PILOT LITE: Agent Carter (2015 television pilot)

Posted: January 13, 2015 in Agent Carter, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Marvel, X-Men

Peggy Carter is a character who has had a long and, honestly, mostly forgotten history in comics. She first appeared as a World War 2 ally of Captain America’s, but within modern comics she’s better known as a relative to his frequent love interest, Sharon Carter. For decades, Peggy was a footnote in the history of the patriotic Avenger. That is, until Captain America: The First Avenger hit theatres and reintroduced the character to a brand new audience hungry for a strong female lead.

Pictured: An extra from
the set of 
Dick Tracy.

Since that film, Peggy has been very popular with Marvel fans. this lead to her return in a Marvel one-shot film titled Agent Carter. Realistically, that should probably be reviewed as the series pilot. Both touch on a similar story: Carter is forced to prove her worth while rising up in male-dominated field (more on that in a little bit). And one could say that, since the short film came first, it is really the best jumping-on point for this show. And that may be true, but since it was essentially a special feature on the Iron Man 3 Blu-Ray, I’m going to treat it as its own separate entity.

The television series opens with the “death” of Steve Rogers, taken from the end of The First Avenger. We then find Carter, reeling from her loss but determined to keep moving forward. The opening establishes the duality of her character by inter-cutting her mundane morning routine with previously-seen footage of her kicking ass. It’s a nice way to quickly and effectively establish that this is tied to the larger Marvel universe while focusing on one of its unsung heroes. It also displays how great Hayley Atwell is in this role. She’s pretty well acquainted with this character and seamlessly portrays all the aspects of Peggy’s personality.

“I’m back!”
“I’m…not a robot?”

The story follows Carter as she teams up with Howard Stark (again played by Dominic Cooper) to clear his name after it’s believed that he sold weapons to America’s enemies after the war. Carter is paired up with Edwin Jarvis, Stark’s butler. This clever bit of plotting is a nice nod to the Jarvis character of The Avengers comics of yesteryear. Ever since Iron Man was released theatrically, the majority of new fans know Jarvis only as a computer system and don’t realize that he was based on the team’s manservant. Since, as a human, Jarvis has had a rich history within Marvel Comics, I like the idea of incorporating that into the Cinematic Universe. James D’Arcy plays Jarvis and skillfully balances the character’s usefulness with his lack of worldliness. This could have easily been a bumbling, Jar Jar Binks-ian fool of a character, so it’s nice to see the creators not going “full-buffoon” with him. This is practically a masters class on how to make a character comic relief while still keeping his usefulness intact.

Am I the only one who thought of Dark City
when the Automat showed up? Yes?

The plot really kicks into gear when Carter and Jarvis begin looking into an implosion device that’s been created based on Stark’s science. After getting some assistance from Anton Vanko (Iron Man 2, represent!) they trace the weapon to a Roxxon Oil refinery. There’s a big special effects-y showdown, and it ends rather predictably, but it’s still very entertaining. One interesting aspect about the show is how much the fine line between strength and coldness is played up in regards to Carter’s personality. When a male SSR agent stands up for her early on in the pilot, she chastises him, claiming that she can take care of herself. Obviously, that’s true and she didn’t necessarily need assistance, but it’s always nice to have someone in your corner, needed or not. At the same time, she’s never in a physical confrontation that she can’t fight her way out of. Sure, there’s peril and the fights aren’t easy for her, but she always finds a way to get the upper-hand on her own without the assistance of fellow agents. I think there will likely be time spent on Peggy maturing emotionally and being less shut-off as the series continues.

I find it odd/interesting that this series kind of erases the Agent Carter one-shot. I don’t mean it pulls a Days of Future Past and wipes it away or there’s any dialogue stating that it never happened. But the timelines don’t exactly mesh. The short takes place one year after The First Avenger while this series happens two years after. Yet the short ends with Howard Stark recruiting Carter into founding SHIELD. Within this show, however (set one year after the short), the SSR has yet to become SHIELD and Peggy is still a desk-jockey. I understand the reasoning behind picking this story since it’s far more dramatic. It just strikes me as a little odd, because Marvel has a very tight timeline for their cinematic universe and even missteps or moments that don’t quite sync-up are still treated as valid. Hell, remember that scene from the end of The Incredible Hulk that implies Tony Stark is teaming up with Thunderbolt Ross? They made a one-shot simply to provide context for that, rather than ignore it. Compounding this perplexing bit of continuity is the fact that scenes from the short are featured in the opening domestic-life/kick-ass montage. So…it is canonical? Or not? At this point, I don’t know.

What I do know is that the series premiere and the aforementioned one-shot do exactly what a good pilot should: they establish a tone quickly and effectively while creating an interesting story for a compelling lead. It’s amazing how difficult something like that can be and what’s even more amazing is how easy Agent Carter makes it look.

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