After a toneless, empty and ultimately disappointing two-hour premiere, Agent Carter Season 2 finds itself in a bit of a rough position. We’ve got mad scientists, Zero Matter and brown nosed government agents all thrown in a stew, overtaking the fun that the dynamic between Peggy Carter and Jarvis created in the first season. Needless to say, this episode needed something, or someone, to spice things up a bit as we move forward into this generic story. Fortunately, Marvel has always had a certain family of eccentric billionaires at the ready to do exactly that, and to my great relief, they rolled out one of them to play a major role in this week’s episode: Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark. Thank heaven.
Stark’s appearance, along with the apparent death of Peggy’s accomplice and romantic interest, Dr. Jason Wilkes, ultimately crafted the dynamic that made this episode more fun than before. Peggy, Howard, and by necessity, Jarvis (who was sorely under utilized in the premiere) found themselves on an adventure to infiltrate the “Arena Club,” an exclusive gentleman’s club where they believe Calvin Chadwick is hatching a plan to rig his election for senator. Cooper, who played his largest guest role on the show to date, brought along his buckets of charisma to this little caper, making for some wonderful character interactions. It has always been fun to see how much respect the womanizing Howard has had for Peggy, and watching her rib on him for his playboy lifestyle feels authentic and elicits genuine laughs. In fact, the episode’s best scene played on this in full force, with Howard unleashing an army of classy women upon the Arena Club, creating a “code pink” while Peggy and Jarvis (who also had several nice moments together) snuck in.
Also fun was seeing Howard discover where Wilkes actually ended up. See, as it turns out, he’s in between time continuities, which has made him take on something of a hologram form until Stark can bring him back. It’s an interesting little twist, and now since Wilkes cannot take physical form, there’s only so much silly stuff the writers can do to try to sell Carter and his sexual tension. In fact, Peggy telling him that he had impressed both Howard and her with his scientific ability was pretty damn genuine, even if the show still hasn’t made it clear why exactly he’s such a genius.
Whitney Frost is also starting to become a more interesting adversary, with Wynn Everett’s performance taking on a bit more dimension than her flat outing last week may have hinted at. She certainly had fun bouncing off of Atwell, their verbal cat and mouse game being one of the more well written sequences we’ve had so far. Most interesting however, is that while at first she seemed to be completely dominant and in control of Chadwick, here she revealed some more vulnerable colors, seeming genuinely scared by Carter picking up her trail. It’s hard to tell if she’s being genuine or manipulative yet, but hey, at least this character is eliciting some intrigue now.
Regardless of all of these improvements, there are still so many elements of this story that are just sagging. Every time Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) and Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith) are on-screen, the pacing stops dead in its tracks. I don’t know who the hell thought that Chad Michael Murray should have leaped off the posters of Abercrombie and onto the screen, but the dude is an absolute charisma vacuum. We’ve seen the whole “Jack has no faith in Peggy until she’s right” thing so many damn times, that it’s just holding things back at this point. Hopefully the reveal that Vernon is in the Arena Club will result in this character getting involved in some shady stuff, and hopefully killed. Also, there are just so many cringe-worthy moments and characters. The biggest culprit this week was on the set of Howard Stark’s movie, where Peggy points out that “a movie based on a comic book is a horrible idea.” Ha. Haha. HA! We get it Marvel. Leave the meta humor to Deadpool.
This episode was certainly an improvement over the last two, but that’s in big part due to the presence of Jarvis and Howard. The story is still pretty lame and seems to be devolving into some Agents of SHIELD-esque brown-nosing that is seriously taking away from the fun this setting is providing. We’ll see if the slight momentum can be kept up in Howard’s absence next week, although something tells me that he’ll be having more fun in Peru than I will be having watching this show.