Previously on Captain America…
But for real, the idea of a miniseries surrounding Agent Peggy Carter intrigued me from its initial premise. It caught my attention much more so than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which, to this day, I still haven’t actually watched. Hayley Atwell did a great job portraying Carter in the first Captain America film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the idea of making this miniseries a spy drama seemed pretty cool. It did not disappoint.
The series begins with a brief recap of the final moment between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter during the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, as the two had made one last promise to have a date when they met up again.
We then cut to the present in the year 1946. Peggy Carter, Hayley Atwell reprising her role, gets ready for work while her roommate, Colleen O’Brien, played by Ashley Hinshaw, comes in and tells Peggy that ten women have been let go from their jobs since 10 more GIs have been discharged. Colleen, by the way, has come down with tuberculosis. Lovely.
As Peggy heads off, Colleen reminds her that they have a movie date this Saturday. Peggy promises to try and make it. After all, the office keeps her so busy.
So, what does Peggy Carter do now that the war is over? She works at the New York Bell Company. Sort of. As she makes small talk with Rose, played by Lesley Boone, over some hubbub in D.C., Peggy enters through a hidden door and heads to her real job at the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR). An alarm goes off, meaning all hands on deck.
The team watches some newsreel footage detailing the recent trouble surrounding Howard Stark, who has been accused of selling his weapons to the enemy. He had recently been called to answer before a committee on Capitol Hill and denied knowingly selling military-grade technology to enemies of the United States.
Once the footage ends, Chief Roger Dooley, played by Shea Whigham, fills everyone in that six pieces of Stark technology have ended up on the black market or in the arsenals of enemy states. Stark himself hasn’t treated this seriously at all, thinking it all to be a joke. Yesterday was the last day of hearings, but Stark was a no show.
Despite officials checking many houses and offices, Stark was nowhere to be seen. As such, not only is he in contempt of Congress, he’s also a fugitive of the law. Dooley places Jack Thompson, played by Chad Michael Murray, in charge of the task. They’ll begin by freezing Stark’s bank accounts? How? He knows a girl at First Federal Bank that owes him a favor. How about that?
Peggy objects to this, given Howard Stark’s invaluable assistance during the war. Stark may be a lot of horrible things, but a traitor isn’t one of them. The others are certain that Agent Carter is very knowledgeable of Stark, given her history as Captain America’s liaison. However, the war is over, so it’s time to let the professionals decide who’s worth going after. One of the other officers there, Ray Krzeminski, played by Kyle Bornheimer, makes an offhand remark on how Carter knew plenty of guys during the war.
Another SSR agent, Daniel Sousa, played by Enver Gjokaj, backs Carter and demands that Krzeminski apologize, but that doesn’t happen. When that’s all said and done, Peggy tells Daniel that she’s grateful, but she also wishes he hadn’t stood up for her since she’s more than capable of handling types like Krzmeninski. True as that may be, that doesn’t mean Daniel has to like it.
Agent Thompson is going to be busy with the Stark case, so he wants Peggy to file some surveillance reports for him since she’s so much better at that kind of thing. But what thing is that, Peggy asks? The alphabet? Because if so, she’d be more than happy to teach Thompson a thing or two. Ba-zing!
That evening at the L&L Automat, as Peggy reads up more on Howard’s troubles, she’s broken out of it by waitress Angie Martinelli, played by Lyndsy Fonseca. Looking at the photo of Steve Rogers, Angie tells Peggy that she once saw Captain America at a U.S.O. show in Passaic. Peggy isn’t in the best of moods, but it doesn’t have to do with the guys at the phone company.
During the war, Peggy had a sense of purpose. Now, all she does is connect the calls. Angie isn’t having the best of luck, either. She recently got two bars into “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t” before she got the hook. So basically, she ain’t. Hey, she said it, not me. Meanwhile, some prick, played by Rick Steadman, makes a fuss about his BLT.
Peggy grabs herself a dessert, but returns to find a note written on her napkin: “Meet in the alley in five minutes.” She heads out and finds an unnamed man waiting for her. He does have a name, but we’ll get to that in a second. Peggy punches the man’s lights out just as a car’s headlights flash on her. She runs to door after door, but they’re all locked. Don’t you hate when that happens? With nowhere to go, she pulls out her gun and shoots out the tires.
Out pops Howard Stark, Dominic Cooper also reprising his role. Next time, Howard, you should call.
As the three drive back- that tire change took no time at all- Howard tells Peggy that he believes he is being set up. He had a vault in his office where he kept his most precious inventions, too dangerous for even his friends. That begs the question of why invent them at all? Good question.
