Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Agent Carter Is Brought In To Save The Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Now Is Not The End!”

The Good: Adequate acting, Moments of concept
The Bad: Painfully typical spy plot, Thematically heavyhanded, No real character development
The Basics: Agent Carter gets off to a mediocre start with “Now Is Not The End.”

As fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. wait to see where the series goes following the climactic events of “What They Become” (reviewed here!), the Marvel Cinematic Universe is being held together by the series premiere of Agent Carter. At a time when companies like NetFlix are looking for original programming and are preparing to progress the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Daredevil, the fact that ABC is using Agent Carter as filler during the hiatus of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter is only being presented as an eight-week mini-series shows how tenuous the creation of the series was.

With “Now Is Not The End,” the series premiere of Agent Carter, the custodians of the Marvel Cinematic Universe illustrate they have an unfortunate inability to write female characters in a compelling way. To be fair, Agent Carter lives in the shadow of Alias (reviewed here!), a series with a kick-ass female protagonist who eventually degenerated into a lovestruck woman who simply changed her clothes a lot in between shooting at people, and is stuck in what has been a fallow period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Agent Carter is a direct follow-up to Captain America (reviewed here!) and the burden of the pilot episode is to show that the series will have some vitality. The problem with that is that the viewers already know, from before “Now Is Not The End” begins, that the world survives, that H.Y.D.R.A. is not going to get superweapons and that whatever Peggy Carter and Howard Stark do, they only manage to lay the foundation for Tony Stark to eventually do his thing.

Following the creation of Captain America, the super soldier, Howard Stark is called before Congress to testify about irregularities in his research and development company. As Agent Peggy Carter’s team is tasked to find Howard Stark, Carter is out for dinner when she receives a note telling her to go out into an alley. There, she is picked up by Howard Stark who tells her that he is being set up. Prototypes of Stark devices are showing up in the marketplace and Carter wants to prove her abilities. Listening in on an Agency briefing, she infiltrates the club of Spider Raymond, searching for Nitromene, a formula/device of exceptional explosive potential.

Knocking Spider out with knockout lipstick, Carter breaks into the middleman’s safe and takes the Nitromene core, which is now active! After returning home - bugging Stark’s butler, Jarvis, in the process – Peggy Carter deactivates the Nitromene core and her best friend in the world is killed. While she dispatches the assassin, her study of the weapon makes her a target. As she and Jarvis head to Roxxon (where the elements for the Nitromene core are refined), they are put in more danger than they know!

Agent Carter tries to take a supporting character from Captain America and tries to make her vital. The problem with “Now Is Not The End” is that it spends (at least) the first forty minutes pounding the one thematic note: “men underestimate women, so no one is really going to give Peggy Carter a chance . . . or notice her.” The flimsy romantic subplot of Captain America is drawn out in “Now Is Not The End” as Peggy Carter has to wrestle with the loss of Steve Rogers. The problematic aspect within “Now Is Not The End” is that Carter’s relationship with Rogers was not given much time to become very deep, so her pining quite a bit of time after his disappearance seems forced. So, between everyone minimizing Peggy Carter’s importance and Carter acting especially . . . girlish . . . Agent Carter does not get off to a particularly good start.

“Now Is Not The End” pits Agent Carter against an assassin who is trying to get the Nitromene core. This does not directly connect to either the Red Skull and H.Y.D.R.A. from Captain America or any of the adversaries that Carter has been seen confronting in her cameos on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. That makes “Now Is Not The End” feel particularly inconsequential.

That said, Peggy Carter is interesting enough and “Now Is Not The End” climaxes well. Somehow, Carter finds herself running for her life from assassins who do not manage to hit Jarvis’s car once, but Carter at least is acting throughout “Now Is Not The End.” For the lack of complexity to “Now Is Not The End,” it lives up to the promise that Agent Carter will be focused on Peggy Carter. This is not an ensemble piece, though Jarvis has a decent role in the episode. Carter is an active action hero, even if she is not the most deep. Hayley Atwell portrays Carter well, credibly running, using gadgets and getting through the spy technobabble, but the character is not exceptional . . . at least not in Captain America or in “Now Is Not The End.”

Setting up the series Agent Carter poorly, “Now Is Not The End” contains essential information for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but is a tough sell for those not already invested.

For other works with Dominic Cooper, please check out my reviews of:
Dracula Untold
My Week With Marilyn
The Duchess

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agent Carter - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Agent Carter here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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