Much like the refinery in the premiere for Marvel’s Agent Carter, Tumblr exploded with enthusiasm for the show. I’m usually more reserved when it comes to television – it comes with the territory of TV criticism – so my major question when I started watching Agent Carter, was “is it worth all the hype?” And I’m pleased to say that the answer to that “yes.” It’s worth all the hype and then some.
The show focuses on Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), of course, whom you should definitely remember from Captain America: The First Avenger. After helping Steve save the world, Peggy is in New York City and theoretically helping the Strategic Science Reserve in their goal of saving the world. The problem, as made clear within the first five minutes, is that she has to work with a lot of men.
And by a lot, I mean, nearly every character in the first two hours of Agent Carter is a man. There are men working for the SSR, there are men working for the bad guys and there are just men in the streets of NYC, all of whom look down on Peggy because she’s a woman. In that first five minutes, the boss tells her he needs “all hands on deck,” which for her, is intended to mean she should answer the phone.
Not only does this represent the world of 1946, a world in which women were getting fired from their jobs as more men returned from war and the world in which Agent Carter is set, but it gives the show the potential to comment on institutional sexism in a way no other show on TV has done before. It’s possible Mad Men does this at some point, as I’ve only seen a few episodes of that show, but Don Draper is still the hero/anti-hero of that show, so there’s only so much it can do.
In the first few episodes of Agent Carter, Peggy often uses men’s sexism against them so that she can go after the bad guys and try and unravel the mystery of Leviathan. She uses knockout lipstick, gathers information while feigning an interest in bringing the agents coffee and makes her boss groan and give her time off when she asks for a sick day because of “ladies’ things.” If Peggy has to operate in a man’s world, she’s going to do it, but she’s going to do it her way.
Luckily, she doesn’t have to operate in this world alone. Although I would really like the show to bring in more women, we do at least get Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca), a waitress and aspiring actress, who makes friends with Peggy. And if we’re not going to get many more characters, where can you go wrong with Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy)?
If you’re thinking that name sounds familiar to you, it should since it’s the name of Tony Stark’s AI in the Iron Man franchise, and this is the man the name came from: Howard Stark’s butler. (Yes, if you’re wondering, we do get appearances from Howard Stark, but he’s not a regular on the show.) Jarvis is Peggy Carter’s semi-reluctant partner in espionage, as long as he doesn’t have to go out after 9 p.m. because that’s when he and his wife go to bed.
Together, Peggy and Jarvis step lively through the world, keeping one step ahead of the SSR, as they seek out the people that sold Stark technology on the black market. It’s often wall-to-wall action, straight out of a Bond film, and just like a Bond film, there’s tons of humor.
But there’s more to Agent Carter than just a good time. While Marvel has announced plans for a Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel movie, this show is the company’s first major foray into female superheroes – yes, Peggy Carter counts as a superhero, even if she doesn’t have powers – since 2005’s Elektra, which I’m sure they would rather forget. It’s Agent Carter that will help determine how or if they fund future female superhero movies and TV shows, and while it may not seem like the stakes are higher for it than any other TV show, that makes Agent Carter a big deal. If you want more shows like it, you have to let Marvel know, and step one is watching Agent Carter. Thankfully, the show makes that step an easy one.
New episodes air Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC.