You must own the choices you make.
This week’s Agent Carter double feature will most likely be remembered as “The One With the Musical Number.” There’s no denying that the show took a bit of a risk by starting the aptly-titled “A Little Song and Dance” with an extended dream/dance sequence, but the gamble paid off. It showcased the incredible talents of its cast (including the Dancing with the Stars cast they brought in for backup) and the downright ridiculous amount of chemistry between Hayley Atwell and Enver Gjokaj (who can dance with me anytime, if we’re being honest). It allowed us to see the always wonderful Angie again. It provided a brief moment of escapist joy in the middle of a very tense two hours of television. And—perhaps most importantly—it used an entertaining plot device to highlight the central theme for this pair of episodes: choice.
The entire musical number was staged as Peggy’s subconscious way of working through the romantic entanglement she’s found herself in this season. Peggy has a choice to make: Jason, Daniel, or none of the above. She has to choose soon, and only she can make that choice. And it’s so important for her to make the right choice, because—as this episode reminded us—we must live with the choices we make and the repercussions of those choices.
And when it comes to Peggy’s love life, there’s an added complication with her ability to choose the right person: Most of the people she chooses to care for wind up hurt or dead. I feel like this dream sequence reinforced who Peggy is more closely drawn to (Let me mention again that Atwell and Gjokaj were basically burning up the screen together in that dance scene, looking every bit the pair of lovers in a 1940s musical romance.), but Peggy is still wrestling with her fear that her destiny is to keep losing everyone she loves. If you’ll permit me the Hamilton reference, I always come back to this lyric when I think about Peggy Carter:
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive when everyone who loves me has died, I’m willing to wait for it.
I think Peggy deals with an incredible amount of survivor’s guilt; I think she’s still waiting to find the reason why she’s been spared even though so many people she’s cared about were not. And that idea came up again in what was probably this pair of episodes’ second most memorable scene: Peggy’s fight with Jarvis in the desert.
These episodes started with a moment of beautiful tenderness between Peggy and her closest friend, but that gentle touch didn’t last long. While there’s a level of comfort that only the closest friends can provide for each other (which we saw with Peggy offering to get Jarvis’s things so he could freshen up), there’s also a level of pain only the closest friends can inflict. And Jarvis went for the jugular with Peggy when he told her that everyone around her seems to die. That’s a very specific vulnerability Peggy has only shared with a small group of people, and he used that to hurt her as intensely as he could. While he was desperate and scared, this was a pair of episodes about choice, and he made the choice to use his words to inflict maximum emotional damage.
With those words—and Jarvis’s betrayal of her moments of vulnerability—fresh in her mind, Peggy then made the choice to unleash her anger instead of hiding behind a stiff upper lip. I loved that we saw her take a beat before delivering a completely composed verbal smack-down, highlighting the fact that she was making a conscious choice to make Jarvis feel guilty and small. Her words carried weight: Jarvis had always referred to their missions as “adventures,” and Peggy finally told him that these aren’t larks for her. They’re her life. Peggy is no stranger to pain and loss, but she’s never blamed anyone but herself for the losses she’s suffered. And she reminded Jarvis that he’s always had a choice when it came to getting involved in her missions—just like he made the choice to shoot Whitney Frost point-blank. Peggy knows what it means to live with the choices you make in the field, and she didn’t want Jarvis to kill Whitney because she knows that’s a choice that changes a person.
Ultimately, Jarvis revealed to Peggy that Ana was no longer able to have children. Peggy made the choice in that moment to forgive Jarvis and to let all that had been said between them fade away—and Jarvis clearly did the same. That scene was filled with such powerful emotional beats, and Atwell and James D’Arcy knocked it out of the park in the way only two actors who truly trust each other could do.
After coming to a new place of understanding, Peggy helped Jarvis see that he had a choice: He could continue his quest for vengeance, or he could be by his wife’s side (and be brave enough to choose to tell her truth about her inability to have a baby). And that was an easy choice for him to make. The depth of feeling D’Arcy poured into this pair of episodes was incredible. I was emotionally wrecked after his scene at Ana’s bedside, making her promises so beautifully specific that they added brilliant depth and warmth to a marriage we’ve only seen onscreen a few times. It was a powerful example of the way Agent Carter has grown this season to allow us to care about so many characters beyond just Peggy.
Because Ana Jarvis is better than all of us, she knew that—even though her husband would always choose her over everything—there was another woman who needed him more. She made the selfless choice to tell Edwin to leave her and go to Peggy’s side, even though we know now how nervous Ana is every time Edwin goes on a mission. Kudos to the writers and to Lotte Verbeek for creating such a marvelous character in Ana Jarvis, a woman who has been given more admirable traits in a tiny amount of screen time than many female characters are given in full seasons of TV shows.
Speaking of amazing female characters, how great is Whitney Frost? Every week, I find myself more and more captivated by this character. This week, I was fascinated by the interactions between her and Jason. I loved the moment when she talked to him about controlling Zero Matter instead of letting it control him. Both Whitney and Jason are people who have spent much of their lives being defined by things they couldn’t control (her gender, his race). So Whitney’s speech about choosing to use Zero Matter instead of fighting against it resonated on a deeper level as symbolic of choosing to see the parts of yourself you might want to change as a gateway to unique power instead. But in Whitney’s case, she wants to use that unique power to hurt a lot of people, which takes away most of the positive social implications of her message.
