Agent Carter Review
Welcome back! This week we’ve got two “Agent Carter” reviews for the price of one, which is a truly incredible value. Let’s get right into it!
Episode 1.2 “Bridge and Tunnel”
So we’re back, checking out the sophomore effort of the “Agent Carter” show. Here’s the problem with writing about this show: it’s good, and it’s hard to write about good things. Being a snarky douche provides a lot of content, and I just don’t have that opportunity this time.
I’m repeatedly impressed by how strong the show is right out of the gate. The first season of network TV shows are often shaky propositions, a dangerous time before the actors and the writers have quite figured out what the “voice” of the show is. We all know how teeter-totter the first season of Agents of SHIELD was, but you can look back even further to the classics to see that the rule holds true. The first AND second seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation are fucking horrificly unwatchable, but that show went on to be widely considered the finest entry in the franchise. The first season of cult-favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t quite awful, but its cheesy midi music, indie-movie lighting, and rubber-suited monsters give no hint of the gut-wrenching, TV-legend-making quality of season two.
Anyway, Agent Carter is good. As usual, we’re gonna rock a non-spoiler section, then a more lengthy discussion afterwards.
No Spoiler Part: Episode two follows Agent Carter through the trouble of finding a new apartment, investigating the theft of Stark’s glowy boom balls, and generally being ignored or mistreated by her coworkers. The boys club at SSR gets a little more screen time this episode, and it’s a good thing – Chad Michael Murray is surprisingly nuanced, Shea Whigham continues to be a sour dick, and Kyle Bornheimer holds down the fort as the oddly likable and competent/incompetent Krzeminski. I’m not going to keep complimenting Enver Gjokaj because that’s like saying that a sunset is pretty. We all know it’s great. Toddlers know it’s great. Stop talking about it.
The action ramps up a bit, the mystery is still a little incomprehensible (which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily) and there’s an awesome cameo by Ralph Garman to look forward to. If you haven’t caught it yet, get moving.
Spoiler Part: The second episode surprised me completely by jumping immediately back into the story. The reason the first season of hour-long dramas are usually so forgettable/bad is because they don’t embrace the seriel aspect of TV storytelling. They try “monster-of-the-week” episodes in a vain attempt to make the show “accessible” to new viewers, and in doing so create a show that nobody really wants to watch. Single-story TV episodes are hard to make good because they don’t have a spectacular budget or a lot of time to film. Movies are where we go for single-shot stories, because they can handle a whizz-bang, cinematic scope. TV shows are so beloved because we love following the characters over a long stretch of time. Watching them grow, seeing them fall in love and learn lessons, all that horseshit.
Agent Carter instead jumps right back into practically the next scene after the end of the first episode, perhaps learning a lesson from the “meh” first season of Agents of SHIELD. We continue to follow the nuclear milk truck from the last episode, as Carter digs deeper into the Stark theft. Even the death of her roommate from the first episode is immediately dealt with, forcing Peggy to play househunter while dodging tracheostomy ninjas and sexist coworkers.
The “Captain America Action Hour” is a brilliant use of the Marvel continuity, reminding us that Peggy’s 1940s are not quite our 1940s. The show is also a natural extension of the universe without feeling like fanservice – sure, it serves to mention Cap, and a cynical person might roll their eyes, but it increases the weight of the show rather than the opposite. If Captain America was real, and he’d “died” saving the world, especially during such a patriotic time as the end of WWII, he’d basically turn into America’s version of Jesus. Having his name pop up now and again makes perfect sense.
The Ralph Garman cameo. He’s got the perfect voice for the “Captain America Action Hour,” and it’s nice to see a fan get a shot at the universe he loves.
