Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Atomic Job

Agent Carter s2

Everyone has hidden parts of their identity; sometimes they’re hidden because others don’t bother to look past the surface, and sometimes they’re purposely tucked away in the dark corners of the heart. But it’s important to be honest about who you really are and what you really want—and that includes not lying to yourself.

Agent Carter‘s characters often dabble in the world of espionage: a world of secret missions, elaborate disguises, and fancy gadgets meant for covert operations. And like most shows that take place in such an environment, it raises important questions about the nature of the secrets we keep, the identity we share with the world, and the people we choose to be our most honest self with. Most of the time, I don’t think of those themes immediately when I think of Agent Carter—because Peggy Carter herself is about as honest as it gets about who she is. However, “The Atomic Job” reminded me that every character on this show has layers that aren’t visible on the surface, and the plot of this episode allowed those hidden layers, unknown depths, and damaging secrets to come out—as they often do in times of crisis.

The first mission in this episode did an excellent job of foreshadowing what was to come near the end of the hour. Although Peggy had previously met Hugh Jones, she thought she could hide her identity from him with a wig and a flawless American accent. But Jones saw through her disguise and figured out her true identity. The discovery of the truth and the ramifications of that kind of revelation were presented in a comedic manner in this scene (with Jones repeatedly getting his memory erased), but, by the end of the episode, that theme was no longer being played for laughs. Instead, we were shown the heartbreak that can occur when truths people try to hide even from themselves are suddenly revealed.

But before we dive in to the Peggy/Daniel/Violet dynamic in “The Atomic Job,” there were plenty of less dramatic—but no less important—examples of hidden facets to people’s personalities to discuss.

Perhaps the most entertaining of these examples involved Rose. On the surface, Rose appears to be a kind, somewhat matronly receptionist. However, this episode showed us that she’s tough as nails and not afraid to get her hands dirty. And while Daniel couldn’t see beyond the surface, Peggy knew better. She knows women have a deep reserve of ability and strength, and men are often unable to look past the exterior to appreciate that strength. As Peggy told Dr. Wilkes, she’s a good judge of character, and I loved seeing that extended to her explicit belief in Rose. Peggy has always been shown to be a champion of other women, and it made me so happy to see her call Daniel out for thinking Rose could be a liability. And—of course—Peggy’s instincts were right once again. Rose proved to be a true asset on the mission to retrieve the atomic bombs, and it was wonderful to watch her gain confidence in her role and shine as this new layer to her personality was displayed.

Another character who finally got to see some field action in “The Atomic Job” was Dr. Samberly. This was another case of a character getting to finally show the fullest and truest extent of who they are: Samberly joined the SSR because he wanted to do fieldwork, but Daniel never followed through on his promise to let Samberly go on missions. It seemed all anyone could see was a man who belonged in a lab. And, at first, it appeared Samberly might not have been cut out for fieldwork after all. He struggled, but he ultimately made it through the mission with the help of an unlikely but supportive partner: Rose. The two of them were both given the chance to show parts of themselves that weren’t often seen by other people, and I have a feeling that won’t be the last we see of those sides to their personalities now that the rest of the team knows about them.

Rounding out the supporting team in “The Atomic Job” was Edwin Jarvis. He’s such a great example of someone who is so much more than he appears to be on the surface. Jarvis isn’t just a butler; he’s a former solider, a loyal partner to Peggy, and a man with the skills to be a great agent. But even Jarvis wasn’t sure he had the skills to stay calm and steady enough to pack up the bombs he was left alone with in this episode. Thankfully, this was the moment Daniel stepped up and stopped doubting people’s hidden strengths and started encouraging them. He knew Jarvis needed someone to help him through such a difficult task, and, although it turned out to be nothing like baking a soufflé, he was still able to help Jarvis believe in himself enough to get the job done.

Of course, no discussion of secret selves and hidden layers to people’s personalities in Agent Carter is complete without mentioning Whitney Frost. Her entire arc is the story of a person hiding their true self (Agnes Cully) and lying to the world about who they really are. However, she appears to be done lying. Now, she wants enough power to never have to hide again. She wants the world to see who she believes she truly is and to cower in fear of that person. But this dark side to her personality wasn’t who we first met in last week’s flashbacks. That’s who I believe her truest self is—not this villain but Agnes Cully, a girl who just wanted to be an engineer and a scientist. It’s heartbreaking that she feels the only way to let any small piece of that hidden self out is through this dark path she’s now walking.

That dark path also seems to have some connection to Dr. Wilkes. At the end of the episode—before he disappeared again—he mentioned something to Peggy about the feeling of darkness brought on by exposure to Zero Matter, but he brushed it off as a story for another time. It was clear he’s keeping something from Peggy and the rest of the team, and, if this episode taught us anything, it’s that it’s only a matter of time before that secret comes out—and things will be so much worse than they would have been had be been honest and not evasive with Peggy in that moment.

