Now this is more like it. After weeks of only scattered fight scenes here and there, Agent Carter delivered its most action-centric installment yet, and arguably its best so far, with “The Iron Ceiling.” Not only that, but the show finally got to put its Captain America connection to real, actual dramatic use (beyond the increasingly tired name-checking each week) by bringing back The Howling Commandos from the movie, giving them time to shine that wasn’t handed to them previously and even fleshing out established people into the fully-fledged characters that they simply weren’t before.
Before diving into the meat of the episode, namely Carter and Thompson’s mission with the Commandos in Russia, the episode provides a prelude that expands on the mysterious Dottie after she unexpectedly showed some martial arts prowess against Mr. Mink last week. As some Marvel Comics fans predicted, Dottie is a byproduct of the same Black Widow KGB program that trained Scarlet Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe present day. We see Dottie go through the training regiment as a young girl (handily explaining how an 8-year-old Johansson would somehow be a part of the KGB) and the tough measures imposed on the girls being trained for the program. With Dottie investigating Peggy and the S.S.R. investigating Howard Stark’s Russian connections, it looks like the show is about to delve into the Cold War tensions in a way that has mostly been ignored so far in favor of corporations like Roxxon and Leviathan.
There’s a small subplot on the side with Dooley continuing his individual investigation of the Stark case, but since Dooley remains a rather straightforward stock character that’s unworthy of Shea Whigham’s talent (who has shown much greater depths on Boardwalk Empire), it doesn’t hold a candle to the Russian rendezvous with the Howling Commandos. The Commandos are a major part of the Captain America mythology, and yet since the MCU story dictated that Cap be put on ice for The Avengers to thaw him out of, they finally get their real due here after the movie was forced to leave them as side accessories. They’re not all in-depth characters exactly, and only Neal McDonough’s Dum Dum Dugan is really given the spotlight, but their reintroduction helps to show that Peggy does actually have some men out there in the military who respect her for who she is.
Pairing up Carter with Thompson was a smart storytelling move, forcing Thompson to spend time with war heroes who he should relate to but are on a different level when it comes to their treatment of Carter’s prowess. Peggy has shown time and time again that she’s a more than capable spy/officer with the smarts to back it up, but “The Iron Ceiling” also gives her plenty of opportunities to just be a plain bad ass. When everyone gets pinned down by Russian soldiers at the old Black Widow camp, where they find two scientists who know the truth of Stark’s involvement with the Russians, Peggy is the one who takes initiative and command of the situation. Thompson’s bluster and arrogance is all for naught as he freezes up during the shootout, leading Peggy to break his funk and send the man out before singlehandedly taking out almost every last enemy in the room. Sometimes female empowerment is as simple as handing them a sub machine gun to mow down the cannon fodder.
It’s nice to see the show actually killing off some of the good guys during this excursion (although no one close to major), showing that they’re not all invincible bullet deflectors, but the real reward of the mission wasn’t extracting the Russian scientists; it was the reveals about Thompson’s war past in the Pacific theater. If nothing else, “The Iron Ceiling” cements Thompson’s position as a pivotal character in this story more than any other episode prior to this one, showing a man who masks his great shame of accidentally murdering surrendering Japanese soldiers (and then covering it up by burying their white flag) with a thick layer of arrogance and superiority complex. Agent Jack Thompson, in spite of his general apathy towards our great heroine, contains a deep reservoir of sympathetic humanity that has waited for this moment to spill out. What this means for his and Carter’s developing work relationship remains to be seen in the coming weeks.
EPISODE RATING: 8/10