The fat-guy fight scene at the end. This show has done a great job with the fight scenes so far, showing you that while Peggy Carter is fast and skilled, she’s also 120 pounds. They don’t let her pull off unrealistic waif-fu without consequences – she earns every punch and stagger with the use of improvised weapons, ambush tactics, and superior skill, but it’s bad news when a big dude gets ahold of her in close-quarters. Seeing a girl kick ass is always one of my favorite things, but seeing a girl realistically kick ass is even better.
The juxtaposition of the fat-guy fight scene with the “Captain America Action Hour” radio program. It’s a perfect payoff for the setup earlier – this time the show isn’t just an eye-rolling bit of pulp, it’s a great contrast between what the world thinks Peggy is and who Peggy really is. The radio expy of Peggy, “Agent Carver” is shrieking for Cap’s help while the real Carter is in a knock-down, drag-out fight with a guy twice her size and still coming out on top. It’s a really beautiful scene, and I applaud whoever came up with it.
Carter’s relationship with her waitress friend. I don’t know if it was consciously designed to pass the Bechdel Test, but it’s about as perfect an example of what a Bechdel-passing conversation between two women would look like. But it extends beyond the conversation – Carter’s whole plot with her possible new friend echoes all the beats of a romantic relationship, including hurt feelings, secrets kept, tentative apologies, and compromises. It’s a shockingly real depiction of a female friendship not based around a guy, and it’s a nice surprise.
Carter’s poised “stairway shortcut” was a hilarious way to take down a running fugitive.
There were too many commercials?
Oh, also: Tracheostomy ninjas continue to bum me out. Having villains who can’t talk is kinda lame. I want some evil, debonair spy banter, by gum. Even the villain who CAN talk, who is voiced by a badass voice actor, says maybe two lines the whole episode.
Jones: “And what’s your name, sweetheart?”
Jones: “That’s got a lovely ring to it.”
Episode 1.3 “Time and Tide”
Non Spoiler: Agent Peggy Carter straps on her fightin’ heels to deal with submarines, Leviathan, and dudes in suspenders. The episode starts with a quick recap of the intrigue so far, which is a great reminder that this show is 100% a serial. No monsters-of-the-week this go ‘round. The showrunners clearly want to bring in new viewers, but they don’t seem willing to do it at the sacrifice of storyline.
After the quick dollop of recap, we’re straight into the action. This episode features another fantastic fight scene, not much plot, but a great expansion of pretty much every character so far. Look forward to Jarvis’ compelling backstory, and a wee peek at the entire cast’s emotional side. This episode focuses on the characters, and it’s a doozy. Check it out toot suite, you old so-and-so ‘40s slang etc.
Spoilers: To quote Champ Kind: “WHAMMY!” Don’t get me wrong – the lack of plot is damn noticeable in this one. Aaand the lack of a proper villain seems like an obvious misstep, considering that Agents of SHIELD suffered a similar ailment for most of its first season as well, and Agent Carter has been so good about succeeding where Agents of SHIELD failed. (In the beginning, I mean. I’m loving Agents of SHIELD nowadays).
What do we learn about Howard Stark? Nothing. What do we learn about the stolen gear? Nothing, besides its physical location. Also, why did they only JUST NOW investigate the giant honkin’ hole in the Stark Mansion tile? Why was the submarine still parking in front of the getaway hole, weeks later? That’s like robbing a bank, then sitting on the bench outside to count the money. For four days. Maybe it’s intentional – a Trojan horse gambit to get all the gear inside the SSR – but even then I can’t imagine the New York branch of the SSR is so stupid as to fall for it. Or that Leviathan is so stupid as to think the SSR would be so stupid, etc.
I’m not saying the episode is terrible. I’m saying the plot doesn’t matter, because the characters are firing on all cylinders in this one.
The shimmy-shimmy window boyfriend is a great reminder of the oppressive nature of not only the Griffith Ladies’ Hotel, but the moral standards at the time. Plus it’s a cute audience joke. Just silly enough to fly.
