Agent Carter returned last night, with a pair of episodes that were as bright and cheery and full of lightness as Agents of SHIELD has been dark and ponderous. The contrast last season between the two shows was already something of a night and day shift, but this season the contrast is even more heightened. Last season, at least Carter’s setting was the dark of New York City, which echo’d the dark of SHIELD’s modern world. But this year the show has relocated to bright and sunny Los Angeles, which only serves to bring out the show’s 1940s Hollywood leanings.
Jarvis: Aside from Danger, my middle name is Charming.
Not that we start out in LA. First we have to send Peggy there, after a sequence in which Dottie (last season’s Black Widow) is taken into custody by Peggy. Having finally got her woman, you would thing the SSR would be happy to allow Peggy to do her thing. But sexist male pride gets all the way in the way, and the next thing you know Jack Thompson is sending Peggy out to work for the new West Coast bureau (conveniently headed up by Sousa.) Yes folks, we’re back in the (U)SSR. You don’t know how lucky you are, boys.
It is clear from this season that Marvel expects those who are tuning into Carter to be their regular SHIELD crowd. Though the first episode seems more X-Files-in-the-40s, with a body in the lake that freezes everything it is exposed to, the pairing of it together with the second installment brings to the fore many of the plot points SHIELD worked to establish since Carter was last on the air. Chief among them is the reinforcement of the Hydra retcon as merely the latest iteration of a shadowy Mason-type organization that goes back centuries. the current “big bad” of the moment, one Calvin Chadwick, is shown entering a club with one of the variations of the symbol that FitzSimmons uncovered on SHIELD just before the Winter finale. The plot suggests that he is merely a medium-bad at best though, and that the organization Carter and Sousa will find themselves really up against is one that will go all the way to the top–or at least somewhere in the top-esque vicinity.
Thompson: “It’s a real burden being everybody’s favorite agent.”
One of those top people has already taken down the SSR office in New York while Peggy and Sousa are off chasing frozen pavements. Thompson might have thought he didn’t need Peggy to have things under control. It is quickly established that he is wrong after Dottie easily pins him with a table, and then Dottie is taken from him permanently, as FBI chief Vernon Masters (Kurtwood Smith) steps in to give the FBI credit for Peggy’s hard work, and then tell Thompson the SSR will be shutting down soon anyway, as a completely useless agency.
That would be news to the West Coast division, who are far from obsolete as they investigate the death of Jill Scott, who is currently the reigning Ice Queen–in that she’s turning everyone who come in contact with her to ice. Turns out her death had something to do with Chadwick, who she was having an affair with–and just as importantly, his wife, aging actress Whitney Frost. Whether or not they killed Scott is a moot point by the end of the hour though, as the substance that gave Scott though freezing powers is released into the world, and into Whitney, for our first Inhuman (or perhaps “enhanced human”) of the Carter pantheon.
Peggy: “If you’ve brought me all the way up here for the view, I’m going to be very cross.”
Along the way to this thrilling conclusion we meet several new regulars. Peggy, freed from her “woman only” boarding house, now lives in the Stark LA estate along with Jarvis and his bad ass wife Anna. One might have thought going in that Anna would be a prim uptight type, or worse, shy and retiring. Those who might have thought that forget that Jarvis was rescued by Stark in the first place because he went AWOL, stole a plane and nearly caused an international incident rescuing Russian born Anna from the Third Reich. The resulting woman is tough as nails, sewing up Peggy garters gun holsters, not batting an eyelash when she finds her houseguest and her husband wrestling Judo style, kissing Jarvis until he stammers, and bring Peggy whiskey instead of tea to calm her nerves.
Jarvis isn’t the only one with a significant other. Heartbreak of heartbreaks, Sousa gained one too while out in LA and away from Peggy. Enver Gjokaj and Hayley Atwell still burn up the screen with a single look, but sadly, he diamond ring floating in Sousa’s pocket is for a nice nurse who bakes cookies and bearclaws and waits for her saving-the-world boyfriend to get home before starting her shift int he hospital. As much as I would like to discover she too answers to the higher powers that are trying to shut down Chadwick’s Zero Gravity project, truthfully, she’s probably just the girl Sousa will marry instead of Pegs.
Sousa: I’m not sure whether you follow adventure or adventure follows you.
Some other perks of LA, other than the flamingo that Jarvis still hasn’t wrangled: Rose, the secretary’s role has expanded, now that there’s not a huge posse of sexist SSR agents to fill the screen instead. And in a nod to the coming civil rights movement, Peggy’s semi-love interest now that Sousa is out of the picture is scientist Jason Wilkes, a “colored,” as the show’s more racist characters say, and someone who is struggling to be taken seriously by those in power. Not so desperate to be taken seriously, that he isn’t willing to steal the Zero Gravity substance with Peggy and take it…who knows where they were planning to take it. But from the looks of the end of the second episode Wilkes is, for the moment presumed dead. Whether or not he, like Whitney, also turns up the with Zero Gravity substance giving him a telltale Harry Potter like scar on the forehead remains to be seen next week.