Last week's two-parter brought even more trouble to our favorite spy and her friends as well as her enemies. But the most dangerous foe Agent Peggy Carter may face is the very same one that is plaguing Whitney Frost: her own weaknesses and faults.
Evidence In the immortal words of The Princess Bride, there's too much to explain, so let's just sum it up. In "Life of the Party," Carter needed to get a blood sample from Frost, the last source of Zero Matter in the world. Still hurt and with few allies, she sprung Dottie Underwood from prison and sent her with Jarvis to attend a fundraiser for Frost's husband. After getting the goods, Underwood spied on a secret meeting of the Council. Chadwick told his wife this meeting would propel her to power, but instead it was a trap. In retaliation, she murdered half the council and her husband, taking over. Thompson took Underwood out, and she was delivered to Frost.
In "Monsters," the deaths were announced as a boating accident. Dr. Wilkes built a containment chamber for himself with Anna's help, then used the blood sample to make himself physical again. Masters tried to interrogate Underwood but it was Frost who broke the Russian spy with Zero Matter torture. Jarvis and Carter went after Underwood despite knowing it was likely a trap, and were captured. Masters put pressure on Sousa to get the stolen uranium rods back; when the chief didn't buckle down, goons beat him up at home, allowing Masters to take control of the SSR LA branch.
Jarvis, Carter, and Underwood escaped their bonds only to realize the trap was actually to lure them away: Frost and her mob boss partner kidnapped Dr. Wilkes and shot Anna. The night ended with Carter and Jarvis awaiting word from surgery as Underwood escaped them.
Analysis Several scenes in particular struck me as studies in contrast to dealing with failure or rejection. Sousa is a perfect foil for Carter in "Life of the Party." He cares just as much as her about securing the Zero Matter and nabbing the bad guys, and he's facing plenty of personal and professional pressures as well. Yet he proves once again to be a good leader by looking at the situation as a commander playing the long game instead of an agent wanting victory at any cost. He sensibly points out that even if Carter were up to infiltrating the party, Frost would recognize her a mile away, and shuts down the idea of putting a civilian or inexperienced agent in the path of a villain with unknown power.
His physical handicap has taught him to value patience and teamwork, values Carter struggles with. In a telling exchange, she asks him how he stands the knowledge that he can't physically do what wants to. He points out that part of coping is learning to trust other people to get the job done.
Even Thompson showed surprising insight into Carter's self-reliant habits. He's faced with a dilemma of his own: Masters wants him to shut Carter down, permanently, by any means necessary, though killing is deemed politically inadvisable. Rather than look for dirt as Masters suggested, Thompson goes straight to the source. His confrontation with Carter was his best moment yet in Season 2: his warning to her that she might be wrong, and that she won't see the fallout of her actions until it was too late, was tellingly personal.
They share the same flawed dichotomy of only seeing the world in terms of allies and enemies. The warning Thompson received from Jarvis, of being in over his head in shark-infested waters, was mirrored in his advice to Carter. His parting was amicable and bittersweet, one given to a war buddy you know you won't see again.
It's truly Frost who once again mirrors Carter in the best and worst ways, refracting and intensifying her opponent's traits. Carter has trouble accepting help from others yet is also loyal to her friends; Frost is blinded to any force in the world but power. When her husband betrays her, she kills him without a second thought. The few Council members she keeps are warned that their value lies completely in their usefulness. If anyone deviates from her plans, their lives are forfeit.
Her torture of Dottie Underwood is ruthless, efficient, and completely impersonal. She doesn't care about power games because people are swiftly becoming irrelevant to her. She talks a good game to Dr. Wilkes, claiming she wants to remake the world into a better place, but we've heard these words before. They're the same promises she made to her husband, the same man she killed once he ceased to be worthwhile. She's so used to wearing masks that she's probably convinced herself in her own noble intentions. Nothing must stand in her way.
When Anna is shot, though, we get to again see a key difference between Carter and Frost that has also been building across the two episodes. Frost first tried manipulation with the woman, claiming she wasn't a monster and that she only wanted to help. Once that didn't work, though, she coldly decided to take another playing piece off the board.
For Carter, though, this event changes everything. If she were as dogged as she wants to be, as Frost has become, she would have pursued the villain and her hostage. But she cares, no matter how ice cold she wants to believe herself. We saw this earlier when she and Jarvis discussed her increasingly complex love life. Her biggest concern with Sousa and Wilkes isn't who to choose: it's how to keep either from being harmed. Once Anna is hurt, she lets go of the need to prove herself, even stooping to calling the SSR when she thinks it will help. Hearing Masters's voice on the other end of the line tells her that for once, she really is alone.
Faced with that knowledge, Carter sits down in silence and takes the hand of her dear hurting friend. That single gesture isn't the form of manipulation Frost wields so well. It's not strategy: it's caring, knowing there's no other action to be taken but waiting for the news, good or bad. It's the hardest thing in the world to do, but if there's one thing we know about Carter, it's that she doesn't back down from a challenge.
Perhaps this moment will teach her that challenges aren't just in the form of opponents. Sometimes, the hardest challenge of all comes from ourselves.