In Wilkes’s defense, it probably didn’t seem like a good moment for more revelations, because Peggy was in about as vulnerable a position as we’ve ever seen her. Underneath Peggy’s tough exterior is a woman who can break and bleed just as easily as anyone else. Despite her unflappable façade, she can be vulnerable, and this episode reminded us of that fact in a shocking way. Sometimes this all-too-human hero needs people to take care of her, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that she didn’t seem totally uncomfortable with people worrying about her or fussing over her; she let Jarvis tuck her in, and she seemed sincerely touched by Daniel’s concern. Peggy is a woman who can sometimes convince even herself that she doesn’t need other people, but deep down she knows that’s a lie; she needs these people who’ve become her team and her family, and she wants them by her side when she’s at her most vulnerable.

Peggy’s injury was the kind of crisis that often brings out the truth because people can’t waste their energy projecting anything but the most honest version of themselves. That was certainly true of Daniel. We all knew he was lying to himself about getting over his feelings for Peggy, but I’m not sure anyone could have expected what this episode showed us about the intensity of those feelings. Yes, we saw the first week of this season that he cared enough to trash his office at the thought of her being in danger. But the paralyzing desperation in Enver Gjokaj’s performance as Peggy was bleeding out on Violet’s couch was something different—something deeper. Gjokaj showed us using absolutely no words—just the set of his jaw, the fear in his eyes, and the tension in his body—that Daniel can’t lose Peggy. That’s his truth—the truth he tried to hide even from himself. It’s not that he doesn’t want to lose her. He can’t. And it’s not because she’s his partner or his friend. It’s because he loves her with an intensity that I think surprised even him when he was faced with the possibility of her dying.

Daniel loves Peggy—it’s as subtle as Peggy’s bright red lipstick at this point. During the scene where he told her to never scare him like that again, you could see that his relief over her being okay overrode any pretense of hiding the part of himself that’s in love with her. (I’m not sure I’ll ever stop being emotional thinking about his grateful and overwhelmed head shake when he helped her sit up.) And you could see that love reflected in her gentle smile as the hidden part of her that wants to be with him connected with that hidden part of him—shining through in a way that wasn’t hidden to anyone anymore.

Unfortunately, Daniel and Peggy weren’t alone. That moment of their secret selves shining through was witnessed by Violet, which made it bittersweet. But let’s not beat around the bush: Violet is a thousand times more amazing than most other female characters in her position would be. Even though she saw the truth about Daniel’s feelings for Peggy, she still invited Peggy to stay with her while she recovered—and it was clear the offer came from a desire to help rather than a desire to keep an eye on the “competition.”

On the surface, such an offer might have made Violet seem like a naïve pushover—too sweet for her own good. But as soon as Peggy left, a new side of Violet’s personality was revealed in response to the secrets Daniel had been keeping from her about his feelings and the real reason he came to L.A. Violet is gentle and almost impossibly kind, but she’s no pushover. There is a depth of self-respect to her that I loved seeing. That’s because Agent Carter treats all female characters like it treats its lead—as women who know their value. And Violet knows she deserves more than just a part of Daniel’s heart. I do believe Daniel cares about Violet and sincerely thought he could have a fresh start with her, but all he could give her once Peggy came back was a fraction of his heart—because the rest still belongs to Peggy.

By confronting Daniel about his feelings, Violet forced him to be honest not just with her but with himself. And it’s going to be interesting to see how things change going forward because Daniel can’t continue to lie to himself.

“The Atomic Job” was an episode that showed us the cost of keeping secrets and lying to yourself. The truth might be painful, but it’s better than trying to live a lie. Violet understood that, but it’s going to be interesting to see how honest Peggy and Daniel will be now that she’s not in immediate danger. Will they continue to bury their true feelings, or will they let that hidden part of themselves shine as brightly as it did when they momentarily let their guards down?

(Remember,  it’s not too late to write a letter to Peggy—or any other female character who’s inspired you—for The Fan Mail Project!)

11 thoughts on “Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Atomic Job

  1. Lovely job on this, sweetie.

    I loved how this episode utilized those who are often overlooked. We saw last week that Peggy was tapped to become a spy because some clever person realized that women are often overlooked and dismissed. I love how Peggy recruits other overlooked and dismissed people — such as Rose and Samberly. And yes, even without SSR training Rose would have to develop that level of competence and resourcefulness to deal with all the things a good secretary has to deal with. (I love how the writers built on the natural strengths of the different characters.) Daniel might not see that as quickly as Peggy, but I love that he trusts her judgment — even if sometimes that trust comes after she pokes him about sounding like Jack.

