationship.

"The Atomic Job" undermines pretty much everyone but Jarvis and Frost and it makes it difficult to take Agent Carter seriously.

For other works with Ray Wise, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Batman: The Killing Joke
"A View In The Dark" - Agent Carter
"Bridge And Tunnel" - Agent Carter
X-Men: First Class
The West Wing - Season Seven
"Hope And Fear" - Star Trek: Voyager
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Twin Peaks
"Who Watches The Watcher" - Star Trek: The Next Generation

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agent Carter - The Complete Second Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of Agent Carter here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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