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Marvel's Agent Carter Season 2
© Beck Pano, @glassspiider
January 22, 2016

Given the serious themes, Marvel's Agent Carter in season 1 was still the most lighthearted of the MCU's TV family. In season 2, it transitioned from lighthearted to lightweight. It's time to retire Agent Carter.

WARNING: Some spoilers ahead if you haven't watched. And even if you have.

Now that it's done, possibly for good, I have a few thoughts about Marvel's Agent Carter and why it might not be bad if it's not given a third season.

There were many things to love about the show's overall enjoyable sophomore season. High points include seeing Rose graduate from answering phones and shouting “attagirls” for Peggy, to going on missions and throwing knockout punches; finally introducing Ana Jarvis, and portraying her as a sweetly devoted ally, without a whisper of jealousy or mistrust for Peg; continuing and compounding the theme of challenging the social order of not just gender, but now racial divides; and reminding us that the second S in SSR stands for scientific.

We were treated to some truly mad science this outing, and not just from Howard Stark's libido— I mean laboratory.

There were other elements of season 2 that, while still fun, signaled a definite change in tone from season 1. The reintroduction of Edwin Jarvis, for example, paints him plainly as more caricature than character this time out. While we now have a face for Mrs. Jarvis, we also have to face that Mr. Jarvis' job includes not just wrangling Howard's exotic vanity menagerie, but scrubbing evidence of numerous indiscretions out of Stark's skivvies. Ha ha ha, you won't believe the things you can do with baking soda and seltzer, though, amirite? Gross. No wonder Jarvis is eager to throw himself into Peggy's dangerous line of work.

The change in location from New York to L.A. was a nice visual refresher, offering scenery, wardrobe and prop options in keeping with the lighter mood. You don't need writing or dialog to communicate the difference when you can show Peggy Carter in cat's-eye sunglasses riding in a shiny convertible under sun-kissed palm trees; 2500 miles may as well be a light year from scurrying between skyscrapers under a giant red Stetson.

So it is with Carter's clothes as well. Hayley Atwell's bombshell figure when dressed for the trendy left coast doesn't even need plunging necklines to be rather more of a distraction than anything we saw in Manhattan.

All of which is to say, I liked season 2, and I love the show as a whole, even if there were some things in the second season I could have done without.

I was surprised at how fast Peggy returned to full-fledged action-heroing after a day of groaning about her rebar wound, but what're ya gonna do? Heroes gotta hero.

I also wasn't tickled about the shift of her focus from grief over Captain America to grief over her brother who she never mentioned before.

The insistence on focusing on Peggy's romantic life was paid off in the final episode of season 2. But until that point, it was unbearable. Going in for some kissy-face with a guy who'd just had one argument with his fiancee? Not cool, Agent Carter.

Too many of the characters were flat stereotypes, as two-dimensional as the pulps that spawned them. If not for the charisma of the actors that played them, I would have had no use at all for the likes of Kurtwood Smith's Vernon Masters, a transparently sleazy power-broker who somehow had the spineless Director Jack Thompson under his thumb, or Ray Wise's Hugh Jones, who was only lacking a mustache to twirl.

And Ken Marino's Joe Manfredi was written as such a buffoonish goombah, he was only believable as a dangerous man because he apparently commanded the guns of other dangerous men.

And speaking of Manfredi, there was one scene in the finale that I hated, and it was so bad it makes me want to reject the entire series as canon. The scene where Howard Stark is screaming at his manservant about mustard, only to have Jarvis emerge from the house with Manfredi's gun in his back. Jarvis is ramrod-straight, arms high in the air, just one frayed nerve away from knock-kneed cartoon gibbering, and Howard insists that Manfredi let Jarvis put the mustard down.

The whole thing is ludicrous, an ostensibly perilous situation played for laughs, and it left a sour taste in my mouth, because Manfredi was right there when Ana Jarvis was shot in the gut for the sole purpose of slowing Carter's pursuit. He would have fired the shot himself had Whitney Frost not taken the gun and secured her role as the season's Big Bad. He was standing right there when Jarvis' raison d'être was gunned down in cold blood, and at least two of the people watching Manfredi hold Jarvis at gunpoint knew it; maybe more importantly, we knew it.

Then Howard pops off with a quip that reveals he and Manfredi are old gym buddies. HA HA HA SO FUNNY with the gun and the mustard and boys will be boys. And they all just return to brunch, talking about how to fix Whitney while stuffy ol' Jarvis straightens his vest and huffs and looks mildly relieved.

What? I mean seriously, WHAT? Did that just happen? Why is Jarvis not tendering his resignation? Why is he not so much as scolding Howard for that VERY FUNNY RUSE? At that point I would have found it more believable for Jarvis to go back into the house and return at the end of the scene with a pot of boiling coffee which he then poured into Howard's lap while saying, "I do so appreciate your humor, Mister Stark, but it is with no small regret that I must suggest you take this job and put it in your pooper,” and then shooting Manfredi six times in the face.

Add to that the completely exhausted trope of suddenly redeeming a previously disliked character just so that we care a little bit when said character is placed in mortal jeopardy, and you have a finale that threatened to unmake almost everything good about two seasons of Marvel's Agent Carter. It had good things like seeing the Howling Commandos in action, and peeks at the dark roots of the Red Room and Hydra organizations, and a dream-sequence musical number, and maybe even the beginning of Peggy's happily ever after.

Peggy Carter says she knows her value. As of this writing, the show has not been renewed for a third season. If season 3 were to continue this trend of poorly-drawn villains, substituting callbacks for creative writing and repeatedly making beloved characters the butt of the joke, I can only hope the people responsible for Marvel's Agent Carter know the value of quitting while they're ahead.



Find RevSF writer Beck Pano at @glassspiider. The extra "i" is for extra "interesting." .

 
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