Agent Carter 1.7 – SNAFU

Last month, as I was introducing this series, I mentioned that both Chad Michael Murray and Shea Whigham seem to specialize in playing characters that I don’t like. Since I don’t watch very much contemporary TV or movies – honestly, not out of any “good ole days” rose-tinted glasses, but because there just aren’t enough hours in our days – I don’t see very much of these actors. (For that matter, I’ve never seen Hayley Atwell in any other role than Carter, although I do note that she played Mary in a 2007 adaptation of Mansfield Park and I suppose I’ll end up seeing that one of these days. When you’re married to somebody who really, really likes Austen, this comes with the territory.)

Anyway, my point is that I’ve only seen Whigham play a couple of unbelievable jerks, and yet as things start looking increasingly bad for Chief Dooley in this episode, I still got a lump in my throat. That’s great acting, making you care about a character you don’t like. My hat’s off to the man.

Meanwhile, the Russian operatives who are about ten paces ahead of our heroes and are playing them all for suckers unveil what seems to be one of Stark’s stolen super-weapons in an incredibly grisly climax. All along, we’ve been hearing about this mysterious Battle of Finow, where a large company of Soviet soldiers were all apparently killed before the Nazi forces arrived. Our son was really captivated by the war of nerves and tense, small location story of this episode, and stunned by the horrific climax, in which the Russians set off a gas inside a movie theater, driving all of the people in the audience mad with rage. What they show isn’t too gory thanks to some fast editing, but it’s still very shocking and had him wide-eyed and stunned.

Agent Carter 1.6 – A Sin to Err

Tonight’s episode was pretty far above our son’s head, but I certainly enjoyed it. I do love stories where the bad guys keep consolidating their upper hand, and it turns out that somebody that our heroes brought back from Europe last time really want to be right in the thick of things, to make the situation a million times worse. It’s very satisfying watching everybody’s investigations all start to come together. Unfortunately for Peggy, that would include her fellow agent Daniel’s investigation into some of the things that she’s been trying to keep secret. I’m very impatient to see what will happen next time!

Agent Carter 1.5 – The Iron Ceiling

Going back (again) to the first Captain America movie, I was disappointed that we didn’t see nearly enough of the Howling Commandos. This afternoon’s episode goes a long way toward rectifying that, as Peggy calls on the Commandos to assist in the SSR’s raid on a facility behind the Iron Curtain. The episode features Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan, who we met in the movie, but the other characters, while all from the original comics, are new to the show. When I was a kid, I enjoyed Pinky Pinkerton the most among the Commandos. Nice to see him here!

Dum Dum comes up with a new code name for Peggy, hoping to entice her to stay in Europe: “Miss Union Jack.” She flies back to New York.

The raid doesn’t find any evidence for Howard Stark being involved with Leviathan, but they do get a glimpse of something very weird going on. The audience has a big lead over our heroes in this: we can guess that this is one of the facilities where Russian intelligence services train women like the Black Widow, and learn that they’ve been doing it since at least 1937.

We paused it quite early on to make sure that our son understood the implications of that flashback, especially since a graduate of that program is active in New York in 1946. We also gave him a quick introduction to the concepts of the Iron Curtain and a glass ceiling, so he’d understand the implications of the title. Sadly, most of this was way over his head, and he probably didn’t pay much attention at all to a scene where guest star John Glover introduces some new intel about a hushed-up wartime incident. Overall, this was a pleasantly complex hour even if he wasn’t completely thrilled. Happily, there was one great gunfight to keep him interested.

Agent Carter 1.4 – The Blitzkrieg Button

“The magic typewriter types again!” That’s what our son shouted at a key moment in this very, very fun episode. It’s got some completely delicious twists concerning one of Howard Stark’s inventions that is said to be able to permanently shut down New York’s power grid, and concerning one of Peggy’s neighbors. Peggy gets targeted for death, again, by one of the city’s strange and powerful criminals. His fate, I think, is one that absolutely nobody saw coming. The episode was as wild and unpredictable as any hour of any show I’ve seen lately.

Agent Carter 1.3 – Time and Tide

The third episode of Agent Carter doesn’t have any of the standout action scenes that the first two stories had, though there is one fight scene toward the end that’s quite interesting. It’s a perfect example of the Chekhov’s Gun rule. We are introduced to a weird super-scientific gadget, and then Peggy gets into a fight with a bruiser so big that even her training and skills won’t help much, and then it’s just a matter of waiting for somebody to grab that gadget.

