Agent Carter’s second season will run for ten episodes. If it had stayed at eight, like the first season did, I suspect the “The Atomic Job” would have been on the chopping block. Coming after last week’s flashback-heavy meditation on Peggy Carter and Whitney Frost, “The Atomic Job” keeps things light and zippy — even as our heroes race to disarm a nuclear weapon that could flatten Los Angeles. That breeziness doesn’t make it a bad episode, just a curiously inessential one.
The episode opens as Peggy is awakened by Jason Wilkes, who has discovered that a tissue sample from Jane Scott — the “lady in the lake” corpse from the premiere — allows him to turn him solid for a brief period. (It also turns the whites of his eyes black, for unknown reasons that are almost definitely bad.) Jason’s brilliant science brain has led him to a similarly brilliant hypothesis: If he can get a hold of Jane’s body, then he’ll get more corporeal time. That’s good enough for Peggy, who grabs Jarvis and rushes off to the facility where Jane’s body is stored.
Unfortunately, they’re two steps behind Whitney Frost. Peggy watches as Whitney touches the corpse, absorbing its dark energy, before setting her sights on a considerably more destructive source of power: “I need an atomic bomb,” she tells her terrified husband, Cal.
Both Peggy and Whitney know where she can find one: Roxxon, the corporation led by Howard Stark’s rival, Hugh Jones (returning guest star Ray Wise). That leads to the first of the episode’s wacky action sequences, as Peggy infiltrates Jones’s office and repeatedly zaps him with an experimental piece of S.S.R. technology that makes him forget the events of the previous two minutes. Six zaps are enough to discover where Jones hides his access key — it’s in his belt buckle, like the weird pervert he is — and the “race” for the nuke is on.
I put the word “race” in quotes because the climax ends up feeling more like tortoise against tortoise than tortoise against hare. In theory, this is one of the more important missions Peggy has ever embarked upon. If mishandled by hero or villain, a single uranium rod could destroy the entire city. I don’t expect Agent Carter to pull a 24 and nuke Los Angeles, but it would be nice to get some sense of the stakes. Instead, this is easily the goofiest mission of the second season, as Peggy and Sousa assemble the ragtaggiest of ragtag crews for this life-or-death mission: Peggy, Sousa, Jarvis, receptionist-agent Rose Roberts (Lesley Boone), and cranky scientist Dr. Aloysius Samberly (Matt Braunger).
When Peggy and the rest of her team arrive, they discover that Whitney Frost has already dispatched the guards who could stand in their way. After some standard-issue ass-kicking, our heroes reach the bomb storage — except Jarvis ends up locked in the room, alone. The team’s reluctant bomb-defuser is ultimately successful, with plenty of coaching from Sousa through the door.
Since the nuke scenario is played for laughs instead of suspense, it’s up to the standoff between Peggy and Whitney Frost to deliver the episode’s dramatic goods. After a brief fracas, Peggy appeals to Whitney’s human side, promising that she can still be cured. Unfortunately, that turns out to be a bad gamble: “Why would I want to be fixed? I’ve never felt more powerful in my entire life,” Whitney scoffs, before knocking Peggy off a ledge. Our hero careens onto an errant rebar, which impales her straight through the gut.
There’s nothing in Agent Carter that suggests Peggy has superpowers, but you wouldn’t know that from her remarkable, almost Wolverine-level ability to shrug off being impaled through her stomach as she flees the base. Frost gets away without the nuke, but Peggy isn’t that far behind her. Eventually, Sousa rushes her off to be treated by Violet, his fiancée.
And that’s when the big emotional stakes of “The Atomic Job” kick in. Several episodes ago, Sousa’s attempt to propose to Violet was interrupted by Peggy; this week, it’s interrupted by his own clumsiness, as he loses the ring in Violet’s couch. Despite Sousa’s literal failure to put a ring on it, Violet accepts his marriage proposal anyway, and the two are poised for wedded bliss.
Or they are until Violet sees how frantically Sousa is reacting to Peggy’s wound. Everything changes after that. “I think you’re in love with her,” she says. “Are you, Daniel?” His uncomfortable pause is longer and more telling than any answer could have been.
Violet’s confrontation is a smart moment of empathy and forthrightness from a character who previously seemed pretty thin. When Violet was introduced, she was so pure — right down to her lily-white nurse’s uniform and basket of fresh-baked cookies — that it seemed like she must be a villain, getting close to Daniel in an effort to infiltrate the S.S.R. Of course, Agent Carter has already done that twist, so I’m happy that “The Atomic Job” gives Violet more depth without revealing she’s a coldhearted sleeper agent.
Whatever the future has in store for Sousa and Violet, it seems like Peggy has moved on from whatever still-pretty-ill-defined thing she had with him. As the episode ends, Peggy settles into bed while (a now-incorporeal) Jason Wilkes stands by her side. He’s learned more about Zero Matter, and in time, he’ll need to brief Peggy on his findings — but given the day she’s had, the two agree to table all their shop talk for the evening and enjoy the radio, which happens to be playing the song from their sole dance.
Of course, Agent Carter isn’t the kind of show that lets its protagonist stay happy and idle for long. Wilkes suddenly vanishes, drawn deeper into whatever Zero Matter parallel universe has a claim on him. Let’s hope any lingering pain Peggy has from that gut wound goes away soon, because Wilkes clearly doesn’t have much time left.
- A new couple for Agent Carter fans to ship: Rose and Dr. Samberly, who briefly pose as a married couple (to the utter delight of the latter).
- And a couple to mourn, if you care about the rocky marriage of our villains: Whitney Frost and Calvin Chadwick. By the end of the episode, he’s rattled enough by her superpowers (and, perhaps, by her newfound unwillingness to play the good wife) that he calls an emergency Council of Nine meeting to deal with her.
- “The Atomic Job” also introduces a new ally for Whitney: Joseph Manfredi (Ken Marino), a shady mobster with a hair-trigger temper, who will surely play a larger role as the season continues. Like Whitney Frost, Manfredi has been significantly reinterpreted for Agent Carter. In the comics, he’s a member of the Circus of Crime who goes by the sobriquet Blackwing. He controls genetically engineered bats, and his costume bears more than a passing resemblance to Batman’s.
- I don’t really understand why defusing the nuke was so urgent. If no one could open that locked door, did Jarvis have to handle it immediately? Why wouldn’t they have waited until Sousa got inside?
- “Not everyone’s cut out for Hollywood.” A terrible one-liner before you drop your adversary over a ledge? Now you’re a supervillain, Whitney.
- Next week: Dottie Underwood returns, and Peggy makes a desperate gambit to save Jason Wilkes.