Rumors are swirling that Marvel’s Agent Carter is about to face the great television reaper, although for a bittersweet reason. The The Hollywood Reporter claims Conviction, Hayley Atwell’s upcoming procedural where she frees innocent people framed for crimes, is a big hit with ABC brass, and the difficulty of juggling two series, one a low-rated critical darling, might be considered too much for anyone. It also notes, perhaps unsurprisingly, that ABC is unsure that Marvel’s Most Wanted, a spin-off of Agents of SHIELD that’s been brewing for a while now, can live up to its title. We may have seen the last of Agent Carter, but instead of mourning the show, we should celebrate such a series was even there in the first place.
Carter had an unusual trip to the small screen. It started as a passion project of sorts, a short film made as part of the Marvel One-Shots series to go with the DVD and Blu-ray release of Iron Man 3. The 15-minute short, directed by Louis D’Esposito and written by Eric Pearson, spun out of the movie’s period-picture energy while focusing on the challenges a woman would face after the second World War, no matter how many Nazis she stopped from taking over the world.
To the surprise of pretty much everyone, the short was so well received, ABC commissioned a series order. And the result was a series unlike anything else on TV, a two-fisted feminist pulp that was both an unapologetic action show and a brisk comedy, thanks in part to the comedic timing between Atwell and James D’Arcy, playing Howard Stark’s long-suffering butler Edwin Jarvis.
In the second season, the show took what it’d built creatively and improved on it. Everyone in the cast was used to their strengths; Chad Michael Murray stood out as Thompson, the insecure SHIELD head struggling with a dawning sense of just how venal he is, and Atwell got a romantic triangle that both made sense and had a satisfying conclusion. The series even cleverly retooled b-villain Whitney Frost — Madame Masque in the comics — played by Wynn Everett as a brilliant woman feeling trapped in a role as pretty arm-candy for a husband less capable than her.
The contrast between Carter and Frost was really the engine of Agent Carter‘s second season. The show subtly contrasted how Carter approached being underestimated and mistreated with Frost’s, and managed to build sympathy for a villain who could be outright terrifying. It also speaks to the skill showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas brought to the table that the whole thing could be fall-down hilarious in places. James D’Arcy in particular had some brilliantly funny moments, whether he had to go undercover and manage a homicidal spy or disassemble a nuclear weapon.
Should Agent Carter really end this year, there are one or two hanging plot threads, most crucially the murder of a character that remains unresolved. But no matter what, the fact that Agent Carter got on the air at all, let alone had two great seasons, is something worth celebrating.