This week saw the return of Agent Carter to our homes and television screens as Hayley Atwell and the SSR gang returned for a 2-hour season premiere in “The Lady in the Lake” and “A View in the Dark”. A new location, a new mystery and a new danger is afoot. Can we boil two episodes down to just five thoughts worth of commentary? You bet we can.
1. Welcome Back, Peggy
Agents of SHIELD, as a program, is very up and down. Sometimes it’s on point, other times you just wish you were watching the Flash over on the CW. Agent Carter, on the other hand, had a pretty great first season. Living in the shadows of Captain America: the First Avenger, the book managed to help bring Hayley Atwell and her talented secret agent alter ego Peggy Carter to the forefront of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a show that has a quite different temp and inner mantra than most other Marvel programs.
Well, with the show back for a second season, it’s pretty clear to see that that is back, and much stronger than before. With most of the kinks worked out and growing pains aside, the second season of Agent Carter kicks off with a self-assured kick-ass opening before throwing Peggy to the other side of the country for this year’s adventure. The first two hours of the season can be boiled down to a singular word: fun — and there’s a lot to be said for that, to be honest. Watching Hayley Atwell and James D’arcy and others just seem to generally enjoy the roles their playing as they run around Los Angeles makes the two hours fly by pretty breezily, and it’s great to have Peggy and the SSR back.
2. A Grand Conspiracy
Last season, as far as tone goes, was pretty all over the place. It was a spy show, but it was also trying to compete with the other costume dramas. It spent a lot of its time finding its voice, playing with characters and settings and how those various characters moved around in those arenas. This season seems to be leaning on the noir angle, and while the spy drama is still at its heart there’s a lot of interesting spins being played on classic noir elements — whether it’s in the dialogue, the way characters look at one another or in the fact that we generally can’t seem to trust anyone here. Even the whole “secret organization meeting behind the scenes” comes with a very noir-ish vibe, playing up the same angle that Brubaker and Philips did for their recent book The Fade Out. If Stark Productions comes into play later in the season and we get to see more of Whitney Frost’s acting career, we’ll be bordering on parody.
3. Madame Masque
Speaking of Whitney Frost, how about her Big Bad debut? At least, I assume she’s the Big Bad; I’ve not paid much mind to the press, but I know that character’s name. While this Frost doesn’t seem to have too much to do with the Masque that menaces Iron Man fairly regularly, it’ll be interesting to see Frost take on a direct role into menacing Peggy throughout the season — especially after the end of the second episode, where we begin to see the literal crack in her seams. It seems apparent that they want to push her towards some variant of the comic book character we know, but how the classic late 1940s actress angle is played up in order to turn her into a supervillain (as opposed to just a regular villain who orchestrates the murder of other women, which is a whole other thing).
Also, how about the Secret Empire showing up? Talk about digging as deep as possible into the toybox of the Marvel U.
4. The Less-than-Great Aspects
So, look: I’m an unabashed fan of Carter, Atwell, the whole production. I’m happy to be this show’s #1 cheerleader, even when it has its faults.
That said, the show does have some faults. While I think these two episodes definitely show a lot of improvement from the first season (in a great way) and it’s pretty clear that the showrunners have a better idea of what they want to do, I’m wary of a few things; specifically, the idea that every season has to be a different genre (since that doesn’t really work on any other show) and that it leans too heavily into the tropes it seems to mimic. The show’s new setting of 1947 has me of the mind that they’re just going to try and work in the Black Dahlia murder into the show for context, especially when the season opens with the death of a woman whose body is found in a public park. That and, after all the work done last season to give Carter agency, where the SSR gets to the point they literally can’t survive without her, we still have Chad Michael Murray leading the crew to otherwise diminish Peggy’s accomplishments.Continued below
Agent Carter is nothing but potential, I’ll give it that. One can only hope that this season helps Carter finds its voice in a way that doesn’t rely on outside influences providing that definition for it.
5. The Future
This season has a lot going for it already. There’s the Zero Matter, which the internet deftly wants you to know has some kind of tie in Doctor Strange (it’s the Darkforce, apparently). This puts magic on the table, with Whitney now apparently being some conduit to this. There’s Dottie still being a part of the show, and Faust / Zola are still somewhere in the back of it all. And who knows what the Council of Evil White Men Who Rule the World have planned for Peggy, the Zero Matter or any of the other machinations at play. Howard Stark still has to show up, and Mrs. Jarvis seems like a delight who I’m hoping to see come back a lot this season. With 8 more episodes and a lot of action still to come, I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll see the show evolve exponentially this season. We’re already off to a generally better start than what we had with last season’s premiere, so here’s hoping that the new location and renewed spirit of the show maintains and stays on an upward momentum — particularly after everything we’ve learned watching SHIELD’s mistakes in comparison with Marvel’s Netflix wins, let alone DC’s TV triumphs over on the CW (hey, wasn’t Flash on last night too?).
All that said, I’ll note: if Wilkes is actually dead or gone, I’m calling bullshit on that right now. So.