Jack Thompson is the kind of character no one likes. After all, he’s rude, backstabbing, shallow, and ambitious in all the worst ways possible. But that’s not what bothers me about him this season. What’s really annoying about Jack is that he doesn’t learn—or at least not in a meaningful way. Last season, Jack served as an antagonist of sorts, and a symbol: he was a stand-in for every man returning from the war who refused to see the service that the women left behind had done in stepping up and into the shoes of the factory workers, truck drivers, and steelworkers drafted into the war. His dismissal of Peggy Carter as little more than an administrative assistant isn’t just a bit of harmless prejudice. It actively impacts her ability to do her job, and in the end, the work of the SSR itself. So when he is sent on a mission with her, and not only gets to hear stories of her wartime heroism from the remaining Howling Commandos, but to experience her considerable skills as an agent firsthand, his attitude towards her shifts considerably, and that is good not only for Peggy, but again in his role as a symbol: sexism can be done away with through exposure and education. Unless, of course, he forgets everything he learned last season in the year since. I mean, yes, at the end of season one, he does take credit for the work she and Souza and Jarvis have done. But that’s really just a matter of who he is: as Peggy rightly says, someone who will “bury the ugly truth and hope someone will pin a metal on [him].” Thompson is in it for the glory—despite the fact that we know he’s actually a coward. But what he gleaned last season is that Agent Carter not only accomplishes things worthy of the kind of recognition he so desperately seeks, but she does not fight him when he takes credit for her work. A smart (and cravenly ambitious) man like he is should not be trying to get rid of her or get in her way, but should be supporting her so that he can again step in in the final moments and claim her laurels for himself. Instead, this season, he does everything he can to discount her word and her work, even ordering her off a lead and back to New York, where he obviously doesn’t want her either. It’s only when irrefutable evidence is thrown in his face—purely by accident, that he rethinks his attitude (if not his actual reaction) to Peggy. But it’s not his weaselly behavior that bothers me so much. It’s that characters, like people, develop. They evolve, hopefully, for the better. And when writers retcon a character’s life experience by ignoring that kind of evolution—and do it just to serve a plot point that could just as easily have been handled in another fashion—as they are obviously doing with Thompson in this week’s “Better Angels”—it not only shows us that the writers don’t respect their characters, but that we should not either: why should we take seriously anything that happens to the characters in a text when any event (or at least its clear effect) might later be ignored completely? There are a few other signs of writerly laziness in this week’s episode, the most striking having to do with science. There was little doubt that Dr. Wilkes was not really dead, and the idea of him following Carter around and trying to get her attention is both sweet and a bit creepy. But since the plan was obviously always to bring him back, the explanation for his return—or at least his return to a corporeal state certainly deserved better than the half-assed film-based “scientific” explanation we got. It made little sense, and since part of the point was also to drive home the point that Howard is really just that smart, the least they could have done is come up with something that sounded at least remotely plausible. Although it was nice to see Jarvis dolled up in lab gear and goggles and both he and Sousa blessed with a scientific literacy that allows them to keep up with Howard, Peggy, and Wilkes. Now if only the writers had made the science they were all spouting believable. This is a show about Agent Carter of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, after all. But while the science was questionable, it was nice to see Howard doing what he does best—in all the realms in which he operates. Howard is, like his son, a tough character to balance, specifically because he’s almost equal parts admirable, ridiculous, and sexist, and keeping such a character actually engaging, rather than just a joke, is tricky. But “Better Angels” did a great job of pulling this off. His newfound interest in making movies is absolutely ludicrous on the surface, until you find out that it’s also partially an endeavor based in chemistry (and coincidentally gives him the background to be able to at least temporarily—though, again, unrealistically—save Dr. Wilkes). His morning meeting with his “production assistants,” complete with his perfunctory-but-not-completely-insincere pass at Peggy, not only reinforces the idea of him as an over(self)indulgent sexist pig, but also lays the groundwork for his quite useful plan and execution of the raid on the Arena Club. These make him work as a great driver of plot. But what makes him work, unlike Thompson, as a character as well are moments when all of that drops away, and we get to see yet another side to Howard—the one that honestly cares about others. It’s always been clear that despite those passes he makes at Carter, Howard’s affection and respect for her are sincere. In “Better Angels,” we see this in his attempt to save Wilkes, a man she obviously has feelings for. Stark’s already seen her lose Steve Rogers, and it is a credit to Dominic Cooper’s skill that he is able to communicate in just a couple of looks that Howard is willing to do whatever he can to keep Peggy’s heart from breaking a second time. But the surprise is his exchange with Jarvis, where we see that his concern isn’t limited to her. He comments on a spring in Jarvis’s step that has come from working with Carter again (and there is no leer attached to what might otherwise be a “bros” comment), and tells Jarvis to let him know if he’s considering leaving Stark’s employ to go work with Peggy. There is no undercurrent of annoyance or frustration that his right-hand man might run off to work full-time with Carter. Howard seems genuinely okay with the idea that Jarvis might be happier with her, even after Edwin protests that he’s quite content where he is. “I know,” Howard tells him. “I’m great. But so is she,” he readily acknowledges, making it clear that Stark is Carter and Jarvis’s friend first, and wants what’s best for them, even if it means losing the man he trusts most. It’s the fact that I see the writers doing so well with some characters and badly with a couple others that has me holding my breath. The revelation of Whitney Frost as a lot more than she appears, and her ability to use what will eventually be known as Darkforce means that she’s going to be, if not the primary villain, at least one of them this season. And they’ve given her a lot of background that should come together to make her a complicated character: her role as a scientist, her skills as an actress, her experiences in Hollywood—both waxing and waning as a star—her superior ability (to her husband) as a strategist, and now as a terrified woman with an as-yet-uncontrolled ability to kill. She should be well worth watching. Or she might be another Jack Thompson: a flat, stereotyped, plot device on legs. Even a bad guy (or girl) deserves better than that. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.