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Marvels Agent Carter S1.05 The Iron Ceiling review

As the show passes the halfway point in its (criminally way too short) first season there’s a slight change in tone, and not just because Peggy has given up massaging the delicate egos of the men around her. “The Iron Ceiling” is a little bit less of a romp, with a slightly harder edge. Characters who have previously looked like little more than archetypes are suddenly developing more interesting depths. Peggy’s strength might reveal the weaknesses in men like Pooley and Thompson, but, ironically, their weaknesses make them stronger characters. A flawed Thompson is more watchable than a constantly cocksure chauvinist.

While it’s been fun watching Peggy pretend to be happy as a glorified secretary while secretly running rings around the men, it’s a conceit that could have become stale rapidly, so it’s great to see her metaphorically stick two fingers up at Stark and the SSR and let her true worth shine. Admittedly, she has to call in a group of men to convince Dooley to let her go on the mission with Thompkins, but it’s notable that the Howling Commandos are happy to let her lead. Occasionally the woman-of-action who can outdo the men shtick is laid on a little too thick (the final shoot-out looks like something out of shoot-’em-up) but Hayley Atwell is just so damn charismatic and convincing in the role she largely gets away with it.

Oddly, though, the action is the probably the weakest part of the episode. While it’s great to meet this latest incarnation of the Howling Commandos, and Neal McDonough once again makes it impossible to believe anyone else could ever play Dum Dum Dugan, he inhabits the role so enthusiastically (which remains a surprise coming from an actor who has sleep-walked his way through so many genre performances) the gun fights become a little tedious and supporting characters are picked off with a kind of casual lack of consequence. It’s a shame because previously the show has given us inventive and often witty action scenes whereas here it’s all a bit run of the mill, with a couple of exceptions.

One of those exceptions being the Black Widow training montage that opens the episode. Okay, it’s not referred to the the “Black Widow Programme" in the episode itself, but the implication is clear, plus the producers have said in interviews that that’s exactly what it is (or a precursor to it, at least). It’s a surprising and effective opening, especially when the fight ends with the future giving the nod to the young Dottie (or whatever her real name is) to break the neck of her opponent.

After that, the fact that grown-up Dottie likes to sleep handcuffed to her bed is not kinky so much as downright disturbing.

Bling

That’s one hell of a sparkly bullet-proof waistcoat. We had visions of Peggy going into battle looking like Lady Gaga.

It’s a good episode for Dooley too. His justification for having qualms about sending Carter on the mission is a wonderful peek into the workings of his mind. The idea that he’s perfectly happy to accept that (to paraphrase the show’s slightly iffy tagline) the best man for the job is a woman, but that he has to consider the reactions of others is – yes – chauvinistic but also a believable attitude for someone in his job at that time. In the end he says yes to Carter, so we feel more on his side. Even more so when he begs to understand from his informant that somebody might be framing Stark.

As we do with Thompkins when, after he freezes in battle, admits his war record is a sham and then praises Peggy to Dooley. Sure, it’s all very “TV” in terms of character development, but hey, even Thomas Hardy wasn’t averse to using an unashamedly melodramatic device to telescope an emotional change from weeks into hours. The acting and the understated dialogue sells it, and unexpectedly you go from loathing to loving Thompkins. On the other hand, the opposite seems to be happening with Agent Sousa who seemed like a nice guy, but now looks like he could end up being a major pain in the ass. It’s all good stuff, and stops the show from being predictable.

Then again, previously you could always rely on the show for some great Jarvis/Carter dialogues, and we’re denied that here, which is a shame. It would have taken some serious scripting jiggery-pokery to have him on the mission, so it’s understandable, but the episode does seem to lack a bit of its usual charm because of it.

In other words, it’s great that the show doesn’t intend to stick to a formula, and is allowing its characters to grow and develop, but it would be a shame if it strays too far from a formula that made it such a vibrant new show in the first place.

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Best Line

Jarvis: “Do you honestly expect that they’ll change their minds?” Peggy: “I expect I will make them.”

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Crossover Potential

Be honest, after Peggy reveals that she worked at Bletchley, this is the crossover you’d really like to see.

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Rations

The sound effects when the two girls in the Russian training camp are eating a bread roll are a little over the top; they sound like they’re chewing on sandpaper. Which may be the point…

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Howling Commandos

Aside from Dum Dum Dugan, the other Howling Commandos seen in the episode are all new to the MCU, but they all do comics counterparts, though the similarities are somewhat distant in the case of Happy Sam Sawyer (who was the Commando’s British commanding officer) and Pinky Pinkerton (think Leslie Phillips playing James Bond). Jonathan Juniper, however, is more recognisable; like the version here, he also died in action, becoming the first on-going character in the Marvel comics universe to kick the bucket (Pinkerton was his replacement).

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Winter Wonderland

Where the hell did the production designer get those white-needled pine trees from? They looked so artificial at times it looked like Peggy and co had gone behind-the-lines in the local garden centre.

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It's Wossisname 1

Dooley’s journalist informant is played by Jon Glover of Gremlins 2 (Daniel Clamp) and Smallville (Lionel Luther) fame. We’d assume with casting of this calibre, we’ll be seeing more of this character.

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It's Wossisname 2

Dr Ivchenko is played by Ralph Brown. If the name doesn’t mean much then maybe the words “Camberwell carrot” will. And if they don’t, you’ve missed out on one of the greatest film cameos of all time…

Marvel's Agent Carter is broadcast in the US on ABC on Tuesday nights.

WriterJose Molina
DirectorPeter Leto
The one wherePeggy reunites with the Howling Cannon Fodder sorry Commandos, for a mission behind the iron curtain.

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Available platformsTV