The Good: Decent direction, Good performances, Plot moves forward
The Bad: Faux-character development, Predictability
The Basics: “SNAFU” brings Agent Carter close to its climax and leaves the SSR perilously close to destruction from Leviathan!
I came to Agent Carter, the series, initially excited. Despite having serious critiques of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (mostly how repetitive and unsurprising it is), I have generally enjoyed it on a gut level. But it doesn’t say anything good about Agent Carter that as “SNAFU” began, all I could say is “man, I hope this episode doesn’t suck.” By this point, Agent Carter has become a droll, period piece that is a cheap retread of Alias where the family tension is replaced with blanket sexism. “SNAFU” had some potential, though, as the prior episode put Agent Carter in the worst position of her career.
Picking up where “A Sin To Err” (reviewed here!) left off, with Carter in the hands of the SSR and Dr. Ivchenko manipulating the SSR agents (and keeping Dottie in the loop), “SNAFU” makes a number of references to the prior episode and for those who have not seen it, it is impossible to discuss “SNAFU” without some references. Dottie’s role in “SNAFU” makes little sense until characters get around to it. Dottie is a spy for Leviathan and Ivchenko has been working with her; Dottie appears in “SNAFU” without being named, so unless one has seen the prior two episodes, there is no significance to who Ivchenko is communicating with in early scenes.
Opening in 1943 Russia, Russian doctors utilize Dr. ‘s technique at mind control to redirect soldiers’ pain as doctors amputate limbs. Three years later, Peggy Carter is interrogated by Sousa, who accuses Carter directly of killing agents and protecting Howard Stark. Carter is interrogated by Sousa, Thompson and Dooley, who want to know what is in the ball Carter recovered. Dooley asks about the battle of Finnaw and she denies any knowledge of it. Before Thompson can violently question Carter, Jarvis arrives with a signed confession from Howard Stark. When Jarvis reveals to Carter that he lied about the confession and the pair witnesses Ivchenko making hand signals to an agent across the street, Carter decides to come clean.
Implicating Ivchenko and revealing she has Steve Rogers’s blood, Carter regains the faith of her former co-workers . . . at least enough for them to investigate across the street. Dooley remains behind with Ivchenko who re-hypnotizes him. As Sousa encounters Dottie, Dooley unwittingly aids Ivchenko in giving the Leviathan doctor Howard Stark’s recovered technology! While Leviathan’s agents escape, Carter and the SSR team discover that Dooley has been turned into a human bomb!
What is immediately notable about “SNAFU” is its predictability. Dottie goes shopping for a bassinet and anyone who has seen The Untouchables (reviewed here!) can guess that she’s going to use it as a bomb delivery method . . . because no one checks out bassinets and they overlook women. Similarly, the moment Dooley is left behind with Ivchenko, it’s pretty obvious that the doctor is going to brainwash him. Because this is a cliffhanger leading up to the season (potentially series) finale, there is much left unresolved in “SNAFU,” but things get to their lowest point for Agent Carter.
Fortunately, most of “SNAFU” is not terrible. Despite the ridiculous anachronism of Dottie doing parkour and the lack of an elevator attendant at the SSR Building (elevator operators were definitely in use in big buildings in the 1940s), the episode moves along fairly well. Writer Chris Dingess makes a pass at delving into the characters; Sousa’s willingness to believe Carter is discounted because of his crush on her and Ivchenko is able to manipulate Dooley because he has a family. Dooley’s family life makes him seem more realistic, but fleshing out a supporting character when Agent Carter herself has not been clearly or interestingly defined is a bit of a harder sell than a show driven by a powerful or interesting character.
The only real advantage Agent Carter seems to be offering fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point is a real sense of consequence. Characters who die in Agent Carter are not endowed with super powers, so the dead will stay dead. “SNAFU” has a casualty and while it is not surprising, director Vincent Misiano makes the moment feel significant and big.
The performances in “SNAFU” are generally good. Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy are given schtick to perform and they have a sense of comic timing that they play wonderfully. The extras in the final scene are convincing in a horrific sequence that sets up the next episode well. Shea Whigham rules “SNAFU” as Dooley. Dooley has been the source of a lot of plot exposition, especially as he has gone off on his own investigating the Battle Of Finnaw. In “SNAFU,” Whigham has the chance to actually make his character feel real and deeper than the simple “boss character.”
Between Whigham’s performance, the banter between Carter and Jarvis and the direction that moves the episode forward, “SNAFU” might not be exceptional television, but it certainly does not suck.
[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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