Agent Carter Season 2 - Part 2
Agent Carter burst back for season 2 with all the charm, grace and badassery we’ve come to expect from the true heart of the MCU.
There is so much to love about this series that I can't hope to cover it all, so here is my slightly nonlinear take on my favorite aspects of what was a near perfect season, which only really had one bad episode… in fact, maybe it was just one bad scene really? But I’ll get to that later…
The writing is always fun, exciting and witty as well as showing depth and love for it's characters. I can't fault a single performance either, with Hayley Atwell of course the shining centre of the series. The pacing of the show is perfect throughout and across the first half a dozen episodes we learn a great deal about Peggy and her new best enemy, Whitney Frost. We also get to see Carter using multiple disguises throughout this season, meaning we get Hayley Atwell putting on a lot of wigs, each accompanied by a funny accent. Actors love wigs and funny accents!
The strongest arc across the first half of the season, culminating in Life of the Party, is Frost’s transition from put upon woman to super-villain. When we first see her, Frost is a fading movie star – fading because she’s hit 30! Her husband is an idiot, her director is a sleaze and both look down on her but as a film star she’s found some level of respect and power in one of the few ways women could at the time; through her looks. This gets emphasised in Smoke & Mirrors, a favourite of mine. We see the origins of Frost and Peggy, with the juxtaposition of Peggy growing up in the idyllic English countryside (which looks in no way like southern California) and Whitney growing up in a hick town, raised by a bitter single mother who pays the rent by entertaining gentlemen in the afternoon... It’s interesting that, as a young woman, Peggy with her liberal and supportive upbringing seems less motivated than Whitney. Frost is doing all she can to get to university, until her abusive mother tells her all she has of any worth is the way she looks. Peggy, while a respected Bletchley Park code breaker, seems content to brush the glass ceiling, get married and settle down.
The young Peggy scenes are beautifully realized with Atwell doing her best Joyce Grenfell impression. There are a few American actors in these scenes of 30’s England who lied on their CV about what accents they could do but nothing too distracting. You could argue it’s a little disappointing that what spurs Peggy on to be the woman we know and love is her brother, perhaps robbing her of a little of her agency but I think you can reconcile that with the fact she grew up in a time unsupportive of women and it’s her brother’s support, rather than his being a man, that helps her be who she has the potential to be.
We also get Dottie back for the bulk of this season, with Peggy making her a temporary member of Team Carter to help out after Peg gets injured in the line of duty. This results, amongst other things, in a great sequence of Dottie and Jarvis attending a party together undercover and any plot development that means more of the awesome Bridget Regan gets a massive thumbs up from me.
Peggy and Sousa’s relationship develops a great deal on various levels, more towards the back half of this season. Smoke & Mirrors shows the trust between them growing nicely, with Peggy quite content to break the rules and push things to the limit when interrogating the captured henchman, Hunt. Sousa’s unease, even with a bluff, but compliance with Peggy’s plan is a nice indicator of his trust in her. Even Jack seems to accept at times that Peggy might actually know what she’s doing.
Confession, I’m Team Wilkes! I was Team Wilkes from the start. I really like Enver Gjokaj and Sousa is okay but I love Reggie Austin’s Wilkes. In S1 I liked Sousa's lovesick puppy routine, especially when it started to show signs of entitled “nice guy”. Moments of Sousa being a White Knight and Peggy putting him in his place felt not only realistic but important to highlight. You not being a bastard doesn't automatically make you a hero, Sousa! For me the jump to potential romantic interest felt a little pushed, it was definitely seeded in S1 but I never felt like it was a natural pairing. I prefer the Wilkes relationship build up, it was cute! Basically, Wilkes is awesome and I shall be printing Team Wilkes t-shirts for anyone who agrees with me?
Through Wilkes and Peggy’s relationship, the show manages to touch upon issues of race fairly well, with great stuff like Peggy getting angry at racist coffee shop owners. The show still represents an idealised world, it's naive and inaccurate to pretend things were easy for a black man in late 40’s America, especially in a show that puts so much emphasis on Peggy fighting against her own oppressors but this is the Marvel Universe, perhaps it’s a slightly better version of our world and more people behave the way we should. Wilkes is so likeable it's a shame you can feel he won’t last the season. I also really liked the relationship that evolved between him and Ana as they spend evenings left behind by their respective partners. Eventually the strain of the Dark Matter he has absorbed starts pulling Wilkes apart, making him desperate and near insane, to the point that he even threatens Peggy and runs off with Frost. Once Wilkes is cured and a good guy again (Go Team Wilkes!) his admission to Sousa that he was basically bluffing when he threatened Peggy, because he knew Sousa wouldn’t put her at risk, is a nice moment between the two men.
