I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already surprised and a touch disappointed that this series is already almost over.
Following up on the character from her first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel makes its next steps into the television market with a four part miniseries regarding the titular Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).
I went into this optimistic but with my expectations a tad tempered. A big part of the reason why I fell behind on Agents of SHIELD was the fact that the series was ultimately hindered by its larger role in the MCU.
Due to the fact its plot was beholden to certain details to be revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it left much of the first half of its season unable to really do anything beyond drop passing hints of what was to come. As a result, the series felt disappointingly unremarkable, and could have just as easily been an original property show run Fridays on the SyFy Channel before being a Marvel tie-in.
Agent Carter, thankfully, doesn’t have to worry about this stumbling block. Taking place back in the early days of the group that will later be SHIELD, it doesn’t need fear spoiling anything for the future. It’s more free to tell its own story, and the fact it only has four episodes means it can get right to that.
Based on the first half of it, we’re already off to a promising start. From the beginning – care of a lively montage intercutting Carter getting ready for the day with scenes of her actual line of work – this establishes a stronger sense of itself on several levels. We get an overarcing story, established cast, and a sense of tone and identity in this show that I found lacking in the earlier offering.
The story so far concerns the inventions of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper returning briefly to reprise his role) turning up on the black market. A fugitive from the law, Stark has been set up, and turns to Carter as the one person he can count on to clear his name. In her investigations, Carter crosses paths with a sinister organization known as Leviathan, while also keeping her role in the investigation hidden from her superiors at SSR, who are convinced of Stark’s guilt.
Yeah, there’s some elements of the story that feel familiar, but if there’s one thing Marvel’s gotten good at in its MCU, it’s doing the familiar in an entertaining fashion, and so far this has succeeded on that front in spades. Atwell’s Carter is allowed more time to grow as a character compared to her previous turn and she makes the most of it, being an enjoyable lead on this one.
The supporting cast are largely enjoyable as well here, the one other big standout being James D’Arcy as Stark’s butler Edwin Jarvis. D’Arcy plays it with the sort of dry British humor that makes his back and forth banter with Atwell one of the highlights of the series, clashing her focus on the mission with his milquetoast focus on his domestic duties with entertaining results.
Another advantage of the shorter episode count on this – the production values. Besides the effort put into maintaining the story’s period look, the effects on this look quite good for a TV-level production, and the action choreography is also making the most of the time and money allotted.
If there’s anything I would call a grievance so far it’s mostly the fact that the time durations leave several of the supporting cast, however well acted, somewhat flat. Lyndsy Fonseca makes a nice turn as a waitress whom Carter strikes up a friendship with, but so far she’s mostly just a means to an end. Likewise, outside of some occasional moments from Enver Gjokaj, Carter’s colleagues in the SSR mostly dissolve into a sea of G-men who exist to crack sexist jokes and up the stakes by trying to find Howard.
That’s just where these plots are at now, however, and the second half of the miniseries could change the involvement of the supports. That said, even in the meantime it’s still only a fairly minor setback in an otherwise promising sidestory.
The next episode airs tomorrow, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing where they take this. While I’m still mixed on Marvel’s prospects on television as of now, they seem well suited to something with a set duration and a clear end goal to work from.
I’ll be back on Wednesday to discuss the third episode, Time and Tide. Hopefully this will continue the momentum of these first two.
-Strong cast paired with an interesting story
-Does a great job of establishing its style and tone early on and sticking with it
-While well performed, the supporting characters are largely flat
-While it’s a ‘mileage will vary’ the Leviathan voice boxes may play Hell for people understanding dialogue.