Whitney may be a supervillain, but she owns the choices she’s made on that path. And when Joseph Manfredi encouraged her to show off the Zero Matter markings on her face, it felt like the moment she finally chose to embrace all of who she’s become. This is how I like my villains: unapologetic and open about their dark choices. Whitney isn’t pretending to be someone she’s not anymore; she owns who she is and what she wants. And while who she is and what she wants aren’t things anyone should be aspiring to, she is a great example of what it means to take ownership of your true self and the choices you make.
On the other side of the spectrum we have Vernon Masters, who’s made a habit of trading in lies, deceit, and dealings in the shadows. It was interesting to watch Jack Thompson finally see through him in this episode—with Peggy’s help, of course. Jack is better than Vernon Masters. He’s not perfect, but he still has a functional moral compass (even though he often tries to ignore it). And he knew he couldn’t make the choice to use lies about Peggy to bring her down. He couldn’t live with himself if he did that. Instead, Jack began engaging in a series of double and triple crosses that he knew would benefit him in the end, even if it meant killing others (including Vernon Masters) in the process. While the duplicity near the second episode’s conclusion became difficult to follow, I think the confusion I felt underscored a point about the problems that arise when dealing with people who aren’t honest about the choices they make.
A character who was nothing but honest about the choices he made in this pair of episodes was Jason. Jason was a desperate man, tormented by the Zero Matter in his body and the noises in his head, and—as we saw with Jarvis—desperation can bring out dark and dangerous sides of a person. Jason’s desperation led him to turn a gun on Peggy, using Daniel’s love for her to get him to reveal the location of the uranium rods. While Peggy tried to explain away Jason’s actions as the influence of Zero Matter, he openly admitted to her that he was in his right mind when he made the choice to threaten her life. He didn’t make excuses for his actions; he owned up to what he did. And he also owned his ultimate decision to sacrifice himself in an effort to take down Whitney Frost (or at least that’s what it looked like he was doing at the end of the episode) rather than putting Peggy and everyone else in danger by letting her rescue him.
Jason made his choice, and it was heartbreaking to watch Peggy struggle with that choice. She’d already watched one man she loved choose to sacrifice himself, and now she had to watch another man she’d grown to care for make the same choice—to leave her behind and die for the greater good. I understood why Peggy didn’t want to accept Jason’s choice at first; she’d just begun to move on from Steve’s death and didn’t want to lose another person. And I also understood why she turned her gun on Jack in the episode’s closing moments; she was desperate and emotional, and this pair of episodes was all about the consequences of choices made with the heart and not the head.
Daniel articulated that theme earlier when he told Peggy she would have to be dispassionate in her dealings with Jason after he turned the gun on her. Daniel saw Jason’s actions for what they were—desperate choices made by a man who wanted to fix his body however he could—even though Peggy still wanted to blame Zero Matter. But Peggy called Daniel out, reminding him that he isn’t above thinking with his heart before his head, especially when it comes to her.
I loved that Daniel completely owned his choice after Peggy essentially scolded him for not letting Jason shoot her. You could tell that he didn’t regret it at all, and he would have risked nuclear arms being put in the wrong hands 100 times to keep Peggy alive. It might not have been the safest choice, but it was the only choice Daniel knew he could live with. Because, as he told Peggy earlier about Manfredi, “He’s a man in love.”
And Daniel knew Peggy would have made the same choice he did; she couldn’t deny it. The charged silence that followed Daniel asking Peggy if she could choose to let him die was powerful, especially knowing Peggy’s state of mind concerning her belief that everyone she cares about gets hurt or killed.
And that thought brings us back to the musical number that opened the episode. Peggy doesn’t appear to have to choose between two men anymore; Jason seemingly exploding into a cloud of Zero Matter probably eliminated him from the contest for Peggy’s affections. However, Peggy still has a choice: Let herself love again or close herself off to it out of fear.
Peggy and Daniel started this pair of episodes with a lovely bit of interaction that showed us what it might look like if Peggy made the choice to accept his love and let herself love him, too. When she told him about Ana Jarvis’s shooting (with that beautifully vulnerable crack in her voice) and gently touched the bandage over his eyebrow, it felt like I was watching a married pair of agents offer each other comfort after missions gone wrong. And that moment symbolized what I want Peggy to choose for herself more than anything else: partnership. I want her to choose to believe someone will be there for her and will let her be there for them, that someone will fight alongside her instead of leaving her to fight alone, and that she can have love that doesn’t leave. I appreciate a female character who chooses to remain romantically unattached for her own reasons, but I don’t want Peggy to choose that path just because she’s afraid to lose someone again. (And we do know that she eventually does choose to get married.)
No matter what Peggy chooses, as the song Angie sang in her dream said, it’s up to her. And I know she will own that choice just as she’s owned all her choices to this point.
If you want to do everything you can to keep this wonderful show alive as decisions are made about its fate, I strongly suggest you visit http://abc.go.com/feedback and tell them how much you love Agent Carter and want to see it return for a third season. Also, please keep using “#AgentCarter” on social media to express your love for the show and your desire to see it renewed. Let’s use our collective fangirl powers for good to do everything we can to ensure that Peggy gets to keep teaching us valuable life lessons for another season!