TV Recap: Marvel’s Agent Carter (Series Premiere)

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Agent Carter Plot Summary:

In post-World War II New York City, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is doing her best to fit in. Not only is she a woman in a male-dominated society, she’s having difficulty moving up as an agent. That all changes when her old friend Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) re-enters her life. Now Carter must team up with Stark’s Butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) to recover his weapons while simultaneously dodging the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR).

Marvel has done a very excellent job at utilizing television to explore their diverse library. While all the movies focus on specific big name heroes, the small screen has given viewers a chance to see new stories that can’t fit in a major motion picture anymore. This was the entire premise behind Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for over a year, and now it’s what anchors Agent Carter. Utilizing the massive well of material left mostly untouched once Captain America (Chris Evans) awoke in the 21st Century, Agent Carter sheds light on what happened after Cap vanished. It’s 1946 and Carter is now dealing with the combined loss of her partner and the hardships of being in a society that operates against her. By expertly representing the social realities of the times while also presenting an exciting spy-thriller, Marvel does more than make a suitable winter placeholder for S.H.I.E.L.D. They have made a really fun new series that greatly deserves its spot on the MCU’s television program.

Photo Credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal
Photo Credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal

There is a lot that works with Agent Carter, though the biggest strength is obviously its lead. Hayley Atwell was awesome in The First Avenger and nothing makes me happier than to see her play the badass Peggy Carter in her own series. Carter was honestly such an unknown for the longest time. People wanted more of her, but for a while there wasn’t a means to actually explore her story without Cap by her side. So when Marvel announced that an Agent Carter series was coming that would focus exclusively on this unsung hero, people had a right to be excited. Fortunately everything that made Carter so much fun in film is vastly expanded on with this series. She kicks ass, knows plenty of espionage tactics, and has an unflappable cool that deflects any condescending comments made by her male co-workers. Really, for those looking for a powerful female character, it’s tough to beat someone who leads the charge against bombs that literally implode surroundings while also not letting others walk all over her in the work place.

That’s mostly what Carter has going for it outside of the star. On one hand, it’s this crazy action packed spy adventure. The overall premise is that Howard Stark’s inventions, his “bad babies,” have been stolen and Carter must find them before it’s too late. “Now Is Not The End” and “Bridge and Tunnel” focus on one particular creation, a formula that makes imploding nitramine bombs, and how much destruction it can cause. In her quest to find this formula, Carter uses various gadgets and her expert fighting skills to get what she needs. She has lipstick that knocks someone out, a scanner that detects radiation, and barely escapes both an oil facility and a moving milk truck before they implode into rubble. Both episodes feature plenty of brawling which is perfectly choreographed. My personal favorite is Carter fighting an unnamed assassin (James Landry Hébert) in her apartment. Besting a man with a gun while wearing a fancy dress? Only Carter can pull that off. Also, the special effects are pretty amazing.

Photo Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless
Photo Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless

Then you have the social issues Agent Carter tackles head on. As anyone knows, the 1940’s was a very different time for women in the United States. On multiple occasions, Carter is openly demeaned because she is a woman. The head of Roxxon Oil Hugh Jones (Ray Wise) assumes she’s a secretary, Agent Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) gives her papers to file because she’s “better at that,” and Chief Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham) always leaves Carter in the dark despite her documented experience. Agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) stands up for her but even that doesn’t get very far. Awesomely enough, Carter isn’t fazed by any of this. She always has the perfect response and knows exactly how to stay one-step ahead of her peers. This includes using her stereotyping to her advantage, like making a coffee delivery to eavesdrop on a meeting or getting a free day to investigate by claiming she has “personal woman issues.” These men may believe they run the SSR but Carter is the real person in charge.

Interestingly enough, Carter is given two major relationships that fit each of these story aspects. For her spy adventures, she has the original Edwin Jarvis, longtime Butler of the Stark family. James D’Arcy was the perfect pick and the chemistry between him and Carter is felt from the start. This pairing does an excellent job swapping typical gender roles too. While Jarvis is worrying about his souffles and getting to bed at a reasonable hour with his wife, Carter is busy disarming weapons of mass destruction. Carter is the one to sneak into highly guarded facilities and fight on a truck. Jarvis mans the getaway car and provides cover fire. It’s a really fun combination and I can’t wait to see what else comes of it.

Photo Credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal
Photo Credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal

The other relationship between Carter and her friend Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca) isn’t fleshed out as much. We only see Carter interact with Angie a handful of times in a cafe and later in an apartment building. Yet Angie plays a very important role because she is Carter’s one anchor to a normal life. When the two get together, they don’t discuss how to save the world. They talk about men being jerks and how they can help each other move up in contemporary society. This really allows Agent Carter to further maintain its identity as a show with a solid female lead.

My big complaint with these two episodes forming the premiere is how the main villains are very vague. The show fortunately details what the big threat is within a few minutes, but by the end of “Bridge and Tunnel” we still don’t know who the antagonists are. The people Carter fights don’t have voice boxes for some reason. There’s someone or something out there called Leviathan. That’s literally all we get. I have no doubt that this will all get fleshed out soon but the lack of depth two episodes in is pretty surprising. As of right now this is only an eight episode series. Is there a chance ABC and Marvel will want to keep this going? Absolutely. With a great premiere like this, it’d be stupid not to keep Agent Carter on yearly winter rotation. Yet until that happens, we have a limited time to tell this story, and we can’t waste any of it.

Rating: 9/10

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.

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