Howling Commandos! Iron Man’s Dad! Iron Man’s Dad’s butler! Hypnotic Russians! Secret assassin neighbors! And in the midst of all this chaos is good ol’ SSR Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) making the world safe for all us gin-swillin’, cigar-chompin’ chauvinist palookas! What’s not to like about this show?
AGENT CARTER truly did benefit from a limited engagement comprised of only eight episodes. The story was able to clip along at a brisk pace while also filling each installment with plenty of drama, action, comedy and Marvel Easter eggs without making it feel bloated. Everything worked in harmony to bring things to a head as Carter, Jarvis (James D’Arcy), Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and the SSR finally faced off against the evil of the enigmatic Leviathan organization, represented by little-known Marvel villain Johann Fennhoff a.k.a. Doctor Faustus (Ralph Brown) making a creepy-yet-grand debut into the MCU. Granted, his big “ultimate weapon” reveal might ring familiar to anyone who has seen KINGSMAN, but it wasn’t too distracting (not the show’s fault that film coincidentally changed-up its theatrical release to coincide with the episodes’ airings).
Similarities in plot devices aside, AGENT CARTER’s strengths truly and consistently remained with its heroine’s journey. A lot of folks were probably very skeptical about a non-superhuman supporting character headlining the series, but Atwell as Peggy more than proved herself as the storyline progressed. As she continued to win over her harshest critics in the SSR, so too did she win me over more and more with each episode. Carter is no wilting flower (again paralleled by the hilariously inaccurate Captain America radio serial sprinkled throughout the series), but she is not devoid of femininity or vulnerabilities. It became an intriguing character study as she struck out to defy all of the expectations of her male counterparts while also finally coming to terms with her grief over losing Steve Rogers.
Speaking of the legendary super soldier…I’ve talked to quite a few people who felt that all of the Captain America references were too heavy-handed. Honestly, they never bothered me. Given the time period that the story is taking place, it makes perfect sense that Peggy and the rest of the characters would still be affected by his absence. A MacGuffin involving Cap’s origins drives a majority of the tension between her and Stark and the resolution provides a perfect bookend to her final scenes in FIRST AVENGER. In fact, if Peggy had not found closure in the season’s final moments, circumstances in the MCU would be drastically different. Without the sacrifice she makes, future characters (such as one jolly green giant) would be without an origin.
Another aspect I’ve heard some people gripe about is a lack of cohesiveness or referencing to the larger story the MCU films are building. I feel AGENT CARTER does this plenty without making it seem gratuitous. The clues are definitely there. They’re just not blatant which makes them effective. Again, Carter’s actions in the series hold major ramifications for those Avenger folks down the line. The ending of the season finale definitely foreshadows what’s to come in WINTER SOLDIER. And Peggy’s villainous counterpart, Dottie (Bridget Regan), is obviously the result of the same combat/espionage program that will later spawn a certain kick-ass redhead. It isn’t like AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One with its winking at the audience…and it’s all the better for that.
It’s clear the show runners have more stories in mind for AGENT CARTER. Hints of mutual attraction to other characters have been dropped here and there and are deserving of further exploration. Now that Peggy has moved past her grief and uncertainty, I hope we get to see her in a more authoritative role next time around as one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s founding members. The foundation has been laid for that organization’s origins to finally be told. More adventures with the Howling Commandos are appreciated, as well. The series was a perfect break before S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second season ramps up to its “inhuman” endgame and before AGE OF ULTRON debuts its EMPIRE STRIKES BACK-levels of action and darkness. The “limited series” format suits AGENT CARTER well. I hope it comes around again this time next year…if not sooner.
Final Score: 9 out of 10