“Now is Not the End” & “Bridge & Tunnel”
Directed by Louis D’Esposito & Joseph V. Russo
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely & Eric Pearson
Starring Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gvokaj, Shea Wingham
Also starring Dominic Cooper, Kyle Bornheimer, Meagan Fay, Lyndsy Fonseca
Guest starring James Frain, Costa Ronin, Andre Royo, Ray Wise
Review by Joey Braccino
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“I’ll keep an open mind.”
Agent Carter is basically the greatest thing ever.
Marvel and ABC’s latest effort to bring the magic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen is at once an action-packed, well-written, well-directed, well-designed period caper as well as the perfect response to the growing cries for good female-driven (and –led) stories in the genre.
Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter was one of the very best parts of Marvel’s first Captain America feature, Captain America: The First Avenger. (I mean, I’d argue that she also had a wonderfully moving scene in the sequel, too, but let’s stay on track here.) Much of the character’s success both in media and in fandom is owed to Hayley Atwell. Period. Full stop. The character is pioneering, capable, and brilliant, all of which Atwell plays with a cool demeanor and eloquent poise. Most importantly, however, Atwell’s Agent Carter always subverts “Strong Female Character” clichés of badassery by incorporating elements distinctly relevant to women of her time period. Carter is a three dimensional character insofar as she is (of course) a total and complete badass, but also a total and complete person in her own right that also draws from universal, historical influences of the period in which she is drawn.
After Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter was later featured in a spectacular eponymous Marvel: One-Shot, directed by Louis D’Esposito, who also steps in to direct the pilot episode of this new series, “Now is Not the End.” Rounding out the crew are Captain America film writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and Howard Stark himself, Dominic Cooper, and it’s like the band’s back together! The synergy clicks as Atwell’s Carter is dominant and emotionally nuanced as ever and D’Esposito. Markus, and McFeely mesh the 1940s period with all the action and adventure of a proper superhero story.
The first two episodes (of an expected 8) debuted tonight on ABC. Set in 1946, the new Agent Carter series sees our titular heroine still serving the S.S.R after World War II, though she finds herself in a decidedly less autonomous and desirable position in the organization. Why? Because the men have returned home from war of course, which becomes a major recurring theme throughout the pilot. Like I said, D’Esposito, Markus, and McFeely hit the World War II era history hard over the course of the first hour, firmly establishing the social constraints and tensions of the period. There is of course some lively swing scenes and a delightful diner that becomes a recurring set (featuring the wonderful Lyndsy Fonseca as Angie, a waitress-while-auditioning who befriends Peggy) that capture the more Romantic images of the 1940s, but the show is sure to move past stereotypical design and really aim for the context. And man does it succeed. For every short tie and Murphy Bed you have a character interaction that alludes to PTSD or burgeoning misogyny. This isn’t just a show of ‘40s flash; this is a show about the post-War era. And I love it.
[Side note: Hayley Atwell was on TV for about two hours (give or take 25 minutes for commercials) as a female superspy in a relatively self-contained story. Does this count as the first Female-led comic book film from one of the Big Two studios? That’s like 95 minutes worth of comic-book inspired tape, right?]
The premise of this “Television Event” is actually quite simple: Howard Stark recruits Peggy to help him recover a series of incredibly dangerous inventions and designs that were stolen from his secret vault/lab. Over the course of the first two episodes, Peggy—accompanied by Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis, played by the delightful James D’Arcy—searches for a weaponized chemical explosive. The mission takes her from the swinging halls of high-class fence Spider Raymond (Andre Royo) to a sketchy Roxxon Oil plant to New Jersey and brings her into violent conflict with the mysterious mute thief Leet Brannis and a still-unnamed mysterious mute green-suited assassin. The Big Bad seems to be a mysterious organization called Leviathan, which I will wildly speculate now has something to do with Hydra? Just guessing.
Louis D’Esposito’s “Now is Not the End” is paired with Joseph V. Russo’s (of “Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier fame) “Bridge & Tunnel,” which allows for the single broadcast to resolve the first mission. I won’t go into specifics here because spoilers and you should really really watch this, but suffice it to say that both episodes together do a spectacular job of providing a distinct emotional arc for Peggy Carter while also capturing her physicality as a fighter, her prowess and intelligence as a spy, and her stubborn desire to prove her worth in a society that is quickly devaluing her. Both D’Esposito and Russo carefully balance the energy of the period setting with the noirish sentiments of the mystery/thriller-driven plot, with mirror gags and clever angles and shocking deaths. And of course, because it’s Marvel, we have an explosive (literally) third act.
Did I mention Peggy Carter has not one but two action scenes on top of moving vehicles as well? She’s. Just. So. Cool.
Filling out the cast are the rest of the agents at the S.S.R., which is stealthily hidden beneath the New York Bell Company building. Chad Michael Murray (yeah, for real!) plays Agent Thompson, an All-Star agent with the medals to prove it, who is assigned the case by Chief Dooley, played by Shea Wingham, who is even more gruff and ignorant in his insistence on devaluing Peggy. Enver Gjokaj plays Agent Sousa, a disable veteran turned S.S.R. agent, who is more sympathetic to Peggy (I’m reminded of that scene in the taxi between Peggy and Steve in the first film when they bond over being undervalued). The interaction is a bit different here, as Sousa tries to stand up for Peggy and Peggy “wishes [he] hadn’t done that”; again, the stubbornness to prove her self-worth sometimes puts her at odds with those who want to help her, which becomes a running theme for these two episodes.
Overall, Agent Carter had an incredibly strong debut tonight, with two well-paced, well-performed, well-directed episodes. The cast, led by the impeccable Hayley Atwell, is absolutely stellar and the creative team strikes the perfect balance between genre entertainment, period design, and historical context. With just 6 episodes left, expect big and exciting things from Marvel’s Agent Carter!
Click here for a teaser for tonight’s episode from earlier in the week. It’s nails the tone of the new series perfectly.
– Dum Dum!
– More Explosions!
Carter: “Fancy a dance?”
Disheveled Party Guy: “I’m so glad you changed your mind!”
Carter: “What can I say? It’s every woman’s right!”
::Hayley Atwell’s American Accent::
Carter: “He tried to kiss me on VE-Day. I knocked him into the Thames.”
Carter: “You do realize this job will have certain after-hours requirements?”
Jarvis: “So does my wife Ms. Carter.”
Sousa: “Still missing half my stuff… Can’t find my leg anywhere.”
Bannis: “I don’t murder people; I just sell to people who do.”
::Agent Carter jumping onto a moving vehicle::
Dooley: “I’m thinking real hard about kissing you right now, son.”
Carter: “Your wife will be very proud.”
Jarvis: “She must never ever know.”