Hayley Atwell is the best thing Agent Carter has to offer, capable of adding a spark to even the most plodding of scripts. Though I admit to being bored out of my mind with Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy and Atwell’s portrayal of her, were what kept me watching, imbued with an equal amount of heart, vulnerability and strength as well as just being very kickass. Agent Carter is Alias in the 40s, minus the Rambaldi artifacts and with a better costume department. It has the kind of cool and fun, alongside the worldending elements and inner demons of Marvel properties. The eight-episode season premieres with two episodes, “Now Is Not the End” and “Bridge and Tunnel”. Both are strong displays of what the show has to offer, giving a well-rounded look at Peggy’s life after The First Avenger.
When the series opens it’s with Steve Rogers’ final communication with Peggy before he “dies”, reminding everyone of where we are in the Marvel universe and, more importantly, in Peggy’s life. Steve’s death is a running undercurrent, and though Captain America is a household name, no one really understands what he meant to her. And no one really understands Peggy either. Her roommate is killed when Peggy’s work follows her home, and it’s a credit to Atwell that she sells Peggy’s devastation at the death of a character we didn’t know at all. But the friend’s death confirms what’s already becoming clear about Peggy: she’s very lonely, already forced to keep people at a distance because of her job and now hesitating at living in a near perfect apartment because of how close it puts her to waitress and friend Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca).
The land of espionage is a lonely one indeed, even more so when one is working alone even among fellow agents who all, with the exception of Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) show her zero respect and assume she slept her way to where she is. So it’s a relief to find a man who know exactly what Peggy’s capable of, and who respect her abilities and call her a friend. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is the name on everyone’ s lips as his “bad babies” end up in all kind of bad places and get him branded a traitor. He turns to Peggy for help clearing his name, tracking down the bad babies and the person who stole them. It’s more action than Peggy’s getting being treated as a secretary at S.S.R so she plunges headfirst into it, alongside Howard’s butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), and in her efforts she’s forced to fight the bad guys and dodge the sexist good ones.
Agent Carter clearly has a good time in its time frame, taking advantage of the period’s noir aesthetic not only in the filming, the score and the costumes but in the society. Peggy’s a woman in a man’s world, and it hardly matters what she does because none of the men she works worth are ever going to take her seriously. She’s only tasked with filing, answering phones or asked to help when it comes to scanning the lone woman at the Roxxon company for lingering radiation. Peggy’s capabilities are obvious to the viewer, and even obvious to the men as she makes no secret of it, unafraid of upstaging them when the opportunity presents itself but aware of where arguing the fallacies in their logic will get her: nowhere.
Agent Carter takes great advantage of this from a comic standpoint, with Peggy kicking butt and taking names while her male fellows stumble their way to success. Or, in some cases, they simple turn to the old standby of beating suspects and hoping to get them to talk that way, quietly requesting that Peggy leave because ladies shouldn’t see such things. Peggy takes advantage of this herself. In one sequence she dons a blond wig and a low-cut gun to flirt her way into the office of a gangster and find a bomb, and fellow agents Johnson and Krzeminski. In these two episodes Peggy’s the femme fatale and the tortured hero, keeping everyone at a distance lest she lose them like she lost Steve.
Jarvis is the only person with whom Peggy has regular contact, and his and Peggy’s partnership is the kind of traditional duo fun. Jarvis is high-strung and fussy, occupied with his domestic duties while Peggy’s driven and assertive. They have a nice rapport, which gets more fun in “Bridge and Tunnel” as Jarvis starts demanding a larger role than that of Peggy’s sidekick, much to Peggy’s annoyance. Their partnership drives home what the show’s already working with, that Peggy’s a superhero, and superheroes often have teams and sidekicks and the like. And right now Jarvis is hers.
Though she has no powers to call on, Peggy’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s saving the world (and a friend) one day at a time, and she doesn’t ever get the credit that she rightfully deserves for it. Even a Captain America radio show recasts her as a perpetual damsel in distress, constantly calling for Captain America’s help instead of the capable person she really is. While Peggy’s swallowing down the world’s misconceptions, prejudices and injustices, but she’s also saving it. And she does a really good job at it, and Agent Carter does a good job showing her at it, and by the end of these two episodes, I only wanted to stay Peggy’s world longer to see what she did next.
- It’s notable how quickly Agent Carter has it all together considering how long it took ABC’s other Marvel show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D to find its way. I was worried for a minute.
- When Thompson tells Peggy that she’s better at filing: “What sort of thing is that, Agent Thompson? The alphabet? I can teach you.”
- This show is employing all these people I’ve missed. Enver Gjokaj, Lyndsy Fonseca, and even though I can’t say I missed Chad Michael Murray I had been wondering what his life was like these days.
- Peggy’s reactions to the Captain America radio show are wonderful.
- There’s a shot of Peggy walking through a crowd of suits in red, white and blue, and it’s my favorite.
- Is Peggy the best person ever or what?