After all that talk, does Agent Carter live up to its hype?
The answer: yes, yes it does. I haven’t been this excited by a show in a long, long time. Hayley Atwell positively shines in the role, projecting the perfect mix of confidence and vulnerability that endears Peggy Carter to audiences.
The first part of the two-hour premiere opens with a scene taken straight out of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), reminding us that despite the hardened exterior, Peggy Carter is still grieving on the inside.
Then we’re treated to the sight of her getting ready for work, interspersed with scenes of her gunning down Nazis and Hydra agents. The difference is all the more jarring when she goes to the Strategic Scientific Reserve, which looks for all the world like an unassuming phone company.
And it’s there that she’s constantly dismissed and demeaned for her gender.
The only person at work who does stand up for her…can’t really stand up without the help of his crutch. Agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) seems to be Peggy’s only friend in the office, but she’s quick to reassert that she can very well take care of herself.
Before we know it, a car screeches into a dark alley, and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) reveals himself. Wanted for allegedly selling his weapons to the enemy, he asks Peggy to help him clear his name and find out who stole his weapons, essentially asking her to be his spy. While she works at a spy agency.
Come on, this is Howard Stark we’re talking about – of course he’d ask for the impossible.
What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse where Peggy is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of her fellow SSR agents. It’s painfully clear that this post-war world is all the worse for not having faith in Peggy Carter. While her colleagues struggle to find leads on Stark, Peggy is extracting information from the buyers and defusing nitramene bombs without so much as smudging her lipstick.
When she’s in her element, all that kickassery and awesomeness is effortless. But we’re also reminded that she’s still feeling lost and without purpose, frustrated at her current place in the world. Only three people seem to have any sort of faith in her: Stark, his butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), and her friend Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca).
It’s also good to see Dominic Cooper again as the elder Stark, and the more Jarvis reveals about him, the more we realise that Tony Stark really is a chip off the old block. In fact, the parallels are brought up so often, it becomes a bit tired.
It was funny when I realised that the show was making direct references to Tony Stark’s introduction in Iron Man (2008) and his senate hearings in Iron Man 2 (2010), but by the time Jarvis mentioned having to deal with Howard’s numerous lovers, I was shaking my head in exasperation.
However, it turns out that Peggy’s biggest fan is actually Jarvis, who is played with great dignity by D’Arcy. Jarvis is always so put together, but he never backs down from a challenge, so long as he’s back in time to make dinner for his wife.
The scenes with Peggy and Jarvis are amongst the best in this two-hour premiere, with Jarvis’ unwavering loyalty and steadfastness tempering Peggy’s rashness while chasing down the bad guys.
I’m half-afraid that the showrunners will make Agent Sousa Peggy’s love interest, but only because I’m scared that a romantic plot will derail the show. Gjokaj is quiet and competent as Sousa, whose disability results in thinly-veiled insults from his colleagues.
Chad Michael Murray is alao very convincing as the smug Agent Thompson who relishes in his alpha male status in the SSR. The 1940s garb looks particularly good on him, and the makeup department have done a great job because his hair is legitimately amazing and coiffed to perfection.
The second half of the premiere was a bit more slow-going and had a little less action, but it was still good nonetheless. The first half was all about establishing the plot, but the latter half was all about how Jarvis and Peggy work together. It really is sweet and heartening to know that someone is supporting her the way she did Steve Rogers.
The show will inevitably be compared to other bigger Marvel outings, but it’s got enough going for it to prove all the naysayers wrong. The use of old-school spy gadgets, authentic sets and some wonderful 1940s wardrobe makes this feel more like a feature film and less like a TV show that’s meant to keep the time slot warm while Agents of SHIELD takes a break.
And you can’t really go wrong with the sight of Peggy Carter beating up the bad guys. I’ll never look at a stapler the same way again.
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