TV Review: Agent Carter Season One Retrospective

Tonight is the UK premiere of the second season of Marvel’s acclaimed Agent Carter TV series, following Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter from the first Captain America movie. In preparation, then, I’ve collected all the ‘mini-reviews’ that I wrote each week over on my facebook page, which you can find here. 

Episode One - Now is Not the End

So, I watched the first episode of Agent Carter today, because it’s finally getting a UK release. I quite enjoyed it, actually; Hayley Atwell is brilliant (although the “Crikey O'Reilly” line is awful, she delivers everything else more or less perfectly) and some fairly interesting plot lines have been set up. I’m not exactly sold on the Leviathan idea, because vagueness doesn’t really translate to an interesting mystery, but we’ll see where that goes.

I was surprised at how violent it was, actually. It was great seeing Peggy fighting and winning quite so often, but it was certainly a level up from Agents of SHIELD - the stapler and the cooking hob both stood out. As did the rather brutal death of Peggy’s friend, come to that.

Still, I quite enjoyed it, and I’m going to keep watching it. Obviously.

Episode Two - Bridge and Tunnel

Another week, another episode of Agent Carter. ‘Twas another interesting one; Hayley Atwell is, of course, still brilliant. What I do find interesting is that they’re giving her what is typically a male narrative - that of the loner who cuts themselves off from others, blaming themselves when harm comes to those closest to them, and so on and so forth. They did something similar with Watson in series 3 of Elementary, to largely good effects, so I’m interested to see where this is going.

Also of note is the Betty Carver triage nurse radio show angle. (I think I got her name right) It’s… interesting, in that it provided a nice presentational device, but they never really used it to any great impact to comment on, say, propaganda, or interpretations of heroes, or where ever they might have wanted to go with that. If it does reappear, hopefully it’ll be in a more interesting capacity

Episode Three - Time and Tide

This week’s did well for the various supporting characters, I think. Jarvis, Angie, and Kaminsky. They each felt a little more fleshed out - I knew the backstory about Jarvis’ wife was coming, but it was still a suitably dramatic moment, and James D'Arcy does really well. Particularly liked the “Still is, I’m pleased to say” line, as well as the clear rage replacing his normal calm when his wife is threatened.

I think the death of Kaminsky was quite well handled - even though no one exactly liked him, and he’d been very much the butt of every joke (even in death - “I’ll call his girlfriend”), when he did die, it clearly shook everyone up. It was a clever way to show the impact of what was going on.

Episode Four - The Blitzkrieg Button

It was kinda rubbish, this episode. Bit of a shame, really, that at 4 weeks in they’re already at “comedy filler episode”, especially given that it’s essentially a mini-series; you’d expect the whole show to have a much tighter arc and direction. This was the one where it became obvious that they don’t exactly know what they’re doing - they have a thinly sketched stock mysterious villain, and a weak overall plot, which can’t exactly drive the series. “Clear Howard Stark’s name”. Well, okay, what does that translate to on a weekly basis? So far it’s matched up alright with the ongoing investigations of the SSR, but this week, things just felt lacking.

There were good bits - some of the jokes were funny, and some of the more serious lines did fairly well - but ultimately this episode was just a sloppy, directionless mess. I’d say it’s probably worse than even the lower tier Agents of SHIELD episodes (a show I’ve not always been kind to, but am more or less now quite pleased with.)

Episode Five - The Iron Ceiling

This was the one with the Howling Commandos in it. That’s probably the only notable thing about it, isn’t it? Actually, that’s unfair. Fleshed out the character of Thompson a bit, which was nice; tragic backstory, and possible PTSD, were an interesting inclusion if nothing else. Peggy’s story in this episode worked well too, I think, as the SSR characters began to give her a little more respect.

It still feels like, with three episodes left, that there’s a fair amount of ground left to cover on the big important arc plot - which, admittedly, is not feeling all that interesting yet.

