Oh, Agent Carter. I miss you already.
Now don’t misunderstand me — I really like Agents of SHIELD. If you’re looking for likeminded haters, look elsewhere because it’s one of my favorite shows on TV right now, and I’m super excited it’s back. (Fitz, in particular, has been incredible this season.) But AoS’s return means Agent Carter’s departure, and despite the near universal praise its received, its return to television is no sure thing. This saddens me.
I wish I’d thought to write down some notes along the way for a Season 1 review, but alas, I did not, in fact, have my various (rubber) ducks in a row. So today’s review may be brief as well as characteristically late. But, hey, it’s something, right?
After the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy (Hayley Atwell) goes to work for the SSR, where no one takes her seriously. But when Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is accused of treason, Peggy risks everything by partnering up with his butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), to clear Stark’s name.
1. First, it’s the return of Five Minute Cosplay!
I really should start doing more Five Minute Cosplays. It’s fun to search around your apartment and hunt for whatever you can find that will even somewhat resemble the character you want to dress up as, although it is distressing to note that out of the 40+ hats I own, not one of them is as awesome as Peggy’s amazing red hat. I should probably work on that. (I also still don’t have a Jayne hat, which is just ridiculous at this point. I am getting a Maleficent hat, though. Because that will be useful in my everyday life.)
2. But enough about hats. Let’s talk about the actual show and how wonderful Hayley Atwell really is in it.
Because she is wonderful. She is basically perfect. I liked Atwell well enough in Captain America (except for that one time she tried to kill Captain America because she went inexplicably CRAZY) but it was definitely her Marvel One-Shot that made me fall madly in love. That’s when I was on board. That’s when I was like HELL YES. And neither Hayley Atwell nor the show itself has disappointed me at all.
It’s not just all the ass-kicking, either, although obviously that’s a lot of fun. (Like, so much fun.) It’s all the other smaller moments: for instance, when Peggy cries at a time when a reasonable person totally might. Maybe you think that’s an odd bit to single out, but I was so happy with this scene because sometimes I feel like writers try to strip their strong female characters of all emotion, like there can’t be a balance, like a woman can’t kick ass and have feelings all at the same time. On the other hand, a lot of other writers create these ridiculously stoic female characters who breakdown at just the right moment so that a good man and inevitable love interest might comfort them. It gets frustrating.
Peggy doesn’t come off like either of those cliches, though. Peggy comes off as a real woman, and that’s partly due to writing and partly due to Hayley Atwell’s crisp, layered performance. She is perfectly cast in the role. Also, she has a weirdly charming American accent, which is nothing I’ve ever said about anyone ever. American accents are either passable or they aren’t, and are rarely said to be particularly delightful; nevertheless, when Peggy has to use an American accent for a couple of scenes, she just sounds . . . cute. I fully admit that I may have grown a crush on Hayley Atwell.
3. I also feel that a lot of Agent Carter’s success has to do with the fact that the show is being helmed by two female showrunners: Tara Butters and Michelle Fazekas. Which isn’t to say that men can’t write or develop good female characters, obviously, but I do feel that a lot of my problem with the fictional ladies in Hollywood today is that we’ve had too many male perspectives on women and not nearly enough female perspectives. There are female writers, directors, and showrunners, but there certainly aren’t a lot of them and even fewer in the action, SF, fantasy, and horror genres.
I bring this up specifically because there are some really nice scenes in Agent Carter where Peggy forces her male coworkers and/or allies to see how they’ve used her or tried to fit her into some kind of preconceived notion of what she should be, what they need her to be. And these are great scenes, ones I’m not sure would have happened if the show runners had been men — not because all men are misogynistic dickwads or anything, but because there are problems that women regularly face that men just don’t, and it may simply not occur to them. It’s refreshing to see some of these problems addressed here.
4. No matter how fantastic your lead is, of course, they can’t carry a show on their own. Thankfully, Agent Carter has an equally fantastic supporting cast.
