In both the context of and in retrospect on 2015, we needed Agent Carter. A plucky, witty little romp that explored a corner of the Marvel Universe that was much like our own. The regressive and often sexist functions of 1946 law enforcement, in which a SSR agent and former Captain America love interest, Peggy Carter stood up to a group of her peers who did not believe in her, solved a mystery and made a friend in Edwin Jarvis. At the time, it was an electric boost for comic book properties with female leads, with Peggy becoming somewhat of a feminist icon, who “knew her value” regardless of what anybody had to say. This became all the more positive once we got a look at Avengers: Age of Ultron’s baffling decisions regarding the character of Black Widow, which made Carter’s rise to the forefront all the more impressive. However, in light of all that hype, the show was always a bit flat for my tastes. Fun? Sure! However, it never quite found its distinct style, or knack for subtlety, being a bit on the nose with its girl power messages. Alas, the past is the past, and now that Peggy has found herself in LA to solve a Hollywood murder mystery, my hopes were high that the show would use its greatest attributes, the well acted and drawn characters, to really find its footing. After all, the charms of Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy could move mountains.
The season starts with a classic John Dillinger esque bank heist, lead by criminal and communist Dottie Underwood, who seems to be coasting along until she finds Peggy hiding in the vault with a shotgun. In the interrogation room, Peggy seems to have things under control, but then Chad Michael Murray’s Jack Thompson decides to send her away to Los Angeles. You see, Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), who is now working in the world’s sunniest haven of death and celluloid, has had a case dumped in his lap involving a murdered woman trapped in what seems like an ice cube. Peggy saddles up, reunites with D’Arcy’s Jarvis and off they go to solve the mystery.
See, this all sounds well and good doesn’t it? After all, this show certainly needed to get its head a bit out of the Marvel connective tissue and become its own thing. For the first of the two episodes, we seem to be headed in that direction. We discover that the murder is connected to defense agency mogul Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) and his movie star girlfriend Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), Peggy finds a new running buddy and potential love interest in the charming Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) and that Frost’s company is developing a super weapon that can reduce people to particles. Wait, what? That’s right. As it turns out, Carter is not confident enough to simply rely on its natural charms to carry the story, but feels the need to connect to Agents of Shield by making the black gobbly goo that sends people to other dimensions the Mcguffin. At least, that’s what I remember, because I stopped Agents of Shield months ago in order to un-numb my mind. Oh Marvel, your addiction to sabotaging a good story with connective tissue strikes again.
It’s a shame too, because certain things are working here, especially in episode one. Atwell is as headstrong and charming in the role as she’s always been, and her chemistry with D’Arcy’s Jarvis is perhaps even stronger here than before. The scenes with these two bouncing off each other (sometimes literally) are a great deal of fun. Problem is, Jarvis has been somewhat sidelined to the purgatory of goofy comic relief while Carter spends her time bouncing around a strange love triangle involving the eternally bland Sousa and Wilkes. There’s certainly nothing wrong with model #2, but he just doesn’t bring the same spark to the table that D’Arcy does. Hell, even the side story with Michael Murray and Kurtwood Smith as an aging FBI agent intent on getting the young man to leave the SSR would be interesting, but the decidedly more fun communist investigation feels like such an afterthought at the moment. All of this would be fine if the story was headed somewhere intriguing, but the second hour suggests that is decidedly not the case.
If the first episode was a a somewhat rocky foundation, the second hour is a sinking ship. A great deal of the issue revolves around our two villains, Mr. Chadwick and Whitney Frost, who will unfortunately become Madame Masque later on. I say unfortunately, because watching Currie Graham and Wynn Everett is akin to watching two freshman drama students who have never met before do their first drama scene. Not only is their delivery stiff as a board, but the characters suck. Chadwick is such a laughable villain, that he holds his meetings with his top secret council inside a bookcase in his house. Seriously? We’re gonna use a troupe that would seem trite coming from Johnny English in a season that was supposed to channel some of the great LA set murder mysteries of the ’40s. Ridiculous.
So much of this episode is spent with Peggy and Wilkes running around together trying to break into Chadwick’s compound to steal the weapon, and yet, I didn’t feel a thing for their partnership or romance. By the time that he was presumed dead from being sucked into the vortex with Whitney, I was definitely thanking my lucky stars a little bit. I’m sure he’ll be back though, with the episode ending on the cliffhanger that Whitney has not only returned, but has fused with the goo in some way.
I’m not rooting for this show to be bad in any way. In fact, I find the potential of bringing Peggy Carter to Los Angeles, in the background of Howard Stark’s movie studio is a genius set up that’s begging for a brilliant story. However, the one posed in these early episodes certainly isn’t it, instead of opting for beats so trite that they feel like they’re coming out of a spy parody. For the love of TV, let’s see at least one episode where Peggy and Jarvis simply do some Mystery Inc. business before this black goo sucks up everything that was fun about this show into its vortex.
Oh well, back to singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” to myself…well done Suicide Squad.