Agent Carter: 101 “Now Is Not The End” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman
A new year, a new Marvel Studios product storming onto our screens, and this one is a very different beast from what has come before. Agent Carter is pulpy, action-packed and built around a strong emotional core, not to mention its importance as the first on-screen Marvel property centred on a female character: and honestly, they couldn’t have picked a better one to start with than Peggy Carter.
Using the loss of Steve Rogers as a backdrop, but never allowing it to define the central character, Agent Carter sets itself up strongly from the outset: a year after the end of the Second World War, Peggy is working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D., but her considerable skillset is not being properly utilised in this position. Her male colleagues and supervisors can’t seem to see her as anything other than a secretary, lumbering her with a lot of filing and not much else: the only exception is Daniel Sousa, a wounded veteran who defends Peggy without realising that she’s entirely capable of doing that for herself. The relationship between Peggy and Sousa is an interesting one from the outset, as they are both seen as basically ‘infirm’ by the rest of their team: Sousa for his injured leg, and Peggy for being a woman, and their ability to relate to one another’s situations is one of the more positive aspects of Peggy’s work life.
As for the overall plot for the show, it sets itself up in straightforward terms early on: Howard Stark, father of Tony, is suspected of selling technology to the enemies of the United States, and the SSR are put on the case of catching him. However, as Howard tells Peggy just before he flees the country, he was framed: someone broke into the vault containing his ‘bad babies’, inventions that were too dangerous to let anyone, friend or foe, get their hands on, and is now selling them on to the highest bidder. Now, he needs Peggy to investigate, clear his name and stop the inventions falling into the wrong hands, even if getting caught will brand her a traitor. It’s a pretty tough situation, but it gives Peggy a purpose, which is exactly what she needed and was missing after the war, so she takes the assignment with relish.
Fortunately she’s not alone in all of this, as Stark offers the services of his butler Edwin Jarvis (presumably the man Tony Stark’s A.I. JARVIS was based on, or at least named after), who tells Peggy to call any time before 9, as that is his bedtime. The banter between Peggy and Jarvis is something of a highlight, as he is forced to learn very quickly that engaging in espionage doesn’t exactly go along too well with his routine of cooking and cleaning for his wife.
Anyway, Peggy’s first mission is to retrieve a formula for a chemical compound which has the potential to level a city block if weaponized. She manages to track down the fence the formula was sold to, and with clever use of a blonde wig and an American accent she charms her way in with him. She flirts to try and get the location of the formula from him, and it’s only when he forces himself on her and kisses her that he is immediately knocked out by her drugged lipstick. She even gets a fantastic line delivered in typically dry fashion about how the whole thing was ‘a bit premature’, which caps the whole thing off nicely. This occurrence is another big plus point for the show in my eyes: the writers have avoided the trap which is all too often fallen into, and while Peggy is unafraid to use her sexuality to get the job done, she is in no way defined by it. She’s a person first, an action hero second and a sex object never, and that’s exactly the way we need her to be, and the way we need far more female characters to be.
So she finds the formula, and this being a Marvel show of course it’s already been weaponized, takes it home and defuses it in her bathroom, because that’s the kind of badass Peggy Carter is. But she runs into an assassin who has apparently had his voicebox cut out, who kills her roommate and just about manages to escape after a pretty sound beating from Peggy. The death of her roommate shakes her somewhat as she gets it into her head that what she does causes people around her to die, but she also realises that she has to continue the mission otherwise a lot more people will die, so Jarvis takes her to meet Anton Vanko of Stark Industries. For those of you keeping score, that’s the same Anton Vanko who helped Howard Stark invent the arc reactor, was branded a traitor and deported back to Russia and father to Ivan Vanko, also known as ‘Whiplash’, also known as ‘Mickey Rourke from Iron Man 2’. So the answer to the question ‘will this show be as full of references and Easter Eggs as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?’ is a resounding yes.
Vanko points them in the direction of Roxxon Oil (an organisation previously referenced in Iron Man 3) and advises them to look for ‘vita-rays’, the same made-up technology used in the super-soldier process that created Captain America. So they take a trip out to a Roxxon Oil refinery and find a couple of shady scientist types working on another version of the weapon: Peggy manages to stop one with a fancy Howling Commandos-type flashgun, but the other one threatens her with the weapon, and shows her that he also has an entire truck full of them which would likely destroy most of New York City is they went off. He gives her the cryptic message that ‘Leviathan is coming’, then drops one of the weapons and flees: Peggy manages to get out, but the resulting implosion turns the entire refinery into a big ball of twisted metal and rubble.
Finally, as her colleagues are called out to investigate the Roxxon implosion, we get a suggestion that all is not as it seems in Peggy’s mission, as Jarvis takes a phone call from Howard Stark and tells him that she doesn’t have a clue what she’s really doing. Already there are a lot of things in play, and with only eight episodes to figure them all out it’s definitely going to be an interesting journey.
All in all, a funny, action-packed first outing with a real emotional core and a fantastic lead character which makes me excited to see more of Agent Carter over the coming months.