Agent Carter, a spin-off of Agents of SHIELD, is what dreams are made of. I don’t just say that because it’s essentially a 1940s version of Alias, a show I love so much that I’ve dressed up as Sydney Bristow for Halloween. And I don’t just say that because the big band soundtrack makes me want to 23 skidoo. Agent Carter could have been nothing more than Marvel’s olive branch to fans who were less than thrilled that a sentient tree got a film before one of their arsenal of fabulous lady heroes. And yet it is much more than that. The miniseries’ first two episodes, “Now is Not the End” and “Bridge and Tunnel,” prove that, minor faults aside, Agent Carter is the Marvel show we both deserve and need.
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Treat Her Like a Lady
It’s 1946, and World War II is over. Like many woman, Peggy Carter finds herself booted from a world in which she was both capable and valued to one where she is expected to look cute and get married. This does not sit well with her. She’s now an agent with the SSR (though she tells her roommate Colleen that she works for the phone company), where she endures Reddit-level misogyny with minimal ability to fight back while maintaining her job. This is the woman who has “Helped destroy a Nazi death cult” on her resume, so imagine what slackers like female pilots and undercover spies have to deal with.
Luckily, Peggy’s old friend Howard Stark is as much of an irresponsible mess as his future son will be. Just for kicks, he made a formula so dangerous that he wouldn’t even sell it to his friends. Naturally, someone stole it and he is now being framed for treason. It’s hard for Peggy to be appropriately annoyed when Howard is the only person recognizing her considerable skills, so she agrees to help. Howard introduces her to Jarvis the Person, his butler. If a cup of Earl Grey tea could come to life, it would be almost as British as Jarvis.
If You’ve Never Watched Alias, Sorry for the References (and Your Viewing Habits)
One of the great things about Peggy (and it’s a long list of things) is that she purposefully lets her coworkers underestimate her so that she can get more information out of them. Her coworkers, by the way, are thus far exactly what you’d expect them to be. There’s average-sexist-with-below-average-intelligence Ray Krzeminski. There’s above-average-sexist Jack Thomas, played by Chad Michael “inexplicably in every WB show from my adolescence” Murray. There’s her boss, Roger Dooley, who doesn’t have too many defining characteristics yet. And there’s Daniel Sousa. Sousa was seriously injured in the war and now has a crippled leg, meaning he doesn’t get the respect he deserves either and thus is more empathetic towards Peggy. It would seem that being a woman in the ’40s is at least as debilitating as having your leg blow off.
It’s hardly any wonder that Peggy needs an escape. She knows that a man named Spider Raymond bought Stark’s formula from whoever stole it, so she visits his nightclub in full Alias regalia. Sydney Bristow issue blonde wig, Sydney Bristow issue drugged lipstick, Sydney Bristow issue safe cracker, the works. The only difference is that somehow Peggy’s dress is less dated than the outfits Sydney wore in the early 2000s.
All in a Night’s Work
Peggy flirts her way into Spider’s office, but her beauty is too overwhelming and he kisses her drugged lipstick before she can get any answers out of him. She does find an ominously glowing ball in his office safe, though, which means that someone has already begun turning Howard’s formula into reality. Jarvis lets her know that this is a very dangerous reality, as the glowing ball is actually filled with doom and will implode if not deactivated with common kitchen ingredients.
Peggy barely gets out of the nightclub without her coworkers seeing her, as they’ve also arrived to question Spider. This proves difficult for them, since Spider has since been killed by a mysterious man in a green suit and Peggy introduced his bodyguard’s face to a stapler. But get out she does and arrives back at her apartment to say hello to Colleen before heading to her bathroom to deactivate the radioactive weapon in her purse. She is everything that I aspire to be in life.
Unfortunately, while Peggy was saving her entire block from imploding, Green Suit finds the apartment and kills Colleen. He and Peggy fight, since she is the real target, and she sees that he has a scar on his throat. She throws him out her window, but he is either very good at landing on his feet or immortal because he gets away fairly unscathed. Peggy sits by her dead friend and weeps.
This is one of my favorite things about Agent Carter. The show doesn’t compromise Peggy’s femininity in order to make her appear strong. “Strong female characters” are often shown as strong by removing anything considered feminine, which is a whole different kind of wrong. But Peggy shows emotion, saves the world with kitchen supplies, always looks her best and none of this makes her less tough or capable.
Typewriters, Now with Wi-Fi Capacity
Sobbing aside, Peggy doesn’t have much time for mourning. She and Jarvis meet with Dr. Vanko, an associate of Howard’s who helps them figure out where the glowing ball of death was made. He also lets them know that the ball gave off Vita-Rays, one of the components that went into making Steve Rodgers Captain America. Peggy gets a Vita-Ray detector from Steve’s files, allowing herself a brief period of purely missing him before getting back to business. Even through the TV screen, it hurts.
