Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Weak Link Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Agent Carter Season 1

The Good: Moments that fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe's larger story
The Bad: No great acting, Unremarkable plot, Thematically heavy-handed, Unlikable characters
The Basics: Agent Carter Season 1 is an unwatchable element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is not worth wasting one's time on.

As fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe around the world flock to see The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!), I find myself going back to the (near) beginning. For that, I'm finally getting around to reviewing Agent Carter Season 1. So far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first season of Agent Carter is the weak link of the franchise and the issue with it all comes down to the concept.

Agent Carter Season 1 is set following the events of Captain America: The First Avenger (reviewed here!) and chronicles the adventures of Agent Peggy Carter following the conclusion of World War II. Conceptually, the problems with Agent Carter all come from the follow-ups to Captain America and what is known about the Marvel Cinematic Universe set in modern times. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here!) guts any credibility or interest fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have in the first season of Agent Carter.

The reason Agent Carter fails to work is that no matter how skilled or sexy Agent Peggy Carter is in the show, two critical elements are absent from the series. The first is that Agent Peggy Carter cannot be credibly placed in mortal peril in Agent Carter; she is seen alive in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Second, no matter how smart Carter might ever seem in the course of Agent Carter, her essential mission must fail. Just as Howard Stark's inventions can never quite reach fruition (Tony Stark realizes his father's dreams in the Iron Man movies), no matter how good Carter is, her mission must, by necessity, end in failure. Carter's post-Captain America: The First Avenger job is cleaning up the remnants of H.Y.D.R.A. and stopping the proliferation of Nazi technology into the world following the end of World War II. But given that Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed that H.Y.D.R.A. agents were embedded in the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D. from its very start, Carter cannot recognize or stop all her adversaries. In other words, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe know that Peggy Carter is going to be either duped by or powerless to stop H.Y.D.R.A. We know all along that Carter is a failure. So, it's hard to sit through eight episodes trying to sell us on the idea that that is not the case.

Agent Carter Season 1 is unfortunately heavyhanded in trying to sell itself to the audience and one has to feel that by creating a lousy show, the executives at Marvel are trying to make the argument against producing more works with female protagonists. On the plot front, the first season of Agent Carter is frequently a poor reworking of Alias (reviewed here!), with Peggy Carter working to maintain her loyalty to Howard Stark while working for the organization that is hunting him. On the theme front, the writers of Agent Carter beat the viewer over the head continually with the idea that Carter is fighting rampant sexism at the SSR even as she fights on behalf of the United States by trying to fight the enemy, Leviathan, that has sprung out of the remnants of H.Y.D.R.A.

The first season of Agent Carter finds Peggy Carter, mourning the loss of Steve Rogers, after the end of World War II, coming to the United States where she begins working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (the predecessor organization to S.H.I.E.L.D.). Working alongside the world's most sexist and not terribly smart g-men at the SSR, Carter is assigned to more mundane, less action-oriented work than she was accustomed to while working with Captain America. But when Howard Stark's experimental technology stockpile is raided and Stark flees America, he becomes the prime suspect in post-War fears of advanced technology falling into the hands of enemies of America.

Knowing that Stark has not sold his weaponry to America's enemies, Carter begins her own investigation into who has acquired his experiments. With the help of Stark's loyal butler, Jarvis, Carter begins following the leads and discovers the organization Leviathan is utilizing Stark's works. As Carter tries to exonerate Howard Stark, she risks being uncovered by her coworkers (who are looking for a blonde who was at a club when a prominent arm's dealer was killed) and . . . exposed as more competent than them?!

One of the fundamental issues with Agent Carter (outside that key plot elements are already known so it's an action/suspense show lacking any real suspense) is that none of the characters are particularly compelling. Led by a protagonist who continues to work for people who do not appreciate or respect her, Agent Carter is populated by monolithic chauvinists who are so lacking in scientific methodology that it is impossible to believe they could be employed by an intelligence agency.

in the first season, the key characters in Agent Carter are:

Agent Peggy Carter - One of the key people who worked on Howard Stark's Super Soldier program, she became infatuated with Steve Rogers (Captain America) before he was lost in the final battle against the Red Skull. She comes to the United States (she's British) and joins the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Unable to keep doing high-level work, she is relegated to getting coffee for the men in the office. But when Howard Stark flees the United States and his technology ends up being used in attacks on U.S. soil, she realizes that a new enemy is to blame. Unable to get permission to pursue the case officially, Carter and Jarvis begin their own investigation into Leviathan, while working to protect their cover,

Howard Stark - A scientist and experimenter, he has a real weakness for women. Seduced by a Leviathan agent, who raids his stockpile of advanced weaponry, he is forced to rely upon Peggy Carter to clear his name,

Edwin Jarvis - Stark's butler and trusted confidant, he joins Carter in her attempt to stay ahead of the SSR and expose the people framing Stark,

Roger Dooley - Carter's boss at the SSR, he is sexist and does not see the value of Carter's expertise or her intuition. While his main team is hunting for Stark, he gets drawn into an investigation of a battle whose aftermath indicates unusual circumstances were involved in the destruction of a village. With the recovery of Dr. Ivchenko from a Leviathan facility, he (and his family) become a liability to the SSR,

Jack Thompson - The lead field agent at the SSR, he spearheads the manhunt for Stark. He idolizes the Howling Commandos, but does notseem to recognize Carter's value (outside putting him in touch with them),

Daniel Souza - Deskbound due to his leg injury (polio?), he begins to track the mysterious blonde who was photographed at one of the key crime scenes. He respects Carter, but is derided by his colleagues, despite the fact that he is the one who is closest to finding the truth behind Carter's double life,

Angie - A young woman who lives at the same boarding house as Carter, she is Carter's best friend in New York City. An aspiring actress, she works at a diner Carter frequents,

and Dottie - Another young woman who lives at Carter's boarding house, she is a Leviathan agent who is a trained assassin working for Dr. Ivchenko.

Agent Carter features no superlative performances in its first season. Dominic Cooper's infrequent appearances as Howard Stark completely overshadow Hayley Atwell's scenes as Peggy Carter. Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj and Shea Wigham all get through their character's unbridled sexism without flinching, but none of them have particularly interesting characters to embody.

Ultimately, the first season of Agent Carter is too tough a sell even to captivate those who would be biased in favor of the series.

For more information on the series, check out the reviews of the individual episodes at:
“Now Is Not The End”
“Bridge And Tunnel”
“Time & Tide”
"The Blitzkrieg Button"
"The Iron Ceiling"
"A Sin To Err"

For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
”The Dirty Half Dozen” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.


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

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