First things first: “SNAFU,” thankfully, only refers to the military slang acronym and not some Marvel-fied version. Situation Normal: All Fucked Up.
And yes, yes it is. That apt description lends itself to the best episode of the show yet that features the continued ascension of two awesome villains, the best action sequence in the show, a baby carriage of creepy and the showdown between Peggy (Hayley Atwell) and the men in her office that we’ve wanted since the pilot.
We open with a flashback that confirms Dr. Ivchenko’s identity: it’s Russia, during the war, and we see him reading The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. Last episode I caught the clear parallels between Dr. Ivchenko and Doctor Faustus, but I didn’t entirely think that this was Doctor Faustus (mostly because Ralph Brown, who has proven excellent on this show, wasn’t a big enough name to be such an integral villain). But it appears so: he’s called Dr. Fennhoff by a soldier, Doctor Faustus‘ identity in the comics, and asked to help in the med tents. They’re out of anesthesia, so the Doctor alleviates the need for it. He enters a boy’s consciousness and takes him back to a chess filled picnic with his Mother, distracting the boy from HAVING HIS LEG SAWED OFF. It’s brutal, great, creepy and…
…three years before where we find ourselves now, with Agent Carter handcuffed and ready for interrogation. With Fennhoff/Ivchenko watching on, Dooley, Thompson and Sousa all take turns trying to break her. Sousa’s hurt, betrayed. Thompson can’t make sense of it after Peggy saved his life in Russia. Dooley’s just pissed. They all believe Carter is “with” Howard Stark, that she’s just another conquest used by the lothario, a laughable estimation of the situation. Peggy’s in fine form this episode, fighting back, no longer backing down: she explains they’re just projecting all their fears, misgivings, misogyny and sexism onto her. She’d be right.
Meanwhile, the great Dottie Underwood is buying herself a carriage. The saleswoman expresses surprise, because she’s not showing at all. Dottie promises that something is coming sooner than you think. I had visions of crazy sped up super soldier babies or whatever the comic book equivalent of a Russian nesting doll is, but the carriage is just cover for a nefarious deed in the episode’s climax.
Back at the SSR, Jarvis attempts to save the day! He stumbles into the female operated telephone network room, briefcase in hand. He asks to see Chief Dooley, as British-y as humanly possible. Rose (Lesley Boone) has a gun in her hand, under her desk, ready to shoot the intruder… until Jarvis admits he has a signed confession from Howard Stark. That gets him in the room immediately. Jarvis seeks to trade Peggy for Howard and his signed confession. Dooley isn’t dumb enough to let them go for a piece of paper; he’ll wait on Howard before letting Carter go. And he means letting her go permanently: she’s done with the SSR. Considering what they think she’s done, this seems entirely too light of a punishment, but hey.
When left alone, Jarvis quickly admits to Carter that he forged the confession and made it all up. Howard Stark’s not coming (the show can’t afford Dominic Cooper). If you’re drinking along at home, drink every time Jarvis says the word “panic” in this scene. Needless to say, he panicked and this was his solution. It didn’t work, but it was a good enough excuse to bring James D’Arcy into the middle of the fun for this penultimate episode.
Dooley, meanwhile, is toast. He continues to fall deeper under Dr. Ivchenko’s spell, calling his wife and attempting to mend their relationship. I love that Doctor Faustus is a super villain who, on the surface, inspires reconciliation with fractured families, a cover for his dastardly deeds. While Dooley dreams of carving the bird at home with his family, the Doctor sends Morse code messages out the window to an ever-present Dottie. Carter catches him, deciphering the message: Evacuate, Leviathan is coming in 90 minutes (read: Next Episode). This gets Carter to reveal the truth immediately, revealing her suspicions about the Doctor. They don’t believe that she’s capable of hiding that from them, but she retorts: it was easy to conduct her own investigation because she’s invisible unless delivering reports or serving them lunch. SEXISM! The kicker comes when she reveals Steve Rogers’ blood in the orb; she wanted a second chance at keeping him safe. Aww. This convinces Sousa, and Dooley trusts Sousa’s gut enough to investigate the building across the street.
