Laura Tormos ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Despite having appeared in only three episodes, there’s no doubt that Howard Stark has played an important role throughout the season—he was, after all, the catalyst for it all, and it was his weapons the SSR was after while Peggy (Hayley Atwell) covertly kicked butt to get his name cleared. It made sense, then, that he would play an important role in the finale. He, like Peggy, felt a lot of pain about losing Steve, and this episode (unfortunately for us) takes advantage of that.
Something that becomes sometimes easy to forget amongst all the action and the mystery is how closely Peggy’s story really ties into her grief about losing Steve, and her need to to get through it. This might be because, while It shouldn’t be called “subtle,” it was most certainly never overdone—she’s never let it get in the way of getting her job done, and she was most certainly never a sobbing, snotty mess on the floor—but it was never particularly downplayed for the benefit of the viewer’s comfort, either. Each scene where Steve was mentioned was played powerfully by Hayley Atwell, and even though most times that translated to quipped words or a downcast eye—clenched fists—you could still feel the overwhelming loss that she feels. It has only been a year, after all, though the death of someone that meant as much to Peggy as Steve did is probably not something one ever fully heals from (of course, we know he’s not really dead, but she doesn’t, and it’s not like we could bust into the TV screen and tell her.) The final scene on the bridge with his blood sample (which Jarvis (James D’Arcy) stole for her) was a very beautiful and cathartic one—and most importantly, seemed to allow her to begin to move on from Steve, and gave her a sense of closure.
Of course, before all that, Peggy had to face Fennhoff and Dottie, and stop whatever it is they were planning to do with that Stark weapon—which we got the name for this week: Midnight Oil. It should be said, however, that Peggy and Dottie’s fight scene—while extremely satisfying and entertaining—would have been even more effective if the writers had spent some time developing the two women’s relationship. At this point, Peggy and Dottie were barely even acquaintances—they were merely two next-door neighbors that had maybe spoken about three or four times. It’s understandable with time-constraints however, and, really, the way it was played out had nothing that was actually wrong with it, but sometimes the focus on female relationships that seemed to be almost promised to us at the beginning of the season (after seeing Peggy’s relationship with her former roommate and the introduction of Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca) feels like it fell a little short. There were barely any of them at all, in fact. And it seems that whenever Peggy wasn’t at the forefront (like in almost the entire first half of the finale) the focus switched almost exclusively to white men—especially with the arrival of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), stealing away most of Peggy’s thunder.
We did get a lot more emotional depth to his character in this episode, though, which is always a good thing—and very enjoyable, in Howard’s case—but, still, it wasn’t really until the second half where Peggy started regaining her control over the show’s narrative, and this is the season finale. Other than that fantastic fight scene with Dottie, the only other thing Peggy really got to do was swoop in when Howard was hypnotized into an antagonistic role (in what was an admittedly spectacular and heart-wrenching scene that paralleled the ending of Captain America: The First Avenger). There were quite a few other nice MCU parallels that were included, too—like Howard destroying his inventions in a very familiar fashion to a moment that would occur decades later in Iron Man 3.
Overall, though, despite the nit-picking: it was a really well done season finale, and one that paves way for the possibility of a second season without neglecting to tie up loose ends in the case that this is all we ever get. Admittedly, though, only ever seeing Dottie and Fehnoff represent Leviathan made it feel a little small—certainly not as legitimate a threat as Hydra (which, if we get a season two, seems a very likely candidate to come into play very soon.) Though you can assume that in that case we would see more of Leviathan, too. We definitely haven’t seen the last of Dottie, at the very least.
It was really interesting seeing that final scene at the Strategic Scientific Reserve, when they were welcoming them all back. Lately Agent Thompson’s (Chad Michael Murray) attitude towards Peggy had been slowly and subtly shifting—allowing even for the barest form of grudging respect and gratitude towards her after she saved his life in Russia—but here we see him regressing, clearly eager to retake his role as hero. Even if it’s at the expense of Peggy, whose hard work taking down Leviathan he takes the credit for when the senator commends him for it. He knew it would benefit him, so he takes the opportunity—and despite this in no way being a commendable action, it is familiar, and a far less gift-wrapped conclusion than if he had actually given Peggy the recognition she deserves. Frustrating, sure—but believable. And this prompting her to tell Sousa “I know my value, anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter” was ultimately more satisfying—because it’s a confident quality that has always been an integral to her character, but, even still, given a little push. All season she’s been vying for her colleague’s respect and their approval—as one would naturally want from people one is in constant contact with—and the fact that she could say that she no longer needed it from them (or anybody) was an incredibly powerful moment that only serves to further remind us as to why we fell in love with Peggy in the first place: her ability to empower herself even against all odds. Hopefully it won’t be the last one.
Overall Episode Grade: A-