Looks like it is going to be baby steps for our intrepid show Agent Carter. This episode was better than the series premiere but it seems still that the show is destined to play a poor second fiddle to Daredevil and Jessica Jones when it comes to quality. In fact it seems like Agent Carter is settling into the Agents of SHIELD level of being solid but in the end forgettable. While this episode was not bad, in fact it was certainly solid, it lacks the quality that Agent Carter had in its first series and is not showing the competitive edge it needs to make it a beloved show. ABC’s writers need to step up their game now that Netflix is showing everyone how to do Marvel TV. However, this episode was notably better than the last one and manages to be a solid outing that I enjoyed.
The standout character of this episode was Whitney Frost, who is clearly the most dangerous one there. She, unlike her husband, seems to be the primary threat. In many ways she seems like an interesting foil for Peggy Carter. Unlike Dottie, who was a match for Peggy in terms of strength, Whitney seems to be engaging in a show of brainpower. However, unlike Peggy who makes no pretence about her intelligence and openly demonstrates that she is as smart as everyone else in the room, Whitney is an actress. She pretends to just be an ingénue and puts up with the expectations everyone has of her. Her director is allowed to treat her with sexism, something Peggy would have never allowed, and even her husband, who is aware of her intelligence, does not fully understand what she can do. This is a lot like what Peggy experienced in series one, where her male co-workers were ignorant of her capabilities. However, Peggy only hid those traits because she was forced to and the moment she could show them she did. Whitney, however, chooses to hide them, chooses to live this double life, and it has gotten her far. She is now married to a senatorial candidate who has links to a council that has a logo suspiciously like HYDRA’s. Both have gotten far using their tactics and I suspect that they will be an interesting match as this series progresses. It is nice to have the big bad be the anti-Peggy rather than just the Dragon (which was what Dottie was). The double life was what made series one interesting and it makes Whitney just as interesting.
I also really liked the character of Wilkes and how we got to know him a little better. Given that he had to die off this episode, the show needed to actually make us care about him (and actually make his relationship with Peggy seem feasible) and the show certainly did that. It was interesting and realistic to hear him talk about his upbringing and his loyalty to Isodyne as they were the only ones to employ a black man. Once again the show does a very good job of reminding us that this is 1947, where racism is still very overt, and the post-war recovery favoured white people much more. In fact, it was interesting to hear about how he was able to find the job he wanted so much during the War (as many did) and then had to struggle to find a place, despite his obvious skills. Being someone who is out of place and struggling to find a place where you are appreciated is something Peggy can relate to all too well. Therefore, their relationship and admiration for each other was actually believable and did not seem rushed. Wilkes was a good character because rather than be a stock henchman who is loyal to a fault, he admits his loyalty but then knows that he must do the right thing. He barely hesitates even though he admits that may be the end of his career. It is good of the show to take a character and move beyond just a stock to an actual human being.
I also really enjoyed the demonstration of the power of Zero Matter. It seems that this will be the MacGuffin of the series (replacing Howard Stark’s crazy inventions). However, instead of just being told that it has crazy amazing powers beyond our comprehension, the show understands that it needs to demonstrate that and not tell us. The video showing it absorbing a truck and several people demonstrated that this was a powerful substance and was not to be trifled with at all. Marvel, as a whole, with its TV shows is actually quite good at this: demonstrating the power of their MacGuffins. In series one we saw the destructive power of Howard’s inventions in the first episode; in series two of Agents of SHIELD we saw how dangerous the obelisk was right off the bat. It is good that we are seeing the Zero Matter now, and we have actually lost a character to it means that we understand the danger it poses.
However, just like with last episode, the episode is tonally all over the place. I do not for the life of me understand why the show writers think that in the same show that has people being sucked into some hitherto unknown substance it is a good idea to have a running gag with a flamingo, or a car that has champagne in the glove compartment. I know that Howard Stark is a flashy and narcissistic person with odd interests but surely there are better ways than pausing the plot to make jokes out of it. Agent Carter has always been a serious show and while it is alright to have light-hearted moments they should not just be there for laughs. A good light-hearted moment should be one that emphasises the characters or makes them more human, not one that involves a bird that clearly someone thought was funny but literally no one else does. It makes the show seem over the top and like it is trying to pad out time.