The only feasible production place is Red Hook Refinery, so Peggy and Jarvis head there in the dead of night. This is difficult for Jarvis because his nighttime routine is more warm milk and cookies than espionage and danger, but he’s a butler and therefore has no free will. In her wartime ass-kicking outfit, Peggy infiltrates the refinery by climbing an electric fence. It’s like Marvel said, “Hey, remember how we’ve never made anything centering on a female character before? We’re giving this one the badassery of three billion dollar grossing franchises.” Possible overcompensation, but I do not care at all.
Inside the refinery, Peggy finds several scientists working with an additional glowing ball. We later find out that their names are Leet Brannis and Miles Van Ert. Peggy knocks Van Ert out and chases Brannis to a milk truck that is entirely filled with glowing orbs of destruction. He too has a scar on his throat. He’s had his voice box removed and can only talk with the aid of a device held up to his neck. He’s pretty helpful for an evil guy; he says that he knows Green Suit but doesn’t like him, and mentions the name Leviathan. The audience already knows about this name because Green Suit gets a message about it through a typewriter that apparently has e-mail capabilities.
Brannis’ helpfulness ends there, though, because he activates one of the orbs and drives off with the rest, leaving Peggy only seconds to get away from the refinery. She tells Jarvis to floor the getaway car, which in the ’40s means going about 55mph. The car is damaged, but they get away, and the refinery is crushed into nothing via special effects.
Race to the Finish
Normal life goes on, even when you spend your nights outrunning fiery death. Peggy’s daytime life involves threatening to kill a rude man with a fork and befriending Angie, the waitress he formerly harassed. But after Colleen and Steve’s deaths, Peggy is reluctant to get close to people, a very strong desire that will be gone by the end of this episode’s character arc. Since that’s a good 40 minutes away, Peggy turns Angie down when she suggests Peggy move into her women-only boarding house. Also, Howard offers to let Peggy stay at his mansion. It’s not a hard choice.
From here on out, there are three major groups competing for information in the doom-filled orbs, which are really nitramene bombs. First, there’s Peggy and Jarvis, who has gotten a taste for the “up past 9pm” lifestyle. Aside from an ominous and completely unsurprising call to Howard about Peggy, he is very much on her side and willing to help. Second, the rest of Peggy’s SSR office is trying to find out how an entire refinery ended up as a scrap heap. They also keep hearing of a woman beating them to every clue and are now looking for her as well. Third, we have Green Suit and his magical typewriter.
Both the SSR fraternity and Peggy meet with Mr. Roxxen, who owned the refinery and is convinced that Howard is behind its destruction. He’s as gross as 90% of the other males on this show. Pi Sigma SSR are going to scan all of the company’s employees for Vita-Rays, and Peggy helps by scanning the one woman who works there. She sees Van Ert and takes him down when he tries to run, which upsets Thomas to the core of his insecure manhood.
What is Leviathan?
One way or another, be it through undercover work, police brutality or straight-up killing, all three teams are pointed to Sheldon McFee. He has the milk truck containing the bombs. Peggy and eternal chauffeur Jarvis get there first, and what follows is my favorite segment of either episode. Throughout “Bridge and Tunnel,” a radio show has been playing featuring Captain America heroically rescuing a helpless and oft-kidnapped “Betty Carver.” It plays in the background while the real Peggy beats Sheldon into a pulp. Take that, misogynistic re-write of history!
With some unwanted help from Jarvis, Peggy catches Brannis trying to steal the truck of bombs. He appears to be a free agent now and seems willing to talk if he gets protection from the SSR. He also mentions Leviathan, calling it a “what” instead of a “who.”
Naturally, Green Suit chooses this moment to mess everything up with his existence. He and Peggy get into a fight on top of the truck while Jarvis tries desperately to keep the bombs from detonating. It’s a useless endeavor, and they’re forced to drive the truck into a lake and jump out before it hits the water. Jarvis and Peggy are only minimally injured, but Brannis is dying. Since his speech device is broken, he can’t say anything about Leviathan, but he draws what looks like a heart with a line through it in the sand before he dies. Peggy and Jarvis flee before the SSR bros arrive, leaving them to wonder what woman is constantly foiling them and how an entire lake has suddenly dried up.
Say Goodbye to Your Issues
The premiere is nearly finished, but there is just enough time left for some character development. Jarvis tells Peggy that even Steve needed her to support him, so she must allow people to support her as well. He awkwardly strokes her leg as he says this, which makes me wonder if his much talked about wife is real or a weird British guy hallucination. I think his feelings for her are platonic, but that would be a hell of a twist.
Since this heart to heart has solved Peggy’s emotional issues, she decides to move into Angie’s boarding house. Miriam, the woman who runs it, seems to think “ladies boarding house” means “adult daycare,” but it’s not like this person is going to stop Peggy from doing whatever she wants. A 10pm curfew can only encourage her. Though she may want the extra sleep, because SSR finds the license plate from the car Jarvis drove among the ruins of the refinery.
Thus ends the long-awaited premiere of Marvel’s first female-centered production. It could stand to have a few characters fleshed out more, as I’m sure will happen over the course of the miniseries. Minor faults aside, I am already counting the minutes until next Tuesday.
Agent Carter airs Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV