EW was so excited about the return of Agent Carter that two staffers — Gina McIntyre and Andrea Towers — decided we wanted to recap Peggy’s L.A. adventures together. Below, read a discussion about what we loved about the premiere.
ANDREA TOWERS: It’s fitting that the premiere opens with a scene similar to what has become iconic for Peggy Carter: the red hat, a bold splash of color, a patriotic arrival among a sea of bleak suits. The twist here is that the woman in the red hat is not Peggy. It’s Black Widow Dottie (Bridget Regan), who has returned with a new mission and a renewed vengeance. Dottie walks into a bank and attempts to make a withdrawal from a vault — 143, to be exact — where the real Peggy is waiting for her, along with the other agents from the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Within the first two minutes of season 2, we’re greeted with a glorious Peggy and Dottie fight scene, complete with Dottie’s patented Black Widow moves and even a little banter (“Love the hat,” Peggy deadpans to her nemesis, before getting the best of her). Later, Peggy attempts to interrogate Dottie about why she was in the bank, since no one can explain the lapel pin found in the box. Why is the object so important? All we know is that according to the FBI, Dottie was attempting to steal from “a powerful man with powerful allies,” but the object is something that will undoubtedly play a key role in this season’s story. (And we have even more reason to suspect it’s important when Peggy later finds a lapel pin with the same symbol in Howard Stark’s car.) As Dottie tells Peggy, “We both know there are currencies stronger than money.”
While I love a good, evenly matched BAMF fight, I love watching a quiet power play more. (“Girls like you raised with silver spoons and perfect skin…you expect everything to come to you so easily.”) Give me Peggy interrogating Dottie any day, because I could watch these two face off in a 10-episode series of their own. When Peggy removes Dottie’s handcuffs, it’s a big moment: she proves she’s not afraid of her and also proves she’s willing to trust her. One of the biggest compliments I can give Agent Carter this season is that we’re actually building on the progression of last year. We left off with Peggy finally achieving the respect she deserves at the SSR, and we pick up finding that she’s no longer fighting that battle. This season, Peggy’s greatest threats will be more tangible — villains like Dottie and Madame Masque (more on her later) — and while there will probably still be gender-related setbacks, we seem to be past the point of Peggy having to sneak around in order to do her job.
GINA MCINTYRE: And she’ll be doing that job from LA now! Once Daniel Sousa, heading up the SSR’s newly opened West Coast bureau, is tasked with investigating a mysterious case involving the body of a woman found in a frozen lake in the middle of summer, he phones back to headquarters for backup. Sensing an opportunity to dispatch his office rival, Thompson sends Peggy to assist in the case. She arrives on a jetliner on a picture perfect Los Angeles day looking like a classic movie star (compliments on trading her red fedora for red-framed sunglasses). There to greet her on the tarmac, umbrella in hand, is sight-for-sore-eyes Edwin Jarvis, who’s having a little trouble acclimating to the sun-dappled Southern California lifestyle. Also along for the ride? BERN-ard, the flamingo, a recent acquisition of Howard Stark for his backyard meagerie. (Although he’s not glimpsed in the opening episodes, Howard has had absolutely no trouble acclimatizing to Los Angeles, it seems. In fact, he’s opened his own movie studio — what better way to bed starlets?) On their way to the Stark residence where Peggy will be staying, Jarvis informs her that he’s “exhaustively bored” and desperate to join in on some of her adventures. “You have no idea how foreign Los Angeles will seem to a civilized person such as yourself. They eat avocados. With everything.” What’s more, “The foliage is preposterous.” Perhaps, but the ocean breezes seem to suit Peggy Carter just fine for now. And away from the SSR headquarters, Peggy will be free to continue to assert herself as the talented spy she is (“I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”) and afford her a richly deserved fresh start — isn’t that always the allure of a westward move?
Not only do the sunny new surroundings stand to give Peggy a fresh perspective on the spy trade, they also bring the promise of new friendships, including one with the absolutely delightful Ana Jarvis (Lotte Verbeek). Peggy seems pleasantly surprised to find her wildly outgoing — a lovely, colorful counterpoint to her painfully proper husband. She’s ready with a drink and a smile (and a hot and heavy kiss for hubby), not to mention some great gal-pal fashion advice. Maybe forging new relationships will help Peggy find some real work-life balance and emotional stability, possibly even joy, post-Cap? Here’s hoping.
NEXT: Let’s get down to business
GINA: Speaking of moving on… There might be more on the horizone than platonic friendship. Setting aside the continuing tension with the newly engaged Sousa (more on that in a minute), during the course of the investigation into the strange circumstances surrounding the frozen body, Peggy encounters Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin), an Isodyne Energy physicist. He helps identify the dead woman as Jane Scott, a colleague who worked in close proximity to the particle accelerator on site. (They might be up to no good, but say this for Isodyne, they have some radically progressive hiring practices.) Wilkes’ introduction does begin to help address the series’ obvious racial imbalance—diverse representation stands as an inherent challenge for any show set in the 1940s given the rampant racism of the period — but what’s especially interesting is the romantic spark between Wilkes and Peggy. Struck by her quick wit and beauty, Wilkes offers to assist her by sharing intel, but he’s also conflicted about revealing too much, telling Peggy over drinks at a downtown dance hall that Isodyne was the only company willing to hire him, despite his impeccable credentials. Clearly, the fact that both he and she are wildly capable people who have been marginalized owing to race and gender could serve as a powerful point of connection — her stubborn refusal to accept arbitrary societal limitations is one of Peggy’s core character traits. When a convenient store clerk asks her if she’s in harm’s way simply because she’s in Wilkes’ company, the indignant fire that lights in her eyes at the preposterous suggestion is glorious to behold. And the kiss she and Wilkes share before the installment’s conclusion? I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little fire there, too. Sadly, by the episodes’ end, things don’t look quite so promising for the budding couple, but then again, things aren’t always as they seem.
