TV recap: Agent Carter season one, episode one – Now is Not the End

Agent Peggy Carter – charismatic, tough, loyal, brave, clever, and beautiful. Although we only saw her briefly in Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy made an impression (and not just on Steve Rogers). It’s enough of an impression that she managed to get her own television show – Marvel’s Agent Carter, which has finally made its way to the UK. Here’s what went down in episode one.

‘This thing’s moving too fast and it’s heading for New York.’

We begin with Steve Rogers telling Peggy (Hayley Atwell) he’s going to have to crash his plane into the ocean, followed by the rest of that scene from near the end of Captain America: The First Avenger (CA:TFA), transporting us back to the 1940s and the work of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR).

It’s a beginning that makes me want to cry. Nice work Marvel.

Current Peggy is in her New York apartment in 1946 as the kettle boils. There’s little time for tears as some jaunty music pipes in and we see a newspaper bearing Howard Stark’s face, intercut with more moments from CA:TFA. The flashbacks serve to remind us quickly who everyone is (like I needed reminding). They work well in this episode, but it would be good if the clips from CA:TFA and the constant references to its events could be kept to a minimum in future episodes – Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D‘s downfall has always been that it needs to connect in to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); hopefully being set in the past means Agent Carter won’t be constrained in the same way.

Peggy gets ready for work as her roommate Colleen heads in from her night shift. We quickly learn that Colleen’s female colleagues are being let go because male soldiers are returning back to work. It’s a competitive, sexist world out there, and we learn that early on. Before Peggy leaves for work at the ‘phone company’, Colleen reminds her that if she doesn’t see her that the two are going to the cinema on Saturday. When people on screen remind each other of things ‘in case we don’t see each other’ I get a sense of doom.

‘During the war, I had a sense of purpose, responsibility. Now, I connect the calls but I never get a chance to make them.’

And then there’s a gorgeous shot of Peggy in a bright blue suit and red hat walking through a sea of grey suited men, immediately telling us that Peggy has more life in her that the mindless drones she’s been surrounded by.

Peggy arrives at the ‘phone company’, where operator Rose lets her through a secret door and into a utilitarian office full of wooden desks and chairs. And lots of men. It’s the SSR. A flashing red light and siren signals an emergency, and a man tells Peggy it’s all hands on deck. He means Peggy should answer the phones, but she immediately calls Rose to forward all calls to the briefing room so she can attend the meeting, where she hears that Stark tech is turning up on the black market, and a missing Howard is being treated as a fugitive of justice.

Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) starts laying out a plan to catch Stark when Peggy interrupts, sure Stark isn’t a traitor. Her knowledge of him is dismissed out of hand – ‘surely the little lady doesn’t know anything of man stuff’ her boss seems to be saying. And then her boss says that she only got where she is because of her relationship with Steve. He tells her to let the ‘professionals’ handle it. Grr. Whatever else happens, this is clearly the big battle of the first series of Marvel’s Agent Carter – Peggy versus the sexists.

When an agent calls Krzeminski makes a crack about Peggy, Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) leaps to her defence. It’s touching but Peggy doesn’t need a man defending her, something she tells Sousa.

‘Did you miss me?’

Cut to a diner, which is a regular haunt of Peggy’s. She knows the waitress, a struggling actress called Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca). Angie’s pretty going ho, telling Peggy the two of them need to hang in there, before she’s called away by some rude, fat guy.

When Peggy returns to her table after fetching a piece of pie, she discovers a napkin with ‘Meet me in the alley in five minutes’ written on it. There Peggy is greeted by the erudite British tones of a smartly dressed man tells Peggy she’s coming with him, a command/threat that, coupled with the noise of a car starting nearby, has Peggy clocking the guy round the face and running off.  When the car continues to chase her she takes stand, pulling out her gun and shooting. The car door swings open, and it’s Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper).

Howard says he’s been set up, that all his dangerous inventions have been stolen from a secure vault. He wants Peggy to help clear his name, which she agrees to. Howard heads off to track down some of his “babies”, and leaves Peggy to track down the formula for molecular nitromene, an explosive which could ‘level a city block’.

‘I’m going to regret this aren’t I.’

Howard leaves Peggy with his butler Jarvis (James D’Arcy), the guy she punched earlier. I predict this is the start of a beautiful friendship, because all the best TV partnerships start with violence. Still, Jarvis’ help knows limits – Peggy has to call before 9pm because that’s when he and his wife go to bed.

At the office the next day Peggy feeds Sousa false information about Howard, getting him to tell her that Thompson is in a meeting about one of Stark’s inventions – a club owner and fence called Spider Raymond has put it on the market. The meeting is top secret, but who’s going to suspect the woman pouring coffee is going to understand what they’re talking about? As the coffee girl she’s invisible to the guys. What a bunch of idiots.

‘You look like a lady looking to dance.’

At a club Creepy Guy and Spider are doing a deal on something deadly. Downstairs we see Peggy, looking stunning in a gold dress, and sporting a blonde wig and an American accent. She heads up to see Spider, using her feminine wiles to get past the bodyguard. I like that Peggy isn’t afraid to use being a woman, and all the things that brings, to help her.

Including lipstick – shade 102 Sweet Dreams. It seems significant, so I’m guessing it’s not an ordinary lipstick. Peggy tells Spider she knows he has the formula, and that she has friends interested in it. She’s seductive, but all her chat is about business. Yet Spider grabs Peggy for a kiss, because he’s a creep and thinks he’s entitled. It doesn’t work out well for him – her lipstick clearly has some sort of soporific properties and it knocks him out. 

