Agent Carter is back for season 2!
With or without recognition from her superiors, Peggy knows her value. And so does ABC—after the positive fan (and critical) reaction to the show’s eight-episode first season, the network commissioned a second, 10-episode series to air (as the first did) during Agents of SHIELD‘s midwinter hiatus. Peggy’s moving to L.A., and she’s bringing the hat with her.
If you haven’t been watching Agent Carter—or haven’t even heard of it—read on for some background and reasons to start. If you’re all caught up, click here to jump ahead to the review of the first two episodes of season 2, “The Lady in the Lake” and “A View in the Dark.”
So, who is Peggy Carter?
Seriously? Wow. OK, really quick: Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is Captain America’s 1940s girlfriend and comrade, a Strategic Scientific Reserve agent (the best one they have) who later founds SHIELD, gets no respect from her male colleagues even though she single-handedly saves the world six times before breakfast, does not take crap from anyone, and carries around a window frame so she can throw you through it if you give her any crap. (That last one might be an exaggeration.)
She’s 1940s Nick Fury, basically—although, Nick Fury is 1940s Nick Fury, but that’s a different article.
Agent Carter was created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, writers of the Captain America films (The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier, and May 2016’s Civil War) and the May 2018 Avengers: Infinity War. Agent Carter was commissioned on the strength of the Marvel One Shot film Agent Carter (written by Eric Pearson), which establishes the apparent status quo for Peggy, post–World War II: innately capable, criminally underappreciated, and utterly implacable. The show is overseen by producing and writing duo Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas—who are currently writing Captain Marvel for the House of Ideas—and under their guidance the show garnered critical acclaim and a solid (if somewhat modest) following in its first season. Though she only features in The First Avenger, the character of Peggy has exploded in popularity with fans, leading to appearances in Age of Ultron, The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, and the eponymous show featuring her postwar exploits with the SSR.
And now Agent Carter is back for a second season. If all of this has you itching to watch, stop reading here. The rest of this article contains spoilers from both season 1 and the first two episodes of season 2.
For those of you who have been watching up through the most episodes, let’s see . . . what happened in last season’s finale? Oh yeah:
- Leviathan agents Dottie and Fenhoff were running roughshod over New York, specifically inciting a movie-theater massacre with murder gas
- Chief Dooley blew up while protecting the SSR staff from a booby-trapped Stark invention
- Jarvis was about to shoot down Howard Stark after Leviathan hypnotized Stark into flying a plane that would spread the murder gas over Times Square
- Peggy fought Dottie and used her patented finisher, “Now You’re Going Out of the Window”
- Sousa took out Fenhoff by plugging his ears!
- Peggy had an emotional radio-related scene, similar to the one she had in The First Avenger, in which she talked Howard out of his delusion by convincing him (and herself) that they need to let go of Steve’s memory
- Which led to her pouring Steve’s blood into the East River at the end of the episode (random fish: “Ew . . . wait, am I getting bigger?”)
- Dottie got away
- Sousa asked Peggy out and she said . . . “no”?!
- Peggy and Angie moved into one of Howard Stark’s spare mansions (Jarvis, boil the linens plz kthxbai)
- And friggin’ Thompson got all the credit for stopping Leviathan!
Going into season 2, after foiling the plans of Hydra-wannabe Leviathan, Peggy is transferred to the SSR’s L.A. office to solve the case of “The Lady in the Lake” . . . a case that is is more than it seems. It will also lead Peggy afoul of another evil cadre, called the Council of Nine, and bring her into contact with the enigmatic Zero Matter and the mysterious Madame Masque.
The new season hits the ground running. In the first part of the series’ two-hour premiere, we are immediately introduced to an iconic and familiar image: a woman in a red fedora, striding purposefully against the flow of traffic on a 1940s New York sidewalk. One problem. This is not Peggy Carter.
Rather, it’s Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan), Peggy’s former next-door neighbor at the Griffith Hotel as well as a former Leviathan agent, former Red Room–trained Soviet assassin, and former Stark Special Bracelet recipient. Dottie and a gang of thugs are holding up a bank in order to steal the contents of a safety-deposit box, but the SSR is one step ahead of them; when Dottie forces the bank manager to open the vault, Peggy’s inside with a shotgun. Yes, they fight. Yes, it’s awesome. I agree that female characters don’t always have to go punch-for-punch with male ones in order to be “as strong,” “as good,” or what have you as men, but the fight sequences on this show are so well choreographed and shot that they’re always a highlight, and Peggy has been established from early on as supremely physically capable and dominant. This brawl proves no different, as the fight ends with her going upside the back of Dottie’s head with a nearby bag of coins. Jackpot!
Short of giving you a blow-by-blow summary of what happens on the premiere episodes, I can confirm that the show is back without having lost any of its pep, vim, or verve (as the Captain America Adventure Program might have put it). The move to L.A. feels like a natural transition for the show and allows fun touches, including introducing the bane of Jarvis’s existence: Bernard the flamingo.
You see, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, who hasn’t appeared onscreen yet in season 2) now thinks he’s Howard Hughes, so he and trusty valet Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) have relocated to the City of Angels to make movies, though Howard seems more interested in the casting process. Except for being Steve Rodgers’s place of birth (and the place where 90 percent of Marvel characters do their thing), the backdrop of 1940s New York was never critical to the show’s milieu, in my opinion. Though Peg and gal-pal Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca, also absent so far this season) hung out quite a bit in the Automat diner, scenes like that could take place in any postwar metropolis—and the familiar yet fresh mise en scène of Hollywood’s Golden Age is a (sorry) gold mine of new characters and scenarios.
