On the D/L – Agent Carter
Season 1 Episode 1 – “Now is Not the End”
Marvel’s ever growing tapestry extends into another TV show in the form of Agent Carter. The show picks up a year after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) working for the SSR -the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D- doing the admin work and generally suffering the casual sexism of her colleagues.
With the exception of Captain America: The First Avenger the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been almost entirely focused on the present day so making this show a period piece immediately lets it stand out. The setting turns out to be a lot of fun with period costumes, some old fashioned ways of talking and a deeper look into the history of the Cinematic Universe we’ve all come to love.
The character of Peggy has been appearing fairly frequently recently with an aged cameo in Captain America: The Winter Solider, two appearances in episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and reportedly an appearance in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man so she already a mainstay in the events of this universe. I’m glad she’s getting so much to do as she’s a great character. I really like the restrained disrespect she shows for those she works with. The 40s were famous for the sexist attitudes towards women so it makes sense that the men around her don’t pay much attention to her. This proves to be to their disadvantage since they are ignorant to the fact that she is casually insulting them every chance she gets and actually using their ignorance to spy on them.
Peggy has plenty of depth to her beyond her combat and spy skills. There’s a sense that she wants more out of life than her job. She is independent but also knows when to rely on others. I really liked the scene where she finds her friend dead and is driven to tears. I wasn’t expecting to see this level of vulnerability to her so soon but it was a nice surprise as it really adds layers and complexity to her character.
It’s great to see that they are steps behind her all the way. Her colleagues tend to arrive at the same conclusions far slower than she does which means that she’s been in to do the work before they even get there. Peggy always seemed intelligent and resourceful in her earlier appearances and this definitely comes across here. She does have far better resources than they do given her connection to Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) but her greater intelligence is definitely an asset in her investigations.
This show is far more of a spy show than I was expecting. There’s a great scene where Peggy wears a dress and a blonde wig to use her feminine charm in order to get hold of a stolen dangerous weapon invented by Howard Stark. It proves that she knows the role of women in society and uses that to her advantage when she needs to. Hayley Atwell clearly has a blast in this scene putting on a really convincing American accent and changing her persona so completely that she is almost unregonisable. It’s a testament to how good an actress she is as well as how skilled a spy Peggy is. No wonder she’ll be running S.H.I.E.L.D one of these days.
Naturally this first episode is all about Peggy who gets the majority of the focus. Howard Stark’s appearance is brief yet memorable and serves as the catalyst for the larger story beginning to unfold. Acting on behalf of Howard is his butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) -no doubt the inspiration for Tony Stark’s JARVIS A.I. in the days to come- who seems like something of timid individual who is very set in his ways. Seems that he and his wife live a sheltered life that involves a strict routine with a strict bedtime. There are shades of something beneath that given how casually he discusses Howard Stark’s recreational activities with women. It’s also curious how easily he takes this dangerous assignment. I’m thinking that he’ll turn out to be like Alfred in Gotham and kick some serious ass before the series is out. He and Howard are definitely hiding something from Peggy so we’ll see how that turns out.
Peggy and Jarvis have great chemistry and no romantic subtext to their relationship which I find really refreshing. Jarvis seems devoted to his wife which pretty much prevents all that but their relationship is very much a partnership with some friendly banter rather than having any sexual tension.
Peggy’s colleagues at the SSR appear briefly here in the form of Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham), Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). Not much is done with them here but they’re clearly introduced to serve as a strong supporting cast throughout the rest of the series. They seem clueless when it comes to Peggy with Daniel being the only one who shows her any respect. I like that they are portrayed as being competent at their jobs with their major failing being that they underestimate Peggy which keeps them away from some really significant clues.
This episode uses footage from Captain America: The First Avenger to help establish the time period and show that Peggy is still grieving for her lost love and misses him terribly. At times this feels a little overused as it tends to suggest that her memory of him is distracting Peggy from her mission which seems slightly out of character.
One thing that makes the episode slightly lacking is that the villainous presence isn’t quite as intimidating as the show really needs it to be. There are some really skilled henchman and hints at a wider conspiracy going on involving something called Leviathan but ultimately they do seem slightly toothless. Having only 8 episodes to tell this story means that this will need to be fixed really quickly. I’m confident that this will resolve itself in the coming episodes. I did love the Fringe style typewriter communication.
A really strong start to this new show from Marvel. Everything moves really quickly but never too quickly showing that they are using the short run of 8 episodes effectively to explore this story. The decision to make this show a period piece is inspired as it allows us to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an era other than the present as well as giving the show a distinct look and feel.
Peggy Carter is a great character and Hayley Atwell plays her well. She is versatile enough to play her strong willed intelligence as well as her ability to take on alternate personas to achieve her objectives.
The relationship between Peggy and Howard Stark’s Butler Jarvis is very much at the center of this episode with the 2 characters bouncing nicely off each other. There are shades of a trusting partnership beginning to emerge and Jarvis is a great character to watch.
A greater emphasis on the villain and giving Peggy something more concrete to fight against would have strengthened this episode even more but as it sits this is a fantastic start to this piece of Marvel lore.