Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell is back! Marvel’s “Agent Carter” returned to ABC this week for its second season with a two-hour premiere. Despite merely being the first two episodes airing back-to-back, they effectively told a complete story detailing Peggy’s assignment to the L.A. division and the nefarious deeds of a new adversarial organization. After all, we couldn’t have super-spy Peggy running around without a shadowy threat to take on, now could we?
With Leviathan effectively crushed by the SSR in the first season, our new antagonistic group is the Secret Empire. In the comics, Secret Empire began as a subsidiary of Hydra. After developing different principles and goals of their own, they ultimately split off of their parent organization and began operating independently of them. At first I figured they would eschew that here, but after revealing a symbol showcased as being connected to Hydra on “Agents of SHIELD” last month, it appears that connection will remain intact.
This new secret society does contain a familiar face in Roxxon Oil president Hugh Jones (Ray Wise). There are plenty of new faces as well, including Senate hopeful Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham) and his wife, actress Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett). If that last name rings a bell with fans, it’s because she is also known as the villainous Madame Masque in the comics. Also familiar? The shifting monolith kept in their care at a local science lab.
What’s most important about this episode and the series as a whole are the characters. “Agent Carter” is a show about strong women and weak men. With the exception of Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), nearly every male character on the show has a strong character flaw. L.A. Chief Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is deeply afraid of expressing his feelings, both to his fiancee and to Peggy. N.Y. Chief Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) feels emasculated in the presence of Peggy, whose heroics he took credit for last year, and ships her off to L.A. so he won’t have to face his guilt. He also feels inadequate when interrogating Russian Black Widow operative Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) and almost seems relieved when the FBI takes her off his hands.
The weakness extends to the outwardly confident Chadwick, who lets his Secret Empire steamroll over him and ultimately reveals his wife to be the real power behind his movements. If this sounds like a list of complaints, let me assure you that it is not. It’s positively refreshing to see the gender tables turned in such a manner. On any other series, the men would be strong-willed and immovable, whereas the women would be cloying & whining wives, lovesick secretaries, and/or whores with hearts of gold. For now, the only whore with a heart of gold on “Agent Carter” is Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), whose does not appear in either episode, but whose sexual exploits are touched on frequently throughout.
It’s not often that we get a two-fisted, pulp adventure saga like this on television or the big screen. It’s even less often that such a tale is centered on strong female characters on both sides of the fight. The fact that all of this comes wrapped up in a package that also manage to contain a great cast and crackerjack writing makes it one of the rarest projects of all. “Agent Carter” is back and it’s still one of the best shows on television, comic book or otherwise.
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