Prior to watching this, the only thing I’d ever seen James D’Arcy in was Cloud Atlas. Now, I had some pretty serious problems with that movie, but I thought he was easily one of the best things it had going for it, so I was hopeful that I’d enjoy him here as well. I had no idea, however, how much I’d like him. Jarvis is just so wonderfully charming. He’s dry and funny, and I could watch him banter back and forth with Peggy Carter for hours. His scenes with Hayley Atwell are just the best.
Enver Gjokaj is another one of those guys I just can’t figure out. Dollhouse had its fair share of problems, but Gjokaj was undeniably phenomenal in it. I mean, this guy just has talent falling out of his butt, and let’s be honest: he’s not exactly hard on the eyes, either. I really thought that he’d become, like, a Big Deal, but for the most part, he hasn’t seemed to have found that much Hollywood success. So I’m at least happy to find him here because that guy deserves work, and because he makes Sousa so much more interesting than most actors would have. Sousa’s little moments of irritability are really what make the character, and that’s all in Gjokaj’s excellent delivery.
My, Chad Michael Murray has grown up, hasn’t he? I honestly don’t think I would have recognized him if I hadn’t known he was going to be in the show. We’ve come a long way from One Tree Hill. (Okay, let’s be real here: I’ve never even seen, like, a second of that show. But he’s definitely come a long way from the remake of House of Wax.)
It’d be easy to make jokes about a former teen heartthrob, but actually I think Murray is pretty solid here. He’s got a good arc and while some people seem surprised by how it concluded, I thought his decision in the finale seemed perfectly in character. (Bah. It’s so much harder to do write-ups when you decide you aren’t going to do big spoilers.)
Dooley, like Jack, could easily be a caricature, but his character develops nicely over the course of the season, and I think Shea Wigham gives a very good performance. He’s occasionally an ass (maybe more than occasionally), but he’s definitely funny and not unintelligent, either, even if it does take him some time to see Carter for what she’s really worth. I could watch this actor in more things. (Actually, I did. He’s also in this little movie I just saw called The Kill Room, which wasn’t terrible, even if it did focus WAY too much on Chloe Sevigny’s eyes.)
Sadly, I can’t talk too much about Dottie without getting into Spoilers. But I couldn’t leave her out entirely, so I’m just going to say this: she’s pretty damn awesome. I adore Dottie. I just love everything about her. She’d be pretty fun to cosplay too, probably in an Agent Carter group endeavor. (Maybe with a handcuff around one wrist.)
Unfortunately, Angie doesn’t have too much to do in this first season other than to provide comic relief, but Fonseca is pretty charming regardless. I like Angie, and I hope she has more plot relevant stuff to do in Season 2. (You know, assuming there IS a Season 2.)
5. Without spoilers, I’m afraid I can’t talk about a lot of the most awesome things that happen during the series. (I considered creating a Spoiler Section, but honestly, I’m tired and I just don’t feel like it.) So here is a vague list of some of the things that I enjoyed:
A. Angie’s acting.
B. The radio shows (Note: while there really aren’t any spoilers in this clip, the quality is fairly lousy. Just so you’re aware.)
C. A Captain America cameo.
D. Breaking out of an interview room.
E. What they find in Belarus.
F. Moving on.
G. ALL the fight scenes
(Disclaimer: I don’t think there are any major spoilers in these quotes, but I didn’t go out of my way to alter them for spoiler-phobes, either. If you haven’t seen the show, you may want to skip. Also, you should really just go watch the show.)
Peggy: “You’re new to espionage, aren’t you?”
Jarvis: “Far from it. Last summer I caught the cook pocketing the good spoons.”
Colleen (with a cold): “I think I have tuberculosis.”
Peggy: “Thanks for this, by the way. You loaned it to me last night while you were at work.”
Colleen: “It looks better on you. Kind of a thing that might really catch a man’s eye. Say on a date?”
Peggy: “Don’t hold your breath. Especially with tuberculosis.”
Colleen: “You know there’s a difference between being an independent woman and a spinster.”
Peggy: “Is it the shoes?”