The highlight of this show is still Carter and Jarvis. The scenes between the two of them are always perfect and their interplay is a thing of beauty. The addition of Ana as fully fledged character not only gave us another wonderful character, it helped solidify the fact that Peggy and Edwin share a strong but strictly platonic friendship. Jarvis goes through a lot as a character in the season and shows himself to be brave, loyal, passionate and deeply good. With the introduction of Howard Stark's early stage computerised security system voiced by Jarvis, it’s touching to imaging that this noble character will, in a way, evolve into Vision.
Whitney’s husband is a secret favourite of mine, watching her grow in confidence as he becomes more scared of her has been great fun. He’s a cowardly middleman. His final actions feel like the desperate act of a pathetic man and as satisfying as his comeuppance was, I was almost sad to see him go.
A not secret favourite of mine is Samberly, this character was a full misstep for me and by the end of the season I not only disliked him, I resented him being on screen. He's not funny, he’s not cute and his thing for Rose - a kickass supporting character - was just plain creepy. I actually thought he was going to turn out to be a villain and the insipid, cowardly, selfish behavior had all been an act. But no. He really was just a cretin.
I couldn’t review this series without mentioning the costumes. Hayley Atwell looks amazing throughout this series and the designers have gone all out across the board, taking inspiration from their new Hollywood setting.
There is a weak spot for me in this whole season and that unfortunately is in the final episode. The finale itself was fun and very witty, offering nice closure for all concerned, with the exception of one scene that I felt undermined the flow. In the final act, Peggy and the gang set up a Gamma Cannon, which they need to blast Frost with to eradicate the Dark Matter. The conceit of the show is that Frost pretty much senses it turning on and in a hypnotic haze wanders across town and steps in front of it. I could have bought this slightly passive defeat if it wasn’t for a previous scene where, in order to distract her, Frost’s mobster boyfriend asks her to help interrogating one of his goons. She seems so coherent in her behavior in this scene alone, responding to flattery, hanging around waiting to use her powers to interrogate a henchman, getting impatient to get back to her work, that it really undermines her later Dark Matter sleep walking, which was a shame as it was a clunky wobble in an otherwise perfect season.
Ultimately, those deserving find redemption, those undeserving find punishment and generally everyone has a happy ending - except maybe Jack who provides us with a great season cliffhanger. Being team Wilkes, I don’t quite buy Peggy and Sousa getting together. The Don Ameche/Joan Bennet style end moment for the two, while fun and tonally fitting didn’t feel right; Peggy doesn’t fall into a man's lap and put her arms round his neck for a kiss! She’s PEGGY CARTER! Get off her Sousa! Get off her!
If we get a season 3 (please, please comic book gods let us get a season 3... and 4 and 5, 6, 7, 8...) I'd be very interested to see where the Sousa relationship leads. I'm pretty sure he's not the man Peggy marries, we know she marries a man saved by Steve so we're all just waiting for the glass slipper moment she meets a guy who says "You knew Steve Rogers? He saved my life in the war!". So assuming Sousa doesn't last, how will he depart Peggy's life? There is every chance he'll get killed, as this would further Peggy's character arc and, nothing personal Sousa, I'd love to see Agent Carter be one of the first comic book properties to fridge a man.
This season really built on the work done by the first, enriching the characters and wider universe. There is so much going on in the MCU and aside from the geek points of watching for and recognizing the links and Easter eggs in each Marvel project, there is a good old fashioned joy to be had from seeing the many elements feed into each other, even subtly. Watching Peggy’s adventures isn’t simply about straight up prequeling the Avengers movies, it’s about enriching the world as a whole and doing this through exploration of these characters and their own struggles. Agent Carter is about Peggy’s story and it’s a story I will never get bored of watching.
P.S They did a song and dance routine dream sequence in the penultimate episode, if that doesn’t make this the greatest Marvel TV show out there, I don’t know what does!