By Carter Glace, staff writer
Agent Carter still stands as one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s top five creations. Who would have thought an off-season fill-in show based on a supporting player would be so spectacular? Who would have thought the alleged “soulless” producer driven Marvel brand would make an ingenious metaphor for women’s struggles post-WWII inside a gripping spy yarn? Who would have though Hayley Atwell would make this character one of the most omnipresent figures in all of Marvel? The ten-episode first season was borderline perfect; a sharp, focused, exciting series with passion and something to say.
That was why I wondered whether a second season was advisable. The first season was perfectly paced and realized in ten episodes, fulfilling a satisfying arc for Carter and her new cast of characters. Risking that near-perfect ending would be risky, and living up to the impossibly high expectations would be even harder.
So it is disappointing, but not necessarily surprising, that season two of “Agent Carter” failed to live up to expectations. That is not to say it wasn’t good or not engaging; it’s just hard to go up against the previous season and not feel hollow. A lot of critics have tried to figure out the critical flaws, but let me try and make some suggestions.
I think the first stumbling block comes with expectations. When the concept of “Agent Carter” in Golden Age Hollywood is pitched, you think of a Chinatown-style detective thriller with spy antics. That’s an awesome concept. And that was how the season seemed to start, investigating a murder of super-powered origins that leads to a crooked politician and a secret society of global manipulation. But those moments come in tiny bursts in a vast seas of subplots, relationships and twists. Perhaps it’s personal taste, but it feels like this same story could have been told in New York.
That ties into the bigger issue of focus. Season one had a very singular focus: Peggy proving herself to her male counterparts by clearing Howard Stark’s name. Everything that happens, from workplace drama, industrial sabotage and Russian spies all led back to this center in a logical and fluid way. Season two simply had too many unrelated plates spinning at the same time. There’s the secret society, but also crooked FBI guys hunting communists, a new love triangle, the return of last season’s villain which feels painfully under-utilized, and an origin story for Carter. Most of it ultimately feels like it should be its own season. Whereas Season one felt like a single string with threads tightly woven together, two feels like a parking lot jutting out into various roads. Going down any one road too far makes you lose sight of the others.
But the biggest problem comes from one question: what is this season about? Season one had one of the clearest, most driven concepts in the entire Marvel Universe: using Peggy Carter as a metaphor for the millions of women forced out of the workplace after the war, all of their deeds forgotten. That gave the show a punch, an unexpected and brilliantly subtle feminist heart. Season two seems to lack that drive. There are still some strong messages about racism and sexism in the era, like how a black scientist discovers he was hired because if he blew the whistle on dangerous experiments, no one would believe him. But these moments are few and far between. Is it about Cold War paranoia? (Which is barely touched upon?) The big show-stopping song and dance number revolves around Peggy’s love interests which is a very small part of the season. I’d say it’s about corporations and corruption, but that never drives the story. A wonderful article suggests that the theme is how Peggy inspires those around her through grit, empathy and determination while the female villain loses everyone because her ends are selfish and fear driven, but I’m not 100% sold. The biggest flaw of this season is that after throwing the mother of all punches in season one, they could think of the next attack.
I sincerely hope there is a third season. Mainly because I love the character and this world, partially because the ending of this season leaves just enough intrigue. But also because such a great show deserves to go out on its highest note.