In which we are re-introduced to Agent Peggy Carter and the many reasons why she's great.
Peggy Carter rocks.
If there’s one thing that tonight’s doubleheader kicking off the eight-episode Agent Carter miniseries does well, it’s prove that Hayley Atwell is a dynamo—charismatic, unflappable, and just plain fun to watch, Atwell kills it as S.H.I.E.L.D. precursor S.S.R.’s secret badass, staying one step of ahead of both the bad guys she’s after and the coworkers who expect her to be taking calls and filing paperwork. The rest of the show? Well, it could use a bit of work in spots, but it got the most important part right. Agent Peggy Carter is the best.
Now about the rest of the show.
Like my colleague Darren Franich says in his review, not every aspect of Agent Carter is on the same level as the woman playing Agent Carter. Outside of James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis and a brief appearance from Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark, few characters really pop—although I’m hopeful for Enver Gjokaj’s Agent Daniel Sousa—as anyone who’s seen Dollhouse can attest, the man has some serious acting chops.
That’s not to say everyone else is bad—the villains are mostly boring, but the main cast members, from Chad Michael Murray and his S.S.R. Bros to Peggy Carter’s automat waitress friend Sarah are all quite good actually. They’re just not on the same level as Atwell and D’Arcy—but maybe that’ll change as they get more to do down the road.
Then there’s the plot, which is, unfortunately, not incredibly interesting. After setting up the premise—Howard Stark is framed for selling his most dangerous weapons to the enemy, and he needs Peggy to use her position within the S.S.R. to secretly hunt down the real perps in order to clear his name—the first episode is pretty generic Marvel stuff. Carter and Jarvis go off on a hunt for the Dangerous MacGuffin That Will Destroy Everything.
While this is old hat when it comes to Marvel, it’s very briskly plotted, with lots of fun, well-choreographed action scenes and a bit of intrigue introduced when Peggy is hunted by a man with a Y-shaped laryngoscopy scar working for something called Leviathan (a comic book reference to another organization not unlike Hydra that first appeared in Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors).
There’s a crazy fun spy sequence where Agent Carter puts on a flashy dress and a blond wig to get information out of a wealthy fence named Spider Raymond (played by Bubz From The Wire!) and a thrilling fight scene in Peggy’s apartment after she defuses the first bomb she finds at Raymond’s only to find her roommate dead.
It all builds to a climax at a power plant owned by Roxxon Oil (Comics aside: This might be the first MCU appearance of the evil Roxxon Corporation from the comics, yes?), where Leviathan agents have amassed A LOT of Stark’s glowing super-explosive, and a milk truck full of it gets away after one of the baddies sets off one of the bombs. In Peggy and Jarvis’ mad escape, the resulting implosion rips off their bumper. This will be important.
NEXT: Slowing things down a bit
The second hour, however, is where things slow down a bit, unfortunately. It mostly revolves around Peggy, her S.S.R. teammates, and the Leviathan assassin trying to find the milk truck loaded with Stark’s magic bombs, and well… not much happens. There’s a lot of obstacles thrown in Peggy’s way that feel contrived to keep her busy while the other characters get to where they need to be—there is a significant amount of time spent on Carter trying to break into Sousa’s desk for a picture of her from Spider Raymond’s club that, come the end of the episode, turns out to not be a big deal.
But again, there’s plenty of good stuff happening, too, like a delightful scene where Carter poses as a dairy inspector while she tries to locate the milk truck in question, or Ray Wise showing up as the head of Roxxon (I’m someone who unapologetically gets excited about Ray Wise being in anything). But again: it feels an awful lot like treading water until it’s finally okay to have Carter and Jarvis go after Sheldon McFee, the guy with the milk truck everyone wants.
Once they catch up with him, we’re treated to probably my favorite sequence on the show: a quick, efficient fight scene where Peggy dusts McFee up nicely, intercut with the foley work and narration of voice actors depicting a fight scene for a Captain America radio drama.
The problem with Sheldon McFee, though, is that he’s not the guy we saw drive off with the milk truck in the pilot. Turns out that guy was still there—he tries to get away, but Jarvis had sabotaged his car, helping Peggy even though she didn’t want him to. The three of them then exit the scene together before S.S.R. arrives, but then the Leviathan assassin from the pilot catches up with them and lands on the truck’s roof.
Which is a problem, because he starts firing live ammunition into a truck full of Mr. Stark’s Magic Bombs.
The action scene that follows is fantastic in its ambition, but not so great in its execution. It’s probably the only real scene where Agent Carter overreaches, trying to do a big blockbuster set piece on a small-screen budget. It never really looks outright bad, just unclear, which is kind of a bummer—one of the things Agent Carter had been doing well up until this point is its action.
That quibble aside, Jarvis and Carter solve their bomb problem by driving the milk truck into the river, jumping out before it flies off the road. The Leviathan agent they had taken hostage, however, does not survive—but before he dies, he leaves a single clue: a heart, traced in the sand, with a single, curving line drawn through it.
– I really like the show’s approach to the sexism of the era—every time it’s introduced in a scene, it’s used to highlight another aspect of Peggy Carter’s character, and the numerous ways she fights against it. From turning down Sousa’s well-intentioned defense of her, to her scathing wit in regard to her colleagues, to her response to the automat patron’s impropriety, it all serves to demonstrate Agent Carter’s understanding of and calculated non-compliance to a system that would rather see her be a spinster.
– That said, I’m a bit torn on the pining for Captain America. On the one hand, I suppose it makes sense—it wasn’t that long ago, and it’s a strong point of reference for viewers—but it seems to undermine Peggy more than inform her character.
– PEGGY: This job will have certain after-hours requirements.
JARVIS: So does my wife, Miss Carter.
– Seriously guys. RAY WISE.
– Sarah’s apartment building sounds like a convent.
– I would watch a show that’s like Entourage but with Chad Michael Murray and his S.S.R. goons trying to make the next great radio drama.
– Did the name Dr. Vanko ring a bell? Here’s why: He’s the father of Anton Vanko, a.k.a. Whiplash—the main villain in Iron Man 2. In that film, Anton believed the elder Vanko to be the Nikolai Tesla to the elder Stark’s Thomas Edison—a true genius overshadowed by an opportunist. Wonder if their relationship will play a role in the rest of the series…
– Hey, if you’re a regular reader of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recaps, welcome back! I’ll be recapping Agent Carter as well. That said—I’m actually really glad there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the series will play heavily into what’s going on in this season of AoS. I was worried that it would, given the WWII-era flashbacks the show sprinkled in, but it looked like it was just meant to remind folks about Peggy Carter and why she was important. That’s good. The more this short and sweet eight-episode miniseries stands on its own, the better it’s likely to be.