Last year, Marvel took it's first crack at expanding it's big, exploding, money monster known as the MCU to television with Agents of Shield. The response was... mixed. At least at first. In theory, it was a winning move - create a smaller property to capitalize on the success of the MCU's popularity, something for us nerd folk to devour between each movie. Maybe toss in a cool cameo every so often, and KAPOW more money. But the execution got off to a rough start. Rather than establishing it's own identity, the show spent most of it's first season coasting on it's peripheral connection to the bigger (better) movies that spawned it, without really giving us much else to invest in other than everyone's favorite middle-man, Phil Coulson. Eventually, the ship would right itself, but man, it was touch and go for a while there.
So now here we find ourselves again, my friends. Marvel is hitting the gas on another show, once again brought to life by sheer fan admiration for one of it's cinematic universe's ensemble characters in the form of Peggy Carter, Cap's old squeeze from The First Avenger. For those of you unfamiliar (or familiar, but perhaps you indulge in narcotics that have left your memory not what it once was) the real piece that kick-started these circumstances wasn't Captain America, exactly, but one of Marvel's one-shot DVD extras, following the further exploits of Peggy after the war. A strong woman living in an era run by men, who are both her emotional and intellectual inferior. Toss in a splash of pulp action, and you have all the ingredients for a story worth telling.
Maybe that is really where Agents of SHIELD faltered. Whereas multiple Marvel One-Shots gave us more Coulson in fun, bite sized little bits, it did not initially give us a very interesting story around him other than "He does secret agent stuff and is very mild mannered about it". Agent Carter starts off much stronger not just because it has another lead we adore, but it has some interesting themes about the world around her and her place in it to explore as well.
The long and short of it: Peggy is back where we left her, working for the government under cover of a phone company. She's still grieving over Steve's supposed death during the war, and still dealing with the patriarchy being, well.... At one point a guy suggests she go shopping to feel better when she tells him that she has her period. Actually, she vaguely calls it "lady business", I believe, and the men in the room respond as though she'd just described eating roadkill. The kicker? It was a lie to get out of work so she could go do some real investigating, while the men stayed behind to continue puzzling over their current case. That, to me, is a pretty good summary of Peggy's current place in the world she find herself in post-WWII. A war hero with wit and brains, sidelined and patronized because of her gender, all the while wrestling with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
That's when our old friend Howard Stark shows up. Seems he's gotten himself into some hot water with the government, as Stark's of all walks of fiction seem good at doing. Somebody broke into his vault and stole one of his "bad babies" - I.e. a really powerful, bad idea weapon. Now the culprit is selling the weapons to the highest bidder, and the government thinks Howard himself is behind it. Peggy's job? Go on a 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo quest to get them back as they show up.
(It's worth mentioning Howard's defense that it's not his fault the crazy crap he builds is insanely dangerous, just because he thought it up. If plot details regarding Age of Ultron are right, this could foreshadow some of Tony's own journey. Like father, like son.)
Peggy won't be alone, though! Howard splits fairly early, but he leaves Peggy in the hands of his capable butler, Edwin Jarvis. "Whaaaa?" You say. "But Jarvis was the computer thing!" Settle down, bucko. The character of Jarvis was always Tony's faithful butler, but given Iron Man's close release to Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Jarvis become an AI to avoid confusion with a certain other crime fighting billionaire. What we have here is a retroactive surprise that Jarvis WAS a real guy all along! That's who Tony based the AI on! Crafty, Marvel. Very crafty.
Jarvis is, by all accounts, the best thing I never realized I wanted. Rather than being the typical stuffy butler, here we get a quirky, loveable gentlemen. Not to say he's just slapstick comic relief, either. Oh, he's funny, but it's in his more intimate interactions with Peggy that we also glimpse a strong dose of genuine heart and wisdom as well. He was the last thing I even thought of when considering the Agent Carter series, and now I'm thrilled to see this dynamic of stiff, super British Jarvis advising lonely, independent Peggy as it plays out.
And speaking of Peggy, let's talk about Hayley Atwell a moment, because really, not enough praise can be given to this woman. By now, after a few appearances as the character, Ms. Atwell slips seamlessly into the role, and brings with her layers that define the character. She's super competent and brave, yes, but Atwell also has the chance this time around to infuse a measured degree of vulnerability and, as I mentioned before, loneliness. After losing Steve, and early on in the pilot, a somewhat new friend, she's convinced herself that somehow she's responsible, and is better off working alone. Jarvis takes issue with this, and his insistence to the contrary is another reason I'm psyched to see their friendship play out and evolve, as well as how Peggy herself continues to grow.
So here we are, folks. No longer is the MCU just a man's game. Our latest hero is not only a kickass lady, but a lady lacking any super powers to speak off, or even Black Widow-level espionage skills. And you know what? That rocks. I won't get into the fact that it's about time we got a badass woman to match the badass men, or how it's almost fitting that she does so not with the aid of a magic hammer or a super soldier serum, but just by the strength of her own character alone, because let's face it, we all see it and we're all thinking the same thing: "Finally".
Here's to the coming weeks of awesome pulp action goodness.