On your feet soldiers, it’s time to delve into Marvel Studios’ second television outing with Marvel’s Agent Carter. Following Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, the show drops us into New York City in the 1940’s. The series not only gives us our first female-led endeavor of Marvel Studios, but promises to see the return of many other stalwarts such as Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), non-robot Jarvis (James D’Arcy), and the Howling Commandos, to name a few. With Hydra, Nazis, and other assorted villains around every corner, can Agent Carter beat the odds and also come to terms with the fact that Steve Rogers is currently a Cap-sicle drifting in the Antarctic seas? Will Agent Carter prove successful in bridging the gap from Marvel’s past to Marvel’s future? Hit the jump for my recap of the premiere episode of Agent Carter.
Our episode starts with a recap of the events of the first Captain America film, with Peggy tearfully saying her final goodbyes to Steve as he plummets to his watery fate. It’s all a dream though as Peggy wakes up in her New York City apartment, where she still works for the same organization, the Strategic Science Reserve, that she had in the film, though now she finds herself demoted by sexism to being a glorified secretary for the agents leading the collective. The opening shots of Carter walking through the streets wearing a bright red hat and blue dress, splashed against the contrast of the black suits and ties paints a very noir-esque portrait. The show does a great job of harkening back to the days of serials and radio plays where espionage and sabotage were the main draws for audiences. Peggy walking through a hallway full of women working feverishly at the phone boards, with the last of the line allowing her to deliver her first wisecrack of the night was a good way to establish the scene.
The plot propels at a rocket pace as we’re told that Howard Stark, father of Tony, has been accused of selling weaponry to enemies of the state. Stark, not too thrilled with the accusations against him, decides to employ Agent Carter to help him with his predicament and take care of his “bad babies” that have hit the streets. In the traditional Marvel style, we’re given our “mcguffin,” an object that everyone in the story is attempting to get their hands on, in the form of “Nitramene gas,” a lethal concoction to say the least. Carter is now presented with finishing her new mission outside of her parameters within the S.S.R., hoping to keep one step of both them and the villainous Leviathan. To be honest, I had sincerely wished this had just been Hydra from the start, and it still very well could be, but the idea of unravelling yet another secret organization isn’t exactly the most thrilling prospect after we’ve seen it so many times as of late.
Hayley Atwell is far and away the best part of the show here, as I’d be happy watching her read the phonebook as Agent Carter. She brings a real power and charisma to her character that’s one of the strongest in Marvel’s stable this side of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Again, the noir serial backdrop of the series gives ample opportunity for Atwell to display her range as Carter and as Carter impersonating others. There’s a particularly great scene where Peggy needs to disguise herself as a “milk inspector” and it took me a second or two to actually realize it was her in disguise in the first place and not some new character! Atwell has been given a lot to do here and if anyone was to be given their own one-off series from the ancillary Marvel Cinematic Universe roster, I’m glad it was her.
What is a protagonist without a good supporting cast watching her back? While Atwell does a lot of the heavy lifting, and rightfully so, she’s joined by Howard Stark’s butler, D’Arcy’s Jarvis, who acts as a fantastic foil to the rigid Agent with your typical English demanor and stories of his angry wife. The duo plays off each other well, Jarvis almost acting in the role of Peggy’s doting parent. Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark changes little from his appearance in the first Captain America, retaining all his charm and snark that acts as welcome addition to the cast, albeit brief. On the other hand, we have Peggy’s counterparts at the S.S.R. who are a bit much. I understand the need to have them put down Peggy to raise the trials set in front of her, but this makes them look comical and buffoonish when they bicker with one another constantly, make wisecracks, and have trouble accomplishing their many tasks given to them throughout this first installment. Ultimately, that’s a minor quibble as the cast is rock solid.
A good deal of creators involved in bringing Captain America to the big screen played a heavy part in this premiere and it shows. Keeping everything from the characters to the technology to the score of the episode in the era of the 1940’s really helps hammer the show home on top of the character performances here. Marvel Studios does a great job of taking risks with their stories and characters, and Agent Carter is no different. You won’t find many shows like this one as it manages to break away from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. early on and you almost wouldn’t know the two were related if you were going into this completely fresh. One of my favorite parts of the episode was the “Captain America” radioplay that was laced throughout the beats of the premiere. Giving Peggy some of her biggest emotional moments during these was a good way to show that the shadow of Steve Rogers and what he represented to Agent Carter still lingers.
As for the action, there are some good scenes to be found here. The hand to hand fights are well choreographed and the perilous endeavors Peggy finds herself in are well staged. I feel that the threat of Leviathan and the cliffhanger could have used a little more “oomph” all things considered but again, minor complaints. I also think that we may have done without so many flashbacks as the flashbacks to the first Captain America were peppered in a bit too frequently for my liking and there was even a flashback to a scene later in the episode that had taken place earlier in the same episode.
There are a few things that hold this show back from being an “A,” but ultimately, it was a fun watch and a solid first installment in this mini-series. Give this show a shot if you’re looking for something that still in the Marvel style, but a little outside of the wheelhouse of anything that’s currently on television these days.
Agent of M.I.S.C.E.L.L.A.N.E.A.
– A few Marvel drops here and there in the form of Vanko (Whiplash’s father from Iron Man 2) and Roxxon, the notoriously evil corporation that still threatens heroes to this day in the funny books.
– It was a nice surprise to see Andre Royo, Bubbles from The Wire, show up here though I wish the writers would have given him more to do and not unceremoniously snuffed out the character of Spider Raymond.
– Didn’t really dig the Ant-Man trailer. Maybe this will change as more footage is released, but it seemed a little…dire for something that should be on the same level of humor as Guardians of the Galaxy at the very least.
– “You’re so much better at this kind of thing.”
“What’s that? The alphabet?”
– “Let’s face it, I invented it, so it works.”
– “What happens at 9:00?”
“My wife and I go to bed.”
– “Well, that was a bit premature.”
– “You realize that this mission has certain requirements?”
“So does my wife, Ms. Carter!”
– “We’re looking for an angry blond? Have you tried my house?”
– “Fine! I’ll forego the linens.”
– “What a beautiful day to mend these pants!”
– “I used to strap a chair to my ass and take long walks across the neighborhood too.”