Up until last month, Howard could control what he sold. When in Monaco with a lovely tax adviser, Stark returned and found a hole under his vault- a whole that went all the way to the sewer. A few weeks later, Stark looks up and finds his weapons being sold on the black market. Howard can’t tell the Senate because it’s not too big of a stretch to assume that he would do this himself just to make a couple of bucks on the sly.
And Peggy seems to agree with that sentiment, but she just wants to consider all possible angles. Howard needs her help to clear his name. He’ll need someone on the inside- someone that he can trust. There’s no more delicious irony than becoming a traitor in order to prove someone else isn’t one.
Peggy has her reservations, but Howard knows that this is something she can easily handle, given how she’s not being challenged. And no one will be happy if Stark’s technology ends up in the hands of someone who wants to be the next Red Skull.
The driver stops at a dock and Stark gets in a boat. Some of his technology has already been sold overseas, so he’s going to pay it a visit. The rest is stateside, which is where Peggy comes in. One of the nasty ones should be hitting the market in a day or two. What is it? Just a piece of paper: his formula for molecular nitramene. Stark isn’t sure if it works, but hey, if a Stark invented, you know it will eventually work. Stark drives off into the green screen background.
And if Peggy needs a hand, she’ll have the backing of Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis, played by James D’Arcy. Peggy advises Jarvis that the next time she approaches a woman in a dark alley, he should introduce himself. Good advice. Jarvis offers his services anytime before 9 p.m. Why? That’s when he and his wife go to bed.
Next day at work, Peggy finds Daniel looking over some photos of Howard with a nice, pretty young thing. That had to have been the only reason Howard would get in a boat since he can’t swim. How does Peggy know this? He tried to kiss her on V-E Day and she knocked him into the Thames.
Word is that a fence aims to sell one of Stark’s inventions, a club owner named Spider Raymond. Where? It’s on a need-to-know basis.
In the chief’s office, the field agents make plans to post eyes around the club. They decide against uniformed backup since that would be too showy and obvious. Peggy comes in to serve the agents coffee, but also to eavesdrop on their conversation. However, when asked what she really wants, Peggy requests a sick day because she has a headache, amongst other things…ladies things. And hey, it works! Now that is how you get the day off. If you have the lady parts for it, anyway.
That evening, at the La Martinique dance club, Spider Raymond, played by Andre Royo, speaks with Leet Brannis, played by James Frain, on Howard Stark’s equipment. Brannis, however, doesn’t say a word.
As Brannis leaves, Peggy debuts one of her many disguises and spots an important figure she figures to be Spider Raymond. After turning down a dance, she approaches a bouncer and tells him she has something she would like to sell Mr. Raymond. Before getting there, however, she pops on some lipstick.
She then heads straight to Spider Raymond’s room and tries to sweet talk the chemical formula out of him. Even if Spider already has a buyer, this mysterious woman feels she can talk him out of it. Spider kisses Peggy and, I believe, breaks several anti-miscegenation laws at the same time. But, in no time at all, he passes out. That’s some strong lipstick.
Peggy gets to work. She removes the face of her watch, sticks it on the safe and watches it crack the combination. The safe opens to reveal something shining inside. Peggy sticks her hand in and pulls out a glowing orb.
So then, time to make a call to Jarvis, who learns from Peggy’s call that the item they’re looking for has been weaponized. Well, that blows. He grabs a note that Howard left behind just in case. The nitramene is glowing, not ideal because an orange glow indicates it has reached peak volatility and should be handled with caution. Cracking the shell would result in an implosion with a blast radius of 500 yards. Lovely. However, it can be rendered inert with a solution of sodium hydrogen carbonate and acetate. Oh, and don’t touch the core to the containment ring. That would result in…well, core overload sounds nicer, but death is quicker and to the point. Edwin’s wife, Ann, arrives home, prompting Edwin to focus on that. Peggy reminds Edwin that this job will require certain after-hours requirements. Unfortunately for Edwin, so will Mrs. Jarvis.
SSR Agents arrive at La Martinique to look around. Word makes its way up to Spider Raymond, the bouncer sent up to give him the message is promptly knocked out by Peggy. She heads downstairs and finds the club swarming with agents, so she fancies a dance with the man she previously turned down and pulls off some fancy moves to avoid detection.
Spider Raymond awakens and finds his safe open, then finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun. SSR Agents arrive soon after and finds Raymond’s body. They seal the exits, but Peggy has already made her escape.