The Jarvis interrogation. Obviously I feel bad for the dude, but it’s a hot scene regardless. Just when you think Jarvis is going to stiff-upper-lip his way through the questioning, blammo, they bring his wife into it. There’ve been hints of Jarvis deep commitment to his wife, and seeing the normally unflappable butler flap is disconcerting. Not only does it help flesh out Jarvis, but watching Thompson take a guy who’s that stiff to pieces shows you that the SSR isn’t totally incompetent. It’s the first time the agency has shown some actual skill.
Peggy falling on her (career) sword to save Jarvis from the interview room. Again, this show is doing a spectacular job of depicting non-romantic friendships, like Peggy-and-Jarvis and Peggy-and-Waitress(Angie). I honestly hope they wait a long time to bring any kind of romantic lead into the story, because Peggy’s “quest for friends” is way more interesting.
Jarvis’ backstory, which I mentioned earlier. Talk about romantic. I’m a pretty savvy guy in that department – the romantic fool department – but I’ve never smuggled my Jewish-Hungarian wife out of Nazi clutches before. Not that I wouldn’t, let’s be honest. I’ve just never had the opportunity, okay. It’s just bad luck that there aren’t any Nazis anymore. I mean. Hmm. Lemme start over.
Suspender-guy fighter, to match the fat-guy fight from the last episode. This fight is like that one on steroids (and with less fat), and once again I have to give kudos to the fight department. Peggy is quick with those rabbit punches (and nick-of-time dodges), but once again she faces a guy who outweighs her by double. She just barely kicks his ass (with some timely but largely incompetent Xander-ish help from an out-of-his-element butler), but she earns it. She gets a solid, realistic beating for her trouble, but she still comes out looking like a badass. Again, it’s the realism that’s really selling me on this action – that’s exactly what I imagine a fight between a highly skilled low-weight person and a moderately skilled brick shithouse would look like. I mean, until the super-back-massager-death-wand shows up, anyway.
Jarvis’s hilarious, cartoon Brooklyn-accented “anonymous tip” phone call to the SSR. “Hey mack, I gotta hot tip for yuh.”
The show flashes its teeth again with the damn shocking death of a main character, getting gatted point blank in a shitty little alleyway just for doing his job. It’s a brutal moment that left me feeling a muted but appreciated sadness.
The reaction to Krzeminski’s death is really well done. It’s easy to think of him as some redshirt who kicked it to further the plot, but the cast sells just how horrible it would be to have a long-time coworker get gunned down on the job.
Angie and Peggy’s relationship continues to be interesting, and its fun watching Peggy sort of emotionally Bambi-legging her way into normal human attachment.
The last shot of the episode REALLY looked like that famous painting, which I will now Google the name of. Loading. Okay. It’s “Nighthawks,” by Josephine Hopper. Phew.
The mystery is still falling flat, and it’s largely devoid of interesting characters (beyond the good guys, who are all damn cool).
No antagonists beyond quiet ninjas and dumb muscle. I get that they’re working their way up the pyramid of importance, but I’m gonna need something to happen soon.
Big pile of Stark Tech sitting in an empty room with one dude guarding it, right next to the heist’s escape hole. If it turns out to be a ploy I’ll give them some credit, but even then it’s a really dumb ploy that the SSR shouldn’t fall for.
Killing off Kyle Bornheimer, dammit. In my review of the first episode I waxed poetic about how funny Kyle Bornheimer is, and how glad I am to see him on the show, and how I’m excited to see them develop his dopey failure character. So naturally they shoot him in the face in the third episode. Don’t get me wrong, I like that they killed a supporting character, and I like all the scenes about the death, but I just wish it hadn’t been Bornheimer. The guy deserves a shot at the big times – he has nearly perfect comedic timing – but once again he gets cancelled. He was also the funniest character on the show, so that’s kind of a bummer. I should have known he was doomed when he suddenly started getting a bunch of development and a home life.
Dooley: “I’m gonna call Krzeminski’s wife now.”
Thompson: “I’ll call his girlfriend.”