There’s undoubtedly a certain amount of love needed for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to get everything that the world’s spunky heroine is selling in Marvel’s Agent Carter, geared up and ready for season two in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s off-season. Agent Carter is comparatively downbeat and more rigidly its own thing thanks to its noir influences and astonishing costume work; those aspects of the show could hook anyone. Whether they’ll stick around for the Marvel-ness of it all (so far in season two there’s been a mysterious ice-powered criminal and some Aether-like goop called “Zero Matter”) is a matter of personal preference.
I’m here to say that you most definitely should. The second year kick-off is such an assuredly paced, magnificently teasing run of television that it’s easy to stop lamenting the three-month loss of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s present day agents. Although the show can suffer from some stakes that are admittedly small potatoes in comparison to the world-ending crises popping up in other Marvel properties on an hourly basis, it also results in drama that earns its tension from working in the mundanity of the MCU rather than revelling in its high-concept niches (think Ant-Man versus Age of Ultron this past year).
It helps that Peggy Carter (the splendid secret weapon to this entire franchise, Hayley Atwell) is one of the best moving creations placed within the MCU since it began. After putting Steve’s “death” behind her for good last year, Peggy is on a mission to find the missing super-spy secret agent Dottie (Bridget Regan), whose duplicitous actions fueled season one’s craziest twists. Once her boss, Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) sidelines her on the case, Peggy gets put on a plane headed to Los Angeles, where potential love interest Daniel (Enver Gjokaj) faces a mysterious case concerning bodies found in a frozen lake in the middle of summer.
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Atwell could play the delicate badass in her sleep, but she never rests on her laurels for a microsecond, tousling with armed guards in one scene and lamenting the loss of Daniel to his new nurse girlfriend in the next. The sweet-and-sour mix isn’t anything new, but executed with such magnificent flair by Atwell there’s essentially no way to come at an argument for calling her, or the show, “predictable.” She’s just too good, too in the mud of the entire reason people show up in droves to support the MCU – it’s the personalities behind the powers that matter at the end of the day – to write off Agent Carter as superfluous, no matter how little any of it matters to any Civil War or Age of Ultron.
Thankfully, the show moves all of her buddies to Los Angeles, too. Although Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) has yet to make an appearance this year, his butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) is still the pitch-perfect companion to Peggy’s adventures. Stuck with rounding up exotic animals for Howard, Jarvis is desperately looking for more excitement in his life since he got the taste for danger with Peggy in New York. D’Arcy plays the humorous, somewhat ditzy role with ease, but the best thing about the duo is that co-creators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely restrict neither to solely embodying the straight man or the jokester roles, letting Atwell and D’Arcy masterfully tiptoe between the two when the situation calls for it.
That said, maybe Agent Carter‘s most laudatory aspect (also one of its most microscopic in the scheme of things) is that platonic relationship between Peggy and Jarvis. It’s humorous and heartfelt, the two being okay with occasional jabs and ridicule but ultimately aware of the importance of their friendship, which has absolutely zero romantic tension.
After the two spar poolside in the opening of episode two, tumbling on top of one another in a millisecond of terror that the show will go there, Jarvis’ wife Ana (Lotte Verbeek) walks in and cracks a joke, as utterly unworried by the two’s close proximity as the audience has been since last year. It’s brilliant in its subtly, worthy of a standing ovation for the sheer unspoken tenants each character abides by without having to talk about it on a single occasion.
The show’s short run (ten episodes in season two) also forces plot points to barrel at you at an exciting clip, with the first two hours of the year already introducing an evil power couple at the intersection of Los Angeles’ entertainment and political worlds, not to mention that Zero Matter, which seems to create a portal of some kind (S.H.I.E.L.D. fans get your theories ready). It’s somewhat disheartening to see the crazy cool Dottie put on the back-burner for the time being when she was such a fascinating villain, but ties to her B-plot ensure that all’s not said and done with the Black Widow program initiate yet.
All of the new cast members acclimate nicely, as well, especially the much talked about but never seen Mrs. Jarvis, whose lavish attire and amorous attitude rightfully shock Peggy. Elsewhere, we’re introduced to scientist Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin), who quickly enters the love interest radius of Peggy, and allows the show to delve into some much-needed diversity and racial issues of its 1947 setting (although, you know, with the depth and commentary allowed by the Marvel Overlords). That power couple of Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) and Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett) also gets some juicy screen time, especially once the deception behind Whitney’s ditzy actress facade begins to crumble in episode two.
With eight episodes to go, there’s a lot of room for Marvel’s Agent Carter to flex its muscles on essentially every front: the whodunnit mystery, the out-there sci-fi, the relationships between Peggy and all of her friends (and more-than-friends), and of course, the clothes. Some may be disappointed in the more restrained adultness of the show releasing so soon after Jessica Jones, but I think that’s the greatest thing about this world: each show feels different and its own thing, despite their close proximity. Eventually, the steady growth of the MCU may result in a quantity over quality conundrum for the masters of this universe, but as of now, they’re the beacon of light in the small-screened superhero world, and Peggy is holding the flashlight.
Like last summer's Ant-Man, Agent Carter finds a way to make the smaller stakes of Peggy's noir sandbox as tense, credible, and addictively watchable as any other addition to the MCU.