“You go, girl!”
As the House of Ideas gets ready to unleash their Netflix “defenders,” teeny-tiny titan Ant-Man and another epic Avengers slugfest, they somehow found time to also make a companion piece to the re-focused and re-energized AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. show. Enter AGENT CARTER: a TV mini-series featuring SSR Agent and S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) taking on all types of spies and saboteurs in 1946. The former liaison to Project: Rebirth (and former love interest of Captain America a.k.a. Steve Rogers) has come a long way since her debut in THE FIRST AVENGER. Proving grounds such as her Marvel One-Shot short film and a few guest appearances in flashbacks on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. have shown that she is more than ready to handle things on her own terms in a solo series.
Following the kinda-sorta defeat of HYDRA and the Red Skull at the end of World War II, Peggy finds herself living in New York and still mourning the loss of Steve. Though she remains with the SSR, she finds herself dealing mainly with administrative duties and paperwork. A majority of her male co-workers view her as a glorified secretary rather than a respected colleague, which doesn’t help matters since Peggy is chomping at the bit to get back into active fieldwork. She soon finds that opportunity when her old friend industrialist Howard Stark (Iron Man’s daddy again played by Dominic Cooper) comes to her in dire straits: his top secret weapons and formulas have been stolen and he has been framed for selling them to nefarious folk. Pretty soon, it’s up to Peggy to clear Stark’s name and recover the deadly arsenal before it’s too late. But in order to keep her mission a secret from her less-than sympathetic co-workers, she may need a little help in the form of Stark’s butler and confidant Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy).
Almost immediately the show dives right into the action, catching all of us Marvel fans up on what Agent Carter has been up to since we last saw her as well as introducing her to new viewers with quick flashbacks to THE FIRST AVENGER. You could argue that the show may be paying a little too much lip service to the original movie that it branches out from, but at no point did it really feel gratuitous. Yes, Captain America is mentioned quite a bit in the show, but given his connection to Peggy as well as the time the story is taking place it makes perfect sense why he is still a lingering presence in her mind. His loss is still fresh and she is clearly working through her grief. At the same time, she is determined to get the job done no matter what, showing the audience that even though she loved Cap she clearly doesn’t need him around to define her as a heroine. No more is this apparent than during scenes of an old-timey Captain America radio show being broadcast in which her fictitious counterpart is portrayed as the typical damsel in distress. These moments are immediately contrasted with the real Agent Carter kicking butt and taking names. It acknowledges the advancement of female characters in comics and other media over the decades beyond just being seen as the “reward” for the hero.
Strong female action characters aren’t anything new to television in this day and age (Buffy Summers, Nikita and Arya Stark just to name a few), but given the time period of AGENT CARTER, the idea of a smart and resourceful independent woman could not be made any crystal-clearer. The “Greatest Generation’s” male chauvinism is cranked up to almost cartoonish levels in 1946 NYC as only one or two of her cohorts recognize her true value and treat her as an equal. Yet Atwell navigates Peggy through all of the old men “harumph”-ing and catcalls with flawless poise, sophistication and grace…as well as drop-kicking an assassin or two out of a window. Her supporting cast is also very entertaining. Having Cooper back as the eccentric Howard Stark felt right as he gives legitimacy to their friendship and the spark needed to get her back into the game. Jarvis is a perfect “Watson” to Peggy’s “Holmes” as D’Arcy lays on proper British charm while also making him a believable and faithful companion…at least for now as it seems both he and Mr. Stark may have bigger plans for our intrepid agent down the line…
Given its status as a limited series, AGENT CARTER looks to have a clear cut trajectory regarding its story arc. It hits the ground running, brings new fans quickly into the fold and sets the stakes high with great character moments, awesome espionage-action and some humor sprinkled throughout. I may not be sure how much of an influence or effect the events of the series may have on the timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it will definitely be a helluva ride to find out.
Lead the way, Agent Carter.
Final Score: 9 out of 10