Agent Carter Recap 1.1 & 1.2: Marvel Gets Its Femme OnPosted: January 7, 2015
While I remain an unabashed fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and all of its exciting storytelling and worldbuilding, I feel like the television side of that universe has yet to really prove itself. Agents of SHIELD couldn’t get me to watch past the pilot, and while I’ve heard it’s picked up major steam post-Winter Soldier, particularly in Season 2, I’ve yet to find out for myself. So with Marvel’s Netflix meta-series a few months from kicking off (in April with Daredevil), the aspirations of Marvel TV fall to Agent Carter. And damn if she didn’t get off to a great start. The first thing I thought repeatedly through the first two episodes (presented back-to-back as one long story) was “Hey, Marvel’s doing a period version of Alias.” And while Agent Carter certainly does recall that other geek-friendly ABC spy show, it also establishes a voice all its own, one that expands on the Marvel mythos without being one massive wink to the camera. And besides avoiding prequelitis, the show also allows its eponymous hero to take center stage without losing any of her charm, something that many strong supporting characters cannot do. Powered by a still-charismatic performance from Hayley Atwell, Peggy Carter is a great hero, one who is flawed and has chips on her shoulder. At this point in her story, Peggy is belittled for her relationship with Captain America and wants desperately to prove her own individual worth. On top of that, she’s still mourning Steve as well, and hopes to live up to his heroic example and her own desire to serve the greater good. And as a result of that, she’s driven to the point of not wanting to accept help, or not wanting to open up to others. She wants to prove herself on her own terms, and deal with her pain without risking further pain from other people. Of course, neither of these tactics is the best idea, something that Peggy is already beginning to learn in these first episodes, but they also make her the ideal person to be drawn into Howard Stark’s plan. And while Dominic Cooper continues to bring the requisite amount of charm and vague douchiness to Howard, the real standout of the show besides Peggy herself is the original Edwin Jarvis, brought to stuffy, humorous life by James d’Arcy. Jarvis is a great foil for Peggy, and undercuts the uptight butler stereotype just enough to make him interesting. And d’Arcy is brilliant in the part, mastering the light-but-cutting sarcasm and the innate sense of loyalty that the character demands. There’s also just the right amount of mysteriousness to Jarvis and Stark to give us some pause as to what they’re really up to, and what they really want Peggy to do. Besides the well-drawn characters and simple-but-effective mystery, what makes Agent Carter really pop is the blunt and oh-so-necessary feminist commentary laced through the show. This is most blatant in the second episode, where we see a postwar radio program about Captain America that effectively retcons Peggy into a hapless love interest. This obviously rankles Peggy to no end, and leads into a great sequence where Peggy in real life beats the crap out of a suspect while the audio of “Cap” fighting on the radio plays in the background. It’s a very direct statement about Peggy and about female representation in superhero stories, and it’s still very fun on top of it. It’s a great sequence that really drove home the strength of Agent Carter as a series and a character. So with their second time out, Marvel hits the ground running in exactly the way that Agents of SHIELD did not. I’m very very excited for the rest of this series, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story takes us. Check in soon for the next recap!