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Agent Carter: Pilot Review

Kalem Lalonde's picture

Minor spoilers. 

Like most, I had my fair share of criticisms about Agents of Shield during its first season. I won’t go into that, however because season 2 has been spectacular! The show was rejuvenated with a brand-new cast of characters and transformed atmosphere of an epic spy-thriller. Needless to say, my faith in Marvel’s small screen capabilities were reinstated this year. So instead of being skeptical of the notion that Peggy Carter was getting her own show, I was genuinely eager to see how it turned out. The 1940s setting was a good idea from Marvel, adding diversity to their already varied assortment of entertainment and also being their first female-led project. And overall, I thought the premiere lived up to my expectations, delivering an enjoyable episode with an awesome lead, intriguing plot and strong spy tone.

The plot is kicks into to gear rapidly as we open with one set-up scene setting the mood for Peggy’s sexist and sleazy office. The writer’s get straight to defining Peggy as the black sheep at work due to the aforementioned sexism, though Peggy can stand her own in a clash with her co-workers. Right from the outset, the writers take the time to remind us why Peggy is an awesome female-lead by shooting down aid from a sympathetic and likeable friend who appears to be the only “good” guy around. It’s later revealed that this sympathetic figure is handicapped, which makes me wonder if the writers are posing a question about sexism in 1946. The only man who doesn’t disparage Peggy (rather stands up for her and relates to her) is in fact handicapped making him another black sheep at the office. Which to me, implies that (to the writers) being a female was close to being a handicap in the 40s.

Peggy’s new situation is one of the strongest elements of the episode because the writers take full advantage of it to add layers of depth to her character. She’s a woman who has lost her way following the war, roaming without much purpose, however she doesn’t wallow in self-pity. She evidently respects herself as a woman and as an agent responding to slurs with awesome ferocity, Peggy is not one to mess around with. She’s also dealing with the loss of her beloved Captain adding a grieving aspect to her character journey in which she asks herself, “Why do people around me keep dying?” As well as a strong chemistry with the Stark butler, Edwin Jarvis, who proves to be a great addition to this show. But even with the strong character writing, Peggy would not be the same without the beautiful Hayley Atwell. Atwell portrays Peggy with the perfect amount of sass, likeability and vulnerability, bringing in the awesome lead performance you’d expect from a Marvel show.

With all the strengths aside, the pilot for Agent Carter is accompanied with a few flaws. For one, it succumbs to the now conventional comic-book T.V. show flaw, one dimensional and uninteresting villains. The overarching threat for the season is kept nebulous but we’re presented with an antagonist for Peggy to fight in this episode and while certain elements about him are intriguing, he doesn’t feel like anything more than a plot device. I’m hoping that the showrunners don’t waste anytime introducing the main threat because one-note villains like the one here can get old really fast and weigh hard on episodes with loads of potential.

There’s also a certain predictability that detracted from my enjoyment. There were many occasions where I accurately predicted the outcome of a scene due to evident set-up. The overall lack of subtlety that plagues network T.V. is in full force here, unfortunately. The era is portrayed well but I can’t help but think the use of obvious slurs, costumes and sets is too easy. I may be going a little too hard about this aspect of the show but nevertheless, it hurt my viewing experience.    
Only time will tell to see if this series lives up to its potential but the pilot opens up strong enough for optimism to dominate my expectations. Marvel hit a gold mine with Agents of Shield’s second season and seem to be maintaining their small screen momentum through 2015. Even though Agent Carter has its fair share of problems, the pilot remains a solid primer for die-hard fans and new-comers alike simply because Peggy Carter is a great leading lady with the perfect actress to back her up. The character driven aspects of the pilot standout to me as its main appeal but I’m positive the plot will have much more to offer in the coming weeks.