Agent Carter, Season 1, Episode 8, “Valediction”
Written by Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters
Directed by Christopher Misiano
Aired at 9pm (ET) on Tuesdays on ABC
The entirety of the Agent Carter finale feels like the writers’ room looked at their board of index cards cataloguing ongoing storylines and realized they’d bitten off more than they could wrap up effectively in eight quick episodes. In these last hours, ignored relationships fly back in (literally and figuratively) as quickly as they were scrapped half a season ago, the climax is kept decidedly small-scale and simple, and multiple shortcuts leave everything a bit un-factchecked and everyone a bit out of character for the sake of squeezing in the most important beats. The worst part about these shortcuts is that if some superfluous scenes had been removed, those wasted minutes could have been spent filling in details elsewhere. For example, the only true reason that the “6 months earlier” cut scene with Dottie and Howard Stark is important is because Bridget Regan looks gorgeous in that black evening gown. It doesn’t offer up any new information or insight into the characters; even Howard’s memory fails to get jogged about that earlier weekend once he’s in the hanger. Instead of inserting unnecessary tidbits such as that one, the finale would have been better off fleshing out more of the underserved specifics of the resolution.
Howard Stark’s return in the finale is a nice idea, especially since Dominic Cooper’s availability for a second season (if there is one at all) is up in the air. As the Steve Rogers plot line gets a hard and fast completion, severing the show from the Captain America stories for the time being, it only makes sense that Stark should return and be a part of that closure. Yet his return falls short of feeling organic, mostly because Stark’s role this season has mostly been a silent one, looming over the action from afar. His crisis of conscience about his inventions is low on the totem pole of things to care about during the finale, even though Cooper puts forth a valiant effort with the material. Inserting him into the action in the final stretch and attempting to juice a big emotional payoff out of it doesn’t have as much effect as it might have if he was a true main character and had worked with Peggy and Jarvis every step of the way. His status as an integral part of saving the day also takes away a little of what has made Peggy such a fun leading lady throughout the season. Instead of getting to rescue everyone completely on her own, she is once again relegated to being the woman supporting a man through a tough mission or talking him off the ledge. Her and Howard’s relationship is based far too much on their love for Steve, mostly because they don’t have any foundation to their own relationship. Peggy has proven she is willing to work as a team to save the world and doesn’t need individual recognition for her accomplishments, yet the choice to make her a glorified sidekick to Stark and her fellow agents in her big moment is disappointing for a show that bears her name.
The fact that this climax is even reached is shocking, seeing as throughout the episode the SSR comes off as borderline incompetent at multiple points. They don’t think to protect Howard Stark and prevent him and Jarvis from running off on their own during the commotion at the press conference, and they don’t even remember it’s VE Day only a few years after the war is over, leading to a severe lack of security around the celebrations in the city. These are oversights that the SSR doesn’t usually make in this show or in any other entertainment in which they appear and they have to happen only because Stark needs to end up in that plane heading for Manhattan. At least putting Jarvis, Peggy, Ivchenko (make that Fenhoff), Dottie, and Stark in one place results in some genuinely captivating scenes. Dottie and Peggy face off one more time, a fight that’s shorter than it could be but is at least included, before the former escapes into the night in order to set up a potential return down the road. Even if it is an unfortunate story choice, Peggy’s speech to Howard is some great work by Hayley Atwell. Sousa using his smarts to outwit Ivchenko when Thompson fails with his brawn gives him a well-deserved moment, however brief, especially because Thompson gets lauded as the hero in the end as always.
Looking forward to a potential second season, it’s unclear whether the show has figured out what its strengths are in these eight episodes. Is it an action and adventure show with a balanced mix of MCU tie-ins and original elements? Does it use its humor in service of black comedy or to lighten the mood? How much of Peggy’s home life is it worth including, best friends and a potential post-Rogers dating life or just glimpses of Lyndsy Fonseca’s Angie each time the show remembers that she exists? Eight episodes is too long to ignore these tertiary elements but not enough time to delve into them completely. The Peggy and Jarvis relationship is the strongest and most legitimate of any on the show and should be leaned on even more in subsequent adventures, with Jarvis’ new comfort level with espionage given even more of a chance to shine. The “cliffhanger” in the final scene with Doctor Zola, of HYDRA infamy, speaking with Ivchenko in jail means if there is more of Peggy and co. saving the world to come, they will have a more concrete enemy than the Leviathan cloud of this season. The most important thing is with Peggy earning the respect of her fellow agents and a future in the SSR on a slightly more equal playing field, the chances of a more cohesive second season are high and rising. The episode’s title means “the act of saying farewell”. Now that Peggy’s done so for the last time with Steve, it’s time to wait and see if ABC will do the same.