Wednesday, January 27, 2016

TV RECAP: Agent Carter - Season 2: Episodes 1 & 2

With apologies for the week's delay - as you may have heard, I've picked up some work recently. Before anyone asks: Yes, I've also seen Episode 3 - it'll get it's writeup likely sometime later today.


The first season of AGENT CARTER was a revelation: The so called Marvel "assembly line" spinning-off the CAPTAIN AMERICA franchise with a female-fronted period action drama whose narrative functioned as a series-length metaphor for the forced-backslide of women's rights in the post-WWII U.S.? Even if you'd seen THE FIRST AVENGER and thus knew that Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter could more than carry a show, that wasn't what anyone was expecting. And while the first season didn't precisely stay sturdy all the way through (what should've been a gangbusters finale was undercut by TV budgeting, but only just so) it was one of the worthier editions to the canon by far.

So it's with some trepidation that one approaches the series' second season. Sure, the characters more than deserve to be revisited and there are definitely more stories worth telling, but the first run felt like such a meticulously constructed piece - the right actress, the right character, the right story to tell with her - that there was always going to be some worry that any follow-up might stretch the setup too far: The first season felt like it used up every possible angle in the Marvel-ephemera-as-historical-feminist-metaphor toolbox, so where else might there be to go beyond new villains and more world-building for the broader MCU?

The good news is, it turns out that AGENT CARTER still has a lot to say along with being as reliably fun as ever. The less encouraging news, at least thus far, is that there might already be a sense of diminishing returns involved. Notice I said "might."

Make no mistake, Season 2 starts strong: Carter vs Dottie rematch in the opening minutes? Awesome. The SSR Agents (except for Agent Thompson) now holding Peggy in close-to-fetishistic respect? Good development. Shipping her out to the West Coast to help Agent Sousa with a nascent Los Angeles division? Nice change of pace. New mystery involving (thus far) a secret stash of black-hole creating extradimensional black goo already confirmed to be the (chronologically) first appearance of the not-yet-correctly-named Darkforce? Very cool. Lotte Verbeek as Ana Jarvis? Hilarious character, a great addition. All the misdirection business with the frozen lake/bodies? Good stuff. All told, in terms of technical quality and overall charm, it's basically every bit as good as it was before - one of the most seamless progressions between seasons of a non-procedural I can remember.

And yet... yes, it doesn't quite pack the same level of punch the arrival of Season 1 did. To an extent, that's to be expected: We're in the realm of the familiar now, so there's less sense of discovery on the audience's part. But I worry that it also has something to do with the underlying scenario being not as fundamentally compelling.

Realizing that Season 1 really was going to make it's meta-story entirely about Carter as a stand-in for an entire generation of Rosie's who braced at being told to put down their rivet-guns once the war had concluded was an invigorating system shock; not just because a Marvel show was tackling something so specific but because it's a hugely important moment in modern history that we never really get to see in popular entertainment - to the extent that the only major mainstream movie or series I can name offhand that tackled it previously was A League of Their Own.

By contrast, apart from the end-of-Golden-Age-Hollywood setting, Season 2's big thematic bugbears (so far) appear to be pre-Civil Rights racism (Peggy's new would-be paramour is a Black scientist with pointedly Steve Rogers-esque dorky/handsome vibe) and early signs of anti-Communist paranoia and... well, we've seen both of those before. They just don't feel as novel.

Or at least they don't so far.

Like I said, it's early yet. And even if AGENT CARTER can't always be super-novel in addition to being super-entertaining, well... "just" super-entertaining is hardly much of a negative. It's encouraging to remember that this series isn't cheap to produce, and its being handled largely by powers from the Film side of the Marvel business, so its unlikely they'd spend the time or resources to bring it back if they didn't think they had a compelling reason to. Given how good a job so much of the same team did last time, I'd say it's worth enjoying the fun for now and being optimistic about everything else.


  • I honestly wish Marvel hadn't been so preemptively eager to inform us that Whitney Frost is indeed a variation on Madame Masque - that would've been fun (if easy) to put together. I expect she'll end up wearing the signature gold mask at some point.
  • I'm going to go out on a limb NOW and say that they're building to a "twist" with Dottie this time around. She's back to early to "just" be a heavy again, why would she be trying to steal an Arena Club pin if she was working for them, she's super-insistent about only talking to Peggy, etc - it doesn't add up. I'm calling it now: She has a good(ish) guy agenda this time, and she and Peggy will be fighting on the same side at some point.
  • Speaking of the Arena Club and/or Council of Nine business, they're logo looks too much like a missing-link in that "devil symbol gradually becoming HYDRA symbol" evolutionary change laid out in AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D to be anything but, right? So the question becomes: Are they HYDRA, or do they and HYDRA just share a common ancestor. At this point, they mainly seem to be standing in for The Maggia, hence the Madame Masque connection.
  • Masque being an "evil" equivalent to Heady Lamar? Good angle.
  • I maintain more than ever that I really want Chad Michael Murray's Agent Thompson to ultimately become an MCU equivalent to William Burnside.