Well. Needless to say my plans to get back on track for weekly updates didn’t go exactly as planned, though I’m sort of glad of that. Episode 3 (“Better Angels”) felt a bit lackluster, falling back on elements that have been the least interesting part of the season so far in order to let subplots of later importance (Whitney Frost discovering she can kill with a touch thanks to her Zero Matter infection, Jason Wilkes being a “living ghost” thanks to a blast from the same) handle their setup.
Episode 4, on the other hand? Much better – and the immediate payoff to the aforementioned subplots made them retroactively more compelling. I still feel like the dye is already cast that this just isn’t going to be the dynamo that Season 1 was, but maybe still solid in its own right.
What I’m liking already is that, after threatening to overwhelm the narrative in Episode 3, The Arena Club (aka Clearly-HYDRA-But-Somehow-Not-Noticeably-So-By-Organization-Founded-Specifically-To-Fight-HYDRA) seem to be receding into the background to make room for Whitney Frost (aka Madame Masque) to be the true heavy of the season, though since the whole “HYDRA is actually an Inhuman-worshiping interplanetary death-cult” thing is the direct lead-back to AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D this season I imagine they’ll still be a big reference point… or maybe just popping in at the end to make goo-goo eyes at Arnim Zola and Doctor Faustus as a “how S.H.I.E.L.D got infiltrated” stepping-stone.
Still, Frost is a more interesting villain so I’m glad to see her getting the focus. The cross-cutting of her and Carter’s respective childhoods was a nice touch and kept the proceedings interesting, along with being pretty “real world dark” as this series goes. It’s a bit of a letdown to realize that we’re getting another bad guy whose conception is “Bad Version of Peggy” (Dottie was “evil lady-spy,” Frost is “evil rebellious-tomboy”) on the other hand, and while the backstory involving Carter’s brother was nicely executed I feel like eventually they’re going to need to find something to motivate her actions other than the example-setting sacrifices of male loved ones (Captain America in Season 1, Jason Wilkes and her brother in Season 2).
Speaking of Wilkes (who’s based off an inversion of an obscure early Marvel scifi story), he’s getting more interesting as the invisibility story continues and his relationship with Peggy is compelling (of course she’s into him, he’s basically a Black Nerd Steve Rogers); but I’m glad to see that they’re getting right to the point of the “Zero Matter is Dark Force is Dark Dimension” business as he’s concerned. I still wish they hadn’t gone and spoiled that that was the deal before the show started, since it’d be more fun to figure this stuff out organically: the clear implication of Wilkes being “pulled” to hallucinations of a rift like the one that’s growing behind Frost’s scar is that she (Frost) is acting as a human portal to the Dark Dimension, which is a cool premise.
The main angle that still isn’t working for me at all is the Red Menace stuff with Kurtwood Smith’s evil FBI guy. It feels perfunctory, as though they felt they had to do communist-witchhunt subplots because it was the 50s now, and it just doesn’t seem to jibe as naturally with the material as Wilkes and Frost’s respective “brilliance overlooked because of race/gender” stories do alongside Carter’s fight for respect. It’s possible that there’s a bigger “thing” coming that we can’t see yet (the proto-Black Widow and Faustus stuff came out of nowhere in Season 1) but as of now every time this storyline shows up it feels like wasted space.
I’d also like them to maybe dial back the comedy whenever Jarvis and Peggy are on a joint mission – a little of that goes a long way, and by now I think everyone “get’s” that Jarvis is fussy and fidgety despite his hypercompetence otherwise; so you don’t need to keep reminding us. The Season has room to grow yet, and this is something that should be addressed sooner than later.