Monday, January 2, 2017

Agent Carter Is Not The "Life Of The Party" For The Next Big Mission!

The Good: Decent performances, Good use of humor
The Bad: Incredibly contrived plot, Forced use of Thompson, No real character development
The Basics: "Life Of The Party" has a wounded Peggy Carter forced to rely upon her worst enemy in her attempt to save Dr. Wilkes.

I admire ambitious television. There is a fine balance between complicated, ambitious, television and television that just throws far too much out there to actually be worthwhile. By the sixth episode of the second season of Agent Carter, "Life Of The Party," it is hard for viewers not to feel like there is so much going on that it is bordering on sloppy. After all, the whole idea of the West Coast SSR allowed the show to put the elements that did not work as well to rest. One of those elements was Jack Thompson, yet "Life Of The Party" puts him and Vernon Masters back in play, as opposed to focusing on the critical characters of the Strategic Scientific Reserve.

"Life Of The Party" continues the story from "The Atomic Job” (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references as to what happened in that episode. After all, Carter was wounded during the mission to prevent Whitney Frost from getting a nuclear weapon from the Roxxon facility and Dr. Wilkes continues to slip further and further away from the real world because of the Zero Matter. Without understanding how wounded Carter was before now, it is hard to reconcile Carter sitting out the bulk of the episode's action!

Opening with Dr. Wilkes experiencing the dark realm of the Zero Matter before Peggy calls him back, the wounded Agent Carter suggests that they create a new containment vessel for the Zero Matter. At Chadwick's home, the politician placates Frost by telling her he has managed to call a meeting of the Council for her. The wounded Carter pushes herself to return to work to save Dr. Wilkes, despite barely being able to walk. To infiltrate Chadwick's campaign fundraiser to get close to Frost to get access to the Zero Matter, Agent Carter interrogates Dottie Underwood and attempts to enlist her. Carter breaks Underwood out and, of course, Underwood almost instantly attempts to betray them.

While Whitney Frost prepares for the evening, Carter preps Underwood on getting a blood sample from Frost. At the party, Thompson and Masters show up, much to the alarm of Jarvis and Underwood, who are already at the party. After Underwood gets the sample, she slips away and witnesses Frost reveal herself to the Council. When Chadwick turns on Frost, she eliminates all of her enemies! With Underwood in the wind, Carter and her team have to retreat with the Zero Matter sample.

The plot of "Life Of The Party" is somewhat problematic in that the SSR has two offices and neither Sousa nor Carter trust anyone at either office. While the idea of working with Underwood is a fun plot, it is one that feels especially contrived, even for a nascent spy organization. At least the episode is not so foolish as to make it appear that Dottie Underwood is at all stupid.

Indeed, Underwood is well restored to the Agent Carter narrative in "Life Of The Party." Underwood was a super spy in the first season and she was characterized then as Carter's equal, if opposite. So, when Carter trains Underwood for the mission, when she observes that Wilkes is not touching things, she makes an objective test of her own. That level of observation and experimentation is clever.

"Life Of The Party" is one of Hayley Atwell's best performances on Agent Carter. Carter was deeply wounded in the prior episode and she is not, frankly, a super-hero. She has no super-healing ability, so the fact that it is only two days since she was nearly mortally wounded requires Peggy Carter to limp through most of "Life Of The Party." More than her American accent, Atwell succeeds at the physical performance of Carter as a wounded warrior.

The humor in "Life Of The Party" is well-executed. Dottie is used brilliantly for her efficiency as a spy and the humor that comes from putting her back in play with Jarvis works quite well. And while Thompson is somewhat forced back into the narrative, Vernon Masters is played very convincingly by Kurtwood Smith. While Masters has obvious ties to the Council (which is essentially HYDRA), Smith plays him with a level of depth that makes him seem anything but monolithic.

"Life Of The Party" does not actually include much in the way of character development; the Council was pragmatic before this, Chadwick was spineless, and Thompson was ambitious. Even Dottie Underwood remains in character by seizing the opportunity to survive her encounter with Frost. "Life Of The Party" is plot-heavy Agent Carter and while its climax takes a turn for melodramatic and farcical, it is not the worst episode of the series by any measure!

For other works with Bridget Regan, please visit my reviews of:
"The Lady In The Lake" - Agent Carter
Agent Carter - Season 1
John Wick

[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 and movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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