We watched. She wowed. Then, we waited. Finally ... here it is! Agent Carter, everyone's favorite female superspy and hero, is back in a big way. The season two premiere brought us two great episodes, returning to our favorite characters while setting up new mysteries, dramas, and adventures.
Evidence A quick "previously on" montage summarized last season: Agent Peggy Carter serves the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a covert organization she joined during World War II with Captain America. Sidelined after the war, Carter took matters into her own hands when ally Howard Stark was accused of treason, hunting down stolen weapons and foreign spies alongside Stark's intrepid butler Edwin Jarvis. She eventually gained the respect of fellow agents Jack Thompson and Daniel Sousa. Together they captured the main bad guy while chief henchwoman Dottie Underwood escaped.
Said Underwood attempted to rob a bank in the first few moments, but was captured in a brilliant sting operation by the entire SSR (and after a terrific fight between her and Carter). The show then switched to California, where Sousa is now Chief of the new LA branch of the SSR. A murdered woman was found in bizarre circumstances: while her death looks to be the work of an old serial killer, she was dumped in a lake that froze over despite the West Coast heat. Sousa called Chief Thompson back in New York for backup; Thompson sent Carter.
At the airport, Jarvis was happy to escort Carter to Mr. Stark's residence as his guest and volunteered to chauffeur during his employer's absence. Carter and Sousa, dogged by a distrustful police detective, quickly learned that radioactivity was involved and turned their investigation to the closest particle accelerator at Isodyne Energy. Dr. Jason Wilkes, one of Isodyne's scientists, revealed that the company's owner turned Senatorial candidate Calvin Chadwick was intimately involved with the victim, despite being married to the enigmatic and ferocious movie star Whitney Frost.
But things turned explosive (literally) with the revelation of "Zero Matter," a bizarre energy source with the power to make nuclear bombs obsolete. It's a power that people and organizations will kill for, prompting upheaval among friend and foe alike.
Analysis Last season contained lots of ties to the Marvel movies: Captain America flashbacks, Howard Stark's antics, the Howling Commandos cameos. This year the show has a big enough fan base to stand on its own, proudly part of the Marvel universe and yet with the focus squarely on the characters we've come to know and love.
The premiere's brisk pace also assured fans that the show isn't resting on its laurels. Rather than a long, drawn-out chase prompting recaps of previous adventures, we opened with Underwood's capture. Instead of rehashing the sexism at the heart of last season's arc, the sequence displayed Carter's importance within the SSR, reminding us that gaining her fellow agents' respect was never the ultimate goal for her. Getting the job done is.
I was so glad to see the return of Agent Sousa, as despite my loyalty to Carter I became a huge fan of his keen detective work. Both agents are in new positions of strength after last season's struggle for recognition: her's due to gender, his to physical disability. Each is more comfortable when deep in the job. This season looks to flesh out their lives outside the SSR, in a world evolving from the harsh simplicity of war to the vaguer battles of peacetime.
Part of that world includes romance. I was a bit worried, as I enjoyed the fact that neither Carter nor her male costars were pushed into one-dimensional flings last season.
Fortunately, the show doesn't push love stories as a shortcut for character growth. Sousa subtly hinted at feelings for Carter last year; he's moved on to a steady girlfriend in LA despite the fact that Carter appears more receptive now. They're still able to comfortably work together (I cheered as they finished each others' sentences), and if there's a hint of regret, there's certainly no resentment.
Two couples offer contrasting views of relationships. The first is Chadwick and Frost, a Macbethian partnership bent on grasping at power. Frost especially looks to explore the darker side a woman's fight against inequality can take. On the opposite end is the vivacious Mrs. Ana Jarvis, who is quite comfortable tweaking her husband and accepting the same, both supremely confident in their affection for each other. It was so refreshing to see a woman accept her husband's friend as the same rather than a rival. The Jarvises look to destroy the old TV maxim that happily married couples are boring.
Dr. Wilkes adds a new challenge to the mix as a professional in a world that still treats him as a janitor due to the color of his skin. He's arguably faced harsher discrimination than Carter, but with charm and self-effacing humor as his weapons of choice. She's not quite prepared for his open pursuit, nor the defense of his employers as the only ones willing to hire a black scientist. She adapts quickly, but it's a nice stretch of her abilities and preconceptions, not to mention her personal resilience.
He's also a whole lot of fun (I wasn't the only one feeling a Flash vibe with his infectious enthusiasm), and I thankfully don't believe we've seen the last of him this season.
Don't worry: the show delivered plenty of its trademark wit and escapades within the plotting. Zero Matter is a wonderfully scary McGuffin, and the dark forces surrounding it promise plenty of twists and turns as the season progresses. Jarvis facing down the machinations of Stark's newest acquisition (Bernard the flamingo, dubbed "a devil in pink") was great fun. Rose the fake telephone operator made a welcome return as front woman for the LA branch (she's taken up surfing rather than men). I even got that car chase I requested last year.
If there was one neglected story, it was Agent Thompson's. The FBI removed Underwood from his hands shortly after Carter left, and his mentor cautioned him not to poke his nose where it doesn't belong as the SSR may soon be extinct. We're left to wonder: did Thompson send Carter to California out of jealousy? Will he sell out to the potentially hostile powers? Or is he playing the "long game" as his mentor advises, just not in the way anyone expects?
Personally, I have more faith in Thompson and the show at large. None of the characters are the same person we met at the start of last season: Sousa's learned to channel his emotional and intellectual strengths into proven leadership, Carter is better at requesting and accepting assistance when needed, and Thompson isn't the scared veteran with something to prove. I can't wait to see what new surprises are in store for them this year.