CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

Saluting 'Marvel's Agent Carter' and the sci-fi forties

Stoic but dashing Agent Peggy Carter meets post-WWII America on the show that Crave's Kelsey Adams says is even better than expected. We rifle Peggy's briefcase for gadgets and a shot of real spy history.

agentcartertoughdame.jpg
A tough dame. Screencap by Kelsey Adams/CNET

At the halfway point of its limited run, "Marvel's Agent Carter" is still a show to look forward to every week. If you haven't tried it yet, you can watch the first four episodes on ABC's site, or via Amazon or Hulu. The show has yet to find a UK or Australian distributor, but that's probably just a matter of time. It's fun, well-paced and great-looking, and it fills in the early days of SHIELD history after "Captain America: The First Avenger," giving more time with secondary characters Peggy Carter, Howard Stark and (later in the series) a few Howling Commandos.

The surprise bonus is it was clearly written by people who enjoy the fictional forties for their own sake -- not just striking cars and strong-shouldered skirt suits, but the period's bantering style. Ever wanted to bust out a "Ya dumb ape!" in the workplace? If you were a white guy in Brooklyn, you could get away with it.

At the same time, the show stays true to the story's pulp sci-fi roots, as expected from the teaser in "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" when Agent Triplett pulled out a trunk of his grandfather's Howling Commando espionage gadgets. We're tracking all the proto-SHIELD tech in the gallery above.

spylipsticks.jpg
On right, Agent Carter's knockout-drops lipstick. On left, a KGB lipstick gun. International Spy Museum / Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

Agent Peggy Carter, a British officer who joined the Strategic Scientific Reserve during World War II, has appeared several times in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Steve Rogers' sweetheart and a founder of SHIELD. She's played again here by Hayley Atwell, who is perfect in every way.

After the loss of Captain America, Peggy finds herself in the US, working for an organization that doesn't value her as a field agent thanks to post-war sexism. In the Marvel One-Shot short that appeared on the "Iron Man 3" Blu-ray, she's stuck doing "boring" data analysis and decryption; in the TV show, there's more emphasis on filing and phones.

(The TV version seems like a reworking of the short rather than part of the same timeline. The first TV episodes are set before Peggy's promotion, but since in the short she's freshly dealing with Steve's death and still surprised to be sidelined, I'd call that a retcon. Though on the scale of SHIELD retcons, not a big deal!)

Peggy honors Cap's memory while getting on with the job. Outside the office, she pretends to work for the phone company and is befriended by a cheerfully wry waitress (Lyndsy Fonseca of "Nikita" and "Kick-Ass") who boots the show healthily past the Bechdel Test.

When billionaire genius Stark goes on the lam and asks for help in finding stolen inventions, Peggy starts investigating behind the backs of her dismissive department. Her most respectful and smartest coworker, Sousa -- played by Enver Gjokaj, a favorite from Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" -- is similarly driven to prove his worth by catching Stark and Carter, as he's continually belittled for being stuck using a crutch.

Even Agent Carter's well-publicized wartime association with Rogers and Stark doesn't impress these guys; to them it just makes her look slutty. That doesn't stop her from lolling on beds and getting her knee patted by Stark's married butler Jarvis, however. (Human predecessor of J.A.R.V.I.S.!) Nothing stops Peggy, or not for long.

agentcartercredits.jpg
The Marvel One-Shot explained that Peggy prefers to be "in the field." Screencap by Kelsey Adams/CNET

If I have a criticism it's that the writers may have made her a little too unstoppable. And I understand that reaction may be sexist. "Would that bother you about Batman?" All I know is, it doesn't bother me about Black Widow.

But based on the Peggy Carter in "First Avenger," I was expecting a smart, brave woman triumphing over recognizable limits, not a superwoman who barely notices them. On the show, her indifference to social mores seems almost sociopathic at times. As for physical challenges, in some scenes Peggy fights cleverly and desperately using whatever comes to hand, but in others you wonder why she bothered when she can easily take down a professional killer atop a moving van. Either way, she makes an exciting action hero.

There's talk that "Marvel's Agent Carter" could get a second season, whether as a full show or as another winter break miniseries. While we're waiting to find out -- and waiting for Episode 5 -- enjoy CNET Australia's Michelle Starr's investigation into real-life gadgets for lady spies. In reality, in every war there've been women as tough as Peggy Carter, some packing everything from cigarette-box cameras to balls of yarn.

agentcarteractingcasual.jpg
They should have known something was up when she started acting casual. Screencap by Kelsey Adams/CNET