tek's rating: ½

Agent Carter, ABC
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This is set in 1946, after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. It's based on a Marvel One-Shot short film, which I haven't had a chance to see yet (but I hope to at some point). The first season consisted of eight episodes, which aired in early 2015, during the midseason break of Agents of SHIELD. I was quite looking forward to the series, and it didn't disappoint. It has plenty of retro style, old school espionage, some badass fights, a fair amount of dry humor, a reasonably good story, and of course the title character is all kinds of awesome.

Season One
So... Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is an agent of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), which in this series seems to function kind of like the FBI, though during the war it seemed more like the CIA (or more specifically the OSI). During the war, Carter got to do some very important things, but now that the war's over, her fellow agents tend to treat her like a secretary rather than an agent, despite the fact that she seems to be the smartest and toughest agent in the organization. (It is the 1940s, after all, an era of particularly blatant sexism.) The one exception is agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj, whom I know from Dollhouse), who is also ridiculed by their fellow agents because of an injury he sustained in the war. The chief of the SSR is Roger Dooley, and I guess the next in line for his job is Jack Thompson. For most of the season I didn't feel like I really got to know them very well, but... Jack isn't really likable. Dooley eventually turned out to be a decent guy, though. And... there are other agents I never got to know at all, who are of no great importance.

The show's story basically begins when Carter's old friend Howard Stark is accused of selling dangerous weapons he'd invented to enemies of the United States, and he goes into hiding. But he secretly asks Carter to find out who'd actually stolen his inventions and started selling them, both to clear his name and to stop the real enemy. In spite of the risk that she herself could be branded a traitor, she agrees to help, because it would finally mean a chance to do something meaningful, like the old days. Stark assigns his butler, Edwin Jarvis, to assist her. (It's neat to see him, since clearly the A.I. that Howard's son Tony will someday invent is named after Jarvis.) Anyway, the other agents of the SSR are trying to prove Stark is guilty while tracking down the weapons and investigating destruction caused by the weapons. Agent Carter is always a step or two ahead of them, but also always in danger of being caught by her own allies (or killed by her enemies).

Well, there's other stuff going on, as well. Peggy is still mourning the loss of Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), who had apparently died at the end of the movie. And when her roommate gets killed by someone who was looking for Carter, she tries to keep her distance from any potential friends, thinking she'd only put them in danger. But there's a waitress named Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca) who befriends her and finally convinces her to move into the women-only boarding house (the Griffith) where she lives. Another woman who moves into the Griffith is Dottie Underwood, who'll become important to the story in a way I don't want to spoil (yet). And in the first and last episodes, we occasionally see/hear a radio drama in the background, which is a heavily fictionalized version of the adventures of Captain America. It annoys Carter that it's so terribly inaccurate (and sexist), but I enjoy it because it puts me in mind of Remember WENN.

As for how the main story all turns out... I don't want to spoil any details, about who all the enemies are and what's really going on. There is one person who turns out to have a very personal reason for framing Howard Stark, but that person (whom I won't name) is part of a much larger group. And... I guess that sort of ties into other things that happen in the Cinematic Universe, but I felt that was barely hinted at, never fully explained. So there's still plenty of mystery, but... the specific storyline involving Stark is wrapped up by the end of the season. The good guys suffer some tragic losses along the way, but at least they finally catch the main bad guy, and Stark is exonerated, and Agent Carter wins the respect of her colleagues. So that was nice. (And then there's a bonus scene involving the main antagonist from the show meeting one of the bad guys from the movies. So that suggests the story isn't really over.)

Season Two
Well, it's now 1947. I must reveal that Chief Dooley was killed in season one, so Jack Thompson is now chief of the New York branch of the SSR. I also need to reveal that Dottie Underwood turned out to be a totally badass Soviet spy. This season begins with her trying to steal something from a bank, but the SSR captures her. Agent Carter begins to interrogate her, but before she can get any answers, Thompson reassigns her. He had received a call from Daniel Sousa, who had gone to L.A. six months ago to open a new branch of the SSR there. Sousa was recently called in to help a police detective named Andrew Henry investigate the strange case of a woman's body being found in a lake, which was mysteriously frozen during a heat wave. Sousa asks Thompson to send him one of the men from the New York branch, and Thompson sends Carter. When she arrives in L.A., she's greeted by Edwin Jarvis, who was there because Howard Stark had recently opened a movie studio. Which is pretty convenient, because Jarvis has been bored ever since his last adventure with Carter ended, and he's eager to join this new case. Also this season, we meet Edwin's wife, Ana, who was occasionally mentioned in season one, but never seen. (And she's rather delightful.) And we see a bit more of Rose Roberts, who had a minor role as a phone operator last season, but this season has moved to L.A. to become Sousa's secretary, I guess. Though she's also an SSR agent, and eventually gets to do some field work, which she's pretty great at. We'll also see an SSR tech guy named Dr. Samberly, who has a crush on Rose, and also wants to do field work.

