Last night was the fifth episode of Marvel’s Agent Carter, which means we are officially halfway through this series with only three episodes left. It was one of, if not the best, episode of the miniseries thus far. Partly thanks to seeing old friends, and partly to exploring an interesting new part of the Marvel universe.
One of the great things about the Marvel universe is that they create so many different kinds of heroes and villains. No one hero or villain is alike, they all have their own histories and motivations for being a hero or villain. Agent Carter explored that idea last night and it made for a great hour of both standalone television and understanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) better.
Last night’s episode started with the Black Widow program. Yes, the program that Natasha Romanoff gets her name from, and this is the first time we’ve seen it in the MCU. This program literally creates assassins and spies, getting directly to the meat of the episode’s theme. We see young girls who sleep handcuffed to their bed, have to recite the lines of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as they watch it (nice way to show the relationship between Marvel and Disney, too!), and then perfect their fighting skills. By fighting to the death.
I’m not kidding with that. It brings up some interesting questions, however (as well as nightmares). Do these little girls, perhaps only 10 or 11, have real instincts to kill or have they been created as such? Do we always have the choice to become a hero or a villain? Perhaps, and perhaps not. These girls, raised as Black Widows, don’t have much in the way of choice. It is all they know, and we see that with Dottie (Bridget Regan) who is now a Black Widow all grown up, just as murderous as ever. But can we blame her for this?
We don’t know her whole story, of course, nor do we know Natasha’s, but we know Natasha eventually becomes one of the good guys. (It is presumed we will see Natasha’s back story with the Black Widow program in Avengers: Age of Ultron and then hopefully we’ll have a better answer.) Dottie seems to enjoy what she does but does that enjoyment come from a natural place or has she been trained to enjoy it?
Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) discover part of this program on a mission to Russia, and we get to see other ways heroes and villains are created through this.
This episode gives us a better look at Thompson, for better or for worse. We learn he achieved a Navy Cross during World War II – but that he did it by shooting six Japanese soldiers who had come in to his camp to surrender and he buried the white flag. He confesses this latter part to Peggy at the end of the episode. He didn’t see the white flag until after he had killed the soldiers, but he also didn’t correct anyone, even when receiving a medal of honor.
He creates a mythic back story as a war hero – even when he himself does not believe it, as he admits to Peggy. War can create all kinds of people. Thompson thought he was saving the lives of his comrades, which is a valid concern. So was it wrong of him not to tell anyone the truth? In creating a heroic myth for himself, has he instead become a villain? There’s no easy answer here, and it’s nice to see Marvel tackling issues like these head-on.
While Thompson tears down his own image in this episode, he finally gets to see Peggy in action as the hero we know she’s been all along. With the Howling Commandos tagging along for this mission, she was back in her element and it was great to see. It was also great to see the 107th Division again, even if only one actor from Captain America: The First Avenger was able to cameo.
We see Peggy happy again, taking control in a world where she’s allowed to. Peggy is a hero by choice, and a damn good one, but she lives in a society that wants to fit her into a certain mold. We’ve seen her go against the orders of the S.S.R. in the past several episodes, acting as a hero to the audience but an unknown villain to the S.S.R. They forced her into a treasonous role and she is simply trying to do the best she can with that.
In this episode she becomes the hero she’s created for herself again, but only because the scenario allows for that. Once she returns to the United States, she’ll have to straddle that line again, but not by choice.
There’s no clear answer here, of course, as there shouldn’t be. It proposes interesting ideas, though, and continues to prove why Marvel has become the powerhouse they have.
Marvel’s Agent Carter has not consistently been an outstanding show, but this episode proved why it’s worthy of our time and a great part of the MCU. It helps us understand the larger universe, and give us great characters to reflect, both in good and bad ways.
What do you think after the events of this episode? Can we objectively qualify heroes and villains? Share your thoughts in the comments.