At the time of writing, I’ve seen the first two hours of Marvel’s Agent Carter miniseries.
And I think I’m in love.
Which is not to pretend that it has no problems: the most unbelievable thing about it is that Agent Peggy Carter does the vast majority of her ass-kicking in high heels (ouch) and so far as diversity is concerned, it’s something of a wasteland. (Seriously: the 1940s can’t have been that white just on the streets, can they?)
But for me these flaws pale beside the utter glory of the thing that it is. It’s smart and it’s got snappy dialogue, it’s stylish and it’s slick, and it’s kind of bloody amazing to see Hayley Atwell carry a show that combines elements of the cinematography and pacing of old-school spy series with the texture and colour of a superhero story. There is something reminiscent of I, Spy and the (English) Avengers in the framing of the shots and the choice of cuts, while in its sense of humour, character, and essential narrative structure, Agent Carter is very definitely playing with superhero pulp—and superhero pulp that places Peggy Carter squarely in the role of Underdog Hero.
Hayley Atwell brings a solidity to the character of Peggy Carter, an effective physicality that makes her moments of grief and emotional honesty stand out all the more. She’s alone in the city, sidelined in her profession by men who see her relationship with (the presumed late) Steve Rogers as fodder for jokes: her most significant personal connections in the first hour are with her roommate—who dies by the end of the episode—and a waitress at the diner where she’s a regular. Her isolation is central to her heroism, and—it seems—her difficulty in reconnecting with other people is being set up to drive a certain amount of Agent Carter’s ongoing arc. Because it’s not just Captain America’s death that’s isolated her: it’s the sexism of 1946, too. Agent Carter doesn’t just acknowledge this, but puts it out front and centre.
And highlights it in the second hour by contrasting a radio show about Captain America and a damseling character called “Bettie Carver” with Peggy Carter’s own actions. At one point, while “Bettie Carver” is breathily uttering, “Oh, no! Nazis!” on the radio, Carter is beating the crap out of a bloke. “Is that all you’ve got?” she says, before realising she’s knocked him unconscious and he won’t be answering her questions.
The real delight here for me, though, is that while Carter can do the undercover-agent thing, the show seems to be implying that she’s more comfortable with a more straightforward approach. The fight scenes are excellently choreographed, and consistent: in a brawl, Carter’s first reaction appears to be to pick something up and hit someone with it. Or just drive straight in. The style is compact, brutal, and not particularly elegant: but it is effective, and does quite a bit to illuminate Peggy Carter’s character.
If it works, she’ll use it.
Basically, I’m in love. But then, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be pro-ladies-hitting-people-with-snappy-dialogue.
Especially when there are excellent period hats.