Agent Carter: 105 “The Iron Ceiling” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
This is more like it: after a couple of weeks of treading water, Agent Carter returns with a bang, including some familiar faces, a familiar organisation and some very interesting tidbits about what’s really going on with these people.
Picking up with the most intriguing thread from last week’s episode, “The Iron Ceiling” opens with some glimpses into a very strange boarding school – the girls in attendance are handcuffed to their beds during the night, made to watch and repeat dialogue from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and occasionally fight each other to the death. This is, of course, the Russian training academy for undercover operatives like ditzy Dottie and presumably the one and only Natasha Romanoff, albeit further down the line. In the comics it is known as the ‘Red Room’, but at this stage we don’t really know the nature of the academy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although all will soon become clear, I’m sure.
Anyway, post-flashback we see Dottie talking to, and ultimately stealing the room key from, our very own Peggy Carter, who has severed her ties with Howard Stark and Jarvis for the time being: although Jarvis tries to talk her round, she refuses to help him and goes back to the SSR. Fortunately, after Jarvis implying that she is not being properly utilised in her current position, she is given an opportunity to prove her worth: Sasha Demidov’s typewriter-communicator activated at the end of last episode, and they’re trying to decipher the code. Where a straight-laced codebreaker from the CIA fails to crack it, Peggy nails it instantly and reveals the existence of Leviathan to the SSR. Not only that, but the code reveals the location of an exchange due to go down in Belarus, and Peggy aptly argues her case for accompanying the team on the assignment, and they head out to meet their contacts in the 107th Regiment: otherwise known as the Howling Commandos.
As the two teams meet on the Russian border, we are re-introduced to the Commandos and their respective codenames: ‘Junior’ Juniper, ‘Pinky’ Pinkerton, ‘Happy Sam’ Sawyer and of course, the handsomely-moustachioed and bowler-hatted Timothy ‘Dum-Dum’ Dugan played here, as in Captain America: The First Avenger with real charm by Neal McDonough. The Commandos provide transport to get them into Russia, the ride giving Peggy and Dum-Dum a chance to catch up: he realises quickly that she is being uner-utilised in the SSR, and they reminisce about the old days over some fine American bourbon.
Eventually, they manage to infiltrate the compound at which the exchange was due to go down, and find the Russian training academy, including a young girl who attacks the teams, kills Junior and escapes, alerting a team of Soviet soldiers to their presence. During the fight, the SSR manage to spring a genuine real-life mad scientist and his psychiatrist Dr Ivchenko from Leviathan custody, where they were attempting to force the scientist into building one of Stark’s weapons from stolen blueprints.
Even though Agent Thompson freezes during the escape (more on that in a moment), they manage to get out thanks to some sharp shooting from Peggy, and they even manage to get Ivchenko out as well, allowing him to not only keep his life (and the rest of Peggy’s bourbon), but also offering him a job at the SSR, which he accepts. In turn, Dum-Dum offers Peggy a chance to come back and work with the Commandos, which she turns down as she doesn’t believe her place is in the field any more.
As they return to the SSR, Thompson actually gives Peggy some praise in front of Dooley, and then goes and arses it up by disagreeing with Peggy about Howard Stark’s potential involvement with Leviathan. However, there are some interesting moments revealing some chinks in Agent Thompson’s armour throughout the episode: Dooley suggests that he acts the way he does to Peggy because he has a crush on her, something which Thompson doesn’t dispute, and during the plane ride Peggy realises that Thompson hasn’t done a parachute jump before. Then, as the SSR and the Commandos rest around a campfire, he tells a story about how he got his Navy Cross medal: he witnessed a group of Japanese soldiers infiltrating the US camp and killed all of them before anybody else woke up. However, after a crisis of confidence and a near-breakdown in the Leviathan compound, he reveals to Peggy that he panicked and shot them without realising they were carrying a white flag: he also tells her that he buried the white flag before anybody else could see it, and he’s been carrying the guilt around with him ever since.
Elsewhere, Dottie breaks into Peggy’s apartment and finds her photographs of Stark’s inventory: not only that, but she has a real Single White Female moment wherein she sits in front of Peggy’s dress mirror and attempts to imitate her voice. Then, she leaves the room exactly as it was, including Peggy’s low-tech security technique of putting a piece of string over the lock of her door, allowing her to see if anyone has come in or out. It’s a good job that Dottie wasn’t more thorough in her investigation, otherwise the blood of Captain America (which, don’t forget, is hidden in Peggy’s Wall behind a painting) would now be in the hands of a Russian sleeper agent.
Finally, on the SSR side of things, Dooley interviews a drunk former newspaper journalist about Finow, and reveals that not only was Howard Stark involved in the ‘clean-up’ of the massacre, but the US military were there as well. It’s a fairly slow-burning storyline, but it seems as though Dooley’s private investigations may well turn up something huge for the show’s overall storyline.
Possibly just as huge as the other SSR plot, where with the assistance of some medical records, Sousa identifies the mystery blonde woman who was helping Howard Stark as our very own Peggy Carter.
“The Iron Ceiling” is a big improvement on the last couple of episodes, although I may be biased because I’m a big fan of Dum-Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandos. Here’s hoping we see more of them, or at the very least more episodes like this one in the remainder of the show’s limited run.