EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometimes, two (or more) of our writers will review the same thing – below is Wayland’s Take on Agent Carter. You can read Jamie’s Take here.
ABC is filling in some of Agents of SHIELD winter hiatus with a limited series. Agent Carter, the titular character, was a supporting character in Captain America: The First Avenger with a few additional scenes in the Agents of SHIELD show. They reinforce the connection with a few flashback scenes from the movie, as Peggy remembers the last few minutes before Captain America’s crash. They showed the pilot and next episode back to back on the first night, The pilot, not originally, is called “Pilot,” and the next episode was “Bridge and Tunnel.” Oddly, the pilot in some places is also listed as “Now is Not the End.”
Peggy’s career, like many women after World War II, doesn’t go well. This is a historical fact, and a bit overused recurring theme on the show. Essentially, all women are really incredibly capable, and all men (with very few exceptions) are misogynist frat boys. While I enjoyed the show a lot, that bit was done with a very heavy hand.
In New York City in 1946, the various GI’s are returning from war, and the women that worked “real” jobs in their absence are being pushed aside. Peggy has gone from intelligence agent and hard-working asset to glorified file girl who is asked to get coffee. You can imagine how well that goes over.
The major impetus to the events of the series is Howard Stark being accused of selling technology to never-named enemies of the United States. Howard, of course, is Tony (Iron Man) Stark’s father, and one of the scientific advisors during Captain America’s origin and career. Since one of the themes of the show seems to be throwing away people who were useful in World War II, everyone has turned on Stark. He does get some very entertaining scenes testifying before Congress, which were very reminiscent of some similar scenes in Iron Man 2.
Howard manages to get a message to Peggy, and they meet to set up the idea of the show: Howard Stark created things that were too dangerous to be out in the world, calling them his “Bad Babies.” He kept them locked in a special vault, but someone broke in and stole them, selling them on the black market.
Peggy is now living a triple life. To the “regular” world, she works for the phone company. There’s even a very “Get Smart”-like scene of her going to the phone company to go through a secret door to get to the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) base. But now, she also working to clear Howard Stark, having to stay a step ahead of, and hidden from, her fellow SSR agents. Her only real ally is Jarvis, Stark’s butler (and basis for Tony’s later AI, it would seem).
There are a lot of tense scenes as Peggy deals with her foolish co-workers, and the real bad guys who have Stark’s toys. The first item is Nitramene, a powerful explosive that creates an immense blast and then an implosion effect that’s almost as destructive. There are well-done fight scenes, cool secret agent toys, and Peggy showing what a bad-ass she is. There are also hints of the big bad guy: an organization called Leviathan. Well, Hydra’s notionally disbanded, so I guess they needed a new opponent. The first episode ends with some hints at a further layer of conspiracy between Jarvis and Stark that Peggy doesn’t know about. There’s also a tragic consequence when an assassin follows Peggy home from one of her missions.
Since the episodes were shown back to back, I’m combing the reviews.
“Bridge and Tunnel” furthers the action set up in the first episode. Peggy is still rushing around in secret, hiding her mission from the SSR, which seems very happy to believe the worst of Stark. The writers also bring in Roxxon, an energy company which has been a longtime running evil group throughout Marvel Comics.
It’s interesting that the one agent that treats Peggy nicely, Daniel Sousa, is disabled, having lost a leg in the war. The other agents treat him like crap, as well. So there’s an recurring theme of the good-ol’ boys club, of which Carter, a woman, and Sousa, a cripple (if they’re using period terminology, so am I) are not members.
In addition to possibly plotting against Carter, Jarvis is not the best ally. He seems to be brave enough, risking his life to help her, I’ll give him that. But he has no combat skills, is reluctant to do anything that disrupts his comfortable schedule with his wife, and seems to be essentially the bumbling comic relief.
One of the very entertaining devices they use on the show is a radio drama. These were hugely popular in the era before television, and they are broadcasting one based (very loosely) on Captain America’s career. The only female is, of course, the perpetual damsel in distress, which grates on Peggy’s nerves even more. There are several of the well choreographed fight scenes that are shown in contrast to the cheesy dialogue and sound effects of the radio program. It’s cleverly done, giving some humor to the action and some nice historical accuracy.
The action focuses on the bombs that were discovered in the pilot. Everyone wants them for different reasons. I’m not entirely clear why Peggy is keeping as much from her notional allies as she is. In theory, she’s trying to clear Stark. What actually happens is that she keeps them out of enemy hands, just like SSR would have. She gains nothing for Stark, and makes things harder on herself working mostly alone.
The episode ends with Peggy finding a new place to live. She moves into a women’s only apartment building, guided there by her friend and recurring character, Angie the waitress. The woman who runs the place is very buttoned-down and rules oriented, establishing the guidelines of the building, including a dress code and curfew. I suspect these will be complications for later episodes.
What I liked: Haley Atwell does a great job as Peggy Carter. Her regret over Steve’s death is there, but not overwhelming. She’s a woman of action and handles the role well. Jarvis is amusing, at times. The effects are nicely done, as are the ties to other bits of the Marvel Universe. One of the scientists she and Jarvis consult at one point is Dr. Vanko, father of the villain Whiplash in Iron Man 2. The Cap radio show is a great running joke. The gadgets gave it a Bond-like feel, which worked nicely.
What I didn’t: Some of the not-well done private investigator shows have the independent PI running rings around entire police forces, doing things they should be able to do. Peggy and the SSR is like that here. I have no problem with her being capable, it’s everyone else being ineffective, incompetent, and either thuggish or effeminate I wasn’t liking. I have some reservations about Peggy’s new living situation, but we’ll see.
I’ll give the combined episodes a 3.5 out of 5. I enjoyed them overall, and we’ll see where they go with the few things I didn’t care for.