Agent Carter: Time and Tide: Social

“Time and Tide” isn’t any less about Peggy Carter throwing punches, but it does take a break from fight scenes to build up the world it inhabits.

The third episode (after last week’s two-parter debut) of Agent Carter dials it back – on the surface, anyway – on its meta-theme of the hard luck of women living in an unwelcoming post-WWII U.S. to get busy on the world-building. As a result, “Time and Tide” feels just slightly less revolutionary and more like an above-average episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., inasmuch as it’s a solid bit of character work buffed up by a great action sequence and a focus on the show’s intriguing, still-emerging mythos.

For those just joining: Onetime ally/love-interest of Captain America Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), chafing at being treated like a glorified secretary in the new postwar “boy’s club” environment of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, has been covertly tasked by framed (?) fugitive Howard Stark and his deceptively-resourceful butler Jarvis to help recover a cache of super-weapons stolen from his private vault. The culprit appears to be a shadowy entity (organization?) thus far referred to only as “Leviathan,” whose foot-soldiers take their orders from radio-controlled typewriters and have had their vocal cords surgically removed. Peggy’s chauvinist colleagues at the SSR are also on the case, but they’re working from the premise that Stark is guilty – which he might well be, as we’ve already seen the secretive Jarvis talking to him on the phone with words implying that they’re keeping something important from Carter.

Miss last night’s episode? You can catch it online on Hulu or buy it digitally on Amazon. If you missed last week’s episode, you can also catch up with our review of the premiere. Now, on with the review – spoilers below!

The main bit of new data communicated this week involves the voiceless “Leviathan” thugs themselves, most (all?) of whom seem to have belonged to the same military unit during the war – a unit that (wait for it…) was supposedly wiped-out and presumed dead. Wartime secrets are also haunting Jarvis, who we learn is an ex-soldier indebted to Stark for helping him out of a treason charge he earned for forging a signature to help his (still unseen) Jewish wife escape the Nazis in Budapest. There’s also a curveball: Carter/The SSR actually manage to recover what seems to be most of Stark’s “bad babies”… only for a new mystery-menace (a professional hitman) to emerge and give us our first major character death.

The highlight, unquestionably, is a knock-down-drag-out fight between Peggy and a burly henchman guarding the stolen weapons. Movie-quality fight scenes are Agent Carter’s surprising secret weapon so far, and this one was impressive. Atwell (and, one assumes, a stuntwoman or two) has a great energy for fisticuffs and a stature that suggests her onscreen prowess isn’t too far removed from reality, and the staging was perfect – just two combatants you could absolutely believe were focused on beating each other to death. The surprising ferocity compliments the series’ commitment to a realistic (for a sci-fi/spy series set in the same universe as Thor, anyway…) portrait of Carter as a woman of her time. We’re used to seeing “tough gals” of TV dish out beatings, but it’s jarring to also see her have to take one in the same scene. By that same token, I can see some folks having a problem with Jarvis having to talk Peggy out of trying to take her due credit for finding the weapons (she momentarily entertains the notion that this will prove her worth to her male colleagues, he has to remind her that they’ll just find a way to use it against her) but I found it to be a nice, humanizing moment.

Speaking of “women of their time,” I have a few more… “offbeat” thoughts about the subplot of Carter having moved into The Griffith Hotel For Women (a women’s-only boarding house whose rigidly-puritan matron enforces an ultra-strict no-men policy) but on its own it’s a fascinating setting that grounds the proceedings back in the “seldom told tales of postwar women” zone: The dichotomy of a “safe space” for women acting more like a prison in the name of said safety is amusingly ironic… until you think about how many descendants the idea has today.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

  • “The Constrictor” (the Stark weapon Peggy uses to zap the boat henchman) shares its name with a moderately-obscure Marvel villain with an interesting backstory: He started out as a “fake” supervillain created by S.H.I.E.L.D. for an undercover operation who got “flipped” to the real thing.
  • Congratulations, James D’Arcy (Jarvis): You’re British, you’re benignly handsome, your demeanor is charmingly deferential and you’re in the Marvel Universe, so welcome to Tumblr Immortality. Say hi to Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch in the lounge.
  • “Now I gotta go call Kzerminski’s wife” [about his death.] “I’ll call his girlfriend.” The male SSR Agents all walk a fine line (so far) between being sexist blowhards but also letting the audience understand why they were likely considered “cool guys” in their day. (So which one do you suppose turns out to be HYDRA? Cuz y’know there’s at least one…)
  • Alright, gang. This show is trying really hard and doing a lot of things right; so let’s cut it some slack and agree to act reeeeeeaaally surprised when it’s eventually revealed that the tall, thin mystery-hitman (who watched Carter and Jarvis get on the boat and subsequently killed the henchman and Agent Krzeminski) turns out to be *GASP!* another tough-as-nails woman, but this one working for the bad guys???
  • Speaking of which: We’re obviously meant to assume that “mystery villainess” is actually The Griffith’s new resident, Dorothy Underwood. So obviously, in fact, that the real identity is probably Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca) the automat waitress whose been trying to be Peggy’s BFF since episode one… and was instrumental in getting her to join The Griffith.
  • Actually, let’s talk about The Griffith: My pet theory for the series as a whole is that sooner or later someone will turn out to be the MCU version of Ophelia Sarkissian, aka Madame HYDRA – and the creepy matron obsessively managing the lives of women would certainly qualify as a candidate. But there’s other things going on, too – to start with, she makes particular note that she’s a patron of the ballet…
  • It’s worth noting that, in the Marvel Comics Universe, “Leviathan” refers to an outfit that’s more-or-less HYDRA’s Soviet equivalent. It’s the Soviet connection that’s interesting: The “presumed-dead soldiers turned evil” angle is reminiscent of the plot of The Manchurian Candidate, a reference-text that also figures in the conception of Soviet/Russian-aligned Marvel characters like Winter Soldier and (wait for it…) Black Widow; whose pre-good-guy Soviet brainwashing included a past as a ballerina. (Also, in some versions of the backstory, she’s actually old enough to be alive at this point in time despite appearances otherwise.)

Bottom Line: Doesn’t hit as hard as the premiere, but good television.

Recommendation: This is turning into something special. Check it out.

[rating=3.5]

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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