    Great points about what we hide from ourselves . . . sometimes with the best of intentions. Like you, I think that Daniel genuinely cares for Violet. (I adored that proposal scene. I love unconventional proposals.) He also genuinely cares for Peggy who cares for him in return. It’s just messy because how do you stay honest and caring without lots of people getting hurt? And I don’t want ANYONE in this triangle getting hurt. Part of what I love (but which is simultaneously killing me) is that we see that it takes effort to be kind. We see Violet take a breath before she interrupts Daniel and Peggy. She doesn’t take it out on Peggy — which would be the easy thing to do. She doesn’t even take it out on Daniel. Yes, she confronts him . . . but she’s not taking her frustrations out on him. Honestly, a part of me now hopes that Violet is secretly evil because it would hurt less.

    However, we still see both Peggy and Daniel learning about themselves. Daniel is willing to listen to Peggy about Rose. Peggy seems to have taken Jarvis’ admonition to heart that she can’t do this alone. She has a team. Plus there’s your great point about the coddling. I wonder if Season One Peggy would have allowed the coddling? I also assume that Ana Jarvis sweeps in later with a stiff drink.

    Scenes where I laughed louder than was probably necessary:
    — The memory wipe. Ray Wise and Hayley Atwill both rocked that scene.
    — Jarvis’ recreational tie and Stark’s Woody.
    — That was nothing like making a soufflé. (D’Arcy’s indignation was priceless.)

    And no, I didn’t get distracted by Peggy’s awesome shoes or Sousa’s hair . . . or, at least, not that much.

    • Can we please start a club for people who cannot get through an episode without being distracted by Sousa’s hair? Every week I cannot stop thinking about how much he looks like a matinee idol straight out of the 1940s and 1950s.

      Like you, I absolutely adored the fact that the team that formed in this episode was one of people who are often overlooked. It fits so well with the theme of this show. Peggy surrounds herself with people who society wants to devalue, and she gives them a chance to shine. And I really liked that Daniel trusted her when it came to giving Rose that chance. He still has things to learn—as does Peggy. But they’re learning from each other, as you said. That kind mutual growth based in respect is what makes me really believe in their long-term potential as romantic partners.

      I also want to echo your thoughts on the love triangle. Normally, I hate love triangles with a burning passion, but this one is believable; I honestly believe that Daniel truly cares about Violet (That proposal scene was TOO CUTE!), but there’s no denying the depth of feelings between him and Peggy. It’s a messy situation none of them planned to be in, and I don’t want anyone to leave this with a broken heart—even though I know there’s no way to resolve it with everyone emerging unscathed. You’re not the only one who wishes Violet was evil—my sister and I were saying as it was all unfolding that it would be so much less painful (but more cliched) to have her turn out to be a villain.

      After watching this episode, Peggy wasn’t the only one who needed Ana Jarvis to show up with a stiff drink. 😉

      • Sign me up! (I’ve been a fan since Dollhouse. The versatility in his acting is mind-blowing.) One of things I absolutely adore about this site is that we can be shallow and deep in equal measure. 🙂

        • I totally didn’t make the connection of him being on Dollhouse! The mystery of ‘why does he look so familiar!?’ Has been solved!

          He was in a play down here at the Old Globe last year and I am kicking myself for having not gone!

  2. This was such a wonderful episode. I loved the ensemble focus and seeing Daniel and Jarvis work together more, along with all of the other amazing things that happened.

    I think you said everything that I felt about this episode and the importance of being honest with yourself and others so I’m just gonna gush about everything I enjoyed.

    Rose does field work and is AMAZING. The scene where Peggy convinces Daniel to take Rose in the field with them was perfect enough. She calls him out on his sexist attitude (also bless this show for not distinguishing between the harmful effects of both hostile and benevolent sexism) while Rose is beating a guy up in the background then smiles and waves at them like the flawless human she is. I cannot say enough good things about it. But then Rose turns out to be really great in the field and loves every moment of it. It’s a very different role for her but she jumps right in and does whatever needs to be done because she has total faith in herself. There’s a reason Peggy trusts her unconditionally and it’s because she’s so capable of believing that people can be more than whatever society at the time told them they had to be. I love that the show let her succeed instead of showing her struggle when her expectations of field work and the reality didn’t match up.

    Enver Gjokaj. He’s so expressive and so good at fully inhabiting his characters and making them real. The look on overwhelming relief when he sees that Peggy is going to be OK says it all. He may have tried but he can’t run away from his feelings for her.