Our son was confused by the emotional core of the episode, which is built around the SSR interrogating Jarvis and confronting him with something they know that he doesn’t want known: he was discharged from the British Army for treason very early in the war. Since our son has never been in the room when I’ve watched, say, Frank Pembleton or Bobby Goren get under a suspect’s skin in “The Box,” he didn’t understand why everybody was being so mean to Jarvis, and why Jarvis, for the first time in the show, got really angry. Grown-up stuff! Fortunately, Agent Carter was exploring an underground tunnel a little later. That’s more his speed.

Agent Carter 1.2 – Bridge and Tunnel

A few weeks ago, when we watched Captain America: The First Avenger, I thought it was a shame that they didn’t make one of those cheesy wartime movies for kids – or perhaps a chapter from one of those fifteen-part serials. Maybe it would have been too on-the-nose. There was actually a Captain America serial in 1942. I considered that it might be a little too easy a target for modern cinema. (Mind you, some of those serials were said to be pretty good. My father told me that he absolutely loved Columbia’s Blackhawk, which was released when he was a teenager in 1952.)

Anyway, while we haven’t got to see Chris Evans and a lot of deliberately lo-fi special effects, in this episode of Agent Carter we get the next best thing. There’s a running gag that everybody in New York and New Jersey seems to be tuned in to the Captain America radio thriller, where helpless “Betty Carver” is in constant need of rescue when she isn’t incorporating the sponsor’s advertising messages into the script. The real Peggy Carter is less than impressed.

The big climax of this story involves a completely fabulous fight on top of a dairy truck, with explosives filing the back and bullets blazing. Production-wise, I was very impressed by the stunt crew, and fiction-wise, I was impressed that Peggy doesn’t walk away from this unscathed. She’s still limping the following day, and that’s after Jarvis stitches up her leg, the kind of injury few superheroines are ever seen to suffer in teevee land.

Agent Carter 1.1 – Now is Not the End

Of course, our son was much too young in January 2015 to start watching Agent Carter when it was on ABC, and so I decided then that it sounded like it could be an interesting TV series and maybe we’d catch up with it down the line. This we now do. Both seasons are available on DVD in Region 2, so we’ll see what Peggy Carter did after the war before we come back to Captain America’s adventure in the Winter Soldier movie later on this year.

It did take a little going back and forth, mind. My wife and I gave one of Marvel’s other TV series, Agents of SHIELD, a couple of tries and weren’t impressed at all. Happily, Agent Carter starts off all kinds of better than that. It’s set in 1946 New York, and Peggy Carter has a top-secret job with the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Her boss is played by Shea Wigham, who seems to specialize in playing unpleasant bosses – we quickly found ourselves loathing his character in the third season of Fargo – and the agency’s top hotshot is played by Chad Michael Murray, who also played a character I completely loathed in the first couple of seasons of Gilmore Girls. Funny. Since all these men at the SSR treat Carter as a secretary, makes sense that they’d hire actors who specialize in making me unhappy.

So the setup is that a bunch of dangerous experimental weapons that Howard Stark had built are showing up on the black market. The feds want answers, but Stark sees these waters as too hot and enlists his old pal Peggy to clear his name before going underground. Now a wanted man, he leaves his butler Jarvis, played by James D’Arcy, as Peggy’s contact, and, with gadgets, intelligence, and a dangerous set of fists, Agent Carter secretly works to track down these weapons ahead of her clueless colleagues.

We enjoyed this a lot. It’s incredibly zippy – modern network television is just a hair over 40 minutes an “hour,” so it moves at the speed of light and trusts the audience to catch up to it. Hayley Atwell was just heartbreakingly good as Carter in the first Captain America movie, and she’s great in this. Her character is naturally likable, but the awfulness of most of her colleagues means that she doesn’t seem have too many friends in New York. There’s a fellow agent named Daniel, played by Enver Gjokaj, who is decent to her, and she can commiserate with a waitress at the neighborhood automat, but she also suffers a pretty horrible loss in the first episode as she runs afoul of a strange criminal gang who have had surgeries on their throats to keep them from talking.

Our son did like it, but unsurprisingly, all he wanted to yammer about was a terrific explosion right at the end. Still, like most modern television drama, this is very much an ongoing story, with lots of plot threads left dangling about the criminal conspiracy, the dangerous chemical explosives now in the hands of one enemy, something called Leviathan, and perhaps worst of all, the possibility that her fellow agents might have a photograph of a disguised Peggy present at a dead mob fence’s nightclub right before the SSR raided it. Uh oh! I’m curious what will happen next!