“Agent Carter” Redefines Marvel

By Jordan Blackburn

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A female-led noir spy thriller set in the 1940s may not seem like the most obvious place to take a story line based on a character most commonly known as “Captain America’s love interest,” but “Agent Carter,” Marvel Studios’ most recent foray into the small screen manages to pull it off almost elegantly.
True to its name, “Agent Carter” focuses on the postwar life of Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a military official with the Allied forces in WWII who worked closely with Captain America. Following the ending of the 2011 film “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which left with the titular Captain presumed dead and Carter’s future uncertain, “Agent Carter” jumps right into Carter’s postwar life, focusing on her career as an agent at the SSR, a spy organization developed during the war.
“Agent Carter” is scheduled as an 8-part miniseries, meaning that the show has a lot of plot and exposition to cover in the first couple episodes, but that doesn’t stop the show from focusing on the details of Carter’s life amidst the explosions, barely lit clubs, and surprisingly low-tech espionage. The show pays special attention to Carter’s almost reluctant friendship with Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca), a diner worker who is determined to overcome Carter’s martyr complex and unwillingness to involve herself with civilians, as well as Carter’s daily struggle to find acceptance and respect among her exclusively male coworkers at the SSR. Although the show has plenty of action, these realistic and humanizing touches make “Agent Carter” more than just an action vehicle designed to pacify fans looking for a TV version of their favorite superhero movies.
Carter’s character and backstory all draw directly from “Captain America: The First Avenger,” however it’s not necessary, or even particularly helpful, to have seen the movie. Although I had seen “Captain America,” the person I watched it with had not, and had no difficulty following the plot or understanding Carter’s motivations. The show also manages to introduce an entirely new cast of characters to highlight Carter’s life experiences, from uptight English butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy) to the myriad of entitled yet distinctive male agents at the SSR (Chad Michael Murray included). This cast of characters rounds out Carter’s world and contributes to the show’s originality.
“Agent Carter” is by no means a perfect show. The dark, noir-inspired lighting sometimes makes it difficult to see what’s going on, especially in fast-paced fight scenes on the already busy backdrops. Jarvis and Carter’s constant one-on-one conversations mean that two British actors get much of the screen time in a show set in New York City. The rushed pacing means that the first few episodes are jam-packed with plot reveals and character introductions, but the show always manages to make time for the more human moments in Carter’s life.
Ultimately, “Agent Carter” represents a pleasing addition to Marvel’s ever increasing and ever more connected catalogue: the fast-paced and intriguing plot combined with the gorgeous and accurate set and costume design draw you into the world of 1940s New York with ease, without displacing the shows more sci-fi sensibilities. The fantastic cast has no trouble carrying the show, and Atwell makes a wonderfully multi-faceted and well-developed character. Finally, “Agent Carter” represents the first female-led title in Marvel’s catalogue, an important development as the casts of Marvel movies grow even more white and male.