She arrives back home and finds Colleen resting on the bed- she’d been sent home early due to her fever. Judging from Peggy’s attire, Colleen figures she must be coming back from a hot date and wants to hear all of the details tomorrow morning.
Peggy grabs herself some soda, vinegar, and bourbon whiskey. In the bathroom, she mixes some of the ingredients together and carefully removes the core from the orb. Though the core is still volatile, Peggy renders it inert by spraying it with some of her perfume. Very resourceful, this Peggy Carter. Oh, and the bourbon? That was just for drinking.
A noise gets Peggy’s attention and she rushes out, only to find Colleen with a bullet in her head. A man approaches Peggy from behind- the same man from the club. You know, let’s just call him Green Suit, played by James Hébert. A fight breaks out and Peggy manages to knock Green Suit out the window, but he must have catlike reflexes or be quick on his feet because he’s gone in no time. Carter returns to the bed and grieves the loss of her friend.
The next day, back at the L&L, Jarvis and Peggy meet back-to-back. Literally. Jarvis asks Peggy if this can be traced back to him, but the place is in Colleen’s name. Peggy blames Colleen’s death on herself, figuring she has a habit of losing people close to her, but Jarvis won’t let Peggy to beat herself up.
He’s read her war record and calls her a credit to her profession. If the other men can’t see that, then they’re fools. Was it worth it? That may not be known until the job is done. They need to know where the weapon came from. Luckily, Jarvis knows a guy.
That guy is Dr. Anton Vanko, played by Costa Ronin. What Peggy and Jarvis have on their hands is a lanthanum carbon alloy. It’s unstable, so it couldn’t have come from far away. Before the war, there were only three refineries capable of something like this. The Navy tore down Franklin Chemical and Eaglestar converted to Diesel, so that just leaves Roxxon. Luckily, the core isn’t volatile. It is, however, still active, so there’s that. The nitramene still emits low levels of vita-radiation.
Back at the phone company, Peggy pulls down a case filed “Project Rebirth.” As she flips through, she remembers the last conversation she had with Steve Rogers.
Mr. Green Suit communicates with his colleagues and lets them know that he’s been compromised due to the actions of SSR Agent Peggy Carter. At any cost, he must complete his mission, so he’s granted permission to terminate Carter.
At Roxxon, Peggy fixes to break in alone. When she enters, she finds Brannis collecting a weapon. She could easily get the drop on them if not for Jarvis radioing in to alert her that others are coming. Nice going, Jarvis. Peggy flashes the scientist with a bright light and pursues Brannis.
She corners Brannis at a Daisy Clover dairy truck holding many of the orbs like the one she found earlier. As Brannis is unable to speak, he holds a device close to the scar on his neck- a scar similar to the one on Green Suit’s neck. Who is Brannis? Just a businessman trying to make his mark. He doesn’t murder, he just sells to people who do. Oh, and he’s not friends with Green Suit. As Brannis smashes one of the weapons, he leaves Carter with the warning that Leviathan is coming.
Jarvis brings the car around- as fast as he can, anyway- and the two speed off. Again, as fast as they actually can. The weapon detonates and implodes. Well, at least Howard can rest well and know that his technology still works.
Agent Thompson enters Chief Dooley’s office with news that the bouncer from the club finally woke up and revealed that he spotted a blonde with Raymond around 9:30 pm. More than that, Thompson retrieved the camera used by the club photographer, who thinks he got a shot of the blonde- which is a payoff to the brief camera flash we saw as Peggy left the club. But no time for that. Port Authority just reported that Roxxon Refinery blew up. No word yet on any casualties since no one could find the building.
At the L&L, Jarvis and Peggy recap their night. There has got to be a better way to do this. Jarvis will comb through Mr. Stark’s files for anything on “Leviathan” while Peggy deals with the dickish customer from before. All in a day’s work for Agent Peggy Carter.
As Peggy heads out to enjoy the rest of her day, Jarvis sits in Mr. Stark’s car and speaks with Stark himself. He agrees with Howard- Miss Carter is an excellent choice. She’ll have no suspicions at all.
“Now is Not the End” is a pretty strong opening for the mini-series and great re-introduction to this period. I’ll admit, it was a tad jarring to watch footage from Captain America: The First Avenger played alongside this show, but it’s necessary not just to re-establish this series’ place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a reminder of how Peggy’s life continued on, despite never having her date.
