Episode Title: Smoke and Mirrors
Originally Aired: February 2nd 2016
Ever since her first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter has been well established in one organization or another and always extremely capable. Who was Peggy Carter before World War II and how did she become the fearsome agent we know her as. In tonight’s episode we begin to get answers to these questions through a series of flashbacks that contrast the origin of Peggy to that of Whitney Frost. Their experiences as children and young adults give us a glimpse of what led the two characters to eventually face off.
As a young girl Peggy would often imagine she was the brave knight out to slay the dragon and save the princess. While being teasingly encouraged by her older brother Michael she was strongly discouraged by their mother. As time went on Peggy began to give in to the pressure to conform from her mother and society as a whole. This is shown in the second flashback where Peggy is working in an office while discussing her recent engagement with the rest of the girls. While congratulating her on one proposal her boss offers her another, she has been tapped to join the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.). This is one of the first times that we see a fearful and unsure Peggy as her desire for a life of adventure fights against the wishes of her mother, her fiance and most of society. It is the actions of her brother Michael that eventually gets her to focus on herself and go after the life of adventure that she has always dreamed of. Throughout the main body of the episode we see Peggy embracing her femininity through her choice of clothes. She could be dressed just like each of her male colleagues but instead she decides on something that makes her stand out and is distinctively feminine. She doesn’t forsake function for femininity however, even though in silhouette it may look like she is wearing a pencil skirt which was very popular in that era she is instead wearing wide legged pants blending the feminine with the masculine.
Agnes Cully who would eventually become Whitney Frost was not so lucky, she lacked a single positive or encouraging presence in her home life. She lived alone with her mother who got through life solely on her good looks. She encouraged her daughter to give up her dreams of becoming a scientist and to instead focus on her looks so she could find a man of her own to take care of her. From an early age she is encouraged to put on a happy face to make the men in her life happy. When she was little this was something she struggled with while deep in thought, however it is a skill she would develop. We see her outside of a movie theater being discovered by a movie producer who once again encourages her to smile which she does. It is the performance of Wynn Everett that lets us know that Agnes is planning on something while brandishing a million watt smile. Whether it is to earn enough money to take the things her mother said she couldn’t have because of her gender or something more sinister we will have to wait and see. It is interesting to see that the zero matter crack that is forming is in the exact spot the movie producer first touched her. That day over a decade ago was when the Whitney Frost facade was first born and it is in this episode that it starts to die. She is embracing who she is and will take what she wants sacrificing the beauty that drew everyone to her for power. It is hard to tell whether she is Whitney Frost, Agnes Cully or Madame Masque at the end of this episode. Whoever she is she’s about to become the biggest threat to Peggy, the SSR, Hollywood and maybe even the rest of the world, we’ve seen on this show.
The flashbacks are tasked with fitting a lot of information into a few short scenes which can leave some of the performances feeling a bit unnatural as you only have a few seconds to make judgments on a character. While this is unfortunate it is a flaw that is easily overlooked as the flashbacks allow them to become more fully realized characters who have learned and grown from past experiences.
The overall plot of the season is really starting to take shape now as Peggy and her team continue to gain information about the members and the scope of the Arena Club’s power. While Peggy is off investigating Whitney is alone in her room with a cage full of rats testing her new abilities and her control over them. This episode is a little too light on the Jarvises for my taste. Edwin is mostly lost after the opening sequence thanks to Sousa and a tranquilizer dart, and Ana is not seen or heard from again in this episode. Hopefully we will see more of each of them in the future, but as long as we get plenty of Peggy I will continue to tune in and I hope you will too.