The Good: Good direction
The Bad: Ridiculously standard spy plot, No real character development, Theme has become overdone
The Basics: “A Sin To Err” puts Agent Peggy Carter in danger on all sides as she is exposed to her SSR peers and hunted by Leviathan agents.
Agent Carter is rapidly becoming the weak link in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While there have been elements of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that might seem derivative of ABC’s Alias (reviewed here!), Agent Carter is much more directly a remake of Alias. By the time “A Sin To Err” aired, episodes of Agent Carter were preceded by a recap monologue that was suspiciously like how Sydney Bristow opened the early episodes of Alias. This is relevant because “A Sin To Err” feels like virtually every early episode of Alias where Bristow is about to be exposed as a C.I.A. agent working within SD-6.
Picking up where “The Iron Ceiling” (reviewed here!) left off, focused on how the SSR has recovered the Leviathan scientist Dr. Ivchenko, “A Sin To Err” manages to recharacterize Agent Peggy Carter as someone other than a dupe. Her stolen apartment key comes up early and is a direct reference to “The Iron Ceiling” and Carter, in true Alias style, er, Agent Carter style, manages to kick the ass of a decent number of agents who have training at least equal to hers.
Opening in Russian, 1944, Dottie removes the hood from over the heads of four captives, who are being inducted into Leviathan. One man refuses and is killed and Dr. Ivchenko complies with Leviathan in order to survive. When Agent Carter tries to debrief Ivchenko, Chief Dooley gives her the opportunity to prove her theory about Leviathan (that Leviathan used a female agent to get close to Howard Stark to steal his technology). Meanwhile, Sousa shows his informant a picture of Agent Carter and he confirms from the man who was caught driving the Nitromene away that Carter was the woman at the party he’s been looking for. As Carter and Jarvis try to hunt down the woman in New York who may have been Stark’s lover and who might have stolen his technology, Dooley interviews Ivchenko while the Soviet defector manages to covertly get a message to Dottie!
As Jarvis and Carter find an empty apartment that Carter believes belongs to the sleeper agent they are hunting, Dooley is manipulated (almost hypnotized) by Ivchenko. While Dooley and the main force of the SSR hunt down Agent Carter, Carter goes to recover the vial of Steve Rogers’ blood she recovered. Enlisting the aid of Angie, Carter evades her SSR pursuers, while Ivchenko arranges for a distraction for them, which allows Dottie to knock Carter out!
By this point in Agent Carter, the theme of sexism is pretty overdone and it feels much more like an anachronism than a defining trait of the times. Dooley brushes off Carter, despite her being invaluable in “The Iron Ceiling’s” mission and despite her being right on most of her suppositions so far. The only benefit to “A Sin To Err” is that the male characters, specifically the agent brought in to essentially replace Carter while she is on the run, are no smarter than Carter. Sousa, who has been characterized up until now as a good agent, who is smart and just undervalued (much like Agent Carter), is exposed as a pretty piss poor agent who is not willing to actually get the job done, when he lets Carter go.
Fortunately, Agent Thompson is smarter and more efficient than Sousa and the episode requires Carter to knock him out, as opposed to her counting on him just being a nice guy letting her go. Dottie is the equal of Carter and “A Sin To Err” has her actually living up to her potential and facing off with Carter in a manner that proves it. “A Sin To Err” is very much a climactic episode of Agent Carter; this puts Carter on the brink of being completely exposed and it has Dottie rushing to protect her own nature.
What “A Sin To Err” lacks is real character development. Peggy Carter does not grow or develop in the episode. Instead, she is stuck on the run and doing detective work to reveal plot points and be the subject of other character’s plot developments. The worst spy shows and forensic dramas stop developing the characters and trade instead on plot reversals and the sense of tension that comes from a chase. Agent Carter is shaping up to be that kind of show as it has more actual development in “A Sin To Err” for Angie. Angie has been one of the most distant background characters, used more to humanize Carter and show her life outside the SSR. In “A Sin To Err,” Angie’s backstory is expanded upon and she shows genuine integrity by providing a distraction for Carter.
But “A Sin To Err” is shy of big moments. “The Iron Ceiling” might have had a greater sense of cinematic presence, but director Stephen Williams makes “A Sin To Err” move fast and look good. In fact, he gets the tension and pacing so right that it is almost easy to overlook that there are no great performance moments, no big character moments and the plot reversals are more typical to spy thrillers than truly audacious. “A Sin To Err” is another disappointing episode of Agent Carter.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agent Carter - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Agent Carter here!
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© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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