Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Secondary Characters Stumble: “The Iron Ceiling” Does Not Incredibly Advance Agent Carter!

The Good: Acting is fine
The Bad: Poor character development, Unimpressive direction, Dull plot
The Basics: “The Iron Ceiling” puts Carter in Russia with members of the Howling Commandos while her adversary makes inroads back in America.

With Agent Carter, virtually the entire audience is hinged on the idea that people enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger (reviewed here!) and wanted more. By the time we get to “The Iron Ceiling,” the concept of the series – which has been focused on recovering Howard Stark’s stolen experiments – is beginning to fall apart to such an extent that viewers needed to be reminded why they were watching to begin with. To that end, “The Iron Ceiling” marks the return of Peggy Carter’s Howling Commandos.

Picking up where “The Blitzkreig Button” (reviewed here!) left off, with the idea that Dottie Underwood is a sleeper agent living right next door to Agent Carter, “The Iron Ceiling” continues to make Agent Carter into a cheap retread of Alias (reviewed here!). In that vein, “The Iron Ceiling” marks the official arrival of Peggy Carter’s Anna Espinoza. In Alias, Espinoza was the equal (and opposite) of Syndey Bristow and in Agent Carter, Peggy Carter’s adversary is, predictably, a Russian (Soviet) spy that is characterized virtually the same way!

Peggy Carter and Dottie Underwood are having breakfast together, following a flashback to how Dottie was trained in the Soviet Union to be a murderous sleeper agent, when Peggy fails to notice that Dottie has stolen her keys. Peggy pushes Jarvis away before arriving at the SSR where she decodes a message that indicates the Soviets are buying Howard Stark’s technology. Carter is denied the ability to go on the mission, until she reunites the 107th (Howling Commandos) on a moment’s notice. Arriving near the Polish border, Carter and her team join the Howling Commandos, while Sousa figures out that Carter is “the blonde” from the pictures took at the party when Stark’s inventions went missing and the head of the SSR interrogates another expert on the “Battle” Of Finnaw.

While Carter goes out of her way to help Thompson integrate with his heroes in the Howling Commandoes, the team moves into position. In Russia, they discover the school where sleeper agents are being trained. While Carter’s team infiltrates the Russian facility, Jarvis is confronted by Carter’s boss from the SSR. Carter finds two Russian prisoners who are being kept by Leviathan to build devices whose blueprints were stolen by Howard Stark.

The ridiculous sense of chauvinism in Agent Carter makes the set-up in “The Iron Ceiling” tough to handle. The members of the SSR are supposed to be smart and their failure to recognize Agent Carter’s talents by this point is tiresome. This element of the story also fails to ring true from people who served in the military in World War II; the soldiers relied upon munitions and vehicles that were built by women working in American factories. That Sousa is the only man who inherently respects Carter is getting tiresome.

Furthermore, “The Iron Ceiling” further stresses the weaknesses of the concept of Agent Carter (which I was trying to save for my review of the first season). The title character of Agent Carter is, unfortunately, a dupe. Carter is credited in Captain America: The Winder Soldier (reviewed here!) as being one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. after Captain America is lost at the climax to the first film. Unfortunately, the sequel established that from the beginning, S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated by H.Y.D.R.A. agents. So, by her nature, Peggy Carter has to have a blind spot that allows H.Y.D.R.A. to get close to her and survive. There is something incredibly uncompelling about watching that happen, though; Peggy Carter is championed as smart and equal to any of the men of the SSR (and she is shown as superior to Dugan, who is stabbed), but when Dottie takes her key she seems severely diminished. After all, one would think a super-spy would be incredibly observant, if nothing else.

In an episode that marks the return of the Howling Commandoes and uses the supporting castmembers from Captain America, it is the brief appearance of John Glover that is much more likely to make viewers squeal with delight. Glover is one of the best actors who seems to be given significant roles in genre works (he was Lex Luthor’s father on Smallville). He has a bit role in “The Iron Ceiling” as an informant who steals his scene.

Otherwise, “The Iron Ceiling” is unfortunately devoid of significance and greatness. The whole purpose seems to be to wow viewers with supporting Captain America characters, but watching it objectively, the reuniting does not occur for a significant-enough reason. I don’t recall Iron Man 2 (reviewed here!) well-enough to know if the Russian rescued in “The Iron Ceiling” has a relationship to Whiplash, but that alone would not be enough to excite the viewer about the events in the episode.

The direction in “The Iron Ceiling” treads noticeably to the safe side. Peggy Carter and her team are pinned down in the Soviet facility by a trained killer, who happens to be a little girl. While Carter returns some fire from the child, Peter Leto makes sure to keep the episode’s shots cut in such a way that no one is ever seen directly shooting at a child. That seems remarkably cowardly, especially after the episode opens with one child killing another. Similarly, the way Carter turns down the invitation to rejoin the 107th is remarkably thinly-presented.

Thompson has an arc in “The Iron Ceiling” where he expresses fear, but it’s such an unmemorable arc and he is such a difficult character to care about that it is not really worth evaluating. The result is another underwhelming episode of Agent Carter.

For other works with Neal McDonough, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Tin Man
Minority Report
Star Trek: First Contact
"Facing The Fire" - V.R.-5

[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 reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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