Dooley goes to Dr. Ivchenko, suspicious, asking to close the window. But he’s too far gone: the Doctor turns on the charm and starts manipulating his ring, latching back onto his memory of making dinner with his family.
Jack, Daniel and Agent About to Die take the elevator, preparing themselves for the worst. Jack warns Sousa about the Agent, not because he thinks he can’t handle her… but because he shudders at the thought of a grown up version of the killer they found in Russia. It’s a nice moment; he respects Sousa in the field, even if he’s a cripple! Jack’s not the worst anymore, guys!
This moment is mere foreplay for when Sousa and Dottie inevitably fight. Sousa holds his own up to a point, but Dottie easily gets away in perhaps the coolest action sequence of the show, when she bounds down flights of stairs like Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. How great is Dottie? Bridget Regan, with two very different roles in Agent Carter and Jane the Virgin, is one of the breakout stars of the 2014-2015 season. Her eerie Judy Garland that can snap your neck in the blink of an eye is maybe my favorite character that’s come out of Agent Carter.
Poor Dooley doesn’t have a chance: he’s fully under Ivchenko’s control at this point, locking Carter and Jarvis up. Joined by Ivchenko, he kicks the scientists out of the lab, searching for what Ivchenko wants: Item 17. Before he does, however, Ivchenko discovers a vest of some sort, which makes him entirely too happy. They find the Item 17 crate, and before you know it, Ivchenko is strolling out with Item 17, giving Dooley instructions to use the vest. Just as easily, Dottie picks up Ivchenko, and they escape, ready to test the object.
Amid the crazy, there’s a fantastic scene where Carter and Jarvis try to escape from being handcuffed to a table. They’re going to smash the window with the table… but Jarvis is too worried about hurting anyone on the other side. When they finally shatter the window, Peggy realizes… that even with an escape route, they’re still stuck to the table. Agent Carter has always done an admirable job of balancing brevity and badassery, and this is one of its finest examples, until Jack comes to let them free.
Dooley has returned home to his wife and kids… but the colors are saturated and it has the dream-like quality we’ve seen in Dr. Fennhoff’s therapy sessions. Which makes sense, because it is a dream: Dooley’s locked in his office, wearing the nefarious vest. Jarvis knows how bad it is immediately. According to the butler, it’s a prototype for a new kind of armor, and considering a Stark invented it, it’s natural to immediately think: IRON MAN. But considering it’s a vessel for heat, with explosive results, I had a brief thought that perhaps this was a reference to the original Human Torch, the android Jim Hammond. But enough of that, because this led to one of the emotional and fantastic sequences of the show, with the vest boiling Dooley, and no way to remove the vest without expediting the process. There’s nothing they can do (you know the SSR scientists are helpless), so Dooley steals a gun from Jack, gives him a message to his wife, blows a few holes through the window and jumps out the building to his death, sacrificing himself to save everyone else. Dooley was never a great character, but this was a poignant end to Shea Whigham’s admirable work on the show. (Of course, there’s a chance he goes all Firestorm in the explosion if the vest is a TV version of Human Torch.)
There’s still more to this particular SNAFU, however, as Dottie strolls into a movie theater with her carriage, much to the chagrin of some of the moviegoers. Instead of holding a baby, however, it contains Item 17, a gas canister of some sort. She activates it, and struts out, walking arm in arm with Ivchenko. Inside the theater, the audience begins coughing…and it escalates from there: the patrons get angry, bloodthirsty, insane, bludgeoning everybody to death (are these Madbombs?).
In the aftermath of Dooley’s death, Carter blames herself, but it was Howard’s wonky crazy inventions that have gotten everyone in deep shit to begin with. I’m assuming he’ll show up to (try to) atone in the final episode next week, which should be a doozy, because I have absolutely no idea how this show is going to end. Is it the last episode of Agent Carter ever? Will it be made as such, or finish with a cliffhanger? There’s almost 60 years of history in between this show and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so there’s almost a limitless number of scenarios of how this can play out. I’m excited to see what they go with, and hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Peggy Carter and company.