Agent Carter: Seasons 1 & 2 — a review

I just watched the Marvel Studios series Agent Carter on Disney +.

No, this wasn’t my first time watching it. I watched it the first time it aired, way back in 2015 and 2016, and was sad that it was cancelled. It has joined that list of television series that were cancelled too soon, in my opinion.

No, not a 10-List. At least, not yet, but that’s certainly food for thought. It couldn’t be that difficult to think of ten series that were cancelled before their time.

As I’ve written before, Peggy Carter was one of those comic book characters I didn’t know anything about before watching their live-action versions in movies or on television. Other such characters are Kate Bishop, Jessica Jones and the Kamala Khan version of Ms. Marvel. And, yes, I realize these are all female characters. Are you trying to make a point of some kind?

To tell the truth, I first experienced Kamala Khan in an Avengers video game, not on the Disney + series. But, that’s splitting hairs . . .

The comic book version of Peggy Carter was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby way back in 1966. If I’ve ever read any of the issues she appeared in, the memory has been wiped completely from my mind. I understand that she’s been retconned a few times, but was always a relative of Captain America’s modern-day love interest, Sharon Carter.

I don’t think I’ll ever go back and read her comic book appearances because that’s not the version of Peggy Carter I know now. I first met the Hayley Atwell version of Peggy in the MCU movie Captain America: The First Avenger. I love this movie. It’s currently in the #2 spot on my personal Top-Ten list of MCU movies.

[editor’s note — the author’s linked list is only current as of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; he’s semi-current in viewing Phase 4 projects and may update his top-ten at a later date.]

Peggy Carter is an important part in the Captain America origin story. She is Steve Rogers’s One True Love. A tragic tale that seems to end with Captain America’s demise at the hands of the Red Skull. Of course, we long-time Marvelites knew Cap wasn’t dead, just in suspended animation for a few decades, destined to be revived to join the modern-day version of The Avengers.

Hayley Atwell returned as the character in the MCU several times, notably in Avengers: Endgame, the Disney + animated series What If . . . ?, and as Captain Carter in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Actress and character are indelibly linked in my mind now. I will accept recasting only after I’m dead and disposed of. And not even then, if I have anything to say about it.

Agent Carter is a wonderful period action drama in which Peggy Carter attempts to make her way in the man’s world that is the postwar SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve), the precursor to SHIELD. Although she is a full agent, Peggy gets stuck doing a lot of administrative work, consistently overlooked and underestimated by most of her male colleagues. Peggy does grieve the loss of Steve Rogers, but is determined to make sure that his presumed death wasn’t in vain. She consistently reveals herself to be a capable agent and soldier, and she is held in high respect by those she served with in the past.

Peggy secretly begins assisting Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), who has been framed for supplying dangerous weapons of his own design to enemies of the U.S. She never believes that Stark is guilty, even when her colleagues are convinced of this fact. She is assisted by none other than the Stark butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), who provides a bit of goofy comedic situations in the series but ultimately proves himself both capable and heroic himself.

Peggy’s coworkers at the SSR include crippled war veteran and potential love interest Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), the pompous war hero Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murry), and the SSR boss Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham). During the first season Peggy has to act as a double agent, working both with and against her fellow agents.

Plotwise, suffice it to say that there are evil things afoot with the Howard Stark inventions, and Peggy and supporting cast do what they can to set things right. Characters die. One character death in particular was unexpected, at least by me. That’s as close to a spoiler that I intend to come in this review, so don’t be afraid.

Season 1 is only eight episodes long, which allows the seasonal arc to be tightly plotted and satisfying, even though the creative minds behind the series manage to shoehorn in some side- and subplots. The single largest connection to the expanded MCU are the fantastical effects. Stark inventions are always close to being magic, aren’t they?

Season 2 has ten episodes, and moves our setting from New York City to Hollywood, California. Peggy once again finds herself paired up with Edwin Jarvis, as Howard Stark tries his hand at directing movies. Daniel Sousa is heading up the West Coast branch of the SSR, while Jack Thompson is in charge back east. The plot involves the investigation of a bizarre death that turns into a major conspiracy involving a super-secret cabal attempting to control everything, like the Illuminati. It also involves the discovery of a strange Atomic Age material known as Zero Matter, which is capable of some truly fantastic, comic book style things, such as giving one character evil super powers and making another one out-of-phase and ghostlike, like the Vision when he phases through solid matter.

New characters are introduced in Hollywood as well, of course. We get to know Edwin Jarvis’s wife Ana Jarvis quite well. In spite of the way the butler tries to shield his wife from the danger and intrigue that seem a part of his job description, she seems quite capable as well. Ana is played by Lotte Verbeek, who I also know from her roles as Geillis Duncan on Outlander and Katarina Rostova on The Blacklist. She is a terrific actor.

Dr. Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) becomes another potential love interest for Peggy. He’s a scientist working for Isodyne Energy, which seems to be linked to the crimes investigated by the SSR somehow. He becomes an important part of the season’s Team Carter. The fact that he’s a black man warrants mentioning only because this is set in the late 1940s, when interracial relationships were consider much more taboo.

We are also introduced to slimy politician Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) and his movie star wife Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett). Frost eventually becomes the Big Bad of the season (this is not a spoiler, even in the first episode in which she appears). There is a theme of female empowerment in this series, naturally. Women can be evil supervillains just like the men, afterall. Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) also returns to the show, a formidable product of what could only be the early Black Widow program in Russia.

I’m afraid that I’m going to forget to mention even one member of this honestly amazing cast. That ’70s Show‘s Kurtwood Smith does a star turn as a bad guy. The always great Ken Marino appears as Italian mobster Joseph Manfredi. Lesley Boone transplants her character Rose Roberts to California and gives her even more to do, while the always funny Matt Braunger plays bumbling scientist Aloysius Samberly, who has an obvious crush on Rose. Sousa’s new girlfriend in California, Violet, is played by Irish actress Sarah Bolger, who has appeared in several things I’ve watched, currently in Mayans MC.

In spite of all the great acting, and beautiful period sets, I found myself slightly less in love with the series during the second season. I still loved it. Don’t misunderstand me. But the blush was off the rose a bit. I felt that Peggy’s obstacles to love were laid on a bit thick, perhaps a little contrived. And some of the season’s action seemed to be played a bit broad. The series never sinks to the Batman ’66 level of campiness, but there are many not subtle reminders that this is entertainment based upon a superhero comic book. These never really detracted from my personal enjoyment of the show, but they were there nonetheless.

If I’m required to lodge a real complaint about the show, it’s that the second season ended on a cliffhanger that seemed to be setting up a third season. I’m not going to tell you what the cliffhanger is, because, ultimately, it wasn’t enough of a shock to ruin the eighteen episode of the series I had watched up to that point.

Besides, we’ve seen what happened with Peggy Carter in the greater MCU, haven’t we? Even alternate versions of the character in the Multiverse. She was the British version of Captain America in the Disney + animated series What If …? and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

No surprises here. I loved this series. I think MCU fandom would love to see further adventures of Agent Carter, both on the small and large screens. It may never happen to the extent that I would like, but it’s obvious that Hayley Atwell remains a permanent MCU fixture, whatever happens.

Firewater’s I-Know-My-Value-Anyone-Else’s-Opinion-Doesn’t-Really-Matter Report Card: A+

I may be an easy grader, but few series get the plus from me as easily as Agent Carter did. If you haven’t already watched it, give yourself a treat. You deserve it.

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