Sunday, October 30, 2016

"Better Angels" Continues The Lackluster Mystery Of Agent Carter

The Good: Special effects, General plot progression, Adequate performances
The Bad: No character development, Lack of character moments that resonate to allow the performers to truly show off their chops
The Basics: "Better Angels" is an Agent Carter episode that belabors including unnecessary characters and blandly progresses the second season's mystery.

The second season of Agent Carter was, admittedly, much more effective than the first at creating a serialized narrative. From the first episode of the second season, the show was committed to creating one ten-episode arc that was one complete story. By the third episode, "Better Angels," Agent Carter was committed to its new path and still wrestling with lingering elements (and especially characters) from the first season. The fracture between where the show was in its first season and where it wanted to be in its second causes some erratic renditions of established characters and "Better Angels" forces Jack Thompson back into the narrative in a way that makes the viewer realize just how unnecessary the character is to the second season's story.

Picking up where “A View In The Dark” (reviewed here!) ended, "Better Angels" is impossible to discuss without references to that episode. After all, "A View In The Dark" continued to deepen the mystery surrounding the death of Jane Scott. "Better Angels" marks the return of Howard Stark to the Agent Carter narrative, as well as Kurtwood Smith's role of Vernon Masters from the second season premiere.

The morning after Dr. Wilkes was killed, Agent Peggy Carter arrives at his home where she and Sousa find evidence that seems planted that implies Wilkes was behind Isodyne Energy's troubles. Visiting Howard Stark, Carter learns what the pin Dottie Underwood was after (and one of Carter's assailants possessed) represents; the Arena Club, an exclusive white's only, rich person's club that is a front for the people who ran Isodyne Energy. Whitney Frost, apparently infected by the Zero Matter, asks her politician boyfriend Calvin Chadwick about retiring from acting, but he is reticent. Thompson visits the West Coast Branch of the SSR to bolster the false story that Dr. Wilkes was a Communist before he learns about Zero Matter. Stark helps Carter infiltrate the Arena Club, where she attempts to plant listening devices and uncovers the inner sanctuary.

Returning to the SSR, Thompson and Carter clash and on her way out, Carter notices that items on her desk are levitating. Returning to Stark's, Howard diagnoses Carter and he creates a way to make the field around Carter visible. In attempting to make the field visible, Stark, Carter, Jarvis and Sousa discover that Wilkes is still alive, but has been rendered invisible by the Zero Matter. Wilkes reveals that Whitney Frost attacked him and Carter goes to interview her. After the interview, Frost uses Chadwick to get the Council's assassin to target Carter. Sousa discovers that Frost is the public face of the woman who ran Isodyne Energy just before Thompson learns that Carter was right about the Arena Club creating the news when Masters introduces him to Chadwick.

"Better Angels" feels like it has a number of anachronisms that are problematic; the spread of information seems to go at internet-like speeds, as opposed to 1947's lack of a 24-hour news cycle. While some of that is the result of the Arena Club creating the news, the speed at which the media descends upon Dr. Wilkes's home with relevant questions seems entirely unrealistic.

Agent Carter seems desperate to create a noir thriller with its second season and "Better Angels" has many of the classic conceits. Masters comes in as the mysterious stranger, Frost is the woman with the past, and Carter is very much a classic gumshoe in the episode. "Better Angels" continues to force the racism of the 1940s in ways that are occasionally laughable; Dr. Wilkes praises Stark for letting him into his home - clearly intimating that Stark letting a black man in his home would be uncommon - which is ridiculous given that Wilkes was invisible and non-corporeal at the time! Whatever Stark's opinions are about people of different ethnicities, he would have been utterly powerless to stop Wilkes from going wherever he wants.

And that leads to one of the serious problems with the characters in "Better Angels;" they all suffer from a severe deficit of imagination. The major players in "Better Angels" are embroiled deep in a mystery and long before the end of the episode, they know there is a secret society involved in the conspiracy they are uncovering. Agent Carter and Director Sousa have on their side an invisible, non-corporeal man; how does it not occur to them (or the supposedly brilliant Dr. Stark) to use Wilkes to get the information they seek by having him go back to the Arena Club.

Perhaps the most enjoyable element of "Better Angels" is Jarvis making a joke about spending his future as a disembodied voice.

The performances in "Better Angels" are good enough, though none are particularly stellar. Dominic Cooper leaps right back into the role of Howard Stark without any issues. Wynn Everett impressed me in "Better Angels" by both seamlessly interacting with the CG elements of the episode's climax and disappearing into the role of Whitney Frost so completely that she was utterly unrecognizable from the other works I had seen her in.

Ultimately, "Better Angels" progresses the plot, but does not substantively advance the characters of Agent Carter.

For other works with Wynn Everett, please check out my reviews of:
The Newsroom
Charlie Wilson's War

[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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