Friday, April 3, 2015

TV Series Review: Agent Carter

Sorry that this is late folks, there's no really good answer for it except general tiredness coupled with knowing this was going to be a long review and not wanting to start it. Since I did really love this show, hence why I knew it was going to be a longer one! 

Agent Carter

The war is won, the men have returned to regular jobs and Agent Peggy Carter is having a hard time convincing her new, all-male coworkers that her skills are real and that she should be doing more than taking lunch orders at  Strategic Scientific Reserve, the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D. When Howard Stark approaches her secretly and asks her for help clearing his name her natural sense of adventure, and memories of his help in the war, make her say yes but the more she and his butler Jarvis discover about his inventions and dealings the harder it is to remain on his side.

When I started the show I thought this was going to be about how S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded, given how Agent Carter was filling in for Agents of SHIELD's mid-season break and by how S.H.I.E.L.D was such a large plot point in the second Captain America movie last year. It's not however, it's about a smaller story in Peggy's life but I do think is a necessary stepping stone considering what her life is like at that point. It's 1946 so sexism is rampant and a story without that man vs environment conflict would have felt flat to me, especially since this series felt a little less "superhero"-y than the actual Marvel movies (even SHIELD is starting to feel more like the movies with the ideas it's introduced lately). There are characters with fantastic abilities but, so far, everyone is normal. I do argue that the final villain of this season made absolutely no sense if there weren't any magical powers involved (the series doesn't even try to hand wave away what he can do, it just lets it happen and hopes really hard that you won't question it) but so far everyone is just human.

To talk about those new side characters, I thought some of them were in danger of stealing the show from Peggy and Peggy is a really likable character! Neither of Peggy's potential "romantic interests" held much interest to me after the first half of the season, while I'll admit that it would have felt extraordinarily flat for there to be one guy who just understood her and didn't have sexist leanings to start with (although Steve Rodgers was pretty good about that) I have a hard time believing that Peggy's "future husband" was supposed to be introduced this season as well. But Jarvis, Stark's Butler, and Angie, Peggy's friend, were really fun characters in both their hammy moments and more subdued ones. I loved the relationship between Peggy and Angie, as well as the background interactions with all of the other girls at the Griffith (I'm a sucker for off-hand, flippant background comedy), and that Peggy doesn't keep Angie in the dark forever about her secret, so many stories are obsessed with keeping the "the character lives a double life!" thread going through an entire story so I was glad the writers knew when to end it. And Jarvis was simply fantastic, he works well as a foil to both Peggy and Stark while having a chance to work through his own character as well. The "odd couple" he and Peggy made was loads of fun, although I do wonder how he could stay involved with her escapades in possible future installments without having overly-convoluted reasoning.

Even if Angie and Jarvis almost stole the show, I still really liked seeing Peggy as the main character, it seems rather sneaky that Marvel has now made both of it's tv shows more-or-less female-lead while people swear a super-heroine movie would fail (wait that might actually be Marvel saying it). There's still a lot we don't know about Peggy but the traits about her that we do know, her loyalty, trying to temper her sense of justice with reality, and her independence all came through strongly and were played with a little bit. It's hard to look at her situation and think that her choice to not involve the SSR in finding Stark's lost inventions was a completely great idea and this is pointed out to her. Yes it would not have been a great idea, her coworkers are obstinate enough you'd think they were comic book villains instead of extras in another person's story, but we did see in her original short that Peggy is confident and likes showing off what she can do by herself, it's not that she doesn't like to work as a team but that she often doesn't trust her coworkers to let her be part of that team. It was nice to see that some people treat her differently however, especially the Howling Commandos, but it does make me think that Peggy won't really be able to change in that regard until she remakes her world to give her space to change. 

Finally, plenty of other people have had really great, insightful things to say/interviews with the costume designer so I don't think I can really add anything more to that conversation but there was one thing about the settings that I really loved. The series doesn't just look like it's in the 1940s, it looks like how comics saw the 40s, when Peggy goes to a mad scientist's lab it's all bulky blobs in a pastel green, a completely different aesthetic from today's evil lairs and such a clever idea to remember. 

I don't know how to measure American television success as well as I know how to judge an anime or book's success but it certainly seemed like Agent Carter was well received so I hope this means a second season down the line to further flesh out the story. We still don't know how Peggy got involved in espionage or have seen S.H.I.E.L.D. fully founded yet and I'm rather curious about them. I don't want the show to go on forever, which is always my lingering fear when I start an American or British tv show, but I would be perfectly happy with another one or two seasons, especially if Marvel is going to persist in trying to line up their tv shows and movies and needs something to fill the breaks!