The crux of “Life of the Party” is the need to get a tissue sample from Whitney Frost in order to restore Wilkes. As they’re forming a plan, Daniel observes, “We can’t trust anybody at the SSR. That’s become painfully clear. And I’m not about to send a civilian into the jaws of that lion without sufficient training. No, what you need is a highly skilled, unknown face, who can blend in with the glamour and throw down in the gutter. I don’t anybody besides you who can pull that off.” I love it when he wears his heart/torch/case of FEELS on his sleeve. Also? I love that Peggy’s response is a recurring, “I have a terrible idea.”
The idea in question is to break Dottie out of jail (with the aid of sleep-inducing lipstick) and team her up with…Jarvis. (Was the Pink Devil unavailable?) He is astonishing adept and always thoroughly charming. The venue for the mission is a fundraiser, at which Calvin has assured Whitney she will a) meet with the Council, and b) take over the world, Pinky! Wait, that last bit’s not quite right. Still: evil is afoot, darlings.
There are several delightful flirt sessions between the still-injured Peggy and Dottie. Bridget Regan is wickedly sharp as Dottie, who is “an assassin without a target” as Vernon later puts it. She and Peggy know each other well enough to spend most of these two episodes trying to outsmart each other, a gleam of admiration—however grudging—always flickering between them. These two are well-matched. Dottie, however, constantly uses her sexuality to try to win men (and Peggy!) over—namely, Wilkes. That is where she is more like Whitney than Peggy. There’s a coiled control about her, as if she’s always ready to pounce.
Jarvis, perpetually giddy as a golden retriever, accompanies Dottie to the fundraiser. Peggy and Daniel listen from a van (was it down by the river?), and Jack Thompson shows up (a woman at the bar tells him to smile more, which was GENIUS, both in terms of Whitney’s origin story and the overall gender discussion) with his new BFF, Vernon. It’s interesting, though, when Jarvis tries to warn Jack away from the dastardly people he’s involved in. Yes, it was partly a distraction, but there was also something fiercely genuine about it. He may be something of a goofball, but Edwin Jarvis is nothing if not a good man. (Unfortunately, Thompson has yet to prove himself to be anything but a jerk.)
Now, let’s talk about Calvin. He tricks Whitney into thinking he set up her meeting with the Council to make up for his poor behavior. She’s observably touched, which means it’s about to come crashing down real fast. It was a trap, and it is a trap that fails horribly. Whitney is caught between fury and heartbreak (“I trusted you. I made you.”), before yielding to her rage and consuming her husband and several council members. She then launches into a rather effective I’m in Charge Now speech, and Dottie witnesses all of this from her hiding spot in a very convenient closet.
Meanwhile, at the cross-section of Angst and Awkward Streets, Daniel comes clean about Violet (Jarvis is listening in! He literally stops what he’s doing—and in that moment, we are all Jarvis) and he and Peggy nearly kiss. A dead body falls onto their van, spoiling the mood, before Jarvis rushes out—syringe in possession, but absent Dottie. She’s been taken by Whitney, courtesy of Jack’s wrangling.
Let’s talk about Jack again. Vernon, after praising him in an earlier scene, lays into him about Peggy and her involvement in Roxxon (aka the stolen Uranium), instructing him to conduct a smear campaign against her. To discredit her. It could have been a throwaway line, but I think it says a lot that discrediting a woman is so effective. Jack tries to convince Peggy to go back to New York, warning, “You’re chasing boogeymen down into a pit of quicksand.” Does he not realize he’s hanging out with boogeymen?
“Monsters” begins with a bit of high drama: a staged press conference about Calvin and the council members’ death, complete with an over-the-top veil and fabulous lipstick. Daniel and Peggy watch from the side, and he bravely mentions that they might need to talk later about “things.” Ah, Daniel. So sweetly awkward. And yet, he has enough chemistry with Peggy that Wilkes caught a glimpse of it and jealousy bloomed.
Vernon, along with Joseph Manfredi, is aiding Whitney. He does his level best to torture information out of Dottie, who all but laughs him out of the room. I love that he’s absolutely not a match for her. She doesn’t even come close to cracking. But it’s Whitney who manages to get under her skin—quite literally. With the calm, methodical precision she showed closing the curtain before killing Rufus, Whitney removes her gloves and uses Zero Matter-enhanced interrogation to pull information out of Dottie. Against her, Dottie has no defenses. Her usual tactic of antagonizing—and flirting with—her opponent fails, and I think for the first time in a long while, Dottie is truly vulnerable. (She is, I should point out, vulnerable in a glorious dress I wish I owned.)
Interestingly, Ana is assisting Wilkes in making a containment module to use in conjunction with the Zero Matter sample. He, at one point, flies off the handle alarmingly, insisting they use the kill switch in Dottie’s necklace, even screaming in Peggy’s face. It’s a curious thing, because I’m wondering if they’re going to take him down the Path of Evil at some point. Of course, once the module’s switched on, he’s solid again and much more sane. The first thing he does is kiss Peggy (who wouldn’t?), then ask for food. These are definitely solid priorities.
Vernon spends the rest of the episode being super evil. He leans on Daniel about finding the stolen Uranium from Roxxon. When Daniel doesn’t play ball, he sends a couple of goons to rough him up at his house. It’s textbook Evil League of Evil, but I cannot wait for someone to punch Vernon. A lot. It’s basically the only thing that might redeem Jack Thompson, at present.
Jarvis and Peggy dash off to rescue Dottie, whose tracking device is activated again. Everyone knows it’s a trap, but it’s basically just a clever way to get Jarvis to poke around in Peggy’s love life. It is a lovely scene, wherein Peggy uncomfortably explains that she likes both Daniel and Wilkes and had no intention of having feelings for either of them. But things are what they are, and Jarvis sweetly assures her, “You underestimate your allure.”
Arriving at Whitney’s, there’s a rather hilarious plot point involving Barbara Stanwyck and Carole Lombard’s measurements. But suffice to say: it was a trap, but with a twist: Whitney went to Stark’s to acquire Wilkes. She wants him to join forces with her and, with Joseph’s help, shoves him in the car. Unfortunately, Ana gets shot in the process, because Whitney knows it will slow down Peggy and Jarvis, who have just arrived on their heels. I adored how brave Ana was, how poised, how perfectly defiant. But she brought emotions to a gun fight. The last we saw of her, she was in surgery. Assuming she survives, I can’t imagine what this means for her relationship with Jarvis. Will she blame him? Will he blame himself?
There are several different kinds of monsters in this episode. Obviously, Whitney and her people-eating ways. But it’s also her ruthlessness that makes her a monster. Dottie is also a monster, but she’s a different cut of villain. I get the feeling she’s just trying to survive, whereas Whitney seems to revel in her villain-y ways. (Dottie escaped, so I hope we’ll get to see her kick ass and flirt some more.) Wilkes also showed a slightly monster side, when he screeched that they should just kill Dottie. Heartlessness is unbecoming, sir. And—obviously—Vernon is a monster, because he not only had Daniel beat up, but he also appointed himself (temporary) chief of the SSR in L.A. while Daniel recovered from his wounds.
But, to bastardize a Neil Gaiman quote, monsters do exist, but that also means they can be slain. And if that happens while one is flawless in heels and red lipstick, so be it.