18/09/2015

Agent Carter Season One


Though only eight episodes long, this debut season of the latest Marvel spin off proves to be a deceptively clever affair. It manages to dance effortlessly between 1940s police procedural to sci-fi lite to spy motifs to adventure in the space of each packed 45 minute episode. It can be witty, it can be extremely violent, often moments apart. With one central plot that encompasses a number of aspects it is also full of twists and turns. In short it is hugely enjoyable and frequently surprising.
In terms of approach Agent Carter draws in influences from the two old comic pulp staples- detective stories and  fantasy tales which the Forties settings really suit.  Set after the events of the first Captain America film it sees his beloved Peggy Carter attempting to move on with her life working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a sort of prototype SHIELD. However her colleagues, not surprisingly given the time, have little respect for any contribution she may make to their investigations. When Howard Stark approaches her to help him retrieve a number of dangerous devices which have been stolen she becomes embroiled in a wider conspiracy. When these weapons start to be used, everyone else is convinced Stark has turned traitor so Peggy has to hide her own involvement in a series of daring investigations. She’s aided by Starks’ stiff collared butler Jarvis.



It’s a great premise because what you have is two English people undercutting the American investigators as they try to find the missing weapons and avoid being implicated themselves. The joy of the series is that plot developments other shows would string out across a 22 episode season are moved along in just 8. So by part 6 Peggy is exposed and brought in for questioning shifting the format.
All of which gifts Hayley Attwell with a role that she revels in., being terrific throughout. While keeping the period setting in mind (there are no post- modern gags here) the script gives her a lot to do, both verbally and physically and it works a treat. Her quick retorts and investigative nous is matched by her gymnastic fighting abilities meaning Peggy is a strong character. This does mean the police bods lag behind; in early episodes they seem a bit dull, but half way through matters liven up considerably and once one of them is killed we suddenly realise the dangers involved. From then on we learn a little about each of them. There are more fatalities amongst the force too, one of them especially unexpected and alarming.
James D’Arcy gives a likeable performance as Jarvis, the archetypal English buttoned up butler who comes to rather enjoy the excitement and proves a valuable ally while Shea Wingham’s Captain Dooley is a role that expands in unexpected ways as the bluff American cop shows deeper levels under the surface. It would be unfair to give away the identity of the two characters who turn out to be the main villains but one will be a genuine surprise to those who watch the series. 
It was a quiet day at the office
There is much post war angst written into the plots with the main narrative feeding off an apparent massacre during the conflict. Naturally the presence of the missing Captain America is also a presence, one displayed inventively in two episodes where his story is seen performed in a radio studio as an adjunct to the main action.
The biggest surprise is just how violent the series is with inventively cruel methods dreamt up to dispatch people none more so than what happens in a cinema in the last episode. The fight sequences are sharply edited and hard hitting with no discrimination of the sexes. Hence the women hit and are hit with exactly the same force. Meanwhile the fantasy elements are kept on a simmer level, partly one suspects for budgetary reasons but it suits the series. It therefore never settles long enough to become repetitive while there are plenty of intriguing ideas including a typewriter doubling as a communicator and a villain who subtly hypnotises his victims.
All in all this is a fresh, entertaining and sometimes tension filled series that holds much promise for the upcoming second season. It’s the first American show I’ve seen in years where I actually wish there were more episodes in the season.

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