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[TV Review] ‘Agent Carter’ Episode 2.04 – “Smoke and Mirrors”

Past and present (well, 1947) collide in this week’s episode of Marvel’s “Agent Carter“.  On the present front, Peggy, with the help of the ever-versatile (and humorous) Edwin Jarvis, finally tracks down and traps her would-be assassin from earlier in the season.  With the help of Chief Sousa, she interrogates him and they finally learn the scope of the secret empire that is operating out of the Arena Club.

Sadly, Sousa remains too trusting in the system and calls for a warrant to raid the place, alerting corrupt war department head honcho Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith).  Masters immediately impedes everything by ordering an audit of the LA SSR office, leaving Peggy on her own for the time being.  Still, the pieces are beginning to fall into place and Carter is starting to realize how much of a threat Whitney Frost really is.

Speaking of Frost, her transformation into Madame Masque continues.  She has begun to harness the powers that the Zero Matter has given her, absorbing living beings (both humans and rodents) into her own body.  This increases the wound on her face, of course, but Frost is beginning to no longer care about the damage her visage is sustaining.

All of this connects back into the flashbacks that comprise almost half of the episode.  We are treated not only to scenes of Peggy’s past, but Whitney’s as well.  Parallels between the two are deftly drawn, while also highlighting key differences.

Both girls did not fit into the typical gender stereotypes of their childhood era.  Peggy was a tomboy pretending to slay dragons, rescue princesses, and wrestle with her older brother.  Whitney showed promise with engineering at a very early age.  The difference is while that Peggy generally had positive encouragement in her “odd” endeavors (mostly from her brother Michael), Whitney was derided at every turn.

Both come to the realization of their true destiny in different ways.  After the death of her brother, Peggy walks away from an engagement and a typical life to become a spy for the British military, seizing her Hawksian destiny proudly and openly.  Whitney, on the other hand, is forced to flee her home after she and her mother are thrown out by the latter’s lover.  She turns to deception to find her way in the world, heading off to LA to become an actress and seize her power first through her looks.

It all makes for a vastly compelling (and occasionally depressing) commentary on gender politics at the time.  Sadly, much of what is being told here still applies today.  Strong women forced to go on the offensive, be it outwardly or clandestinely, to seize the lives they want for themselves.  Genius Whitney Frost wasn’t born a calculating sociopath.  Society created the monster she has become.  Unlike the clearly-deranged Dottie Underwood, I find myself hoping that Whitney finds redemption as this season goes on, even though I know that is unlikely to happen.  For better or worse, she seems too far gone.

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