Peggy cracks open Spider’s safe to find a glowing golden orb inside. On the phone Jarvis, who is busy making a soufflé for his wife, consults Howard’s instructions, telling her the formula has been weaponised and the chemicals she needs to diffuse the bomb.

Thompson and his goons turn up to Spider’s club, and another creepy guy (Creepy Guy Two) watches as Spider’s bodyguard heads upstairs. Peggy’s still there and Spider’s unconscious, so Peggy throws her second punch of the episode, using a stapler to take the bodyguard out. She quickly leaves the office, heading on to the dance floor when she sees Thompson. 

Spider wakes up to see his safe empty, and Creepy Guy Two very unhappy, so unhappy that he kills Spider.

‘I seem to have a habit of losing people closest to me.’

Thompson finds Spider dead, but Peggy and Creepy Guy Two have both got away. Creepy Guy Two is in time to see Peggy heading home, where she is greeted by Colleen. As Colleen goes to sleep Peggy grabs a series of household items and heads to the bathroom, where she concocts the liquid needed to neutralise the bomb. Resourceful, clever – if the guys at SSR could see this they’d be on their knees worshipping her. Peggy succeeds, but then hears a noise from the flat.

Colleen is dead, shot in the head, and Creepy Guy Two is in the flat. During a fight between him and Peggy, it’s revealed he has a strange scar at the base of his throat. Good at using her surroundings, Peggy utilises household appliances to beat him, and then chucks him out the window. He’s pretty battered, but when Peggy looks out of the window a few seconds later, there’s no sign of him. Who survives something like that?

And then we see the first real show of vulnerability from Peggy, as she cries over Colleen’s body. 

‘You are a credit to your profession. If the men in your office can’t see that, then they’re fools.’ 

In the diner, Peggy and Jarvis sit back to back having a conversation. Peggy’s relief at having a challenge is tempered by her guilt over Colleen’s death. Jarvis, for all his shortcomings as a wannabe agent, is good at giving a pep talk. 

The two head to Stark Industries, where a scientist identifies the alloy the bomb was in, and the trio narrow its origins down to the Roxxon Oil plant. The scientist also says the alloy is still active, and if vita rays are added it will become more active (I think, I didn’t really understand the science bit). Remember vita rays? They’re the bright rays that Steve Rogers was blasted with to help turn him in to Captain America. Is someone trying to recreate the super serum?

Peggy heads to the SSR to look through Project Insight files, and gets caught up staring at a picture of Steve. Oh. And there’s another flashback to the two making a date for a dance. Oh. 

Sousa catches her, and unlike the other insensitive dolts she works with, decides to cheer her up with a joke about his missing leg. Once he leaves Peggy delves further into the box and finds Erskine’s vita ray thing.

‘Leviathan is coming.’

And then we cut to an injured looking Creepy Guy Two, who is typing messages on a typewriter which writes back at him. Who is sending him messages? Whoever it is, they give him permission to kill Peggy, ‘at all costs’.

Peggy and Jarvis rock up at Roxxon Oil, with Peggy leaving Jarvis to keep a look out while she breaks in. She finds a scientist and Creepy Guy creating more versions of the bomb that she diffused. When a warning comes through from Jarvis of people approaching, Peggy is discovered. She uses the vita ray thing to knock out the scientist, and chases Creepy Guy to a van full of bombs. He undoes his shirt collar to show he too bears the same strange scar – it looks like a Y – as Creepy Guy Two. 

The guy can’t speak until he holds up a device to his throat, and then out comes a robotic voice. He doesn’t give her the answers she wants, but tells her that ‘Leviathan is coming’, before dropping a bomb and driving off.

Peggy runs, finding a panicked Jarvis by jumping onto the roof of his car. As she tells him to drive like the clappers the bomb goes off, destroying the factory and causing the flames from the resulting explosion to lick the back of the car. And then the explosion curls back in on itself.

Back at the SSR, the team discover a blonde woman talked to Spider at the club. They’re distracted when Sousa answers the phone to be told that Roxxon Oil has blown up, but that they can’t find the building. The gang head off, leaving the camera that could contain a picture of blonde Peggy on the desk.

The next day at the diner Peggy and Jarvis are having another back to back conversation. Jarvis seems to have enjoyed his brush with danger and heads off to do some research. And probably make a souffle.

Peggy sees rude, fat dude, who yells at Angie again, this time smacking her on the backside as she leaves. Peggy heads over, using a fork in his ribs to threaten rude, fat dude into behaving better. 

And out Peggy heads into the sunshine of a New York day. Only Jarvis is watching her while on the phone to Stark, telling him that Peggy is an excellent choice, and won’t have any suspicions at all. Woah, could Stark and Jarvis be the bad guys?

Marvel musings

-From Colleen we learn that Peggy hasn’t been on a date for a while (of course not, it will take time to get over Steve).

-in one of numerous CA:TFA references, we see a red dress much like the one Peggy wore to stun Cap in a pub in England. Oh Peg. 

-anyone else reminded of the dance Cap and Peggy never got to have during the scenes at the club?

-Peggy is a sassmeister. It’s hard to pick m favourite line, but her telling Thompson she can help him learn the alphabet was sweet.

-she’s a woman in a world full of men, but it’s great that Peggy isn’t trying to become more like the men to try and get ahead. 

-isn’t this show beautifully filmed? The colours, the music – they combine with a funny script and a dark plot to create a fascinating show with a slightly noir-ish edge.

-apart from Spider and the guys in the band at the club, Agent Carter is awfully ethnically undiverse, continuing Marvel’s poor record in this area (good thing Atwell is on the case).

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