Hayley Atwell and the crew return for a second season of espionage, Marvel shenanigans, and Hollywood glitz and glamour in this second season of Agent Carter. Is this dive back into the world of Peggy Carter able to improve on the solid first season of the series, or does it stumble across the starting line?
Unfortunately, I think this show tends to lean a bit more toward the latter than the former. Agent Carter’s second season tries to inject new life within the series by transplanting Peggy into the West Coast scene and moving away from certain sections of the first season. Taking place briefly after the end of the first season’s finale, the show starts with a bang but ends with a fizzle.
As mentioned, the show bursts onto the scene with Agent Carter taking down Dottie Underwood, the Russian spy who harkened back to the origins of the “Black Widow” program. In a nice twist, whom the audience believes to be Peggy is in fact Dottie, attempting to use her identity to swindle some poor citizens. One of the highlights of the first season was the look into the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s society during World War II-era America and Agent Carter’s place in it. While this opening salvo manages to bring us straight back into the proceedings, I feel that something is lost with the location change. With the new environment of old school Hollywood, you would think that this setting would be rife with possibilities for the cast to explore, but I feel the opposite is true here.
The premiere feels somewhat by-the-numbers and doesn’t have a hook that reels in audiences the way it did with the first season. Granted, seeing the old cast members return is something to watch, but I feel there just isn’t enough for them to do or react to. The new characters we’re introduced to seem somewhat bland and the angle that Carter’s new love interest just so happens to be the one responsible for all the wrongdoings going on behind the scenes is a tired trope. If anything, I think the second season premiere feels safe, and in an environment of comic book shows littering the airwaves, safe is not something the showrunners can rely on anymore.
The threat this time around is yet another mysterious organization within the M.C.U. (S.I.G.H.) which is a well that’s long been drained. When random folks begin being found cemented in blocks of ice, it may pique your interest in terms of how this is coming about, but the mystery slowly begins losing its luster as more is revealed and antagonists are presented that lack the bite of the first season’s Dr. Faustus and Leviathan. When you have a show that is basing its appeal around an Indiana Jones aesthetic mixed with a world of superheroes and mystical beasts, the greatest sin the show can have is to be boring, and that unfortunately is a trap which this second season premiere falls into a bit too often.
To be fair though, the premiere is not without its bright spots. Carter and Jarvis’ (James D’Arcy) relationship remains a high note of the series, with the pair’s chemistry oozing out of the screen. I feel that if the show were to focus more on these two without going into the unnecessary subplots of folks from the Strategic Scientific Reserve, we’d be on a whole different level than what the show is aiming for at present. To elaborate on this fact, we’re introduced to Jarvis’ wife, Ana, who is delightfully played by Lotte Verbeek here. Opposite Stark’s butler’s uptight demeanor, Ana is a whirlwind of a character that bursts onto the scene with a bombastic energy which adds a lot to the proceedings.
Back to the boring side of town, the Strategic Scientific Reserve returns once again, and with Peggy on the other side of the country, it seems like a strange turn to keep a subplot open with the S.S.R. here. Kurtwood Smith, of Robocop and That 70’s Show fame, appears to explain to Agent Thompson, current head of the S.S.R., that his time at the agency is slowly but surely coming to an end. Thompson has always been a thorn in the side of Carter, and as such, the character had worked serviceably well across the span of the first season. But here? Attempting to portray him as an aging fossil in the boom of modernization just doesn’t work and it all feels as if it’s telegraphing where this storyline is headed. Of all the characters to have more screen time thrown their way, Thompson was a poor choice as it seems as if the showrunners are simply checking a box in trying to make sure that he has X number of minutes given to him in the premiere. There could have really been a few scenes between Thompson and Dottie where the agent was given time to shine, but unfortunately, it seems as if they fumbled the ball on this one.
Harkening back to my description of Thompson, the premiere feels serviceable and that’s about it. It runs us through the motions of Carter’s new locale, new threatening perils, new characters and old, but it does so in a way that hardly seems appealing or worthy of asking viewers to keep tuning in week after week. Perhaps the world of Agent Carter simply had all it needed to say in its first season, but one can only hope that the show manages to find its footing once again and rises to the quality of its first season. For now, Agent Carter is a safe venture back into the World War II era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but “safe” is nothing to write home about.
Grade: ★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated
Marvel’s Agent Carter returns to ABC in a two-hour Season 2 premiere starting at 9pm.