(Also - this wasn’t in the original facebook comments, but something I wanted to comment on now: Isn’t The Iron Ceiling such a clever title?)

Episode Six - A Sin to Err

In this particular episode,  Peggy’s SSR buddies find out about her illicit escapades, and also the good Russian man is secretly evil.

We’ll start with the Russian man. It was actually an interesting twist, the way that they revealed he was evil - Dottie was signalling to him with her gun, rather than getting ready to shoot him. It’d be a lot more interesting if it wasn’t so contrived, mind you - shouldn’t she have had, like, a telescope or something? Also, thinking about it, why did she kill the dentist? I actually liked that earlier, because she killed him because he was being a lecherous creep… but isn’t the whole point of the Black Widow program that they can manipulate people with their sexuality? That’s why she has that anesthetic lipstick to use later on, after all. Hmm.

As for the SSR reveal, I think it worked, more or less. The fact that she gained the respect of the others last episode gave this a bit more weight, but it’d probably have worked better if we’d seen her with their respect for another episode. Also! Putting her confrontation with Thompson and her confrontation with Sousa one after the other lessened the impact of them, given that they ended up being functionally very similar, even though they shouldn’t have been - Peggy’s relationship with both of them is different, and that should have been considered.

Still! At least this episode gave me a lot to say. It was a definite improvement over the previous two weeks.

Episode Seven - Snafu

I can pretty confidently say that this episode was, in fact, the best of the series. In part, I think, that’s because a lot of the different plot threads that they’d been dangling over the past eight weeks were now beginning to reach their close - as well as that, though, there’s more depth to the characters by this stage, so it was all a little more impactful generally.

The interrogation montage at the beginning of the episode was quite neat; it does a genuinely impressive job of juxtaposing the different reaction Peggy’s colleagues had to her betrayal alongside one another. One of the flaws I picked out in the previous episode was that they didn’t do enough to emphasis the differences in Peggy’s relationship with Sousa and with Thompson - a far better job of that was done here.

Similarly, the death of Chief Dooley was actually rather poignant; on its own, the invocation of his family might have seemed a little cliche, but I think in allowing us to actually see his family through the hallucinations the show was able to out something of a more interesting spin on events. It helped to give the episode a greater emotional weight, and really did up the tension, heightening the stakes for the finale.

Episode Eight - Valediction

The eighth and final episode managed to further improve on the standard set by its predecessor; it does a decent job of resolving the different plot threads we’ve running throughout. The reintroduction of Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark was an excellent move, because he imbues his performance with a real charm and charisma that elevates every scene he’s in. There was some real pathos, in fact, in framing Howard’s narrative so explicitly in terms of Steve Rogers; much like with Peggy, the love of Captain America and his absence haunted the character.

We did see a rather neat resolution to that, though, and it’s one of my favourite moments in the entire show; Peggy was able to talk down Howard, preventing him from bombing the city, in a scene that explicitly mirrored and parallels Steve’s own “death” in Captain America. In many ways, this can be regarded as something of a second chance for Peggy, and the start of a second life - as evidenced by the closing scene, wherein she reaffirms her own value, and slowly pours away Steve’s blood.

Overall

I mean, it’s very much a case of strengths and weaknesses. They did a decent job with the characters, I think it’s fair to say, although it did take a while to get going in that regard. Some things felt a little sloppy; the overarching Leviathan plot was not really as tightly planned as I would have liked, particularly considering this was a miniseries. Certainly, there’s no way the story could have sustained a standard 24 episode season, and it’s perhaps difficult to argue that they managed to properly sustyain it across these 8.

I do think that it is genuinely good thing for the MCU that this program exists. I do think that it’s managed to introduce some excellent characters. I also think there is a genuine and inherent value in introducing a female lead television program of this nature.

But across the second season, the writing will need to pick up; it has to be more in the vein of the later episodes than the earlier episodes, if not even better still.

Let’s hope the show can come to know its own value, and realise its untapped potential.

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