Oh Miss Carter, it’s been entirely too long.
Something funny happened about a week ago: I was half-watching a playoff football game on ESPN when I suddenly heard the voice of Hayley Atwell. Looking up, I discovered that they had finally decided to leverage the mighty power of the Disney corporation (owner of ESPN, Marvel, and ABC) in order to promote the best part of the MCU. Yes, friends, ESPN was airing an Agent Carter commercial during its highest-rated broadcast of the year.
With a dynamite premiere, hopefully the show is going to be able to keep some of those new eyes focused on Agent Carter, and earn us all a Season 3.
Through the first two episodes, Season 2 seems ready to build off of last year’s thrills and address some of the flaws fans and critics identified. Needless to say, Hayley slides smoothly back into the starring role, offering a two-hour feast after fleeting cameos in Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
However, the first scene is a fake out. A dark-haired woman walks up to a bank teller, wearing a blue suit and red fedora. But when she looks up, it’s not the pride of the SSR Peggy Carter, but Leviathan master agent Dottie Underwood. Peggy, hiding in the safe Dottie planned to burgle, subdues her opponent and brings her in for interrogation, and we’re off.
Sadly missing from this season is Peggy’s erstwhile love interest, Angie Martinelli. Though we’re promised a cameo appearance later in the year, all I can offer you now is a picture of Angie Martinelli the Cat, who is a cat I named after Angie Martinelli the Person:
And yes, that means that someone at Marvel heard our united cry for greater diversity on the show. Dr. Wilkes has enormous shoes to fill, since he’ll be the one threatening to steal Peggy’s heart away from our favorite Broadway-bound waitress. But he seems more than capable. Charming, witty, and handsome, we meet him while he’s geeking out over a new science contraption he’s developed to turn wine into… better wine. It’s enough to impress a whiskey-drinking gal like Peggy, so I’m on board.
One man does not a diverse show make, and hopefully, they’ll keep pushing in that direction. So far, though, they have used his character to address the white supremacy of the 1940s, a valuable counterpoint to the sexism Peggy so constantly faces. Wilkes notes that his scientific career began as a janitor at the observatory. In the minds of his peers, that’s still the only role for a Black man in science—he’s mistaken for a janitor despite his suit and lab coat. His brilliance was only recognized in wartime, like another marginalized genius:
Upon his return, Wilkes was rejected from virtually every job in favor of mediocre white men—save only the evil corporation currently offering him employment. This is a similar marginalization to what Peggy faced within the SSR, and although the link is not made explicit except on Peggy’s face. If they become an interracial couple, the pair face additional hostility from white supremacists—American anti-miscegenation laws would remain valid for another twenty years, and even liberal California’s law would survive until 1948. When dealing primarily with supervillains and their henchman, it’s tricky to tease out racism from, well, supervillainy. We’ll see where it goes.
On the other side of the ledger, we seem to have a new big bad coming this year. Dottie is in custody (although perhaps not for long), and Peggy is going to have to face off against a West Coast adversary, so far known as Whitney Frost and introduced as the consort of a corrupt businessman. Something’s caused a lake to freeze during the middle of a California heatwave, and Peggy, I don’t want to do your job for you, but you should probably investigate Whitney Frost. I mean, have some genre awareness.
That giveaway notwithstanding, comics fans are going to recognize the name from another recent Marvel jaunt to Los Angeles. Here she is meeting the more eloquent of the two Hawkeyes (really).
Yes, Whitney Frost is Madame Masque, the regal super-villain who couldn’t quite get out of the way of an arrow. I’d keep an eye on that one.
We gain a few new supporting characters, too. Jarvis’s wife Ana, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, comes onto screen for the first time this year, having been mentioned but not introduced in the first season. Ana is adorably in love with her husband, aggressively smooching him in front of Peggy, much to the discomfort of both Brits. It would be cheap and easy to make Ana jealous of Peggy, but the show refuses to go in that direction. Providing a garter with a holster, a timely glass of whiskey, and a wardrobe for every mission, Ana appears to show the same fanatical loyalty to Peggy as the rest of us. Agent Sousa returns, now with a girlfriend Violet, although their relationship appears to be threatened by Sousa’s feelings for Peggy.
And rounding out the group is Rose, who was briefly seen in Season 1 but now gets more development. She’s the front of the house for the SSR, maintaining the façade of a telephone company office in New York, and a theater agency in L.A. Rose has taken quite well to California, picking up surfing and basking in the “dry heat” which still cooks Jarvis in his wool, three-piece suits. She’s mostly seen shooing away the tap-dancers and clowns looking for their big break-while lamenting that despite no advertising, an obscure location, and a typo in their published phone number, the hopefuls still manage to get in the door.
Oh, and there’s some sort of a plot. The focus will be on “zero matter”, a mysterious substance with great destructive power which was developed during the end of World War II before being beat to market by the atomic bomb. The characters understand precious little about the stuff, but it looks awful familiar to viewers who have been watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Zero matter, constantly quivering and shaking, can suddenly form into a portal which sucks in everything around it. The destination hasn’t been seen yet, but there are some suggested similarities to the alien planet which once hosted a marooned Jemma Simmons. It’s been implied in S.H.I.E.L.D. that Hydra and its forebears have been trying to get through this thing for generations, via various organizations that always mimic the same logo:
Peggy arrests Dottie trying to obtain a pin which bears an awfully similar shape—later linked to a group with a particular interest in zero matter.
So we’re going places with this series. A strong, more-diverse cast of characters face off while the fundamental conflicts of the MCU start to form around them. And we only have to wait a week for another episode.