Agent Carter: 108 “Valediction” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
So, we’ve come to the end of Agent Carter’s short but self-contained run and, considering Marvel’s past form, “Valediction” seemed likely to do some big, impressive things. But surprisingly, particularly in comparison to the events that capped off the first half of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s midseason finale, what we actually got was a much more personal, intimate conclusion which successfully laid this part of Peggy Carter’s life to rest.
This is where I think I’ve been going wrong with my recaps of Agent Carter: going into it, I thought it would be more like a period version of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and therefore I expected the same kinds of explosive, game-changing storylines. But at its heart, and I should have realised this a lot earlier particularly considering the name of the show, Agent Carter is Peggy’s story, an exploration of an extraordinary woman and an important figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was never going to be about the big, world-changing events that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shows, and a more subdued, personal story about not only Peggy, but also Captain America, makes for the ideal way to round off this wonderful mini-series.
The plot of this episode is fairly simple as a continuation of last week’s episode, as Peggy and the investigate the incident at the cinema from the end of last week’s episode, where they discover that around forty people brutally murdered each other in the theatre. Sousa finds the gas canister that Dottie left, and it squirts a small amount of the chemical into his face, sending him flying into a homicidal rage and attacking Thompson before he is knocked out. He recovers pretty quickly, and Peggy realises that Ivchenko must be planning a larger attack with the gas: however, they are interrupted by the arrival of Mr Most Wanted himself, Howard Stark, who turns himself and information about his inventions over to the SSR.
He is able to tell them that the gas is called ‘Midnight Oil’ and was created accidentally while attempting to create a serum which would allow soldiers to continue operating without sleep. It was tested on a group of Russian soldiers in Finow, but they soon discovered that the serum was imperfect and caused many of the side effects of severe sleep deprivation including psychosis: they also discover that Dr Ivchenko, also known as Johann Fennoff, was a soldier at Finow who managed to survive the mistake and is clearly now gunning for revenge against Howard.
In an attempt to clear his conscience and repair his relationship with Peggy, Howard volunteers to act as bait during a press conference in which he somewhat forces Thompson to sing his praises and hail him as a hero and genius. Someone does end up taking a couple of shots at him, and while Peggy and Thompson find that it was a rifle rigged to fire automatically, Howard is kidnapped by a police officer brainwashed by Fennhoff. However, Peggy works out that Fennhoff must be planning to disperse the Midnight Oil by air over the VE Day parade, and Jarvis confirms that Howard has a secret hangar which they are likely going to be taking off from.
Sure enough, Fennhoff and Dottie are at Howard’s private hangar, which was revealed to them when he spent an apparently less-than memorable weekend with Dottie six months ago. Fennhoff hypnotises Howard into trying to absolve his guilt over Captain America’s apparent death, tricking him into believing that he has found the wreckage from the crash which claimed his life, and getting him into a plane. However, he is actually being guided towards Manhattan ready to unleash the Midnight Oil, but Peggy, Sousa, Thompson and Jarvis show up in the nick of time. Jarvis goes up in a plane in order to shoot Howard down if Peggy can’t get him to see sense, while Peggy has a brutal throwdown with Dottie and Thompson and Sousa confront Fennhoff.
After taking something of a beating, Peggy manages to gain the upper hand by kicking Dottie out of a window, where she lands on the wing of a plane in an awkward fashion apparently dead or severely injured. Fennhoff, on the other hand, uses his wiles to hypnotise Sousa into killing Thompson, and as Sousa gets close to Fennhoff he knocks him unconscious, revealing that he was wearing earplugs the whole time.
Meanwhile, Peggy talks to Howard over the long-range radio, begging him to turn the plane around even as Howard is convinced that he can save Steve. It’s a pretty emotional moment as Peggy is forced into the same situation that she was when she lost the man she loved, stuck on the end of a radio as they fly towards almost certain doom. However, this time she is able to save her friend and snap Howard out of the hypnosis before he can do something he would really regret, and the day is saved.
Naturally, Peggy gets none of the thanks from the US Government, with that honour going instead to Agent Thompson, but she tells Sousa that she doesn’t really care what other people think of her, as long as she knows what she did. Sousa finally gets up the courage to ask Peggy out for a drink, and even though she declines his offer on this occasion she is clearly happy that he asked, possibly indicating towards future romance?
As the season comes to close, Howard allows Peggy and Angie to move into one of his apartments rent-free, and Jarvis tells Peggy that if she ever needs his services again, she need only ask and he would drop everything to help her. It’s a touching enough moment already, particularly considering that the relationship between these two characters has been one of the highlights of the season, but Jarvis takes it to another level by giving Peggy the vial of Steve’s blood. He tells her that he stole it, telling Howard that it had gone missing in the confusion, and that there is only one person qualified to decide what to do with it: Peggy. And what she decides to do with it is empty the vial into the East River, finally letting go of the man she loved and lost, and closing this particular chapter of Agent Peggy Carter’s life.
However, this wouldn’t be Marvel without a little end-credits tease, and this time we see Fennhoff, gagged and unable to speak, being delivered to his prison cell: however, his cellmate sees potential in him and offers a pencil and paper to allow them to collaborate on ideas for the future. This would be an issue at the best of times, but seeing as his new cellmate is evil Nazi scientist and future computer-brain Arnim Zola, in this case it’s pretty much disastrous.
While I’m a little disappointed that the overarching threat of ‘Leviathan’ turned out to be a petty revenge plot, “Valediction” was nonetheless a wonderfully warm, emotional and yet action-packed and thoroughly satisfying way to bring this season of Agent Carter to a close. However, while this feels like a conclusion, it in no way feels like an ending, and there are plenty more opportunities left to explore a fascinating character and an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So here’s hoping for season two!