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!)