Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC

Agent Carter truly has gone Hollywood: Our favorite titular SSR operative is living in Howard Stark’s Playboy-esque mansion, hanging around movie sets, hobnobbing in private clubs, and even facing off against a starlet.

But that starlet, otherwise known as Whitney Frost, isn’t just a movie star. In fact, she’s a brilliant scientist who was also exposed to Zero Matter, a.k.a Darkforce, in the second season premiere. In other words, Peggy (Hayley Atwell) has another femme fatale on her hands. At the same time, Peggy’s also facing the very real prospect of moving on from Steve Rogers and finding love. How is Peggy handling the bright lights of Hollywood? EW turned to Atwell to get the scoop:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Carter is opening herself up to love this season. How does she feel about that?

HAYLEY ATWELL: As we know from season 1, a lot of her internal struggle was dealing with the grief of losing Steve. That was very much the driving force for a lot of the missions that she went on. Now it’s a year later and she’s settled into New York life, there’s a lightness about her. She’s been able to let go of her grief and find her humor again, and also be emotionally available. Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is over there [in Los Angeles] and she settled in New York having had that brief little flirtation with him that didn’t amount to anything. When Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) says they need her in L.A., of course she’s got more of a reason to go and a personal agenda. It’s apparent that was a lie, and Sousa was just as shocked to see her.

It doesn’t fare well for her at the beginning, because she also learns that Sousa wanted to get away from her, because they were both useless at the romance and couldn’t get it together, despite their affection for each other. Here we have a very awkward situation, because Sousa’s moved on with his life, and Peggy comes back in and turns it upside down. At the same time, we have the introduction of the very dashing Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin), so she’s got two men on the go. It’s very different for her. What’s endearing is you see just how awkward and useless she is in the world of romance. It’s not something that comes naturally, or that she’s had much experience with, or that she’s ever been lucky with. She’s like a Bambi learning to walk when it comes to romance.

Is there a part of Peggy that’s crushed a little bit to see that Sousa has moved on?

I think so. With Peggy, she battles between what she wants and having to accept life on life’s terms. She does it with dignity, although she’s very tenacious and stubborn. That must spill over to her love life as well, because that’s part of her character. She’s ambitious and tries to get what she wants within her own moral compass. When it comes to the opportunity to maybe be with Sousa, and flying across the country to see if that’s going to happen, to then be rejected, it’s a shock to her, and she has to very quickly swallow her pride and act in a dignified way. She’s ultimately someone who wants happiness for her fellow man. She can’t control that, she can’t manipulate him, and she has no choice but to accept him and this situation and wish him well. You see her struggle with that a little bit, but you see her doing that with as much dignity as she can muster, which I really like about Peggy. Her morality is in check despite her being very tenacious and knowing what she wants. She can’t always have everything that she wants.

What can you tease of what Peggy’s up against when it comes to the Council of Nine and Zero Matter?

It quickly becomes very nasty and complicated. It becomes a matter, for Peggy throughout the season, of peeling back the frustrating, stubborn layers of this case to try to figure out what’s going on. There’s a lot of science jargon, which is completely above her head, which is why she recruited Jason Wilkes. A lot of the plot is driven by this mysterious substance known as Zero Matter, which becomes almost like a black hole, which can create tremendous amounts of power in the person that knows how to manipulate it — but it also has the power to destroy the planet. It’s something that she doesn’t understand, and no one really knows how it works, until we see it manifesting in Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett). Also, you have what it means in terms of her relationship with Jason Wilkes, professional and personal, and someone like Whitney Frost, who is the carrier of Zero Matter, who is, in many ways, the opposite side of the coin to Peggy. She’s someone who has a brilliant mind, but uses all her power and skills for evil. Peggy is the opposite of that, so we’re seeing two opposites going head to head, which is very exciting.

What is Peggy’s dynamic like with Whitney once we see them meet?

I love Wynn Everett; I think she’s so brilliant. She’s so funny. Watching her, I was just in tears. She’s so bold and brilliant, and has this fantastic way of making character choices that felt so of the Golden Age of actresses in Hollywood at that time. Peggy is not intimidated by her stardom, but she’s fascinated by Whitney’s power and audacity. They’re constantly playing a game of chess together and trying to outwit each other, but there is a level of respect there, because Peggy cannot deny that Whitney Frost is a genius and that she’s brilliant. The tragedy is that she uses that for forces of bad and her own narcissistic desires and intentions, which will hopefully eventually lead to her demise. There’s something quite powerful about two women going head to head — same with Dottie (Bridget Regan) still being an enemy.

Thompson may, inadvertently or not, be working with the Council of Nine through Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith). Does Peggy suspect something amiss?

It’s a surprise to her. When he does that final douchebag move of taking credit and a promotion based on the work, really, that Peggy’s done, she brushes it off because she knows her value. By this point, she deals with Thompson with a bemused tolerance. What that means is that when he becomes chief and she has to work with him, she tolerates him, but finds him bewildering. She knows how to brush him off now. She doesn’t really respect him, but she knows she has to be polite so she can get on and do her job. By the time we start to reveal that she doesn’t actually know what side he’s on, she’s blindsided, because she brushed him off as a fool and a bit of an idiot, but not really a threat. I don’t think she thinks he had it in him to possibly be a bad guy. She just saw him as someone who was arrogant, but not evil, so she’s blindsided by that.

Given that Peggy has some trust issues, should we be wary of anyone else in her life, like Jason or Violet (Sarah Bolger)?

That’s definitely the situation that she’s in. She can’t trust anyone. She doesn’t even find herself trustworthy. She lives a double life and lies to people all the time. She’s a master of disguises and a manipulator herself. In accepting that, it means she comes to have a healthy level of distrust for other people. That’s why it’s hard for her to really go there with Jason Wilkes romantically, or might be the reason why she can’t make this great declaration of love toward Sousa. She finds it hard to be intimate and open up. That’s a natural trait to living a double life like that. It must be incredibly hard. It’s something she accepts as part of her job, really.

How do you think the dynamic between Howard (Dominic Cooper) and Peggy has changed this year?

There was the huge betrayal between Howard and Peggy in the first season that could’ve meant there was a tear in their relationship that was so brutally severed that they wouldn’t be able to find their way back. But their love becomes stronger in a platonic way. I think it’s probably quite bewildering to Howard that there is a woman in front of him that he actually respects and doesn’t see just sexually. It’s quite rare for Howard. Also, Peggy feels — through understanding the nature of this betrayal — empathy for him, but it also sets them up to have more of an authentic relationship between them. It also means that there’s a humor, there’s a banter between them that she can indulge him. She’s always making fun of how utterly ridiculous his flamboyant, excessive lifestyle is and the women around him. She can’t deny, at the same time, that he’s a genius and he’s fascinated by the work that he does. It cements how important they are to each other’s lives and each other’s work. It feels like a relationship that will be forever for them.

Stay tuned throughout the season for much more Agent Carter scoop from Atwell! Marvel’s Agent Carter airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Episode Recaps

Marvel's Agent Carter

Marvel’s second TV series on ABC tracks the exploits of Agent Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell, last seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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