Saturday, January 23, 2016

Agent Carter Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2: The Lady In The Lake And A View In The Dark

Agent Carter's back for a second season!

This year Peggy and company pull up stakes and leave the streets of New York City for the sunny climate of 1940s Los Angeles.

It was a fun premiere, and as always it was nice to see Peggy and Jarvis together again. The two have great chemistry together. 

Last year I said that I enjoyed the series for the most part, but would like to see more retro "comic book" trappings in it. Things like ray guns and jet packs and such. Something to give it more of a 1940s pulp feel.

Looks like the producers read my highly influential blog, and acted accordingly. This season Peggy Carter's involved with a shadowy proto-HYDRA group and a mysterious substance called Zero Matter that can freeze people solid. Awesome!

Unfortunately the ratings for the debut were absolutely dismal. I blame modern scheduling, in which seasons are split in half, with month in between. These days it's nearly impossible to know what's on when. I also blame the ratings system. There are numerous ways to watch a TV series these days, but the antiquated Nielsen ratings system only records viewers who watch a show "live!" Who the hell does that anymore? There are probably millions more people watching any given show than the Nielsens know about.

Hopefully the ratings will pick up in subsequent weeks. It would be a shame if Agent Carter survived HYDRA, only to be killed by poor ratings.


The Plot:
This week's two hour premiere was actually just two episodes aired back-to-back.

The Lady In The Lake
It's 1947 and Dottie Underwood, the Black Widow assassin from last season, attempts to rob a safe deposit box. She's stopped by Peggy Carter and the rest of the SSR. Peggy interrogates Dottie and finds out she was trying to steal a pin that looks suspiciously like one of the older HYDRA logos we recently saw over on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Meanwhile, Daniel Sousa has been made the Chief of the SSR's West Coast Division in LA. He's contacted by police Detective Henry to investigate a body of a woman found frozen in a lake on the hottest day of the year. Sousa calls Chief Thompson and says he needs help on the case. Thompson sends him Agent Carter, mainly to get her out of his way.

Peggy arrives in LA and is met by Howard Stark's butler Jarvis. Apparently Stark has opened a movie studio and is now living in Hollywood. Jarvis tells Peggy he's bored in LA and offers to be her driver and assistant. Peggy has an awkward reunion with Sousa, who seems surprised to see her. They examine the body of the woman, who's still frozen solid. Her body also glows in the dark. The coroner suggests the body was irradiated by a particle accelerator.

Peggy, Sousa and Detective Henry visit Isodyne Energy, the only place nearby that has a particle accelerator. Peggy sneaks past the receptionist and meets Dr. Jason Wilkes, a scientist at the facility. She shows him a photo of the frozen woman, who he identifies as Jane Scott, a fellow scientist. Jane was supposedly having an affair with Calvin Chadwick, the owner of Isodyne. 

Peggy confronts Chadwick, who's running for Senate, and is married to actress Whitney Frost. Chadwick becomes nervous and leaves, obviously having something to hide. Back at the coroner's office, the medical examiner becomes frozen solid after coming in contact with Jane Scott's blood. He falls over and shatters. Peggy brings Dr. Wilkes in to examine the shattered corpse. Detective Henry then begins exhibiting signs of freezing. He kidnaps Wilkes, hoping that he can "fix" him.

Peggy and Sousa track Henry and surround him. He says he didn't kill Jane, but was hired by someone to "clean up the mess," making it look like a serial killer did it. But he inadvertently contacted Jane's irradiated blood, and is becoming frozen like her. Peggy tells him the SSR can help, but before he can reply a cop shoots him and he shatters into a million pieces. 

Back in New York, FBI Head Vernon Masters removes Dottie from Chief Thompson's custody. He tells Thompson that the SSR was created for wartime defense, and now that the war's over, it's obsolete. Masters offers Thompson something else, which doesn't sound the least bit suspicious. Chadwick meets with the officer who shot Henry, and gives him an envelope full of cash. Peggy asks Sousa out for a bite, but he declines. As she looks out the window she sees Sousa meet a woman and drive off.

Inside Isodyne, Dr. Wilkes stares at a containment unit full of a writhing black substance.

A View In The Dark
On the way to the SSR, Rose the receptionist tells Sousa he needs to let Peggy know about his girlfriend. As they enter the building they see Peggy chatting with Violet, Sousa's girlfriend. Uh-oh. Meanwhile two SSR agents pick up Jane Scott's frozen body from the morgue. They're shot and killed by an unknown assailant, who takes the body. 

Chadwick has a secret meeting with a group of nine men (including FBI head Vernon Masters), all of whom are wearing proto-HYDRA lapel pins like the one Dottie tried to steal. They tell him they're shutting down Isodyne, against his protests. Peggy and Sousa find the dead SSR agents, and see that Jane's body has been stolen. They visit Isodyne, but are told it's closed due to a "containment leak." Wilkes slips Peggy a note, telling her to meet him at the Dunbar Hotel.

Peggy meets him, but he's reluctant to talk, fearing he'll be charged with treason, as the truth is bigger than she or anyone could know. Eventually he he decides to trust her, and they leave. They're followed by the assailant who killed the SSR men. Meanwhile Chadwick tells his wife Whitney Frost that Isodyne is being shut down, and the Zero Matter project is being scrapped. Frost is angry that Chadwick let the Council get its way.

