The first season of Agent Carter was nothing to scoff at. A charmingly old-fashioned adventure story, season one set up Peggy Carter as a hero in her own right outside of her dealings with Captain America. Clever and compassionate, but a little slow, Agent Carter was another solid entry in the more grounded Marvel television lineup. This is all to say that while the show has been strong since day one, in season two, it’s become one of the best dramas on network television. By building off of that solid foundation with higher stakes and greater character development, Agent Carter has become something truly wonderful by this season’s midpoint.
This is largely due to Hayley Atwell’s performance as Peggy. Now that she is fully untethered from Captain America (sorry, Steve), Peggy has become a fully realized and interesting character in her own right. In episode four, “Smoke and Mirrors,” flashbacks are well utilized to give us a glimpse of Peggy as a little tomboy and eventually as a woman given a chance to make a difference actually in the field during WWII. After the death of her beloved brother (a gender-bending flip on the usual “fridging” a woman to provide impetus for a man’s strive towards greatness), Peggy leaves her milquetoast fiancé behind for a new life of adventure and agency. By fleshing out her origins and deepening her relationships with Jarvis (James D’Arcy), Rose (Lesley Boone), Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), and Stark (Dominic Cooper), the show allows Peggy to get more interesting with every episode.
However, while it’s Atwell’s show, enough cannot be said for Wynn Everett’s Whitney Frost. After being infected with the zero matter, Frost has finally been given the power she’s been denied her entire life. Everett is mesmerizing as a woman who — after years of being discounted, torn down, and at the mercy of those around her — is unwilling to put parameters on her newfound powers, no matter the toll that they take. After Peggy’s battles with sexism in season one, Frost is a powerful example of a woman who’s fed up with her situation and willing to take whatever means necessary to rectify the wrongs perpetrated against her. Agent Carter has been exceptionally good at creating nuanced female villains from the beginning, so it’s great to see that continue into season two. The cat-and-mouse dance between Peggy and Frost came to a head in “The Atomic Job” as the two finally battle it out over an atomic bomb. While Frost gets the jump on Peggy, leading to her painful impaling, it should be a thrill to see Peggy get her revenge in the coming episodes. Frost may be a formidable villain, but she’s surely underestimating Agent Carter.
Even with all of the character work going on, Agent Carter never loses its sense of fun or adventure. While the atomic bomb-stealing antics inside of Roxxon this week led to a well-executed action sequence, the highlight was the slow-motion shot of the rag-tag team before they set out for their adventure. A slapstick scene with Stark rival, Hugh Jones (Ray Wise), involving Alias-style wigs, Atwell’s flawless American accent, and a memory inhibitor works better than it has any right to, as well. While the missions are serious, the fun never gets lost. And, while the ties to Steve Rogers have been cut, the greater links to the Marvel Universe as a whole have deepened in a satisfying way. While many are speculating that the villainous Arena Club has a HYDRA connection, the dimension-hopping and zero matter has been a great way to show that this universe is one that also contains aliens and Norse gods.
The love triangle has smoothed out a little over the course of the season, with Peggy’s heart torn between the charming — if currently intangible — Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) and the pining Sousa. The creators of the show have done an excellent job of realizing that while it is loads of fun to see Peggy finally get her flirt on, it’s hardly the most interesting thing about the show. The relationship between Sousa and Violet (Sarah Bolger) continues to be a weak spot, though. While the two are suitably likable, the quick engagement and ensuing fight about Sousa’s feelings for Peggy felt jarring packed into one episode. Here’s hoping that Violet turns out to be a sleeper agent in the vein of Dottie Underwood, otherwise her character is going to feel like filler.
As we look forward to the second half of the season, there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns along the way. (Can we please have more Mrs. Jarvis?) Still, if the creative team behind Agent Carter continues to recognize and expand the elements that make the show great, there’s every reason to believe it will end on a high note.