NOTE: Full spoilers for the debut episode of Agent Carter are present in this review.
Agent Carter is a bold, refreshing idea like none other for Marvel Studios. Finally giving us a welcome female-led series about a character that’s much more than just a simple love interest, Agent Carter expands upon an especially brilliant Marvel One-Shot short, with Hayley Atwell reprising her role as Peggy Carter, now attempting to move on with her life after the supposed death of Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.
Reduced to a phony helpless love interest character in Captain America’s radio show, and putting up a front of working at the phone company, Peggy is struggling to find her place in the post-WWII, post-Steve Rogers world of 1946. Then however, opportunity comes knocking when Peggy’s old friend, Howard Stark (again reprised by Dominic Cooper from 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger) becomes framed for weapons espionage, and only Peggy can clear his name.
Fortunately, where Peggy was sometimes shafted as a character in Captain America: The First Avenger, Agent Carter finally gives the character her due development, right from its opening episode. Perhaps the best element of the show is that Agent Carter doesn’t try to deny the fact that Peggy is a female protagonist either, which is a common trap that some female-based spin-offs to male-led media can land in. The rampant sexism of the 1940’s is in full force throughout much of the series (though thankfully, not by every man in it), and while there are some undeniable ‘girl power’ moments of Peggy giving those piggish men the what for, sometimes behind their backs, the show doesn’t forget to humanize Peggy and highlight her emotional struggles both as a woman and someone with a broken heart all the while. She’s a badass, but she’s also a normal human woman, and it’s wonderful that the show strikes that perfect middle ground between the two.
The miniseries also introduces a great new dynamic between Peggy and Howard Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis. J.A.R.V.I.S. may be an A.I. by the time Tony takes up the Iron Man mantle many decades in the future, but in 1946, Jarvis is a prim, proper butler who is more than a little whipped by his off-screen wife, yet nonetheless quickly becomes hooked on Peggy’s adventure. Jarvis is often a comic foil, but is thankfully not portrayed as an idiot. He does bail Peggy out of a few dicey situations, even if he’s left in the dark as to what she’s doing quite frequently, and the rapport between James D’Arcy and Hayley Atwell is among the best parts of Agent Carter.
Anyhow, this first episode serves to establish the stakes with Howard, and primarily involves Peggy trying to get information on Howard’s stolen molecular super-weapon, nitramene, an unstable compound that can level a city block if provoked, and appears to suck everything into a magnetic singularity of atomic carnage. It feels more than a little reminiscent of Doctor Octopus’ tridium experiment from Spider-Man 2, only on a far meaner and faster-acting scale.
The show wastes no time getting into the espionage with Peggy, who grabs slick 1940’s-style spy gadgets, and has to try and figure out who stole Stark’s nitramene. Early in the episode, Peggy dons a blonde wig and poses as a classy femme fatale to see just what exactly she’s up against. This is a brilliant sequence that does a great job establishing the tone of the show, being fun and upbeat, but also feeling like it has real stakes, particularly for Peggy risking the rest of her life to commit treason in order to clear Stark’s name. Hayley Atwell is also at her best here, given far more interesting material to work with as Peggy this time, and bringing the character to life like never before, as a witty, charming and thoroughly likeable protagonist, not at all inhibited by being on the front lines of female-led media for Marvel Studios.
Despite its almost whimsical 1940’s period style, Agent Carter doesn’t pull punches either. Peggy’s actions inadvertently lead to her roommate being murdered by an assassin, which haunts her for the rest of the episode, even if it borders on feeling like another Marvel-approved contrived, “I can’t attach myself to anyone because it will put them in danger” schtick. It’s a little more understandable in this case, since Peggy is still reeling from losing Captain America, but it’s still an overdone Marvel conflict that Peggy will inevitably overcome, especially since we know she eventually gets a husband, as confirmed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
After tracing the nitramene back to Roxxon Oil (a large Marvel corporation that has had surprisingly little role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to this point, beyond a passing mention in Iron Man 3), another neat sequence plays out, with Peggy discovering the full stash of nitramene, and having to fight off a few baddies, with Jarvis as a wheelman. It’s a cool way to end the episode, and wraps things up very well, giving us a first-hand look of just how destructive Stark’s nitramene is!
Agent Carter is a very enjoyable show that is starting out quite strong with its first episode. Peggy Carter is a different kind of Marvel hero, not simply because she’s a woman, but because she’s an ordinary woman in an extraordinary time, under extraordinary circumstances. This continues to illustrate that Marvel isn’t limited to conventional superhero archetypes when it comes to making great shows and movies, as Guardians of the Galaxy also proved last year, and that heroes aren’t just the ones in emblazoned costumes. It’s wonderful when Marvel finds cool, creative ways to fill in the gaps of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with minor characters made into major protagonists, and flesh out characters that didn’t properly get their due in other Marvel media.
Bottom line being, Peggy Carter is a hero well worth tuning into for this miniseries’ run!
- Peggy Carter is an excellent heroine
- Peggy/Jarvis rapport is loads of fun
- Great mix of drama, action and humour.
- Peggy's attachment issues have become a Marvel cliche