Daniel: “Poor guy. I heard he got his personality shot off in Iwo Jima.”
Peggy: “Is he a regular?”
Angie: “Yeah. But a regular what, I’m not allowed to say that on the clock.”
Peggy: “Comfortable back there, Mr. Jarvis?”
Jarvis: “Perfectly, thank you. These racks of explosives have distracted me from the smell of stale milk.”
Jarvis: “In polite society, one telephones ahead before trespassing.”
Peggy: “I imagine strange women traipsing through the property isn’t a completely unusual occurrence.”
Jarvis: “That’s a fair point.”
Angie: “I got a bottle of schnapps and half a rhubarb pie. Let’s see which one makes us sick first.”
Peggy: “You bet against me? How could you be sure?”
Daniel: “I wasn’t. That’s why they call it gambling.”
Jarvis: “For God’s sake, will you please stop shooting things?”
Dottie: “Can you make me one of these that holds pickles?”
Dum Dum: “What would Cap say if I left his best girl behind?”
Peggy: “He’d say do as Peggy says.”
Dum Dum: “Wahoo!”
Peggy: “Stop ‘wahooing’ and help!”
Peggy: “I’ll miss you.”
Dum Dum: “Miss you too, Peg. Wait a second. Miss U . . . Miss Union Jack. What do you think, fellas?”
Peggy: “Never speak again.”
Jack: “Why do you work here?”
Peggy: “To uphold democracy. Did you need a reminder?”
Jack: “But the rest of us get to do more than take lunch orders.”
Peggy: “You’ll never know the thrill of wondering whether Agent Yauch is in the mood for a club sandwich.”
Jack: “I just don’t see how you lost her.”
Daniel: “I couldn’t exactly outrun her, Jack. Besides, you’re not exactly getting a medal of valor for your performance.”
Peggy: “I am a federal agent, Mr. Jarvis.”
Jarvis: “Yes, finely trained and skilled in the art of fetching coffee. These men you call your colleagues, they don’t respect you. They don’t even see you. Do you honestly expect they’ll change their minds?”
Peggy: “I expect I will make them.”
Peggy: “You think you know me, but I’ve never been more than what each of you has created. To you, I’m a stray kitten left on your doorstep to be protected. The secretary turned damsel in distress. The girl on the pedestal, transformed into some daft whore.”
Peggy: “Mr. Jarvis, how would you feel if we smashed that mirror with this table?”
Jarvis: “I would feel splendid about it.”
Peggy: “All right. we pick it up, and then on the count of three . . .”
Jarvis: “Battering ram. Ready?”
Peggy and Jarvis: “1 . . . 2 . . .”
Jarvis: “Wait. What if there are people behind this mirror that we’re breaking?”
Peggy: “Then they may get hurt. There’ll be a spray of glass.”
Jarvis: “I see.”
Peggy and Jarvis: “1 . . . 2 . . .”
Jarvis: “Wait! What if these hypothetical people behind the mirror have guns?”
Peggy: “Then we may get hurt. There will be a spray of bullets.”
Jarvis: “I see.”
Peggy: “I just realized something.”
Jarvis: “We’re still attached to the table.”
Peggy: “We’re still attached to the table.”
Peggy: “I conducted my own investigation because no one listens to me. I got away with it because no one looks at me.”
Jarvis: “Like I said, panic was involved.”
Peggy: “You know Morse Code?”
Jarvis: “Your surprise wounds me.”
Peggy: “Have you ever been hanged, Mr. Jarvis?”
Jarvis: “I can’t say I have, no.”
Peggy: “It is quite unpleasant.”
Jarvis: “I owe Howard Stark a great deal, but he does not own my integrity.”
Peggy: “Steve is gone. We have to move on — all of us. As impossible as that may sound, we have to let him go.”
Really well done. Sharp writing, acting, pretty much everything, really. Please don’t cancel it, ABC. Don’t take away my show forever.
Ladies, you don’t have to settle for merely being a love interest, a damsel in distress, or a Girl Friday. Women kick ass. And they can wear stylish red hats doing it.