“Dwelling on what might have been is no way to live.”
We can’t change the past, and we can’t control the future. But we can choose how we deal with the present. A life lived as a slave to the hypothetical is a life half-lived, so it’s up to us to make the present the best it can be. Peggy Carter’s journey this season has been about moving away from the hypothetical—her longing over what might have been and her fears of what could be—and allowing herself to find a place in the present where she belongs and feels happy. That journey created a season of Agent Carter that was allowed to grow with its heroine and a finale that showcased the power of choosing to live in the present and forge a path without regrets.
As a Catholic schoolgirl, I learned a prayer when I was younger that I still use as a mantra today:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s in that balance between serenity, courage, and wisdom that we find happiness in the present. And “Hollywood Ending” highlighted the ways all of this season’s major players worked to find that balance.
Naturally, the character who struggled the most with that balance was Whitney Frost. If I had one major complaint about “Hollywood Ending,” it was that Whitney’s defeat felt anticlimactic and not worthy of the complexity of her character. I would have loved for her to have been the reason the rift stayed open instead of her playing no real role in that life-or-death situation. However, the scenes before and after the Zero Matter was taken from her were much more interesting.
Watching the madness take hold of Whitney was fascinating, and Wynn Everett was once again at the top of her game. Whitney believed this was her way of making the most of the present, of choosing her happiness. She’d spent so many years listening to what other people told her to do and living the life she thought she was supposed to live, but it broke my heart to see that all she was doing now was listening to another voice telling her what to do—the voice of Zero Matter.
Whitney’s desire to grow more powerful on her own set up another excellent parallel between her and Peggy. While Peggy learned that she could achieve more by allowing others to fight alongside her, Whitney chose to push everyone else away. Peggy entered that final showdown with a whole team beside her, but Whitney entered it alone.
However, there was one person who was still fighting for Whitney over the voices of Zero Matter—and that was the man who loved her. Yes, Joseph Manfredi is a villain in his own right, but I’m a sucker for a man who loves a strong woman—and that’s who Joseph turned out to be. He knew a life with Whitney—the real Whitney—was worth fighting for. Even if it meant working with Team Carter to save the woman he loved (which gave us that fantastic scene of him holding Jarvis at gunpoint).
It broke my heart to see Joseph visit Whitney at the episode’s end, only to discover that she’d lost the one thing she valued above all others: her mind. She was now a slave to what might have been—desperately trying to get back to a place of power by any means necessary, including clawing at her own face to open it up. It was a chilling final moment that was worthy of such a great character, and that final scene made up for the fact that the actual climax of her story was a bit underwhelming.
Unlike Whitney, Jason Wilkes refused to be controlled by Zero Matter. He chose a different path for himself—a hero’s path. And while it felt a little convenient for his explosion to take away all his Zero Matter, I wasn’t complaining, because it was nice to see him join Team Carter as himself. Jason is a fundamentally good man who made desperate choices when faced with an impossible situation, and I liked that no one held that against him. What mattered weren’t the choices he made in the past but the choices he was making in the present. And in the end, he found where he belonged.
Ultimately, that wasn’t with Peggy romantically, but I found it refreshing that he accepted her choice and didn’t try to change her mind. He found the serenity to accept what he couldn’t change and appreciated the brief connection they’d shared without asking for more. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better, more mature resolution for a love triangle in all my years of consuming media. And it made me so happy to see that he was going to make the most of the present by joining Howard on a new project. Jason—like Whitney—had spent a long time believing he didn’t belong anywhere because of things he couldn’t control. But Peggy’s team—especially Howard—respected him. And instead of being motivated by his mistreatment in the past to push them away, he chose a path that would make him happy with people who made him feel valued.
