Saturday, January 10, 2015

Marvel's Agent Carter, Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2: Now Is Not The End / Bridge And Tunnel

Just in time to fill the gap left by Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s winter hiatus, it's the premiere of Marvel's Agent Carter.

I have to admit I had some serious doubts about this series. An entire series focusing on a non-superpowered supporting character? Didn't they already do that with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.? The post-WWII setting also rules out an appearance by Captain America, or any characters from the present day Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seemed to me like it had "dud" written all over it.

Fortunately I was wrong, and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw (so far).

The series is written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote both Captain America movies and Thor: The Dark World, so I guess they know what they're doing. It stars Haley Atwell, reprising her role as Agent Peggy Carter.

Marvel seems to have learned from the mistakes they made in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s uneven first season, as this series hits the ground running from the beginning. I think the eight episode "season" may also be an advantage here. It forces the story to move along at a good clip, with no filler.

By the way, this "two hour" premiere is really just two of the eight episodes shown back to back. Fortunately the two story lines blend together pretty seamlessly.


The Plot:
It's 1946. After the "death" of Captain America, Agent Peggy Carter returns to work at the Strategic Science Reserve in New York. The government suspects industrialist Howard Stark of selling weapons to the enemy, and the SSR wants to bring him in for questioning. Stark contacts Agent Carter and tells her he's innocent, as he's the victim of a burglary. Some stole his formula for molecular nitramene, a powerful explosive. He asks Carter to help him clear his name. He assigns his butler, Edwin Jarvis, to help her.

Carter traces the nitramene to a nightclub. She infiltrates the club and discovers Stark's formula has been weaponized, and turned into a small, compact bomb. She steals the bomb and shows it to Anton Vanko of Stark Industries. He examines it and determines it came from a Roxxon Oil refinery. Carter and Jarvis investigate the refinery, and encounter a man named Leet Brannis, who works for an organization called Leviathan. Brannis has a laryngectomy scar and cannot speak,

Brannis detonates a nitramene bomb, which implodes the refinery. Carter and Jarvis barely escape the implosion, as Brannis drives off in a truck full of nitramene bombs.

Carter and Jarvis track the location of the truck. They find Brannis, who seems to want to defect and asks for SSR protection. Just then they're attacked by another Leviathan agent. Carter battles this agent on the back of the truck. The agent shoots Brannis, as the truck flies off a cliff and into a lake and implodes. As Brannis lays dying, he draws a symbol (presumably for Leviathan) in the sand.

• I very much like the 1940s setting. I'm sure there were dozens of anachronisms, but it felt authentic to me.

• Agent Carter was a valuable member of the SSR during the war effort, but now that it's over, she's relegated to secretary, expected to file papers and bring coffee to the male agents.

This was a real situation that women had to deal with after WWII. Women left their kitchens and worked in factories and offices to fill the gaps left by men who went off to war. Once the war was over, the men came back and the women were expected to become homemakers again. 

This was extremely frustrating for many women, especially after having a taste of freedom and equality.

• Agent Carter is a secretary by day, and a secret agent who goes on various missions by night. I have to admit I wasn't expecting such a setup, but it's actually pretty cool. They've basically made Peggy a superhero like Batman, complete with a secret identity and a purse full of gadgets.

• It's awesome that they got Dominic Cooper to reprise his role on as Howard Stark for the series, even if it was only for a couple of minutes. 

• Peggy's 1940s spy gear is pretty cool. The knockout lipstick, the safe-picking watch, the lock pick pins-- all of it had a nice retro feel.

That said, I'm wondering how her knockout lipstick is supposed to work. She applies it to her lips and kisses crooked nightclub owner Spider Raymond, which puts him under in seconds. So why doesn't it affect her? It's touching her lips too. Maybe she put a protective layer of Chap-Stick on first?

• The Leviathan agents all have laryngectomy scars on their necks and can't speak. To communicate with their leaders they use the 1940s version of texting-- a typewriter that can send and receive messages. Awesome!

The "typewriter texting" reminded me a bit of a similar piece of tech from Fringe.

• There were a ton of Marvel references in the episode. The biggest one is probably Edwin Jarvis himself. In the present day, Tony Stark is assisted in his various endeavors by a sentient computer  he calls "Jarvis." Apparently he named the operating system after the family butler.

Agent Carter gets in a cab labeled "Lucky Star Cab Company." That's the same company seen in Captain America: The First Avenger. Shortly after Steve Rogers gets vita-rayed into Cap, he tears the door off a Lucky Star cab and uses it as a makeshift shield.

Peggy shows a nitramene bomb to Anton Vanko of Stark Industries. Vanko made a brief appearance in Iron Man 2. He was the co-inventor of the arc reactor and father to Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash.

Peggy tracks the nitramene to a Roxxon Oil refinery. Roxxon was seen in Iron Man, and seems to be Marvel's go-to business whenever they need an evil, soulless corporation.

Peggy uses a Vita-Ray detector to track down the nitramene. Vita-Rays were what transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America. The detector also says it's the property of A. Erskine. Professor Erskine was the one who invented the super-soldier formula.

• All through the episode Peggy inadvertently listens to an over-the-top Captain America radio program. This was a very clever way to include Cap in the show without including him, if that makes any sense.

• Jarvis is constantly talking about his wife, who we never see. I'm wondering if she's going to be one of those famous "invisible" characters, ala Norm's wife Vera on Cheers?

• When the first nitramene bomb goes off, it implodes the entire Roxxon refinery into a ball off debris about twenty feet square. Impressive! Even more impressive is the fact that the SSR hauls this ball to their headquarters on a flatbed truck! Even more impressive!

Apparently that truck has a really good suspension system. It's carrying what is basically a building that was the size of a city block.

• Peggy tracks down the owner of the milk truck, a man named Sheldon McFee. He's played by Devin Ratray, who you may know better as Kevin McCallister's psychotic older brother Buzz in Home Alone.

• Howard Stark warns Agent Carter of the destructive power of the nitramene bombs, saying they could destroy an entire city street. "I mean the avenues, not the short ones." 

He's apparently exaggerating a bit here, because an entire milk truck full of them detonates and only manages to implode one small lake.

• As Brannis is dying, Peggy asks him to tell her about Leviathan. He can't speak, and his vocal amplifier has been destroyed, so he draws a symbol of a heart with a wavy line through it in the dirt.

I'm assuming that has something to do with Leviathan, but exactly what I have no idea.

• Lastly, I'd just like to say "Well done" to Marvel, for making a cool superhero show starring a very kickass female character. 

Meanwhile DC Comics and Warner Bros. has been fumbling around for at least ten years trying to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground, and has failed miserably.

It's not that hard, DC. Marvel just showed you how it's done.

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