Agent Carter is back for another week of veiled Hollywood references, mystery plots and noir send ups. One would even say, if asked how it were doing, that it was doing junderful. Why? Watch the show for the jokes, I’ve got “reviewing” to do.
1. Like That Scene from Ghost
As Cater and Wilkes’ romance continues to sort of bloom, the whole non-corporeal thing seems to be the biggest hinderance to this going anywhere. It’s interesting, actually; for a heroine that seems like she has so little time in her life for romance, and for a show that seemed more focused on the friendship between men and women rather than the romantic entanglements of them, the “romance” plotline of the second season is being handled in a very peculiar way. Last season had Peggy in a women’s home where men were barely allowed, but now that she’s out in the world she finally has a love interest that she can’t actually touch. I’m not sure what the driving force was behind making Peggy’s love life so complicated (after the supposed love her life “died” in the ice), but it’s definitely weird to see this wedge driven between them when we’re not really all that invested in them getting together anyway.
2. Like That Scene from Ant-Man
Hopping over to Whitney Frost’s neck of the woods, Whitney is basically being given the same treatment that Darren Cross received in Ant-Man: unrefined, untested power used against small animals, then turned against humans in a fairly violent way. Frost is being more well-developed than Cross, I’ll give them that; the cracks in her skin being a play on the general vanity of Hollywood is a nice little tongue in cheek nod, and this episode giving her backstory certainly allows us to slightly sympathize with her a bit more. However, that sharp turn from smart kid with a bright future towards manipulative individual with magical energy inside her who kills rats and random dudes is … well, a sharp turn indeed.
Let’s dig into that.
3. Parallels: Whitney Frost’s Past
Last night detailed the history of Whitney Frost, from a young girl who likes to build radios to a grown woman seduced into Hollywood. I say seduced but it’s unclear; Frost has been a particularly difficult character to read, and if I’m being honest the second that that Hollywood agent touched his hand to her face I imagined she would break his fingers. Yet, Frost is also cunning; her mother taught her to use her looks rather than her brain, so perhaps this is Whitney’s way of doing both. Still: this origin is basically as paint-by-numbers as it gets for female villains in media — seeing that men would try to manipulate her, she used her wits to manipulate them back… but what’s more interesting about Whitney Frost is that, generally speaking, she’s a genius and other people on the show know it. I’m not saying they don’t have to avoid the whole “pretty girl playing dumb when she’s really smart” routine if it suits the show or empowers Frost in some way, but this didn’t really feel like that.
(Hell, Arrow Season 1 did a better job of playing that game with Felicity, and Arrow Season 1 is borderline unwatchable in retrospect.)
4. Parallels, Part 2: Peggy Carter’s Past
We also get a look into Peggy’s past, from a young girl who dreamed of saving fair maidens to a woman who was too afraid to follow her dreams despite being one of the women in Bletchley Park (implied, but not stated). I like Peggy’s sequence because it’s unafraid to play up the fact that she’s decidedly brilliant, but she’s putting herself aside for others — which is her perhaps her greatest attribute that came from the character getting films worth of development. Granted, she was doing it for the ostensibly “wrong reasons,” but it does speak to who Peggy Carter is: someone who wants those around her to be happy. It’s only the loss of her brother that really spurs her on to follow her own dreams, and while this is again basically a paint-by-numbers secret origin it feels much better handled than the one of Whitney Frost, which this episode shares the screen time with. Perhaps it’s because we’re already rooting for Peggy and somewhat rooting against Whitney as the Big Bad, but I did like seeing that other side of Peggy before the soldier we met in The First Avenger.Continued below
5. The Oncoming Tidal Wave
So far, all things considered at the not-quite-halfway mark, I think it’s fair to say that this has been a good season. I’m enjoying it. That flattery out of the way, this far in with a season that’ll be so short, and I’m not really feeling the stakes of anything going on. Sure, there’s the Council of 9 secretly ruling the world, there’s the FBI cracking down on the SSR and there’s Whitney Frost slowly becoming a chaos magician, but for the stakes that Peggy had last season, this feels rather tame. Not only that, but if they’re doing a noir send-up (I don’t know why I said “if”; they totally are, and they call it out tonight’s episode), the big mystery of it is already lost. What are they trying to solve? Is it just another case of “there’s a big bad organization and we need to stop them for freedom?” Because if so, fine, I’ll buy it because that’s how these genre shows work, but I’m hoping they can bring a bit more to it than that.
Right now the saving grace of Agent Carter is that Hayley Atwell and the supporting cast are great. If it wasn’t Atwell the show wouldn’t have half the power it does; I’m just hoping the writing picks up a bit as we move forward in the season in order to match.