And speaking of Howard Stark, how great was it to see him again in this finale? In last season’s finale, we were shown that Howard has things that still cause him to wonder what might have been (Steve’s death), but he’s the most entertaining example on this show of someone who has chosen to live in the present and make the most of each moment. He’s one of those characters who instantly brighten a show with their presence, and he definitely had the best lines in this episode. (My personal favorite: “Peg, I want you to know I’m not thinking any unsavory thoughts about you right now. Wait…there’s one.”) Howard is more than just comedic relief, though—no matter how excellent that comedic relief is. He is one of the central parts of Peggy’s support system, and their snarky, sibling-like dynamic is one I always want to see more of. In fact, my biggest hope—should this show get a third season—is to see them build S.H.I.E.L.D. together.
The other founding member of Team Carter is Edwin Jarvis, and I thought he was used perfectly in this episode. James D’Arcy was once again allowed to show his excellent range—making me laugh (his exuberance when he was asked to take Peggy to the airport) and making me tear up (his conversation with Peggy about Ana). It’s the latter that I’m still thinking about today. Jarvis and Ana poignantly reflected the theme of not dwelling on what might have been and instead finding happiness in the present. As Jarvis told Peggy, Ana’s strength comes from her optimism. When faced with the pain of discovering she couldn’t have children, she didn’t fall apart or dwell on what she lost. Instead, she and her husband continued to draw strength from each other, highlighting the fact that this relationship has become one of the best depictions of a loving marriage on television.
Jarvis even got the chance to help save the day, discovering that Howard’s hover-car could be used to carry the bomb needed to close the rift. The climax of the episode highlighted the fact that each character involved had been given enough depth this season to show why they add value to Team Carter. Did Peggy save the day on her own? No. But the point is, she didn’t have to this time. Instead, she was at the center of a team of people who were all needed to get the job done. This season has been about Peggy discovering that just because she can do things alone doesn’t mean she has to—more can be achieved when you reach out to others than when you close yourself off from people’s help. (Just look at what happened to Whitney.) It’s important for women to believe they can be independent, but it’s also important for them to believe there’s no weakness in working with others to accomplish something. It was inspiring to watch Peggy fight her own battles last season, but it was also inspiring to watch her find people willing to fight beside her this season.
In this episode’s climax, we saw Peggy’s team literally have her back as she reached out to finally save someone she loved instead of losing them. The revelation that Daniel was going to try to manually close the rift created a striking parallel to the skinny Steve Rogers Peggy fell in love with during the war. Steve was willing to jump on a live grenade without a second thought, and Daniel also didn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself to save everyone else.
That moment also created another heartbreaking parallel with Steve’s final sacrifice. But Peggy wasn’t about to let Daniel meet the same fate as Steve. There was such powerful symbolism in the moment she grabbed the fire hose attached to him and held on with all her might. In that moment, Peggy chose to find the courage to change what she could. She might not have been able to change what might have been with her brother and Steve, but she could fight for Daniel. Peggy had to watch love, happiness, and hope slip through her fingers too many times, and it made me so proud to see her push back against what she thought was her fate, holding on to this chance at happiness with both hands and refusing to let go.
And just when it looked as if Peggy would once again lose her battle to hold on to someone she loved, Howard, Jason, and even Jack Thompson appeared to help her. And then Jarvis and Samerbly used the car to close the rift. They all worked together, bringing the season’s major theme of allowing others to help you to the forefront in a powerful way.
And when Daniel was safely back on the ground, it was clear from the beautiful look on Peggy’s face that she’d come to the same realization Daniel came to when she was bleeding out on Violet’s couch: She loves him, and she can’t lose him. She tried to fight her feelings for so long because of her fear of the hypothetical—the fear of what could happen to him because of her reputation for losing those closest to her. But now, she faced that fear and, for the first time, someone she loved came back to her instead of being ripped away. Hayley Atwell played that moment of realization perfectly, and I loved that Enver Gjokaj was given a chance to show Daniel reacting to the soft expression on Peggy’s face, allowing him to finally see how much he means to her.