One such character is Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), a.k.a Madame Masque, who is this season’s seeming Big Bad. She is also the wife of Isodyne Energy CEO, senate hopeful, philanderer, and all-around sleazebag Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham). Frost is an actress, and a good one by all accounts, but she is facing discrimination in Hollywood because she’s not a young starlet anymore. It’s good social commentary by the show runners and another example of how well Agent Carter addresses the issues women specifically face in industries and a world dominated by men. Despite this, Frost is undoubtedly the bad guy . . . er, gal . . . as well as the mastermind behind Calvin, helping him keep control of Isodyne and their mysterious project involving Zero Matter.
Another new character designed to challenge the status quo (both that of the ’40s and that of modern escapist TV) is Dr. Jason Wilkes, a black man in ’40s America who is a PhD-holding research scientist and a potential love interest for our main character. Wilkes is an Isodyne scientist who becomes embroiled in intrigue when his coworker Jane Scott is found dead in Echo Park Lake—frozen solid and freezing the lake around her. Peggy, working with L.A. SSR branch chief Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), suspects Isodyne’s involvement and infiltrates their lab, where she runs into Wilkes.
The character of Wilkes is almost definitely a response to fan complaints that the show failed to address the racial reality of the era, and more than being the correct thing to do, it’s a great bit of writing and casting. Played to the hilt by Reggie Austin, Wilkes is at once both guilelessly charming and knowledgeable about more than he is letting on, as evidenced by a scene near the end of the first episode in which, back at Isodyne, he’s seen gazing admiringly at a containment canister holding a viscous, pulsating obsidian substance, presumably the enigmatic Zero Matter that Frost and Chadwick hope will raise Isodyne’s futures and forward Chadwick’s status in the villainous Council of Nine. It doesn’t help that Wilkes’s character is named after a villain from Tales of Suspense #25, but we have yet to see what his real intentions are. For now, his undeniable attraction to Peggy prompts him to let her interrogate him about Isodyne . . . as long as it’s on the dance floor of a local jazz club. Peggy goes to the mostly black club because Peggy Carter DGAF, but it’s clear she finds herself drawn to this brilliant and handsome stranger. And what the hey, Sousa has a soon-to-be-fiancée and now he’s the one turning down offers for drinks, so . . .
Speaking of DGAF characters, the show has perhaps its strongest in Ana Jarvis, the seldom-seen wife of Edwin. Lotte Verbeek (lately of Outlander) plays her, and she turns out to be surprisingly warm and friendly in contrast to her husband’s starched shirt propriety. She helps Peggy find a suitable ensemble for her “date” with Wilkes and even outfits her with a garter holster complete with holdout pistol!
It’s hard to know what to expect from the character since she was only a disembodied voice in the first season and usually only referred to obliquely by Jarvis, but I have to admit having some trepidation about her, at least in these first episodes. She’s certainly a unique presence, and in between frequenting jazz clubs herself and being completely unperturbed seeing her husband on top of Peggy (during judo practice, natch), she’s as open-minded as Peggy, if not more so. But things tend to be rarely so straightforward on shows, like this and the entirely too-sweet Mrs. Jarvis reads like a giant undropped shoe to me. Sure, she’s a great foil for Jarvis, but I can’t help but feel there’s more in store for the couple.
Back in New York, Branch Chief Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) is interrogating the captive Dottie, using a lame carrot-and-stick interrogation routine to get to the bottom of why she wanted the safety-deposit box and the strange insignia-bearing pin it contained. But before he can get anywhere—or, more accurately, before Dottie can kick his ass any further around the interrogation room—FBI bigwig Vernon Masters (played by the always welcome Kurtwood Smith) arrives to take her into custody. When the two men share a drink in a later scene, Masters reveals that he wants to recruit Thompson out of the SSR, giving him the “I knew your father, you can trust me, take my sinister-sounding advice” bit. That’s all we get from Masters for now, but it’s exciting to see such a great character actor join the mix.
So, Agent Carter is back, and despite the new locale, it’s still the show you remember. The character of Angie, Peggy’s waitress-cum-actress friend, is absent from this season, which on the one hand seems like a shame since the character would probably jump at the chance to try to “make it” in L.A. However, on the other hand it’s a welcome subtraction as Angie never added much to Agent Carter‘s first season. Though she was intended to be a “regular girl” character who would help delineate the struggles women faced in the ’40s, Angie always came off as two dimensional and grating. She is rumored to return in a dream sequence late in the second season, however, so we may get to see her in L.A. in some capacity.
If I had to say one critical thing about Agent Carter‘s production, it would be that it often feels “small.” The most lavish television production couldn’t compete with the most frugal film made by a major studio, clearly, but there are ways to stretch a budget and build out the verisimilitude of a period. Agent Carter is to be commended for its production, but it too often looks to me like a very expensive play set in the ’40s or ’50s, or like a sock-hop costume party that isn’t quite nailing the feel of postwar America. Additionally, I hope the show can find a greater sense of focus this year; season 1 ramped up to a crazy, high-stakes climax, but it often meandered on the way there, getting lost in well-meant but aimless subplots about what was happening at the Griffith Hotel or whether or not anything at all was going to happen between Sousa and Peggy. Was that ever really an option? Let’s face it: Sousa’s a nice guy, but Peggy knows her value and doesn’t have time to wait around. She’s gotta throw racism out of a window. She’s a got an evil corporation to take down . . . and a flamingo to catch.
Still, it’s great to see the amazing Hayley Atwell back on the small screen. If you wanted more from a great, out of left field show, more has arrived!