Captain America has died. After boarding a Hydra vessel and engaging in a battle with the Red Skull, Captain America crashed the space craft in the Arctic in order to save countless lives as the craft contained weapons of grave danger. His last recorded contact was with SSR Agent Peggy Carter. A hero who inspired countless Americans during war time, sold war bonds, and knocked out Hitler more times than you could count is gone. The world spins madly on, but for those closest to the first avenger, it’s hard to move on. Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America is with you for a short time in your life, changes not just the world but your world, and then he’s just gone? How can you move on?
This is the main sentiment that runs through the first hour of Marvel’s Agent Carter. Opening to New York City in 1946, the world has moved on. It hasn’t forgotten it’s hero as evident by the “Captain America Adventure Program” which plays on radio, but it hasn’t come grinding to a sudden halt. Neither has Peggy Carter’s life as she continues her work for the SSR after war time. While she has been an integral member of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a key player in Operation: Rebirth, and a skilled agent in the field, Carter has found her duties relegated to code breaking, data analysis, and general secretarial duties. It’s a big boys world and spy work is not for the likes of a woman, especially one who used to be Captain America’s ex-flame.
Agent Peggy Carter, the resilient force to be reckoned with and proving that she is more than just the damsel in distress in the world of super soldiers and evil organizations, longs to be taken serious and given responsibilities more fitting for her. But amidst a Howard Stark scandal that finds the billionaire, playboy, genius, philanthropist being audited in Capital Hill, it seems unlikely that Peggy will ever be utilized to her full potential. She’s become an antiquated and out of use tool that’s no longer needed by the male-run SSR. While out at a diner she receives a napkin with a message scrolled on it. She looks to see who may have left it but spies no one. Following the message to meet outside in the alleyway she encounters an Englishman that tells her she will be leaving with him. Uncomfortable and suspicious, the ever feisty Peggy evades him only to then encounter Howard Stark.
Howard Stark, being branded a “fugitive from justice” and seen as a traitor to America, informs Peggy that she is the only one he can rely on with a mission that will finally give her the sense of purpose that she has desperately been longing for. While he quietly leaves the country, he entrusts her with his butler named Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy). And Jarvis happens to be none other than the man she beat up in the alleyway. No hard feelings, you can’t just creep up on a spy after all. Stark wants her to clear his name and find the person responsible for leaking his secrets and weapons to the black market. The main concern of his is to prevent some “nut that wants to be the next Red Skull.”
Peggy, back at the SSR, learns of a meeting about to go down at a night club owned by Spider Raymond. It’s believed that he will fence stolen Stark tech so Peggy needs to get there and obtain the item before it falls into the wrong hands. Staying one step ahead of the supremely arrogant and sexist members of the SSR, she disguises herself as an American blonde and cons her way to Spider Raymond’s private office. Peggy applies 102 Sweet Dreams lip stick and flirts with Raymond as she knows he won’t be able to resist making a move on her. (She’s not full of herself or arrogant; she knows he’ll fall for her as he has a reputation for making moves on women.) So predictably Raymond goes to kiss her only to pass out. (102 Sweet Dreams will do that to you.) But “Crikey O’ Reily” the Stark tech is a fully weaponized bomb. She calls Jarvis and he walks her through the steps to dismantling it. Peggy, the top agent that she is, manages to do all of this in heels while evading the SSR agents as they blunder in, and escapes back to her apartment.
A mysterious assassin makes his way to Spider Raymond’s office as he slowly awakens to find the Stark tech has been stolen. Sparing no time, Raymond is shot while he makes a quiet exit. Back at Peggy’s apartment, her roommate is still awake and much to her chagrin finds Peggy in a beautiful dress. She’s happy for her as she has long felt that she needs to learn the difference between “an independent woman and spinster.” After all, her roommate doesn’t know that she is an SSR agent and secretly saving the world with no time for the frivolities of youth. While Peggy successfully dismantles the bomb behind closed doors in the apartment’s bathroom, her roommate Colleen is killed by the same assassin that shot Raymond. Peggy hears the sound and fights the intruder only to knock him out the window. After the fight, she breaks down at the sight of Colleen’s dead body.
Later on, Peggy meets with Jarvis at the diner from earlier and explains to him the events that unfolded. He comforts her and reminds her that she hasn’t mucked it all up. They then head to Stark Industries to meet with a certain Russian technician. Oh gee, it’s Anton Vanko (Costa Ronin), the father of Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko from Iron Man 2. He helps them in their search and advises them to head to Roxxon Oil (well, my goodness, another Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-in). While Peggy and Jarvis head off to Roxxon, the assassin mysteriously sends a message to someone concerning his run in with Carter, along with his continued efforts in finding a person named Leet Branis. He is then told to complete his mission and to eliminate Agent Carter.
At Roxxon, Peggy infiltrates the facility and finds two technicians. After she blinds one with one of her gadgets, she encounters Leet Branis. He has no voice and is only able to communicate through a device he holds to his vocal cords. Branis warns her of Leviathon and of the impending future right before he breaks one of the same kind of bombs that she dismantled earlier. As she escapes the facility, Branis rides off in a milk truck stocked with countless bombs. The bomb is revealed to be an experimental explosive known as molecular nitramene and results in implosion. Of course our heroes, Peggy and Jarvis, manage to outride the blast and continue the good fight.
