MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER is Alias in the 1940s, so with a large dose of how women were treated in the first season of Mad Men. Set two years after the events of the main plot of Captain America: The First Avenger, SSR Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) has been relegated to a desk job that wastes her talents. But when Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is accused of selling weapons to the nation’s enemies, he calls upon her to secretly investigate who stole his tech.
AGENT CARTER is not about the start of S.H.I.E.L.D., set prior to that organization’s founding, nor does it feature connections to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., at least not yet. Instead, the miniseries is its own thing, a self-contained mission seemingly designed to highlight Atwell’s talents and prove her worthiness to Stark, who certainly needs no further evidence. It’s not ground-moving to the Marvel universe, but it is enjoyable.
For those wondering about continuity, well, it works fine with Captain American, but not with the Marvel One-Shot, Agent Carter. In the One-Shot, which takes place one year after Captain America, thus one year prior to AGENT CARTER, she is rescued from obscurity by Howard to begin the organization Nick Fury will one day run. This hasn’t happened yet, and she’s still locked in the desk job, albeit with a different boss and co-workers than in that short. Toss out the One-Shot, or assume it happens at a later date, and all is well. Though, it’s a tad disappointing we don’t get to see Peggy traipsing the globe with Dum Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandos, picking up artifacts as glimpses in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this fall.
Taking AGENT CARTER on its own merits, I like it. It’s a new take on the detective / cop / spy story, with Carter having to work behind her superior’s backs because they don’t trust or believe in her. She has a sort-of bumbling male sidekick, Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy, Those Who Kill), and when she’s not working, she has a gal pal to hang around with, waitress Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca, Nikita). There is character development when someone Peggy is close to pays the cost of Carter’s activities. Peggy’s adventures are exciting enough, and it’s fun watching her kick butt and brilliantly outsmart the villains, including Spider Raymond (Andre Royo, The Wire), Leet Brannis (James Frain, Grimm), and Miles Van Ert (James Urbaniak, The Venture Bros.).
AGENT CARTER is feminism in action without pounding you over the head with it. Sure, Peggy’s boss, Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham, Boardwalk Empire), has no confidence in her, nor do co-workers golden boy Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray, One Tree Hill) and bumbling Ray Krzeminski (Kyle Bornheimer, Perfect Couples). But Stark and Jarvis have plenty of faith in her, and her peer, Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj, Dollhouse), respects her, too. So how people regard Peggy is more about them as individuals than the time as a whole.
Where the show gets most preachy is when we hear the Captain American radio plays, which paint Peggy as a damsel in distress that the hero must rescue. Of course, at one point this is interspersed with her beating the heck out of a baddie, so it’s more laughable bit than social commentary.
AGENT CARTER feels fresh, and it feels new. I think making it a period piece sets it apart from other network fare, and while the structure of show isn’t wholly original, making it one big story instead of cases-of-the-week keeps it compelling. I do wish it had been set in the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D., thus adding to the franchise as a whole, but it’s still a fun piece without that, and I look forward to seeing where the plot is going over the next six weeks. And maybe season two will satisfy that other want?
AGENT CARTER airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.