Last week’s debut of Agent Carter, with the airing of the first two episodes of the new show, proved to be a great experience. A period piece set in the post-WWII 1940s but with a Marvel Cinematic Universe touch, it worked really well as social commentary and as an action drama, exploring what happened with Howard Stark and Peggy Carter after the war ended. There were some intriguing mysteries introduced, some fun new characters such as Howard’s butler Edwin Jarvis and SSR Agent Sousa, and in general Peggy Carter kicked ass up and down, proving to be as much of an action star as any other male hero in the setting. Probably more since she is working in shadows right now.
In this week’s “Time and Tide” we see how Peggy continues to deal with the widespread sexism and misogyny of the time, while also continuing to help her friend Howard clear his name with regard to all the inventions that were stolen from his secure vault at his mansion. This time however, we are also witness to some incredible backstory with Jarvis, and the interactions between him and Peggy do a lot to flesh them both out as characters, though Carter inevitably takes a metaphorical hit for helping Jarvis against her fellow SSR agents. Building on the episodes from last week, this week’s installment is a hell of a lot of fun, by any account.
The life of a working woman in post-War America was very different than it was during the war. Their skills were ridiculed, they were ridiculed, and the patriarchical bias was widespread like never before. And yet, there were women like Agent Peggy Carter of the Strategic Science Reserve who thrived in this era, albeit from the shadows. Forced to do secretarial work while her male colleagues get the plum assignments, such as working on the Howard Stark case despite her personal knowledge of the man, Peggy is in a rather frustrating situation, and the writers do a lot to position her well in that environment.
After all the action escapades of the first two episodes, this week’s episode goes for a more laidback approach and focuses on the intricacies of the titular character and her relationships with the people around her, whether they be her colleagues at the SSR or Jarvis. And it is pretty fascinating to watch. What she can do is rather limited since she can’t really work out in the open as an SSR agent, and she has to work around her daily shifts for anything… nocturnal or otherwise, so the balancing job proves to quite the thing.
I really liked Carter in this episode. She keeps trying to make the best of a bad situation, to maintain her friendships with the people around her, but her job makes it all really tough since she can’t talk about what she does and too many people close to her have already died because of her job, whether directly or indirectly, as we saw last week. All of this just goes to show that while Peggy Carter might be one hell of a character with some great action chops, she’s also a vulnerable character. It makes her more well-rounded and doesn’t cast her as a one-note character. That’s actually a pretty big difference for the… new style of female characters we see around us. They don’t have to just be strong characters in a physical or mental manner, but they have to be more. They have to have weaknesses and strengths in equal measure so we can see them at both their best and worst.
It isn’t anything new really and has been around for decades. But it has all come into strong focus in recent years, and I think that Agent Carter is doing well to take that torch forwards and give us just the right kind of female character that we need in pop culture right now.
As I said above, Peggy is currently busy trying to clear Howard Stark’s name as a traitor, at his own request and without the knowledge of anyone else at SSR. This week’s episode has her following up on some clues left to her by the late Leet Brannis, who was the thief behind Stark’s missing inventions. So she decides to investigate the scene of the crime itself in order to determine what really happened. This in turn sets up some excellent scenes between her and Jarvis as we learn some details about the latter’s past and how he came into Stark’s employ during the war. This affects the close nature of their relationship and when Jarvis is getting grilled by Agent Thompson about his possible and supposed involvement in the explosion at the Roxxon refinery, that’s when we start to see Jarvis’ unflappable exterior really start to crack.
Director Scott Winant has done a pretty good job this week, following on excellently from what Louis D’Esposito and Joe Russo did last week. The overall tone of the direction is similar, but we also get to see much more of the characters’ faces and their body language is that much more apparent and important this time around. A good story needs a good director to bring it to life and I think that Scott and Andi make for a good pair, and I would like to see the two of them team-up again, though that is all up in the air at the moment since Agent Carter has only an 8-episode order for its first season. Which is rather disappointing.
Another thing that is significant in this episode, as it was in the first one, is that Carter’s out-of-office missions have a very real cost for the people around her. Her roommate Rose was murdered by a Leviathan agent when she inadvertently led him back to her home. She already lost Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) during the war. And now, she loses someone else, though her relationship with said character wasn’t as it has been with other characters on the show. And it is heartbreaking to watch. Granted, there’s a certain… lack of logic as to how this character’s death comes about, but the aftermath of this in the final few moments of the episode, is the highlight this week.
Taking all of the different elements together, I think that this week’s installment of the show is definitely as good as last week’s, if not better. Much better character arcs, much better pacing, equivalent direction and cinematography and so on. Hopefully the show gets a longer order soon!
More Agent Carter: Eps 1-2.