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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: Agent Carter, Episodes 1 & 2

Marvel’s 8-episode run of Agent Carter kicked off last night with a 2-hour premiere, unveiling a tight cast of characters, punch in its dialogue, and a dash of panache peppered in each step.

Though the first episode had to address the elephant in the room for any Captain America fan – Steve Rogers’ assumed death – the note is far less somber and grim that might be expected. Carter grieves, but she’s also doing her best to keep a stiff upper lip and move on, which seems nearly impossible given the constant reminders of her fallen soldier from her colleagues and the radio airwaves.

Relegated to answering phones and filing paperwork, Carter’s importance in the war and her role going forward is marginalized by the men who are returning from war. She shares a tiny studio apartment with a friend. A close acquaintance of hers, Howard Stark, is also being accused of selling dangerous weapons on the black market to foes of the United States.

Basically, things aren’t going well.

When Stark and his butler, Jarvis, approach Carter and ask her to help locate the person responsible for stealing the weapons and selling them, Carter agrees. Cue: blonde wig, fabulous party, Bond-like gadgets, and general espionage as Carter locates the newest weapon to hit the black market and attempts to destroy it.

The show’s primary strength is, of course, Agent Carter herself – Hayley Atwell. Atwell’s acting skills are leagues beyond the majority of her counterparts in sibling show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and can carry the series with a much smaller, tighter ensemble as a result. Her physical strength and fight scenes are coordinated in a way that feels completely believable, and Atwell pulls off Carter’s sassy and snappy dialogue in a way that still manages to make the character likable. James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis was also a refreshing surprise. Rather than an Alfred-style, all-knowing guru, Jarvis is eager but green in his attempts to assist Carter, often putting him in the position of Carter’s likable protege.

The secondary strength of Agent Carter’s premiere is that it is largely exploring new ground with Peggy Carter. Absent are the visual cues crammed into a show like Gotham, which spent an inordinate portion of its premiere hitting viewers over the head with connections to existing material. It’s a show that feels vastly more like a period piece than a comic book property, which is to the show’s benefit; after Gotham, Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Flash, this approach helps to differentiate the show from its predecessors. In a word: Agent Carter is stylish, both in the way it’s shot and costumed and how it quietly steps around common tropes.

At this point in the game it may be too early to judge the show’s villain, but things on that end feel a bit murky. Carter hunts down several men who tell her that “Leviathan” is behind the recent thefts (from the Jonathan Hickman-written Secret Warriors). At first glance, it feels like Leviathan will play out as the identical twin of Hydra, just dressed a bit differently. So far the Leviathan agents Carter encounters have all had their voice boxes removed, which is an interesting trademark, but after following the events of Hydra so closely on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s hard not to worry that this villain will feel a bit redundant.
On the whole, this is the most promising series premiere of the current crop of comic shows on air. Trimming down the cast to rely on a few really solid, high-quality actors and reducing the number of episodes for the season to cut out the filler and stand-alone stories keeps the show taut, suspenseful and interesting.

Favorite moments:
  • Carter takes the stairs and gracefully bashes James Urbaniak with a briefcase
  • “Crikey O’Riley”
  • Bubbles from The Wire (!)
  • Jarvis runs to open Carter’s door; “Too late!”
Are we alone in our love for this new show? Let’s hear what you think!
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