Agent Carter 'Now Is Not The End' (S1E1) - Review

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Agent Carter 'Now Is Not The End' (S1E1) - Review

They say that in the right moment, one bullet can change the world. It did in Sarajevo 1914 when the murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand launched the first (but sadly not last) World War. It did Parkland Dallas 1963 when for the first (and thankfully last) time; the secret service lost their man. While it didn’t start a war or cause a nation to mourn, Haley Atwell found her Marvel world changed forever with a certain One Shot. As fun and enjoyable as her character, Peggy Carter, was in Captain America: The First Avenger, the historic setting of the film showed no obvious way of continuing her character outside of the odd cameo or flashback in the present day settings. However, this 5 minute spinoff short for the Iron Man 3 DVD became a whole new beginning. Its popularity combined with Atwell’s fondness of the character saw a whole new plan take shape now culminating in her own spin off TV series from Agents of Shield (after a few welcome appearances in the show’s second season). Let’s see what the classy dame has to offer.

Now Is Not The End – In 1946 Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell – The Duchess, Pillars of the Earth) leads a double life of being a young single gal in New York City and an agent of the secret SSR organisation. Despite her war record the SSR boys club won’t give her field agent assignments but when an urgent call from her old Howard Stark arrives she finally gets the chance make a difference again. With the help of Stark’s butler Jarvis (James D’Arcy – Hitchcock, Let’s Be Cops) she goes to the trail of a stolen Stark explosives formula with lethal potential.

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A nice opening reply of Cap’s icing from The First Avenger instantly relates us to Peggy’s emotional state as someone still haunted by the death of love but trying to move on with their life. This continues to a great opening montage of arse kicking flashbacks of Peggy in action from First avenger and her One Shot married with domestic and household activities in her apartment. It’s showing both the homemaker that 40s ideals expect her to be and strong independent woman she wants to be; reinforcing the developing themes that the SSR is not using her to her full potential. This is continued via some great visual narrative. An early shot sees Peggy walking towards in bright distinctive colours while a sea of grey suited men walk the other way. In mere seconds it establishes that Peggy is woman trying to make it in a man’s world with everything against her and indeed some of the episodes best moments come from her defiance in the face of testosterone tidal waves. From playing the coffee making secretary to gain intel or a hilarious blond bombshell seduction routine on a club owner. It’s always fantastic to see a female action lead embracing her femininity as an asset and a weapon rather than a chest strapping encumbrance and the show absolutely nails this. When required Peggy brings the thrilling heroics and kicks some serious male arse (the kitchen fight being a real highlight) yet she can still be emotionally open and vulnerable when needed too.

In the Agents of Shield run up to Peggy’s premier many believed that her series would focus on linking in to her flashback appearances i.e. concerning The Diviner and Daniel Whitehall. While there are clearly a few still unknown things going on in the background, this initial offer sees Carter’s stylish heels kick that crutch to the floor and stand on its own two feet which is by far a more rewarding outcome. The immediate focus appears to be on recovering/neutralising many of Howard Starks “Bad babies” that were stolen from him. Yet we have our own mysterious organisation whose members share a “Y” tattoo on their throats. In one pivotal (and wonderfully creepy) showdown, a voicebox speaking villain mentions that “Leviathan is coming” which could either the name of their organisation or forthcoming evil masterplan (this is 40s, there has to be an evil master plan!). It has a wonderful touch of Doctor Who’s “silence will fall” opening teaser. There are no immediate indications to show the formation of Shield with Peggy as a founder. Instead the SSR is pledged as an existing (all be it sexist) entity with no signs of reform. It looks like this 8 episodes will see Peggy becoming the woman she needs to be in order to birth Shield.

The 40s post-war period setting is excellently used both from a historic and fictional perspective. The big colourful set pieces of stylish night clubs or humble dinners with their swing and jazz accompaniments really go down a treat and make Agent carter feel like a unique offering rather than a side project. The use of retro spy tech is frequently sweet from safe cracker wrist watches to the extremely cool typewriter conversation. Then add to all this, the Marvel side of the coin as Agent Carter has a treasure trove of character history to plunder. The biggest being Stark’s butler on loan Jarvis; the man who would go on to raise and tutor a young Tony Stark and become his inspiration for the infamous Jarvis AI. He makes the perfect character compliment to Peggy and makes a great source of quality comic material as he attempts balance his new found spy mission duties with keeping his married life going smoothly and is definitely not used to world of gun fire and explosions. Howard Stark himself makes sadly his only appearance of the series but makes for an utter scene stealer in his exchanges with Peggy “technically we’re not even sure if it works but I invented it so let’s face it, it works”. On top these two figures there’s plenty of little MCU nods such as a brief run in with Anton Vanko (Whiplash’s father and co-creator of the arc reactor) at Stark Industries connecting to Iron Man 2 and the long comic featured Roxxon Oil Company makes an appearance (and as usual isn’t up to any good).

As well as the main cast the pilot also positions a few welcome well known faces in supporting roles. Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse, Extant) ticks the ever essentially Whedonverse actor crossover requirement as crippled/”only non-douchbag in the office” Agent Daniel Sousa. In Peggy’s favourite diner we find Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita, Kick Ass) as her waitress and aspiring actress friend Angie. Even the former One Tree Hill heartthrob Chad Michael Murray joins the office as field point man Jack Thompson.

So out of no shortage of uncertainty Agent Carter has actually delivered an extremely fun series setup combining great action and spy drama with emotional character development. It’s a show that carves out its own corner of the MCU rather than trying to sneak into others. Crikey o’ riley, Peggy’s cracked it!