The Iron Ceiling brings the Howling Commandos to television in an incredibly entertaining episode.
Previously on Agent Carter 1.4 “The Blizkrieg Button”: Howard Stark shows up and he’s a jerk.
AN ADVENTURE IN GOOD AND BAD PERFORMANCES
The fifth episode of Agent Carter is called The Iron Ceiling mixing two metaphors right off the bat – the Glass Ceiling and the Iron Curtain – both of which affect Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), directly. In this episode writer Jose Molina brings us an S.S.R. field mission.
The episode opens with the period appropriate misogyny that has been prominent through all of the episodes to date. Peggy immediately illustrates her prowess as a government agent by cracking a code that has been intercepted via the most impressive and terrifying of all typewriters. Molina carefully drops a reference to Alan Turing (which is both topical for the time period and a trendy reference to drop given the acclaim The Imitation Game has), and Enigma to illustrate the difficulty of the cypher. Peggy breaks it in record time and ends up heading up a mission with Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), in Russia.
One of the most compelling plot points in The Iron Ceiling is the Black Widow Program. It’s obvious from the previous episode that Dottie (Bridget Regan), who lives the Griffith with Peggy, is a result of training received in the Black Widow Program and there are theories abounding that Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca), may be as well. The Iron Ceiling confirms Dottie’s training and definitely leaves the door open for future references or appearances of Natasha Romanova.
Conversely, one of the least compelling parts of The Iron Ceiling is Chad Michael Murray’s performance. Molina and director Peter Leto dive a lot into Agent Thompson’s personal history in this episode. Much of what come up has to do with the nature of his feelings for Peggy (wherein the boring and predictable choice is made), and address his post traumatic syndrome in the wake of the Second World War. However, Murray’s performance is so forced and contrived that at no point during the entire episode does it resonated as true. He’s not interesting to watch and with the amount of screen time Thompson gets there are moments when The Iron Ceiling really starts to drag.
Further to the on-scree performances, The Howling Commandos make a grand return to the MCU in The Iron Ceiling and they are awesome! Many of the Commandos from the comic books show up, but it really is the Dum Dum Dugan show. Neal McDonough returns to the role he first played in Captain America: the First Avenger as if he had never left it. Not only is he a joy to watch on screen, he easily exudes the most power. When the agents infiltrate the Black Widow facility Dum Dum doesn’t have his weapon out and he has enough confidence that he doesn’t seem to need one.
In addition to his outstanding performance, Dugan and the rest of the Commandos treat Peggy with deference and respect that is in every way counter to the treatment she receives from her S.S.R. coworkers in The Iron Ceiling and throughout the series. They also spend a good amount of time defending her, which is a refreshing narrative shift by Molina. By the end of the episode some of this respect seems to have bled over into their American counterparts.
The Iron Ceiling is chalked full of action (including one very violent, very young Black Widow agent), calls back to the original source material and has some of the best performances in the series to date. It is the most reminiscent of the original Peggy Carter short film that inspired this series in the first place – James Bond with a better dress code. It was a thrilling viewing experience!
THE BOTTOM LINE: MORE THINGS TO DO
The Iron Ceiling proves that Agent Carter is at its best with action infused and a clear goal to be achieved by the end of the narrative. The more toes we get to dip into the MCU and the comic books the more compelling these stories will be. This was a great episode!