TV Review: Agent Carter Pilot - "Now Is Not The End/Bridge and Tunnel"
Join us each week as we review the latest episode of AGENT CARTER. Warning: the following review contains major spoilers for the newest episode of the show.
Episode 1 and 2: "Now Is Not The End" / "Bridge and Tunnel"
Synopsis: In 1946, Peggy Carter must balance the routine office work she does for the Strategic Scientific Reserve while secretly assisting Howard Stark, who finds himself framed for supplying deadly weapons to the top bidder. Carter is assisted by Stark's butler, Edwin Jarvis, to find those responsible and dispose of the weapons
Recap: The first foray for the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the small screen, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., has improved over time but lost a lot of fans with an uneven first season. Now, Marvel wants to see if they can change that by taking a much different approach with the retro AGENT CARTER. Does this limited series have life in it beyond this first eight episode run or will it end up on ice much like Captain America?
The first episode opens with a series of excerpts from CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, just in case you forgot who the heck Peggy Carter was or her relationship with Steve Rogers and Howard Stark. These are interspersed with new scenes from the series. We know Hayley Atwell clearly still fits the role even if the world has moved on since the end of World War II. Now living in New York City, Carter is a glorified secretary in the eyes of her SSR colleagues. Her boss, Roger Dooley, is the typical male leader character who doesn't see the benefit to having a female agent on staff. The other SSR agents, played by Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj, and Kyle Bornheimer, all convey that same retro, chauvanistic demeanor that stereotypes men from the 1950s. Or, at least, the movie idea of men from the 1950s. The SSR scenes play like a cheap knock-off of MAD MEN, which is a shame.
It takes about halfway through the pilot for AGENT CARTER to really start moving. Howard Stark appears and teams Peggy up with his butler/manservant, Edwin Jarvis. After meeting with Stark, who asks Peggy to help clear his name, we now get what made the Marvel One-Shot featuring the Atwell's character so intriguing. Peggy goes undercover and gets involved with a suspect who may be a part of the conspiracy against Stark. We get our first look at the always creepy James Frain as Leet Brannis as well as the pleasure of seeing Atwell in a blonde wig and sexy evening dress.
The ensuing action includes a cat and mouse chase through a nightclub, defusing a weapon made from Stark's chemical formula, and a fight with a henchman in Carter's apartment. Things go as well as possible but Carter's roommate is killed in the process, giving her a moment to break down into tears. She tells Jarvis she may not be ready for this, which we of course know is not true. As much as the series wants to present Peggy Carter as an equal to the boys, was it really necessary to have her break down into tears?
At the end of the pilot, we know Brannis and the mustachioed hitman known as Green Suit were part of some villainous group, but is it the same one? Both have scars on their necks and speak through a voice box and cites a potential mastermind he reports to. Green Suit answers to a self-typing typewriter very reminiscent of a similar effect on FRINGE with a code name cited as Leviathan. Both are teases at something bigger coming, but with only seven episodes, will we get an answer or a cliffhanger?
The second hour, directed by CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER helmer Joe Russo, picks up the story without skipping a beat. We get a chance to see Peggy don another disguise, this time as an inspector as she tries to find Leet Brannis and the dairy truck he hauled the nitramene weapon seen at the end of the pilot. Whether the nitramene will be a plot device all season or just to start is unknown, but AGENT CARTER already feels like it knows where it is going better than AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. did at the outset.
The second episode gives Shea Whigham and Chad Michael Murray a little more to do than the pilot did and each seems to have potential as characters. Whigham seems to be playing a slight variation on his BOARDWALK EMPIRE character but with less alcohol consumption. Murray is adept at playing smarmy douchebags and he clearly is one here. We also see more from Lyndsey Fonseca as Peggy's soon to be neighbor and friend. If anything, the second episode shows consistent visual style and pacing will be expected throughout the run of AGENT CARTER.
The second episode concludes with a well choregraphed car chase followed by the reveal of a mysterious symbol tied to the coming of Leviathan. Is this a variation of HYDRA? A new foe? That remains to be seen over the course of the next six episodes of AGENT CARTER's first(?) season.
Marvel Cinematic Universe References: The first episode gives us a ton of callbacks to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER in the form of clips from the film and the appearance of Howard Stark as well as the real Jarvis. We also meet Stark Industries scientist Anton Vanko, father of IRON MAN 2 villain Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who will be a recurring asset for Carter. Dr. Erskine and his Vita Rays also play an integral part to the first episodes. Captain America radio plays are a recurring peeve for Peggy through episode two.
Review: Despite a heavy-handed opening, AGENT CARTER definitely picks up steam through the second episode. The developing conspiracy and loads of Marvel references feel very similar to what AGENTS OF S,H.I.E.L.D. developed over it's first season, but AGENT CARTER is brimming with the same retro fun that made CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER so much fun. What works best in this show is Atwell who brings the same fire and excitement that made her a fan favorite leading up to this series. Her chemistry with James D'Arcy as Jarvis may be the best aspect of this show and presents something far more interesting than anything SSR related so far.
AGENT CARTER should be compared to AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. only in the category as to which series better integrates into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. So far, AGENT CARTER has direct ties to both CAPTAIN AMERICA and IRON MAN, for obvious reasons, but does not shy away from directly relating those characters to the stories they want to tell. Personally, this series feels much more organic than AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. if not a bit heavy handed in places. So far, it feels like a hell of a fun show and I look forward to what comes next.
Episode Grade: 8/10 SSR Badges
Next on AGENT CARTER: "Time and Tide" airs January 13th, 2015: As Agent Carter closes in on Howard Stark’s stolen technology, Peggy’s secret mission could unravel when the SSR arrests Jarvis and a secret is revealed.