MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER: The Iron Ceiling (television mini-series critique)


The fifth episode of Agent Carter is chockfull of notable moments. There’s a reference to the Turing Test, something that half of the audience (myself included) wouldn’t get if this show had aired before The Imitation Game premiered. We also get a cameo from Smallville alum John Glover that begs the Fringe-worthy question — Can actors associated with one live-action comic book universe cross into another without parallel multiverses imploding? And then there’s the reappearance of Captain America’s personal platoon — the Howling Commandos.

On their own, all of these ingredients are great, but when blended together, do they amount to an hour of T.V. worth watching? To quote Dum Dum Dugan (and not gmail’s rival), “Yahoo!”

See Agent Carter fight alongside Dum Dum Dugan!

The Iron Ceiling, written by Jose Molina, co-host of the Children of Tendu screenwriting podcast, features more action than the past two episodes combined, which makes it all the more surprising that some scenes are rather lackluster.

Of particular lacklustfulness (Or should it be lacklustiness? Neither will win Scrabble.) is some stilted farewell dialog between guest-star Neal McDonough and a defecting Russian scientist. The awkwardness of the scene would be right at home on The Office, but it has no business in a pulpy post-war adventure.

What the script lacks in oomph, however, it makes up for in other ways. Molina deepens the characters and relationships surrounding Peggy. He also deepens the espionage corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We start to see nicer sides of Thompson and Dooley, Peggy’s sexist S.S.R. co-workers. At the objection of Thompson, Dooley sends Peggy on her first official mission after she convinces him of her qualifications. Not only has she spent time in Russia, the location of the mission, but she has a direct line to essential personnel that the other agents lack, i.e. she’s fought alongside the 107th Infantry Regiment, A.K.A. the Howling Commandos, who, during World War II, were under the command of her “deceased” boyfriend, Captain Steve Rogers.


See her stand behind Agent Thompson!

While in Russia, we learn Thompson’s wartime history. He won a prestigious Navy Cross for heroism, but doesn’t feel particularly heroic about it. The others wonder why, especially later when Thompson freezes in fear during a firefight. Eventually he tells Peggy the truth behind his “heroism.”

The enemy soldiers Thompson killed to save his sleeping squad weren’t approaching to attack them, like he led everyone to believe. They were approaching to surrender. Confessing this to Peggy leads to a nice moment when he invites her out to drinks with the guys.

While Peg and Thompson bond over bourbon and bombs, their fellow agents conduct their own investigations back in the States. Like Sam Gerard hot on the trail of Dr. Kimble, Dooley learns that Howard Stark’s fugitive status is perhaps unwarranted.

Meanwhile, Daniel figures out that Peggy is the mystery blonde that he’s been trying to ferret out for several episodes. While Dooley’s conviction morphs from “Stark is guilty” to “Stark is innocent”, Daniel’s credo flips from “Peggy is innocent” to “Peggy is guilty.” This opposite inversion of dueling belief systems is a highlight of the episode.

Not only is this mini-series showing us the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D., we’re also witnessing the earliest rumblings of Russia’s deadly Black Widow program, the same program that will eventually produce current Widow/Avenger Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson).

See her be absent from a Black Widow training scene!!

In sharp contrast to Peggy’s all-women boarding house is Leviathan’s all-girls training facility. Bedtime handcuffs, subliminal suggestions, and neck-breaking playground antics are all par for the course when training the tween girls of yesterday to be the super assassins of tomorrow.

Nothing against Leviathan, but whatever happened to Zodiac — the other clandestine evil organization alluded to in Agent Carter’s One-Shot short film? Just curious.

Another highlight of The Iron Ceiling is the aforementioned return of the Howling Commandos. First seen in Captain America: The First Avenger, and later in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. flashbacks, the Howlers are lead by Neal McDonough’s Dum Dum Dugan. As stilted as his dialog is with the aforementioned Russkie scientist, it’s anything but stilted with Peggy.

DUM DUM: “You used to be fun.”

PEGGY: “Once upon a time.”

DUM DUM: “…I miss him too.”

The “him” in question would be Captain America, the man who means the world to both Peggy and Dum Dum. Their verbal exchange makes for a poignant moment between the two.


See her not be here either!!

Although the Commandos return, they (Dum Dum excluded) are not the Commandos we’ve seen before. New recruits, plucked from Marvel comics of the 1960s, include Percy “Pinky” Pinkerton and Jonathan “Junior” Juniper.

With Dum Dum Dugan in command, one has to wonder how he earned that nickname. Does the dumbness stem from a habit of forgetting names, resulting in a desire to only enlist soldiers with memorably alliterative monikers like his own? Or perhaps the lack of memory is not Dum Dum’s.

Dugan’s co-creator, Stan Lee, has said in the past that his overabundance of alliteration sprung from laziness in having to name so many characters. Could it also have been his way of ensuring that he’d remember all of those character names? Names such as…

  • Betty Brant
  • Bruce Banner
  • Curt Connors
  • Dr. Doom
  • Fantastic Four
  • Fin Fang Foom
  • Green Goblin
  • Happy Hogan
  • J. Jonah Jameson Jr. (!)
  • Matt Murdock
  • Otto Octavius
  • Paste Pot Pete
  • Pepper Potts
  • Peter Parker
  • Reed Richards
  • Robbie Robertson
  • Scott Summers
  • Silver Surfer
  • Stephen Strange
  • Sue Storm
  • Warren Worthington III



NEXT MISSION: To err is human, to sin is divine. Or is it to forgive is divine? Either way, it’s A Sin to Err.


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