Like many of you, I went into Agent Carter with little to no expectation of what to find because, as Vulture’s Abraham Riesman recently wrote, Agent Carter has little to no history in the comics. This eight-hour miniseries is spun off from the one-shot short film included as a DVD extra for Iron Man 3. The show is set in “New York, 1946,” and doesn’t give much more historical background beyond that, but it demonstrates a 1940s postwar noir sensibility with an opening montage set to the faux-big-band-sounding “That Man,” by Dutch pop singer Caro Emerald. And so far, it’s the Marvel entity that reminds me most of what it was like to read old comics when I was a kid, primarily Phantom, Mandrake, and Tintin, or even Bruce Timm’s animated DC series – drawn in the old ink style and filled with felons, ne’er-do-wells, and obtuse villainy.
Howard Stark is on the run, but not before he asks Peggy Carter to figure out the people behind the theft and sale of his “bad babies” superinventions on the black market, which he is taking the fall for. (Apparently, this will be the short series’ main arc.) Stark’s formula for a dangerous, volatile substance has been taken by … let’s be honest, the plot isn’t what we want to focus on with this show. Hayley Atwell’s violent, snarky Peggy, who likes to metaphorically stab postwar sexism in the face — that’s what we like, and there’s plenty of that, both in the way that Agent Carter beats up plenty of incompetent fools and in how she deals with co-workers.
I’m not sure if her male co-workers’ sexist disdain is entirely historically accurate, but those guys sure are self-assured and full of themselves, which makes their attitudes very easy to despise. Unlike Mad Men, where the misogyny is considered par for the course and can crush the female characters under its weight, Peggy’s given every opportunity to subvert and fight back. From her quips to Chad Michael Murray’s (!) “you’re better at filing than I am” bullshitting to her bringing coffee to sit in on a debriefing to her using her time of the month to emotionally scar her co-workers into giving her the day off, Peggy wins the fight against sexism every time. Those idealistic triumphs are part of the charm of the show: the way her male co-workers underestimate her is actually laughable (if you’re hunting a fugitive, why wouldn’t you work with someone who personally knows him?), and it’s just so pleasing to watch her best them every time. Her detecting skills far surpass theirs, so they are left unknowingly cleaning up her messes. On that note, I hope we don’t spend much more time on them, considering they basically relearn what Peggy and we already know at each given moment.
I’m also not sure how interested I am in Daniel Sousa, the disabled war veteran whom Agent Carter has no real chemistry with (although Steve Rogers is such a hard act to follow), but I do like that Peggy never goes to him for help. Instead, she throws him off Howard Stark’s scent and straight-up tells him he doesn’t need to stand up for her. Captain America: The Winter Soldier noted that Peggy’s husband was one of those saved by Cap in one of his first missions, so I don’t know if this guy’s a red herring or the real thing. Either way, he feels a little irrelevant at the moment.
Instead, Peggy’s main help comes from Howard Stark’s butler Jarvis — the original Jarvis, apparently, who, unlike Alfred and other butlers in such dramas, is hilariously incompetent and made to stay in the car on nearly every mission throughout the episode. He makes an unexpectedly fun companion for Peggy’s spy antics, especially since he doesn’t question her skills, nor does he ever try to outshine her. His dithering over the fact that he has to finish a soufflé for his wife when Peggy calls him for help particularly charmed me.
Peggy calls during one of her two undercover missions — way to Lean In, Peggy! — the first time posing as a saucy blonde to follow the trail of the formula. While the “using her sexuality” trope is a fun one to watch, I’m glad the show doesn’t rely too much on it. In contrast, I really enjoyed her bossy, fast-talking health inspector.
I’m also grateful for her female friendships, as otherwise, this could turn into a Pacific Rim–type situation, with only one female character in a sea of dudes. The death of her first roommate makes her hesitate to move next to her waitress friend Angie, but considering she’s played by Nikita’s Lyndsy Fonseca, I think she’s up for an action sequence or two.
In terms of the plot, the Man in the Green Suit reminds me of the Thin Man from the Charlie’s Angels sequel. In fact, a lot of his shtick feels familiar: The typewriter that sends messages is straight from Fringe, and Leviathan evokes Hydra, although the former comes from the Soviet bloc rather than the Axis Powers. Anyway, the next few episodes seem to include Peggy yelling at Howard about his damn lies and her wielding a machine gun. I am excited!
Some closing thoughts:
- Jarvis’s wife’s face isn’t seen, probably because she’ll be important later.
- Are we going to see Howard’s wife? I wonder …
- Where did she get that lipstick? The locksmith watch? I suppose they’re gifts from Howard, but they had absolutely no explanation.
- Where does Peggy get her blouses? Asking for a friend.