Carter's investigation reveals that the dead woman from the lake had been exposed to radiation, which leads to a company called Isodyne, which has a particle accelerator. There, she meets a scientist named Jason Wilkes, who will later help with the investigation, as well as becoming a possible romantic interest for Peggy. At first it seemed that Sousa would be her romantic interest, but it turns out he's dating a nurse named Violet (Sarah Bolger). We also learn that the head of Isodyne, Calvin Chadwick (who is running for senator), had had an affair with the dead woman. And he's involved in a sort of cabal called the Council of Nine. Another member of the Council is Hugh Jones (Ray Wise), the president of Roxxon Oil. And Chadwick's wife, a famous actress named Whitney Frost, is also involved in the nefarious stuff Isodyne is up to. We soon learn that she's also a brilliant scientist (apparently inspired, in this incarnation of the character, by Hedy Lamarr). As Dr. Wilkes reveals to Carter, Isodyne's activities involve a dangerous substance called Zero Matter, but the Council orders that project to be shut down, as it's provided no results, but attracted too much attention. And at the end of the first episode, Detective Henry is killed. Meanwhile, back in New York, the FBI takes Underwood away from the SSR, to handle her case themselves. Thompson is upset about that, but his mentor, Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith), advises him that the SSR has become irrelevant during peacetime, and Thompson should be prepared to take a new position elsewhere, eventually.

At one point, both Frost and Wilkes are exposed to Zero Matter. Wilkes apparently dies, but later it turns out he had only been rendered invisible, inaudible, and intangible. Stark finds a way to make him visible and audible, but they'll still need to find a way to restore his corporeal form. Meanwhile, Frost had absorbed the Zero Matter, which gives her... powers. So she becomes the main villain. She eventually kills several members of the Council, and takes it over, herself. We also learn that Vernon Masters works for the Council, which means he now works for Frost. And of course Carter and Jarvis and Sousa (and eventually Rose and Samberly) have to try to foil their plans. (We also get some flashbacks to Peggy and Whitney's respective childhoods and young adulthoods, which are rather interesting.) Ultimately, Frost wants to recreate the atomic explosion that had produced Zero Matter in the first place, so that she can get more of the stuff. I don't want to get into the specifics of how that all happened, but in the end, it takes the combined scientific efforts of Howard Stark, Jason Wilkes, and Samberly to stop Whitney Frost (but in spite of their genius, they're still not as brilliant as Frost). Of course, Agent Carter and Jarvis and Sousa and even Thompson play roles in saving the world. And there's another character I don't want to say too much about... a mobster named Joseph Manfredi, who used to date Whitney, and is still in love with her. Early in the season, I was barely aware of the character, and paid him no mind, but he becomes progressively more important, and plays a vital role in the season finale.

Anyway, Peggy Carter may face a bit less sexism this season (and the show is definitely getting more Bechdel-y), but of course sexism is still around. (Whitney Frost faces it from both her director and the Council. So even though she's a villain, I feel bad for her.) Also the show deals a bit with racism this season, because Jason Wilkes is a black man in a predominantly white profession, and he could start a relationship with a white woman. So we get social issues on top of action, intrigue, romance, and humor. Which makes for a pretty good mix. There's even an awesome musical number in episode 9. And after Frost has finally been defeated, the season ends with a few plot developments that seem to set up possible storylines for a third season. So I really hoped it would be renewed. But alas, ratings were inexplicably poor this season, so it didn't surprise me that it was cancelled. Definitely disappointed, though.


period index

Marvel Cinematic Universe
Phase One: Iron Man * The Incredible Hulk * Iron Man 2 * Thor * Captain America * The Avengers
Phase Two: Iron Man 3 * Thor: The Dark World * Captain America: The Winter Soldier * Guardians of the Galaxy * Avengers: Age of Ultron * Ant-Man
Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War * Doctor Strange * Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 * Spider-Man: Homecoming
TV: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. * Agent Carter * Inhumans
Netflix: Daredevil * Jessica Jones * Luke Cage * Iron Fist * The Defenders