The Iron Ceiling Plot:
When the SSR intercepts a top secret message, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is the one who steps up to decode it. This puts her on the front lines of a dangerous secret mission in Soviet Russia with Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray). Fortunately for them, the Howling Commandos themselves, lead by Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough), are there to help. Meanwhile, Chief Dooley (Shea Whigham) and Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) investigate their respective leads, and Dottie (Bridget Regan) spies on Carter.
When Marvel’s Agent Carter was first announced way back when, many people wondered how the show would fit into the rest of the Cinematic Universe. Of course, there were the connections to Captain America and Iron Man, along with Carter’s appearances on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but none of this was new. We knew that Carter was one of the original members of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that Carter’s relationships with Cap and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) were well documented in the movies. Foolishly, I had believed that this would be the limit for Agent Carter. I couldn’t think of any other way for Carter’s adventures to connect with everyone else in the Universe. “The Iron Ceiling” proved that I was wrong, and I shouldn’t underestimate the clearly talented people behind this show. It was also a really awesome episode.
Dottie revealed herself to be a highly-trained killer in “The Blitzkrieg Button” through a move that was incredibly similar to what Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff can do. This lead many people to theorize that Carter’s neighbor was from the same program. “The Iron Ceiling” proved this as fact, and Agent Carter benefits from this immensely. First off, it makes Dottie an infinitely more compelling character. She’s a Black Widow herself, making her one unstoppable threat to Carter. Bridget Regan absolutely dominates the role, putting on a friendly face when she chats with Carter about exploring New York, and then becoming quite terrifying when she pokes around Carter’s apartment. Her impersonation of our heroine was really eerie, and the entire time you are unsettled knowing that Cap’s blood is right there. Dottie finding pictures of Stark’s technology is a slightly better outcome, but still pretty awful for the good guys. Needless to say, I’m loving this new antagonist, and I cannot wait to see what Dottie does in future episodes.
On top of seeing Dottie at work, we learned a solid amount about what happens in the Black Widow program. “The Iron Ceiling” opened up with young Russian girls handcuffed to beds, reciting all of Snow White, and then killing each other in ruthless hand to hand combat. In present day, a young girl ambushes the team and either kills or injures several members. It was brutal. Not only does this give us brief insight into how Dottie became this killer, it gives us more back story into the Cinematic Universe’s breakout character: Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. People believe we’ll see Romanoff’s history in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but seeing the background of her parent program in Agent Carter is a great start. It’s safe to assume that Romanoff had to go through everything Dottie went through, which gives her character a horrific back story. I never expected Agent Carter to be our backdoor to learning more about this bad ass Avengers member, but I welcome this.
Of course, “The Iron Ceiling” wasn’t just about Dottie and the Black Widow program. The Howling Commandos are back! Okay, well, Dum Dum Dugan is with a few new people, but still! Dum Dum Dugan! ABC and Marvel were promoting this all week and the inclusion did not disappoint. Neal McDonough clearly loves to play Dugan, and his rapport with Carter is established immediately. Their bantering brought a significant sense of fun to this really intense episode. I know Dugan isn’t meant to be more than a guest character, but I already wish he was around every week.
This episode was great for Thompson too, who is most definitely not douche supreme anymore. “The Iron Ceiling” did an excellent job making us care for this guy and proved that everything about him is simply a front. He’s not the confident agent who can command respect by walking into a room. He’s a soldier who is suffering from PTSD and desperately wants to get his story out there. Thompson breaking down during the mission was a really powerful moment, eclipsed only by his final conversation with Carter about what he did during World War II. I’m sure Thompson won’t stop considering women are inferior just because he now has a bond with Carter, but there is new respect between the two.
Dooley and Sousa continued doing their own respective missions, but only Sousa’s really paid off. Dooley continues his personal quest against Stark and it’s difficult to really get invested in it. Stark may have been involved with Finow in some form, yet this doesn’t betray our already existing knowledge that he’s one of the good guys. You get the sense that Dooley is reaching this conclusion as well, especially after he asks Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) for more about Stark’s past. Wherever Dooley’s investigation leads, it’s hard to imagine it changing our perception of Stark that significantly.
Sousa is the one who stands out in comparison. Through good old detective work, Sousa figures out that the blonde from the party was actually Carter herself. As we saw in next week’s preview, this discovery changes everything. It’ll be fun watching Sousa and the SSR play antagonist for a while as Carter tries to prove her own innocence. I think what I like most about this sub-plot though is it actually gives Sousa something major to do. While everyone else is off doing missions, Sousa stays behind because of his busted leg. Yet by being confined to a desk, Sousa does more to propel this story forward than anyone else. Enver Gjokaj does a great job selling Sousa’s turmoil too. This discovery is heavy and it completely changes his perception of who Carter is as a person.
There is one gripe I had with this episode though, and it has nothing to do with the characters or the action. It’s how the Russian landscape was shot. I know this is the show’s first foray into a vast outdoor area, but everything looked fake. The giant facility and the plane especially looked terrible when the camera was afar. It all looked incredibly unrealistic, with the lighting as the worst culprit. It completely took me out of the scenes. I know this is a television show with a limited budget but the least they could do is not make it all look like it was shot on a green screen.
Putting this issue aside, “The Iron Ceiling” was one incredible episode. The action was intense, its focus on Thompson, Dottie, and Carter were welcomed, and Sousa’s discovery gave us the perfect setup for next week’s episode. Unless another episode really blows me away later, I’d say this is a strong contender for best episode of the season.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.