    Which leads me to Violet. What a lovely human being. I’m so glad she seemed to be as genuine as she seemed on first meeting. She loves Daniel but she’s not willing to settle for a man who can’t love her in the same way she loves him. She values herself too much and she loves Daniel too much for him to do that. He would have stayed with her and cared for her and been a good husband had she not confronted him. And I think she knows that because Daniel is a good man who loved her and wouldn’t have wanted to hurt her (and Peggy wouldn’t have wanted that either). None of his proposal was a lie. But Peggy was always going to hold a piece of his heart and it’s one he can’t let go of. She would always be special and there would always be that part of him that was drawn to her. So Violet let him go. It was a kind and selfless act that showed a great deal of strength.

    • I’m so happy you brought up Jarvis and Daniel working together in this episode, because I could honestly talk about their dynamic all day. I love the idea of these two men who are incredibly important to Peggy working together more. They’re going to need to get along very well if Peggy ends up with who I think she’s going to end up with in the long run. 😉

      Now, let’s talk about Rose. YES to everything you said about the show letting her enjoy fieldwork and be great at it. Her inexperience wasn’t a source of comedy; she was shown to be confident, comfortable, and competent. In fact, it was her male counterpart who had trouble adjusting to his first field assignment. It just further validated Peggy’s instincts, and I always love seeing her proven right—especially when it comes to her faith in other women.

      And then there’s Violet…It was so powerful to see her immediately decide to confront this and not push it down only to make her resent him throughout their marriage. Yes, she could have kept going and kept quiet, marrying him and never letting on that she knew he had feelings for someone else. But Violet isn’t a woman who seems to be desperate for marriage; she loves Daniel, so she wanted to marry him. But she also loves him enough to know he needs to follow his heart—and that’s not going to lead him to her. And she loves herself enough not to settle for anything less than a man who will be totally honest with her and with himself. In just a few short scenes, this show has created a wonderful character. Violet is a prime example that strength doesn’t always come from punching bad guys or enacting evil plans; it can come from something as simple as showing self-respect and asking for the truth—even when it’s anything but easy.

  3. I really loved this episode. The season got off to a bit of a slow start, but they have really upped their game these past two episodes. I mentioned I was worried about the plot losing me, but they have been smart with the way they have chosen to focus on the main characters working as a team. Its kept my interest way more than last season did, and I think that has everything to do with the successful team dynamic. Instead of Peggy vs the world, we get Peggy and Team vs the world, and thats just way more fun. Less focus on the negative, and more on the positive, sounds right up this site’s alley!!

    You did a fantastic job summarizing all the reasons that made this episode so great, and I dont have anything to add, just to say I have been enjoying both the show and your write ups this season, and I really hope the show is able to find an audience, because I do think it has earned another season.

    – Whenever I think of how they got Peggy off of that rebar I shutter. That just seems so incredibly painful
    – The SoCal girl in me loved Howard Stark and his woodie, haha.
    – Peggy’s American accent cracks me up. I dont think valley girls became a thing until the 80s though…

    • Thanks, Shauna! I really hope this show gets another season too (even if things seem doubtful now—I just hope they wrap up this season in a satisfying way if this is the end). I’ve had so much fun writing about it, and I’d miss it so much if it goes away.

      I agree that this season’s emphasis on Peggy’s team has made it even more enjoyable. I love that she has people to support her, and it’s opened up so many fun dynamics—not just with Peggy but with the people around her (like Jarvis and Daniel or Howard and Dr. Wilkes). I also think having a compelling villain who’s such an obvious foil for Peggy has really helped, too.

  4. I finally had time to read this, and first of all I would just like to say how dare you? How dare you write something so exceptional I was making inhuman noises with all the feels in my car. Ooops? But seriously, I’m in complete and utter awe of how you took all the feels we were drowning in and wrote such an amazing essay. I had such a difficult time picking a theme this week and I couldn’t figure out if it was my writer’s block or the whirlwind of feels I was hit with, but thankfully one of us is sane and an actual genius because reading this was a gift. Thank you for putting all my thoughts into the most perfect words. I love this line especially “Peggy is a woman who can sometimes convince even herself that she doesn’t need other people, but deep down she knows that’s a lie; she needs these people who’ve become her team and her family, and she wants them by her side when she’s at her most vulnerable.” Because I feel like I relate so much to Peggy and Emma too in this area. So it’s interesting to be convinced of the fact that needing help and needing to be taken care of once in a while isn’t weakness in anyway. I can ramble on and on about this, but seriously beautiful job, babe. You continue to floor me with your AC reviews! I’m so happy you decided to write for this show!

    • I would just like to say that “How dare you?” is my favorite thing I can be told after writing something. 😉

      Thank you so much for saying such kind things and for encouraging me to write about this show in the first place. I’ve been having so much fun with it, and I loved that this week finally gave me an outlet for my shipper feelings. This comment means the world to me, and it put the biggest smile on my face, so now I’m off to finally read your review and return the favor! ❤

  5. Pingback: Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Life of the Party/Monsters | Nerdy Girl Notes

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