The Good: One good line near the end of the episode, The plot gets more or less resolved
The Bad: Stiff acting, Low character development, Predictable reversals, Continued thematic ridiculousness.
The Basics: “Valediction” is a disappointing season finale to finish off a disappointing season of Agent Carter!
If you’re going to rip off other works, it sure helps when you take elements from something old. The thing is, one has to steal things from something old enough that the audience will not realize it is stolen. It is hard, as fans of science fiction television, for those watching Agent Carter to not feel like the show is just ripping off The X-File (reviewed here!). The X-Files produced an episode called “The Pine Bluff Variant” which was one of the more memorable episodes of the fifth season. In it, a lethal pathogen is released in a movie theater as part of an experiment with biological weapons. Agent Carter did the same thing in “SNAFU” (reviewed here!) and the explore the effects of it in the season finale “Valediction.” The explanation of the engineered agent is, sadly, a rip-off of another impressive episode of The X-Files: “Sleepless” (reviewed here!).
“Valediction” marks the return of Howard Stark and Dr. Zola to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Valediction” closes the first chapter of Agent Carter and while there are certain fixed quantities in Agent Carter (Captain America cannot pop up, Agent Carter and Howard Stark cannot die and H.Y.D.R.A. cannot be destroyed; it has to effectively infiltrate whatever nascent version of S.H.I.E.L.D. Carter creates). In its finale, Agent Carter allows Howard Stark to once more steal focus from the title character. Unfortunately, the performances in “Valediction” are stiff and rob the episode of much of its potential bang.
Investigating the movie theater where patrons have torn one another apart, thanks to the weapon Dottie deployed, Sousa is briefly infected with the agent that makes him murderous. The symptoms pass fast enough with the SSR team returning to the office where Howard Stark pops up. Realizing that he represents the best chance to stop Dottie and Ivchenko (or, as he is was also known, Dr. Johann Fennhoff), Howard Stark announces a press conference to draw the Leviathan scientist and agent back to New York City. The plan works . . . until shots are fired and Stark is kidnapped by an agent that Fennhoff brainwashed.
Stark is brought to his other hanger where he had taken Dottie months prior. There, Fennhoff begins to work Stark over. His plan has Stark believing he is about to recover Captain America, but will have him deploy the lethal agent over New York City. As Stark flies on his murderous mission, Jarvis flies to potentially shoot him down while Carter, Thompson and Sousa race to stop Fennhoff and Dottie.
“Valediction” is unfortunately plagued by bad acting. Hayley Atwell delivers most of her lines as melodramatic and hammy, Cooper’s Stark stumbles on the jargon, and Ralph Brown can’t seem to make his character’s lines sound credible (they come out as stiff). Even Chad Michael Murray manages to come across without any of his innate charisma. The result is an episode where the deliveries undermine the characters in almost every scene.
On the character front, “Valediction” continues the problematic trend of Agent Peggy Carter being several steps behind her adversaries. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe know that Carter cannot be entirely successful in her endeavors, based upon Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here!), but it is still frustrating to watch an episode where Jarvis (who is only an occasional sidekick for Carter) is far more useful for most of the episode, compared to the show’s protagonist.
“Valediction” reveals the fundamental problem with Agent Carter; in trying to tell the story of Peggy Carter’s post-World War II exploits as a super-spy and connect the series to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, the plot involves far more interesting characters than Carter herself. Howard Stark continues to upstage Peggy Carter and he is essentially the focus of “Valediction.” Sadly, the man who is supposed to be a genius who created all of the devices that Carter has spent the mini-series trying to recover does not speak like a genius. We get that he has a huge ego and a massive libido, but in “Valediction,” that’s all he has. He is not particularly clever or articulate, which makes it seem like his creativity could not possibly be realized.
Moreover, for a woman who has spent the entire season being underestimated, Peggy Carter rather stupidly understimates Dottie. Dottie and Ivchenko are guilty of espionage and orchestrating a terrorist attack; Carter knows this and has her at gunpoint. But, rather than disable Dottie (Carter could easily have shot Dottie in the legs to prevent her from whipping around and kicking her ass), Carter is easily incapacitated. Fortunately, after the idiocy of Carter letting Dottie beat her up and Sousa and Thompson splitting up near a guy who is known to use mind-control techniques, Sousa shuts Fennhoff up by pistol-whipping him before he can exert control over him. Sousa, as it turns out, is the smartest, most prepared agent of the SSR.
The result is a lackluster season finale that is incredibly unsatisfying to watch. It is unclear whether or not Agent Carter will return for a second season or second mini-series, but “Valediction” makes the argument that the writers and producers do not have enough original to say and directors like Christopher Misiano could not get performances out of the principles to sell those concepts. “Valediction” cements Agent Carter as the weak link in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For other works with Toby Jones, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Snow White And The Huntsman
The Hunger Games
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
My Week With Marilyn
Captain America: The First Avenger
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part I
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
[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!
For other television and film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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