Retrospect: Agent Carter, Part 1

Superhero minus Superpowers times improvisation plus style = Peggy Carter

Peggy Carter.

Ask pretty much anyone who my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe character is and that will be the answer. Peggy is my favorite. But putting aside personal bias for a moment, Peggy is also important.

When it first aired Agent Carter was Marvel’s only female led property (within the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Since then Jessica Jones has aired, giving us a female lead on an entirely different spectrum. We have Captain Marvel on her way in 2019. After being underused and misused in Antman, Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dym is now sharing title space in its sequel, Antman and the Wasp. And we also have several awesome women over on Agents of SHIELD by the names of Daisy Johnson, Melinda May, Bobbi Morse and Jemma Simmons.

Marvel is stepping up its game with its female characters (both superhuman and not). It’s still got a lot of work to do (obviously), but it started over on Agent Carter.

Peggy is not a superhero. At least not in the traditional sense. Nor is she a super spy. She was not specially raised and trained by the Red Room. She’s not super strong, or super fast. She can’t turn into a giant green rage monster. She’s not a Norse god with a magic hammer. She’s a normal woman caught in the midst of a world of super soldier serums, tesseracts and mind controllers. And she gets the job done. She’s well trained. She’s smart. She’s resourceful. She’s a superhero without super powers. And she does it wearing a fabulous hat, a skirt and heels. She’s a badass, dynamic and interesting female character who is also feminine. She’s a hero without having masculine traits forced upon her to prove her strength. She’s strong. She’s a woman. Deal with it.

Agent Carter gives Peggy more depth, more relationships (JARVIS!) and far, far more screen time, adding to her importance in the larger expanse of the MCU.

Luckily it got renewed for a second season! Which was an enormous relief. Seriously. I had been checking the internet every day for news of whether or not we would get more of Peggy, her fabulous hats and her wonderful British wit.

And because we got more Peggy I shall be reviewing all ten season two episodes for Killer Moose. Reviews will be posted on Thursdays, starting on January 21st.

But that’s twenty days away!

I know, I know. But don’t panic. We’ve got you covered.

In the lead up to the season two double part premier I will be posting the first of the Killer Moose Retrospects. I will be re-watching season one and reviewing the episodes in batches. The review of the first two episodes will follow this introduction. I’ll then review three more next week and the final three the week after. The week after that? SEASON TWO PREMIERS.

So let’s get started.

agent-carter

Agent Carter, Season 1, “Now Is Not the End” & “Bridge & Tunnel”

Agent Carter opens with a scene from Captain America: The First Avenger. Peggy talks to Steve over the radio as his plane goes down. Then we transition to a montage of Peggy’s greatest hits from the film and the Agent Carter one-shot, cut together with shots of Peggy getting ready for the day, all set to Caro Emerald’s “That Man”. It’s a great way of quickly establishing significant moments in Peggy’s history and reminding us of (or introducing us to) her character, all the while setting the show’s style and tone with music and the coming together of Peggy’s boldly colored wardrobe.

carterpremiere
YES PEGGY, part the grey-suited masses in your snappy suit and fabulous hat!

It also serves as a reminder of Peggy’s past. Steve Rogers is a large part of the show’s first season. His presence looms over these first two episodes, both in terms of his and Peggy’s unexplored romance and in the use of Vita-Ray radiation in the central conflict.

Another returning face from the first Captain America film is Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). He’s invented some truly dangerous weapons (with the aforementioned Vita-Ray radiation), which have been stolen. And now he’s being accused of selling them to America’s enemies. He flees the country, but not before asking Peggy to clear his name by becoming a double agent, leaving her with his butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), as her ally, hurling her into a mission filled with voiceless assassins and the mysterious Leviathan, which rings eerily similar to Hydra.  

But it’s not just the remnants or offshoots of Hydra with which Peggy has to deal. It’s part of what makes Agent Carter great. There are not simply super villains or secret societies stealing high tech bombs. There are also everyday antagonists like Chief Roger Dooley and Agent Jack Thompson (played damn well by Shea Whigham and Chad Michael Murray) at the Strategic Scientific Reserve, who think Peggy is only good enough to cover the phones and file reports.

Sexism is a big part of this show. It’s post war America. We also see it with Peggy’s roommate Colleen (Ashley Hinshaw) and waitress Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca). The men have come home and the women who worked to keep the country running are being pushed out of their jobs.

Peggy isn’t simply dealing with being a double or Leviathan. She’s also facing a world that’s largely convinced she’s not up to her job. Even well meaning Agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is part of the problem (in a very different way). He assumes she needs defending. But Peggy reminds him she’s perfectly capable of defending herself. What makes Sousa great is that he takes her admonishment not with offense but with a smile of acknowledgement.

The first two episodes are defined by a fast pace—a necessity in a season of only eight episodes. The villains we are introduced to—Leet Brannis and the man in the green suit—are dead by the end of “Bridge and Tunnel”. Peggy’s reluctance to accept help (whether it be from Jarvis on missions or Angie in finding a new place to live) is also put to rest. Her reluctance makes sense on a character level but it’s refreshing to not have it drawn out. Despite this, nothing feels rushed. The episodes clip along at a satisfying speed while still leaving time for simple, effective and creative fight work (Peggy’s use of a stapler to quickly take down a bouncer is one of my favorite little pieces of fight choreography ever) and continuously showing us, rather than telling us, how effective and resourceful Peggy is as an agent.

Agent-carter-2
A friendship is born!

The show also has an appreciation for simple moments—the soft breaths between the tension of the spy drama and action sequences. Whether it’s Peggy’s face as she steps out of the elevator into the switchboard room, Jarvis handing Peggy a handkerchief or Jarvis sewing up Peggy’s wounded leg and giving her a bit of advice, the show lands these quiet moments just as effectively as its larger, more explosive moments.

 

 

Other thoughts on re-watch:

Peggy is amazing at repurposing items for a fight. In first two episodes we have: stove grate, stapler and fork.

“Crikey O’Reilly” might be my new favorite exclamation ever.

I bet Jarvis is super attentive to his wife’s after hours requirements. I am finding on re-watch I am super attracted to him.

“What kind of thing is that, Agent Thompson, the alphabet? I can teach you. Let’s start with word beginning with A.”

Totally missed the mirroring of these two lines the first time I watched this show:

“I’m afraid I’d only step on your toes.”

“We’ll have the band play something slow. I’d hate to step on your—“

Yep, there are the tears.

Next week: Agent Carter Retrospect, Part 2 (episodes 3, 4 & 5)!