The second half, continuing the same tone of adventure, spy drama, and Marvel fun, begins with the serialized radio program “Captain America Adventure Program.” It’s an extremely cheesy and one-dimensional program that depicts the escapades of Captain America and his gal pal, Betty Carver. It plays like an extremely dumb-downed version of the early Stan Lee Captain America comics. Peggy has trouble listening to it as she dismisses it as “rubbish” and begins her search for a new place to live. Her waitress, Angie (Lyndsey Fonseca), says she should consider living in her building as they would be neighbors, but Peggy politely declines. She has to hunt down the milk truck containing the molecular nitramene so she disguises herself as a health inspector and makes her way to Daisy Clover Milk. She thoroughly investigates each truck and learns that one is missing.
Meanwhile, the SSR investigates Roxxon Oil and speak with Jones (Ray Wise). He believes that Stark has people that have infiltrated his organization as his people have infiltrated Stark Industries. He reveals a bit of contempt towards Howard as he hints towards a tryst that he had with his wife. The SSR agents call the office to have Peggy bring them the vita-ray (vita-radiation) scanner to scan the employees. As the Roxxon Oil facility was destroyed, they believe it to be corporate sabotage, unknowing that is was Peggy’s adventure that led to the implosion. She brings them the scanner, packed away with Operation: Rebirth, but is interrupted from trying to obtain photos from Raymond’s nightclub locked away in a co-worker’s desk. She believes that she may be in one of the photographs. But that side mission will have to wait as she heads to Roxxon only to be dismissed as just a secretary. After all, she’s just a woman. What could she possibly be useful for? Obviously, she’s useful for a whole lot more than what her male superiors expect of her as she suggests that the scans being conducted on the employees be more thorough. She spots Van Ert, the technician she blinded at the Roxxon facility, and when she recommends that they scan his additional clothes for levels of radiation he attempts to make a run for it. But leave it to Peggy to find a shortcut and stop Van Ert before he could leave.
The SSR agents interrogate Van Ert back at headquarters to no success. He gives them no information as they continually beat him. Peggy is dismissed as it’s not fitting for a lady to watch how they handle their suspect. She leaves only so that she could return to Daisy Clover. Eventually she finds Branis as he tries to escape. Luckily, Jarvis followed her and sabotaged the vehicle so that he couldn’t escape. Branis requests protection before he confesses anything in regards to Leviathan. As they make their way out, the assassin on the tail of Peggy and Branis lands on the roof of the truck and a fight ensues. As he fires upon them, Branis is shot and Peggy climbs out and makes her way onto the roof. She battles with the assassin on the moving vehicle and manages to stab him in the hand right before the truck goes off the road. With the assassin pinned to the roof, Peggy, Jarvis, and Branis jump off while the truck implodes in the water.
Before Branis dies, he draws a symbol in the dirt for Peggy. He is unable to communicate to her as his voice box has been destroyed. The symbol appears to be a semi heart with a wavy line cutting through the bottom. They then escape before the SSR arrives. The agents are peeved as they have been scooped yet again, believing it to be the mystery blonde from the photos Peggy was trying to steal. Peggy doesn’t know that the photos only captured the back of her head and is relieved to find out after she is called to settle a bet on whether or not Joe DiMaggio is in the picture. Saying she doesn’t know who that is and feigning ignorance, she guesses him to be a boxer. She then leaves the office, once again living to fight another day!
The two-hour premiere of ABC’s Agent Carter was a fantastic start to what looks to be a quite promising mini-series. As I have not been watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this new series did not feel hard to follow in any way. The beauty of Agent Carter is that it is firmly set in a time separate from the events of the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Establishing it’s setting in the time after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger (and considerably so as the series does flashback twice to the final moments of the film) this new Marvel series can be enjoyed as a stand-alone project. Yet those looking for a series that ties into the larger picture and grander universe will be satisfied as there were several self-serving moments to remind audiences that Agent Carter is still a part of the series that have made the The Starks and Jarvis household names.
Above all else, Hayley Atwell is one of the most likable stars on television today and brings a real sense of class to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that hasn’t truly been expressed despite having a Black Widow, Maria Hill, and Pepper Potts. She’s a joy to watch and brings to mind Jennifer Garner on Alias. Essentially, Agent Carter is Alias, just set in the 1940’s. But, where Alias presented a female super spy more on the likes of Nikita, Agent Peggy Carter feels real. She’s a real woman and a fully dimensional character that is miles away from the one-dimensional Betty Carver of the “Captain America Adventure Program.” Depicted in a brilliant scene from the second hour of Agent Carter is a fight scene that plays concurrently against the radio broadcast of the “Captain America Adventure Program.” In many ways it serves to show the audience that Peggy Carter can do everything that Captain America can do (and better!)
Agent Carter‘s two hour premiere episode did not disappoint in any way and proved to be a real highlight of Marvel television. It was a finely created adventure that has now given us another hero to cheer for and celebrate. The series has also intriguingly set up elements that will almost certainly pay off by it’s end. Elements such as mystery and universe building. So we met Anton Vanko before his falling out with Howard. Will we get to see the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent the russian scientist into a vodka fueled rage for many years as Nick Fury refers to in Iron Man 2? And what about the overly friendly waitress named Angie? Surely Marvel wouldn’t cast Lyndsy Fonseca as just a waitress. Could it be that she’s part of Howard Stark’s secret plan that we are only teased through his conversation with Jarvis? Or is it more sinister and that she may possibly be Hydra or someone working with Leviathan? There are several plots that have been developed and will certainly be fun watching as they unfold over the course of the next several weeks.
Whether you are a fan of Marvel or not, Agent Carter should not be missed. Hayley Atwell is a must reason alone to watch. And believe me, by February she will be your Valentine! She’s a super hero in her own right.
Agent Carter gets five out of five stars.