Wilkes takes Peggy to Griffith Observatory, where he shows her a classified film. It shows an atomic test that goes horribly wrong. Instead of the usual mushroom cloud, a crack seemingly forms in the sky, which sucks everything-- trucks, weapons, even people—  inside it, leaving only a black substance. Wilkes calls the fluid Zero Matter, and says it drains the energy from anything around it, leaving everything cold. He believes it's of alien origin. Peggy wants to break into Isodyne to steal it, to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands.

Suddenly the observatory is surrounded by armed men. Peggy and Wilkes manage to escape, and head for Isodyne. There they split up—  Wilkes goes to get the Zero Matter, while Peggy fends off their pursuers with a tire iron (!). Wilkes puts the Zero Matter into a small container, but is confronted by Whitney Frost, who wants it for herself. They struggle and the container falls to the floor, shattering. Wilkes tells Frost to run, as the Zero Matter causes Isodyne to explode.

Sousa and Jarvis arrive. Peggy tells them Wilkes didn't make it. At Whitney Frost's house, she sits in her room, having survived the Zero Matter explosion. She brushes her hair back, revealing a large black crack on her face.

• In Season One the dialog felt authentic to me, and seemed accurate for the period. I didn't get that sense as much in these two episodes. There was one use of "colored" instead of "black" or "African American," but other than that the dialog all felt pretty contemporary. 

• When Peggy's heading for the SSR headquarters in LA, she passes a movie theater. The marquee reads, "Whitney Frost in Tales Of Suspense."

Marvel Comic fans will recognize the name Whitney Frost as the alter ego of Madame Masque, a villainess usually associated with Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. In the comics she wore a gold mask to hide her disfigured face. From the looks of these two episodes, that seems to be the direction the character is headed.

Tales Of Suspense was a Marvel comic that ran from 1959 to 1968. It was originally an anthology title, but eventually became the home of Iron Man and Captain America stories.

• The producers have confirmed that the Zero Matter seen here is the same thing as the Darkforce. The Darkforce popped up a while back on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., when it transformed Marcus Daniels into the supervillain Blackout.

Zero Matter, which is described as interdimensional in origin, is also a subtle tie-in to Marvel's upcoming Doctor Strange movie. Presumably the good Doctor will either wield or tangle with the Darkforce when his film premieres.

• When Vernon Masters is talking to Thompson, he says something about how he could make him the top man "on both sides of the Atlantic." Huh? I'm sure Masters probably meant "on both sides of America." Saying "On both sides of the Atlantic" implies America and Europe!

• When Chadwick enters the secret Council Of The Nine, we see a logo with a suspiciously familiar chevron motif above the door.

This logo looks a lot like the ones we saw during FitzSimmons "Evolution Of The HYDRA Logo" presentation they gave earlier this season on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. I'm assuming this Council is some sort of HYDRA spinoff?

• When Masters tells Thompson the SSR has outlived its usefulness and has to evolve to survive, I'm betting this is the beginning of what will eventually become S.H.I.E.L.D.

• Last season Jarvis constantly talked about his wife, but we never actually saw her. I assumed she was just another classic "Unseen Character," much like Norm's wife Vera on Cheers, or Maris on Frazier.

For that very reason, when the producers announced we'd actually be seeing Ana Jarvis this season, I thought it was a mistake. I figured that no matter who they cast, she'd never be able to live up to the image of her the viewers had created in their minds.

I needn't have worried. Lotte Verbeek does an amazing job as Ana Jarvis, and is a wonderful contrast to her dour, conservative husband.

• Chief Sousa sure moves fast when it comes to relationships. He says he's only been in LA for six months, but in that short amount of time he's already met Violet and is ready to propose to her! It's not impossible of course, but it does seem a bit quick.

• Speaking of Sousa, last season we found out he lost a leg in the war— most likely his left one, since that's the side his crutch is on. Hopefully he's got a car with an automatic transmission, otherwise it's gonna be tough to drive a clutch with a wooden leg.

• The producers do a great job of recreating 1940s LA. I did notice though that whenever they shot on location, they used a lot of low camera angles, pointing upespecially at the Griffith Observatory. I'm assuming they did this to hide modern buildings in the background, and not have to CGI them out?

They also made copious use of what looked like a studio backlot street.

• One period detail the episode didn't deal with racism. Peggy and Dr. Wilkes, a black man, spend quite a bit of time together in the second episode, and even share a kiss. It's not a big deal today, but in 1947... oy!

There is one brief scene in which they try to get change from a disgusted clerk, but even then it was barely touched upon. I just think the sight of an interracial couple in the 1940s would have turned a few more heads, even in LA. Maybe the writers just didn't have enough time to properly deal with the issue.

• At the end of the episode, Peggy mourns Jason Wilkes, who seemingly perished in the Isodyne explosion. Ah, but this is a comic book series. Death is something you shrug off, like a sprained ankle or a mild case of the flu!

I have absolutely zero doubt that Wilkes isn't dead, and will be back. And because he "died" in a Zero Matter explosion, you can bet your paycheck that when he does pop up again, he'll have some sort of superpower.

Some fans believe he'll become Cloak, a Marvel comics character who wields the Darkforce and is also black. That's a possibility, but he was one half of the team of Cloak and Dagger. I don't see them introducing one and not the other.

My money's on Shroud. He's not black, but he's very similar to Cloak, and also dressed in black robes and could control the Darkforce. We'll find out in a few weeks whether I'm right or not.

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