I think the tone of Agent Carter is well established throughout the pilot and I really like how the 1940s has been captured with the swing and jazz music, not to mention Peggy’s wardrobe. The cinematography is stylish, suave and very nice to look at. This is a period of America moving onward after the events of World War II. Now that the war is over, the boys are back in town. As Colleen notes early on, women are being let go because the boys want their jobs again. Women, who found a slice of equality while helping the war effort, are back to being second banana.
Some of the sexism gets a bit cartoony for my liking. Like the one prick at the diner. I mean, if the guy didn’t like the food, Peggy had it right- go somewhere else. Granted, it was great to see her stick a fork on him (even if it was plastic), but it wasn’t done just so she could get justice for Angie. She did it because the guy was being an ass. But this is just indicative of how men treated women at the time, so this man fits right in.
My issue is how this sexism affects Peggy Carter specifically. Now, to the show’s credit and because of Atwell’s performance, Peggy is no pushover. She doesn’t just pour coffee or file papers because she’s told to. She’s smart, intuitive, witty, and knows how to play hardball with the boys. Her strength doesn’t come from the fact that she’s a woman. It comes from the fact that she’s a grounded, fully dimensional character who doesn’t let society dictate her role. Heck, we see in the opening flashbacks that she’s capable of holding her own.
Here’s my issue: Peggy has been an officer of the SSR for a long time. She’s seen her fair share of combat during the war. And yet, here, that doesn’t seem to matter to the other agents. Sexism is par for the course in this period, but I can’t say I find it all that credible or believable that the other agents wouldn’t respect Peggy as at least their equal, given everything she’s already accomplished in her life. It just feels like sexism for the sake of having sexism. But, again, Peggy rises above that with her sharp tongue and clever wit. This would be a bigger issue of Carter was a pushover, but luckily, that isn’t the case.
I like the idea of this being a self-contained miniseries. Obviously, it has connections to the first Captain America film, but as far as its placement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we aren’t getting sweeping adventures of Iron Man and company. To me, that’s perfectly fine. This series doesn’t need to fall back on the previously established history or foreshadow what’s to come.
The show can stand on its own and have its own identity as opposed to reminding us of what universe this is, which is something that I feel Gotham suffers from. As a result, I’m glad the flashbacks to the Captain America film are kept to a minimum.
If Peggy always had a flash back to some conversation she had with Steve or the show felt the need to insert footage from the movie, the show would become more about Captain America than Peggy Carter. Luckily, the story is well paced and takes time to establish this world and its major players.
For a series that has a fair amount of action and drama to it, there’s just as much humor to balance it out. As I mentioned, Carter is dripping with wit and always has a quick retort, such as when she offers to teach Agent Thompson the alphabet in response to him telling her that she’s good at filing, or when she considers the possibility that Howard Stark could have sabotaged himself just to make some money on the side.
And I’d be crazy to not talk about the great chemistry between Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy. It sort of reminds me of the banter between Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man films. They complement each other well and it’s a nice change of pace that Jarvis is in the sidekick position usually reserved for women in television in film.
While Agent Carter goes in to kick ass, Jarvis gets to be a dear and bring the car around. I relished every bit of their dialogue and, at the risk of sounding cliché, know that this is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship, even if it did have an awkward start.
Then there’s Agent Carter herself. Hayley Atwell steps back into this role seamlessly and it feels like time never stopped after the Captain America film ended. This is Peggy’s storyline and she’s complex. She doesn’t kick ass and talk back because she has something to prove- she does it because that’s who she is.
This all ties into the first exchange we saw her have with Colleen, when Colleen said there’s a difference between being an independent woman and a spinster. Peggy is independent, but she knows how to have a good time.
She doesn’t feel that others should have to step in and defend her. Sure, that’s a bit arrogant, but at least she appreciated Daniel sticking up for her. Peggy should realize that she doesn’t need to try and carry the world’s weight on her shoulders, but this is all touched upon in the second episode, so we’ll get to that later.
Plus, for as much ass kicking Peggy gets to do, she gets quiet moments of reflection and showcasing emotions, as when she grieves over Colleen’s death or goes through the Project Rebirth case file.
The fight scenes are, for the most part, pretty good. They’re a bit awkward at times, but I’ve been spoiled by the fight choreography of Arrow, so it’s not a fair comparison. While we know the oncoming threat sounds big, I just hope the overarching storyline of this miniseries isn’t just clearing Howard Stark’s name.
And yet, this is still a great beginning for the Agent Carter miniseries. It’s fun, has great acting from its leads, leaves a lot open for the rest of the series and firmly establishes its own identity without needing to lean on what we know from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s to Agent Carter.