‘MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER’ Recap: “Pilot / Bridge & Tunnel”

Peggy Carter has made her way to the small screen — and it’s glorious.

The popular female protagonist, who made her debut in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and then went on to carve out a pretty definitive space in the hearts and minds of everyone from Marvel executives to rabid fans, finally made her TV debut in ABC’s newest series, Agent Carter. It’s a show that has been anticipated ever since the network officially green-lit it in May during Upfront season, largely because of the love for Peggy Carter, and largely because it marks the first time Marvel has used a female protagonist as a headline for any kind of program. To say Agent Carter does the character justice would be an understatement.

It’s always a slippery slope, bringing any part of a franchise to the small screen, hoping it attracts an audience. Agents of SHIELD had the wide-ranging spread of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to draw from, but, as was shown during a rocky first season, that help can only take you so far. To be fair, Agents of SHIELD also dealt with two setbacks Agent Carter does not face: it relied heavily on events of the MCU to build its story (having to pull back until Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted in April arguably hurt its front run of episodes) and it dealt with a primary cast of unknown characters and actors, save for Clark Gregg and a few cameos from people such as Samuel J. Jackson, Jaime Alexander and Cobie Smulders.

Peggy Carter, on the other hand, is — between both Captain America movies, the Marvel one-shot video and a few SHIELD cameos — a well established character that we’re already familiar with. We’re familiar with people in her life (like Howard Stark) and even if we’re not, we’re familiar enough with the characters to understand her relationships with them (like butler Edwin Jarvis). Peggy Carter’s story has come and gone; whether or not we’ll continue into the still unknown decades of her life is at this point uncertain, but even in the MCU, most of the consequences associated with her journey have already been extracted. In short: there is nothing specifically holding Agent Carter back, there are only ways to build going forward, and allowing it to fly is exactly what makes for a workable show.

It doesn’t hurt that Hayley Atwell plays Peggy with the same affable, strong-willed confidence that made her so admirable in the first place. The pilot largely serves as set-up for the eight-episode run, with a sort of re-introduction to Peggy, a refresher of where she stands and what her life is like in 1940’s New York. She’s stuck doing secretarial work at the telephone company as opposed to the ass-kicking she’s proven herself worthy of in the first Cap movie, but thanks to Howard Stark needing her help, she’s able to maneuver her way back into the game via some double agent work at the Strategic Science Reserve. It’s a set-up similar to the one used in Marvel’s one-shot, but more loosely executed, as the episode digs deep to show us a glimpse of Peggy’s life, from male co-workers to girly roommates (R.I.P. Colleen) to budding friends (hi, Angie!) While we dealt with Peggy diving into the espionage world by going undercover in order to investigate a highly weaponized formula, we also spent time cultivating relationships that will no doubt be instrumental to the episodes going forward (and let’s talk about that chemistry between Atwell and James D’Arcy, please.) More importantly, we didn’t have to wait to see Peggy prove her place, and we didn’t have to wait to see storylines become unraveled.

While the premiere served as an introduction firing on all cylinders, the second episode followed up with a more settled pace more in tune with what we’ll probably be seeing during the short run. We were introduced to what will most likely be a through-line of mythology: the mysterious typewriter [Fringe, anyone?] and the “Leviathan,” as well as the implication that Jarvis, for all his snark and good will, may not be as innocent as he seems. (I don’t believe he’s necessarily a bad guy, but there’s definitely some ulterior motive going on.) Placing both episodes back to back was a smart decision: it allowed us to both understand and invest in Peggy’s world, and it kicked off our story enough so that next week, we’ll be able to jump right back into the action.

At the end of the two hours, I mentioned on Twitter about how happy I was that this show — a show where a strong female is seen being held back, being emotional, breaking barriers and stepping up to change history — exists on television. So much that Agent Carter represents is what it means to not just be a woman (in a world that is not much different from today) but how to survive on your own and blaze your own trail. Peggy represents that dynamic, and Agent Carter allows her to explore it fully.

So sit down and buckle up: if these two episodes were any indication, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

Odds & Ends:

  • I’m fully on board with Peggy and Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca) becoming best friends. In fact, I would champion an entire spin-off of that, if Marvel was into it.
  • If you were a Marvel fan, the entire night was filled with fun references and throwbacks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — many from the Iron Man films (Vanko, Roxxon, Howard Stark), but the episode also featured a healthy amount of Captain America clips, especially in the beginning. It’s interesting to note that the show chose to use these flashbacks so liberally, given that they haven’t used much of any MCU footage in Agents of SHIELD — then again, Peggy’s story is so directly tied to that of the first Cap movie, it made sense that they would try to bridge that gap with footage people were already familiar with.
  • Speaking of Howard Stark…how great was it to see Dominic Cooper suit up with the old goatee again? I know Howard won’t be a permanent fixture on the show, but we’ll see him a healthy amount, which makes me happy.
  • The Captain America radio show was one of my favorite moments, along with the montage that showed Peggy taking care of business while society detailed that Captain America had to be the one that saved her. Wonderful, startling direction choice right there, and one of the many moments I pronounced my love at the screen.
  • Guesses/theories on what Brannis was drawing when he died? My first thought was the Hydra logo, but anything’s fair game at this point.

Look for a more detailed recap next week, but for now, share your thoughts!

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