Ultimately, we all knew Peggy wasn’t going to back to New York. She belonged in L.A.—it was where she’d grown into a happier version of herself with a formidable team behind her. But Peggy first needed to admit that she had—as Jarvis said—one compelling reason to stay. Jarvis knows better than anyone that when you find happiness and love, you hold on to it and you fight for it. And he wasn’t about to let his friend walk away without at least trying to open her heart to Daniel, because he knew if she didn’t, she would wonder what might have been for the rest of her life.
Thankfully, Daniel seemed prepared to fight for his happiness instead of wondering—like he did for those months without Peggy in L.A.—what might have been. I cannot say enough good things about Gjokaj in that final scene in Daniel’s office. Gone was the wounded puppy or the man who put Peggy on a pedestal, and in his place was a man who sees and loves exactly who Peggy is—flaws and all—and has decided to act on the fact that he knows she has feelings for him because of what she did when the rift was open. He exuded confidence in that scene, and it was the perfect culmination of his character arc this season—from someone who hid his true feelings to someone who owned them.
I loved the callback to the show’s pilot, with Peggy thinking Daniel was about to thank her and Daniel turning the tables. It was playful and challenging and not-so-surprisingly sexy. You could feel the tension building as Daniel proved why he’s Peggy’s perfect match—he loves her, respects her, and admires her strength, but he is not intimidated by her. They’re equals and partners. He’ll challenge her, and that’s exactly what he did in this moment, daring her to admit that she couldn’t be dispassionate about him any more than he could be dispassionate about her.
And then, like always, Peggy took charge. With fire in her eyes and determination in her body language, she did just what she did on Howard’s movie set: She grabbed her chance at happiness with both hands and held on as tightly as she could. I loved that she didn’t kiss him gently or tentatively; she knew what she wanted, and she didn’t hold anything back. For too long, she’d denied herself happiness because she was caught between a past full of grief and a future full of fear. But she didn’t lose Daniel; she got to keep him. And she was going to make the most of that. Both Peggy and Daniel spent too long believing their destiny was to lose, so I loved that when they realized they’d found something that was theirs to keep, they didn’t let go. Not even Peggy knocking him off his feet deterred her; she just climbed into his lap and carried on.
I actually found myself crying right before they went in for their second kiss because there was something so sincerely hopeful about the smiles on both Atwell and Gjokaj’s faces. As the absolutely perfect music choice of “Oh, But I Do” started to play, I found myself overwhelmed with happiness at seeing Peggy and Daniel so happy. Peggy Carter is a fighter, and we finally got to see her fight for her own happiness after spending so long thinking that might not be in the cards for her. And we got to see her find it with a man who smiles at her like she makes him just as happy as he makes her—a man who kisses her with a strength and passion that matches her own. If that’s the “Hollywood ending” we get for those two characters, I couldn’t imagine a more satisfying one.
The one ending I refuse to accept was the one given to Jack Thompson. Just when Jack finally became part of Team Carter, sharing that beautiful moment of vulnerability with Peggy that hinted that these two could actually become friends, he was shot point-blank in his room. If the show was guaranteed another season, I’d love that cliffhanger, but if that’s the last we see of Jack, I’ll be the one dwelling on what might have been.
As much as it pains me to write this, “Hollywood Ending” might have been the end for Agent Carter. But if this episode taught me anything, it’s to fight for what you can control and accept what you can’t. If this is the end, it’s been a true pleasure writing about this gem of a show and becoming part of a beautiful fandom. Thank you for allowing me to feel like I have my own Team Carter behind me. But as long as there is still a battle to fight for this show’s future, I’m going to fight. And I encourage all of you to do the same. Please use “#RenewAgentCarter” on social media to express you desire to see this show picked up for a third season and, more importantly, go to http://abc.go.com/feedback and tell the network directly why Agent Carter should be saved. In this finale, Peggy fought to hold on to what made her happy, and I intend to do the same when it comes to this show and all the joy and inspiration it’s given me.