ANDREA: Peggy’s not the only one with someone new in her life, however — Sousa’s fallen for a nurse named Violet (Sarah Bolger) and things appear to be pretty serious. Rather than focusing on petty jealousies, Agent Carter gets points for presenting Violet as someone who is delighted to befriend Peggy (and Lesley Boone’s Rose, who’s accompanied Sousa to L.A. and appears on track for an expanded role this season). She even insists that Peggy come to dinner with her and Daniel, unaware that he’s planning to propose. Of course, fate intervenes, and their date is postponed after duty calls, and Sousa must help Peggy. Violet, ever understanding, seems happy he’s returned home safe and gives him a bear claw on her way into work. She’s almost too perfect. Still, it’s a little heartbreaking to see Peggy learn about Sousa’s relationship, since she does carry a bit of a torch for him (and the feeling’s mutual). At the end of season 1, there was a hint of a relationship brewing between them — so much so, many wondered if Sousa would be the man Peggy would eventually marry. I’d say it’s still not out of the question.
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But onto other new players… During the investigation into Jane Scott’s murder, Peggy and Sousa come into contact with the owner of Isodyne Energy, aspiring politico Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham). Peggy and Jarvis go undercover at the race track to interview him and his wife, who, it turns out, is none other than Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett): the cinema star from Tales of Suspense. Spoiler alert: Jarvis is a fan. And it’s only fitting that he presents himself as “Edwin Jarvis, head of production, Stark Pictures” right? (James D’Arcy nearly steals the scene, but the brilliant American accent Atwell adopts makes me love her more than I already do.) In the same way that Agent Carter begins to address race relations by introducing Wilkes, the show references Hollywood stereotypes with Frost — she’s still young and beautiful, but maybe not young and beautiful enough to star in many more films. Desperate for anything to prolong her celebrity, Frost sets her sights on Isodyne’s secret weapon — zero matter. What’s zero matter? We’ll get to that in just a second.
NEXT: Let’s talk about Frost[pagebreak]
ANDREA: Throughout the season, we’ll come to know Frost better as Madame Masque. Following the comics, Frost, born the daughter of a master criminal, was a wealthy socialite; more importantly she took on her father’s criminal work and became involved with Iron Man after an attack on Stark Industries. The resulting attack left her scarred after a plane crash, hence the golden mask she wore and the “Madame Masque” alias she eventually adopted. It would be likely for Agent Carter to work in the Stark connections in some way, though it’s unclear if the character will follow the traditional Marvel lore. Either way, she’s definitely a formidable antagonist for Peggy.
At the end of the first season, we got a taste of how Agent Carter might tie into the larger Marvel universe, via the introduction of Zola. There have been hints that this season will at least in part link the Agent Carter mythology to the upcoming Doctor Strange (which will see Benedict Cumberbatch star as the Sorcerer Supreme). How exactly? Zero matter. No one knows much about zero matter except Wilkes, and he shares with Peggy footage from a fission test demonstrating that the substance needs to be contained because it devours physical energy. Exposure also can prove toxic to humans — it turns out that’s what caused Jane Scott’s death and claimed the lives of the coroner who examined her body. It also infected the corrupt cop who tried to cover up the truth about Jane’s unusual demise at Calvin’s behest, but he’s eventually put out of his misery by another officer on Calvin’s payroll. Although Calvin, urged on by his wife, wants to continue to experiment with zero matter, the council he reports to (H.Y.D.R.A.?) insists that that time has passed and he must focus on his Senate campaign. Whitney has other ideas and finds herself in a standoff with Peggy and Wilkes at Isodyne, where the two have gone to attempt to steal zero matter to prevent it from ending up in the wrong hands. During a scuffle, a vial breaks open and explodes, appearing to kill Wilkes and Whitney. She actually survives, but the zero matter is living inside her (assuming you can describe it as a “living” entity). Naturally, there’s got to be hope for Wilkes, too.
As for the future of the SSR, when we last saw Thompson, he was still top dog, though he had allowed Peggy to take the reigns of the operation a little bit. But we can’t quite describe him as a feminist just yet. He (mistakenly) believes that he can take over Dottie’s interrogation after watching Peggy work. (Oh, Thompson… you really thought you could take on a Red Room graduate?) Eventually, the FBI takes Dottie into custody, and when Thompson goes to have drinks with Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith), the man behind Dottie’s removal, Vernon casually mentions he needs to start playing “the long game.” The war is over. The SSR is slowly being phased out. And it’s a different world, which means Thompson has to figure out if he wants to be the next big thing. Of course he does.
Notes from the L.A. Bureau:
- “What do you do for relaxation? Assemble rifles?”
- Things we need more of: Peggy’s early life stories, an episode of just Peggy talking about her personal life over whiskey, and an actual synopsis for the Stark Pictures’ production, The British Are Coming. (Come on, Jarvis. Tell us more!) But seriously, if this season is going to continue peeling back the layers of Peggy’s life in this way, it’s on the right track.
- Of course Howard Stark outfits his car with everything to fit his womanizing needs. Of course he does.