In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of season 1 of Marvel’s Agent Carter.
After the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel Studios decided to further their brand on ABC with Agent Carter. Airing its 8 episode run during S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s mid-season break, Agent Carter follows Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in the years after World War II and losing Steve Rogers.
An agent of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, Peggy struggles to prove her worth as she’s reduced to an assistant role in the male-dominated office. When her friend Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) reaches out to her for help, Peggy is forced to become a double agent to clear Stark’s name. As Stark goes on the run, he leaves behind his butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) to aid Peggy in her covert mission.
Marvel’s Agent Carter is a period spy show set on the fringes of the Marvel universe. From the outset, it’s clear why Marvel gave Hayley Atwell this vehicle to expand her character from Captain America: The First Avenger. Her performance is a wonderful mixture of charm with no-nonsense bad-assery. Her chemistry with ally Edwin Jarvis is by far the standout of the series and, thankfully, isn’t dictated by sexual undertones.
The series, however, struggles to find its way through this first season run. The S.S.R. isn’t given much of an identity itself and simply serves as a precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D. For a show that’s meant to lead into the eventual creation of S.H.I.E.L.D., there is really nothing to separate the S.S.R. from S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
The supporting cast isn’t given much to work with in Agent Carter. Although it’s mostly a fault of the plot itself, I couldn’t connect to any of the character that made up Carter’s colleagues at the S.S.R. Between being adversaries for Peggy’s secret mission to clear Stark and being chauvinistic depictions of their time, the men of the S.S.R. don’t have a lot going for them in Agent Carter‘s 8-episode run.
Chad Michael Murray plays Jack Thompson, the S.S.R. agent who’s most suspicious of Carter’s actions. He’s a bit of a one-dimensional “tough guy” character that doesn’t have much else going on besides being an obstacle for Peggy. Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) stands out from the pack of SSR agents if only because he has compassion toward Peggy. But even that feels a little hollow as it’s just laying the groundwork for a romantic subplot that’s sure to come to fruition at some point in the future.
Shea Whigham plays Roger Dooley, the head of the SSR office and Peggy’s boss. Whigham is an actor I respect from his role as Eli Thompson on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as well as his appearance in two episodes of season one of True Detective. In Agent Carter, Whigham seems to simply be aping his performance in Boardwalk Empire. He doesn’t do much with the majority of the role, but toward the end of the season his performance finally kicks into high gear.
I found it really hard to connect with Agent Carter. Though they’re very different shows, I can’t help but draw comparisons to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. What helped Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. succeed was that it gave background to the day-to-day S.H.I.E.L.D. dealings in the MCU. Its interconnected storylines with the Marvel movies made it enjoyable set decoration for the universe. However, the chemistry among its core team is what sealed it for me. Agent Carter suffers by not having any real ties to the present-day MCU. It’s historical context gives background on the rise of S.H.I.E.L.D., but this development is a long way away.
In the show, Carter is merely an agent of SSR, in a male-dominated office that delivers its casual sexism like it’s an after-school special. More damaging is the lack of a core group or team. There are supporting characters in the agents of her office, but the pilot episode pits her against them in a covert double agent plot triggered by Howard Stark. From the show’s first episode, Peggy is working against her colleagues, which makes it difficult for me to care about the coworker characters.
Ultimately these misfires in the plot, coupled with only 8 episodes to develop characters and chemistry make Agent Carter an unfortunately forgettable entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. Its saving grace is the chemistry between Atwell and D’Arcy, as well as some thrilling action sequences, but the substance to make this a show worthy of standing on its own is absent.
Agent Carter has been renewed for a second season and with Marvel tabling the proposed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff, I hope they put more care into making season 2 of Agent Carter a better product than its first outing.