Last night’s return of Agent Carter was a breath of fresh air. Yes, having Hayley Atwell‘s ferociously capable secret agent back on the TV weekly, even just for eight or nine weeks, is a treat, but between the dark and gritty mean streets of the Netflix Marvel shows, the generally dour tone of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first half of season three, and the coming Civil War, we need some happy Marvel. The first two hours of Agent Carter‘s second season made for some thoroughly enjoyable television as Peggy reunited with old friends, toyed with a love triangle, and began an interesting new case with some possible implications on the future (her future, our present).
First, the series has a change of venue to 1947 Los Angeles. Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is now director of the west coast branch of the SSR, and he encounters the strange case of a woman found murdered and left in a frozen lake on a hot and sunny California day. Sousa asks for an experienced agent to assist him, and he gets Carter, and from their terribly awkward re-introduction either those drinks from the end of last season never happened, or they didn’t go anywhere particularly notable. The investigation leads to Isodyne Energy, as the victim turned out to be the mistress of the company’s owner Calvin Chadwick (played by the typically oily Currie Graham). Of course what Isodyne is really hiding has almost nothing to do with an affair.
There’s a lot to unpack from these first two hours, both in terms of what’s going on with the characters in the year since their last adventure, and the new mystery they’re now brought together to investigate. Last season’s quest by Peggy to clear Howard Stark of treason seemed more episodic somehow, at least in the first half of the first season, but the season two story seems firmly focused on the Isodyne situation, the mysterious council pulling the puppet strings of of Chadwick, and the nature of this weird substance “zero matter” that’s now loose upon L.A.
The nature of “zero matter” is the supposed connection between Carter and Doctor Strange that’s been discussed; “zero matter” being the name given to the Darkforce since it’s never been encountered – at this point – in the Marvel Universe. S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced Blackout in its first season and he was able to harness the Darkforce, but the origin of this “zero matter” and its discovery, being the result of a failed atomic bomb test, certainly implies something otherworldly. Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin), Carter’s Isodyne insider and potential love interest, even supposes it could be extra-dimensional. That’s a pretty strong hint.
At first, one couldn’t help but be reminded of the monolith, the porthole to an alien world that was being guarded by the S.H.I.E.L.D. team on the aircraft carrier and has been used by HYDRA for centuries to send people to an alien world to find a marooned Inhuman. Such a connection to the current doings of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been understandable, but obvious. More tantalizing though is this council that Chadwick’s a part of, and that included Ray Wise as Hugh Jones, the CEO of Roxxon and one of Stark’s chief rivals who appeared in season one. Such an odd emphasis was put on the word “council” when Chadwick spoke of this group it made me wonder if this was going to turnout to be the nascent World Security Council that ran S.H.I.E.L.D.
The world-building though isn’t what one should enjoy the most about Agent Carter though, it’s the characters. The writers have seemed to build off Peggy’s struggle to be seen as an agent of equal capability to her male colleagues and her having achieved it at the end of season one. There aren’t many discussions in the SSR office about Carter’s capabilities as an agent and as a woman, and she seems now an accepted and dependable part of the team. While watching Carter interrogate nemesis Dottie Underwood (Bridget Reagan), two agents watch and laugh as they wonder how long it will take the incorruptible Agent Carter to break crazy old Dottie. So Carter is now more or less one of the boys, even though she’s still definitely her own woman.
The only person who still kind of has a problem with that is Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), still the chief of SSR’s New York office, undoubtedly bolstered by Carter’s work, which he takes credit for. Thompson sees Carter tearing into Dottie, and decides to send her to L.A. when Sousa calls looking for an agent (any agent mind you) for help. Thompson knows as well as anyone Carter’s worth and experience, and I suppose it might be progress for him to look at Carter and tell Sousa he’s got “the perfect man” in mind. (If a capable woman having worth solely as compared to the capabilities of her male colleagues can be considered complimentary.) Thompson at this point may be seeing Carter more as a professional rival, which makes his decision to shuttle her off to L.A. more of a dick move than a misogynist one. Progress!
Thompson, for his part, continues to buy into his own hype, his ego as his Achilles Heel, which makes him completely misread the situation with Dottie. It leads to one of the most pro-feminist moments of Agent Carter so far when Thompson, attempting to pick up the interrogation from Carter, lets Dottie literally turn the tables on him. Dottie has Thompson underfoot, and rather than kill him or try to escape, she merely states the obvious: he’s no Peggy Carter. You could probably say something about Dottie trying to “Single White Female” Carter with the makeover, but what’s clear is that Dottie considers Carter her equal, not the men of the SSR. Carter, although she never says it, makes it clear that she also had doubts that Thompson could play on Dottie’s level.
If Dottie seemed to come and go quickly, don’t worry, it’s likely she will be back since her and Carter’s reunion/face-off was so rudely interrupted. The very pin that was in the safe deposit box that Dottie was after was the same as that one Carter found in the car belonging to her pursuers in L.A. That’s not a coincidence, and Bridget Regan also confirmed as much as Twitter.
In the meantime, Carter will to contend with Madame Masque (Wynn Everett), who appears in the form of Hollywood actress Whitney Ford and Chatwick’s wife. Her motivations aren’t clear yet, but what is obvious is that she’s the brains behind Chatwick, and given the way she’s talked down to by chauvinistic film directors it should come as no surprise that she’s got a back-up plan in super-villainy. Her plan for the “zero matter” is not explained, but she’s definitely changed by her direct encounter with it at the end of the second hour. Either way, if a theme for season one of Agent Carter was about how a woman can make her way in a man’s world, the second season seems to tease that it’s only a man’s world on paper.
Speaking of how behind every great man there’s a great woman, how much do you love Mrs. Jarvis? Lotte Verbeek was so great as the perfect compliment to Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) as she loosens up some of his stiff and with Lyndsy Fonseca‘s Angie apparently sitting out season two, Ana Jarvis could make for a great civilian pal for Peggy. One that she doesn’t have to keep anything from since Ana’s well-versed on the demands of Carter’s secret life, and can complement them. (The derringer holster anyone?) Jarvis, meanwhile, seems to have gotten over his trepidation about being Carter’s sidekick on these missions, and is eager to breakout of the quiet life he’s leading in L.A. marshaling Stark’s private zoo. And how perfectly Jarvis was that unitard?
To sum that all up, Agent Carter made a most welcome return to Tuesday night. There’s lots of interesting things to explore and wonderful characters to follow, and the next several weeks are very, very promising.